Saturday, January 23, 2016

...your world now

I have been known, on many occasions, to write blogs eulogizing and paying homage to those who have passed – some famous figures and some relatives, friends, and acquaintances.

It seems fitting to try to capture some small detail of a life lived and impact made. The truth is we all impact each other in profound ways that go unspoken most of the time.

It’s that teacher who encouraged you, that event that changed the course of your life, the love you thought would last forever. We are destined to grow and change, despite our best efforts not to. We become who we are, and along the way we are accompanied. We are accompanied by a soundtrack, the songs that take the journey with us.

Maybe it starts with the music our parents played. Maybe it’s an older sibling. We are not conscious, most of us, of what forms us until we look back much later, until we start making our own choices, dabbling in different genres, until we find what speaks to us, and maybe even more importantly, what speaks for us.

My tastes have never been the avant-garde. I’m not drawn to art that disturbs me. I’m drawn to what makes me feel a part of something larger, or at the very least, less alone in the world. The world is disturbing enough. I want harmony, both in my music and in my soul.

You would think that, being a songwriter, I would have a long play list when it comes to favorite bands through the years, but the truth is I’ve only ever really truly loved two – the Beatles and the Eagles.

If you scoured my CD collection, that is pretty much who you would find for bands, not that there haven’t been other good ones, but let’s be frank, the other bands I’ve liked can trace their sonic lineage directly to the Eagles, so why not stick with the source?

When John Lennon was shot, it was one of those events where you could remember exactly where you were when you heard the news, what you were doing, how you felt. Our world would never be the same, not only because of the way in which he died, or how young, but because his passing made any hope of a future reunion gone to us forever. We’ve had decades to live with that, now and accept it.

The Eagles, though, that’s another story. We’ve seen and heard hell freeze over. And no matter how long they’ve each had solo careers, it never seemed to shut the door on the band, on that sound, on the songs that have been our soundtrack.

Glenn Frey died last Monday, and though his passing has been one in a long line of recent musical passings, I have hardly been able to speak about it, so profound seems this particular loss.

I didn’t know him personally. I knew nothing about his life or his family. I couldn’t tell you his birthday or favorite color. But if you asked me for a list of my all-time favorite songs, there was sure to be at least one of his on there. And that is saying something.

In a world where melody and lyric have been replaced by a driving beat and mindless repetition of disposable hooks, it’s easy to see why respect must be paid to those whose work endures. I often wonder what songs our current youth will be reminiscing about four decades from now. Justin Bieber? Jay Z? I feel sorry for them. Truly.

Me, I’ve got these songs, timeless, and enduring, and so much more poignant to me now. The world seems a much sadder place, with the Eagles, like the Beatles, relegated to a memory now. The harmonies seem that much sweeter, and my own life, that much more fragile.

Artists are struggling nowadays. We seem perpetually torn between trying to stay afloat and trying to stay true to ourselves. Bands like the Eagles never seemed to have to endure this struggle. They never seemed to go away or lose relevance.

I find myself telling people to say something that matters, because our time here is brief and the need is great for that.

Glenn Frey seemed to already know that, and with his passing, I hear this song of his and Jack Tempchin’s in a new way…

“It’s your world now, use well the time
Be part of something good, leave something good behind
The curtain falls, I take my bow
That’s how it’s meant to be, it’s your world now.”

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Project Update...the other kind of players on my project!

First things first, the record is being mastered and the artwork completed as I type this! So we are on the home stretch of this project…which you have so patiently waited for.

This brings me to the rest of the team involved…

You can have the best band, singers, and songs on earth, but if your mixes and mastering fall short, your album is in a heap o’ trouble. And that is why I am unbelievably fortunate to be working with the most talented and wonderful people on our good planet earth.

So I’d like you to meet Brian Montgomery, my mixer, and Alan Silverman, my masterer. (Is “masterer” an actual word?)

I will be completely honest with you – I did not know either of these gentlemen before this project. And that has been one of the added bonuses of making this record – getting to work with the best people in the music business and also the loveliest. And believe me, I do not bandy the phrase “best people in the music business” about willy-nilly.

Sure, I could give you the really long list of artists that each of these gentlemen has worked with, but let’s just hit some highlights – Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, the Rolling Stones, Shawn Colvin, John Mayer, Michael Buble, Alison Krauss, Darlene Love. Do I need to go on? No, I didn’t think so.

To say I am grateful and thrilled and excited about how this record is turning out, is the understatement of the century. It has surpassed my wildest expectations in the best way possible, and every single person who has contributed in every way, shape, and form has done so with their heart as well as their gifts. And I thank you all.

It also bears mentioning that there are other people who have contributed in essential and extraordinary ways to this project.

Stan Tomczak has taken some incredible pictures of me over the past several months and during multiple shoots. Some of them will appear on the project artwork itself, and the rest will be in a newly revamped website to come. He gets a gold star for not only the beautiful photos, and his generous spirit, but for making it so much fun.

Speaking of pictures, the cover photo that people have been admiring online was both taken and transformed into art by my good friend and genius producer, Tanya Leah.

Tanya, in addition to producing and playing and singing backgrounds on this record, is also the graphic artist.

I know, I was thinking the same thing – it is unfair for one person to have that many talents. (And let’s not forget the tambourine and harmonica playing that she also did on the record!) She has made the entirety of this project beautiful both visually and sonically.

How the back cover artwork for the album made its way to me is an interesting story worth sharing. It was created by an amazingly talented California artist named Marina Drasnin.

I believe we cross each other’s paths for a reason, and that our steps are, at least sometimes, divinely guided, because truthfully, whether it is this artwork or singing a duet with Kenny Loggins, I know neither would have happened without someone upstairs looking out for me.

Facebook – ah, that double-edged sword of social media! Are we really “friends” with someone if we’re friends on Facebook? Does that count? Is the connection real? Is it possible for it to become real, if it’s not initially?

I think so. And that is where the story begins. It starts with me becoming Facebook friends with an Olympic athlete and world champion figure skater – Tai Babilonia.

I’ll be honest, I don’t remember exactly how that happened, but I’ll be forever grateful that it somehow did.

So in the grand landscape of Facebook algorithms, I somehow saw a post on Tai’s Facebook feed that Marina had posted on her wall. And Marina, who is also a figure skater, was friends with Tai since childhood.

Well, I fell in love with this piece of art that Marina posted. And here is the only thing I know about art (or anything, really) - I know if it moves me or if it doesn’t move me. And this moved me. I immediately saw it as the back of my album. It was perfect. It was a butterfly.

So to recap for a moment here, I am about to ask a complete stranger if I can buy or use her artwork to put on my CD, and I know neither her nor her skating champion friend whom I adored since I was a kid.

Long story short, Marina’s artwork is my back cover, we did actually meet face to face recently, and her beautiful art is truly a reflection of her beautiful soul.

A glance at a Facebook feed!! I’m telling you – divinely guided!! 

This project, for all the time it has taken, has grown in magnitude from what I once thought it would initially be. So part of the obligation of having it turn out grander than my wildest imaginings is that it demands the same effort, energy, faith and perseverance once it is out in the world as it had during its creation.

This is the point at which most artists run screaming into the night, because, frankly, artists are not generally born with the constitution to want to market, promote, and strategize about demographics and sales. Many of us break out into a rash even thinking about such things.

But I didn’t spend the last few years of my life creating this just to wimp out on marketing because it gives me a rash. Nope. That’s what medicated lotions are for.

My greatest ace in the hole, of course, is you. 

If you love it, don’t be shy. Say something – to your friends, colleagues, relatives, neighbors, hairdressers, bartenders, accountants – you get the idea. Post a picture of you holding the CD on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Subscribe to my YouTube channel here: Ilene's YouTube Channel Buy a copy for a friend. Make it go viral. (The good kind of viral, not like the flu.)

I will be doing my best to promote it as well. And part of that includes some additional angels who are working behind the scenes to help me. These additional angels are Patti Petow of Petow Publicity and Jeryl Brunner, who, like Tanya, is assisting me in more ways than I know how to count or thank her for.

There is so much more to come, and I am so grateful for every one of you who came forward and championed this record. There is not a moment I don’t know that I am extremely blessed, or a moment I don’t appreciate you making it possible. As I will say many more times – thank you.

Me & Brian Montgomery, my phenomenal mixer

Me, Stan Tomczak, my fab photographer, & Tanya Leah, my genius producer

Me and brilliant artist Marina Drasnin

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

the last blog of 2015!

I always get a little melancholy at the close of a year. I find myself contemplating what I’ve done, if I’ve accomplished what I set out to, and where I am in the trajectory of my life.

It’s easy to overlook the largest victory of all – that I’m still here. The older I get, the less I take that for granted and the more I remember to say, “Thank you, God.”

I just saw this very simple, but profound meme on Facebook that said, “If it doesn’t open, it’s not your door.”

That made me stop and think for a moment. I wish I could say I lived that way, that when something didn’t work out, I let it go and moved on, sure in the knowing that it wasn’t for me. But unfortunately, I’ve been known to do just the opposite. To jiggle the handle, to use all my might to pry the damn thing open, even knowing it shouldn’t be that hard.

So after contemplating and contemplating what it is I want to relinquish in the coming year, I have come to the conclusion that the thing most worth giving up is struggle.

How many times do we fight with ourselves or with others in an attempt to have things look or come out a particular way? And to what avail?

What would it look like if we accepted the notion that if we try the door and it doesn’t open, we move on to the next? What surprises would we find behind the doors that do open? What peace would we experience if we headed for our goals, but relinquished the control of their appearance?

So I think my mantra for the new year that lies ahead is that meme: if it doesn’t open, it’s not your door.

In other words, go where you’re wanted. Be with those who would have you. Quit trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Know who you are and be that.

I believe we are all called to greatness. We all have something to contribute that is very much needed. We are not put here to languish and then die. We are here as the human expression of divinity. We are here to love and be loved. All of us.

So as the New Year inches toward us, let us decide what we will take forward with us and what we will leave behind. And let’s leave behind anything that would limit us or our possibility for magnificence.

I am grateful for all of you who visit this blog, and who find meaning in what I create.

I stand with you now in love and gratitude and with a heart bursting with anticipation for all the good things this new year will bring.

I wish you all life’s richest blessings and I wish us all a world of peace.

Happy, happy New Year!!


Saturday, December 26, 2015

...what tree we are planting

I heard this quote yesterday while watching a Barbra Streisand special on PBS…

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

It is a Greek proverb. I know, it’s a little unlikely that my source for Greek proverbs would be Barbra Streisand, but I take my inspiration from where it comes, and this one really blew my mind and got me thinking.

What is it that we are willing to plant? What are we willing to put our efforts towards, even knowing that we will not live to see the fruits of our labor?

I think this may be the ultimate question in life. What are we willing to do, even knowing we won’t see the result?

For instance, I’m sure the writer of that proverb did not know that I would hear it and it would impact me. How could he?

But the truth is we impact each other and the world in ways we will never know, both in the here and now and in the future. A word, a smile, a door held, a thought shared, one act of kindness – it all changes the world forever.

We don’t like to think of ourselves as having that kind of power, because to know that would mean that we are responsible for a lot more than we would like to be. Once you know that you can and do, in fact, change the world with every choice you make, you can’t un-know that. Once you know that what you do and say really matters, then your choices cannot remain unconscious.

Many people look at the world such as it is at the moment and wring their hands in despair. I know. I’ve been one of them. The darkness seems daunting and insurmountable. But I assure you it is not.

So I repeat – what are we willing to put our efforts towards, even knowing we will not live to see the fruits of our labor?

I can tell you the one thing we must be willing to let go of – immediate gratification. We must stop having the childish expectation of cutting to the front of the line, of getting all of the benefits with none of the work involved.

We don’t build genuine self-esteem without overcoming something. Challenges are not put in our path so that we can get discouraged and give up. We are meant to triumph, but that triumph comes at the cost of our own transformation. Our personal evolution isn’t about becoming someone else or conforming to the false god of societal expectations. We are here to become more and more ourselves.

What is unique about each one of us is exactly what is needed in this world right now. The light that is contained within each of our souls is what will illuminate the darkness in the world.

Love – that invisible, intangible, yet, the only thing that is eternal – that love that created us, that love that sustains us, that love that goes on, even when we leave our physical bodies – that is our ultimate essence and the infinite thread that binds us all to one another.

When I think about what is worthy of my efforts, what immediately comes to mind is not any physical accomplishment. I think kindness is worth my time. I think giving voice to people who need one is worth my effort. I think speaking on behalf of compassion and inclusion is worth my energy. I think opening the door to the discussion of what loving ourselves truly looks like is not only worth my effort, but it’s the only way the world is going to change for the better.

What is most disturbing as we look at the violence, hatred, and intolerance of the world we live in today is that it is an outward reflection of our internal make up. And there is not one of us who is exempt from culpability, much as we like to console ourselves with the notion that we are above that. The truth is we are not above that, because it still exists. We will know we play no part in it when “peace on earth, good will to men” actually arrives.

What are you willing to do? What would you do, even knowing that you will not see the fruits of your labor? What matters to you that much?

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

What tree are we planting?

Let’s do it today.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The List 2015!

Every year for a while now, I’ve been telling you, my dear readers, my picks for what I’ve been listening to, watching, reading, and buying during the Christmas season, in case you need some fresh ideas about what to get that special someone, including yourself.

This year, the playing field is chock full o’ fabulous ideas, because they include the opportunity to do good for others, support independent artists, and enrich your lives in several different ways.

At the top of my list is a way to truly do some good. Most of us give a little something extra during this time of year, whether it be to those collecting toys for needy tots or cash for the bell ringers outside of stores.

I’m proposing a way to help someone one on one. No middle man, no wondering how much will really go to help. My friend Carolyn is battling cancer and there is a campaign set up to help with her medical bills. Here is the link to it: Help Carolyn Kick Cancer 

A very heartfelt thank you to those of you who decide to jump in and help. There is also a benefit concert that I will be participating in on January 23rd. You can check out the details of that here: Benefit Concert 

Are you looking for some new renditions of Christmas favorites AND a way to support independent artists? (I’ll assume you are nodding yes to this.) Well, my friend Kira Small has a new CD coming out, and one of the rewards for supporting the project is a digital download of some Christmas songs. You can’t get them anywhere else, plus you get the download of the new CD to boot! Check her out here: Kira's Music 

Do you enjoy sappy Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel this time of year? (I know everyone does. Come on, admit it, you’re glued to the TV at all hours watching them just like I am.) Well, this year, there are two new ones in the smorgasbord that are particularly special to me.

The Christmas Note, written by my cousin Erik Patterson will air again December 17th, 19th, 21st, and 25th. And The Bridge, produced by my cousin Dan Angel will air again December 13th, 15th, 18th, and 24th. Please check them out!

Do you love to read? (Clearly, you do, because you’re on my blog page reading it.) This year’s pick for book I loved was Don’t Jump by Vicki Abelson. Aside from being a wonderful writer herself, Vicki is all about being a supporter and encourager of other writers by creating the group known as Women Who Write. She is one awesome lady! 

And while we are on the topic of awesome ladies, you will love these books by Jeryl Brunner: 

My City, My New York

My City, My Los Angeles

Do you have a young child on your list? There is a heartwarming book by J. Frederic Rowles called Amil, the Lonely Stone. Buy it and read it with the little ones. It's soooo sweet!

A Christmas list would not be complete without mention of my favorite Christmas CD’s from year to year. You would think they would change constantly, but interestingly enough, no one else's has knocked them off their well deserved perch of my top three favorite holiday CD’s. 

So here once again are:

BethAnne Clayton’s Remember: 

Mak Kaylor’s Glad Tidings: 

Christopher Finkelmeyer’s Unforgotten Christmas: 

What have I left out? Oh yeah, my new CD, which is available for pre-order now! Here’s the link to pre-order: "In Color" Pre-Order  

I hope you all have a beautiful and joy-filled holiday season!

Peace and Blessings to you,

Sunday, December 6, 2015

...what sustains us

I’ve been overwhelmed lately, as I think many of us have, with thoughts about life and death, guns and terrorism, rights versus responsibilities, politics and the media.

The noise is so deafening, I can’t hear myself think. The violence is real. The chaos is maddening. And any sane, rational person is teetering toward the brink of despair, if not already having arrived there fully.

We’re grasping, gasping, trying to catch our breath and find our footing, but the foundation is shaky and the path seems perilous. What once brought us comfort doesn’t seem to be working anymore. And what we fear, we can barely give a name to, though we try daily, and the internet is filled with people, parties, religions, and organizations to blame for our every woe.

We are at a tipping point of sorts, and the energy is palpable. Those of us who like to pause to actually think before we say or do something are seemingly crippled with inertia, a stark contrast to the mob mentality inundating us.

A few days ago, I was having a conversation with someone at three in the morning…when all deep conversations must take place, because the world quiets down momentarily. And it got me thinking – not about the madness in the world of which we were speaking, but about what sustains us through it.

What sustains us?

What beliefs do we hold onto when the waters are rising, threatening to envelop us?

What is the thought that brings tranquility in the midst of any storm?

What idea gives the assurance that we can survive whatever it is we are going through?

What sees us through?

What is our purpose in this craziness? What are we to do with our time here? And why were we created and given this life to begin with?

In other words, “What’s it all about, Alfie?”

Each of us must answer these questions for ourselves. And I believe that in doing so, we re-engage with a core piece of our essence and navigate our lives and this world in a more fulfilling way.

Me personally, I think my purpose is to use whatever I’ve been given to make something or someone better for my having passed this way.

I believe I have a spiritual, moral, ethical, intellectual, emotional, professional, and physical obligation to do so and to embody and magnify love’s presence on this planet.

Radical idea, I know. Didn’t work out so well for Jesus or Gandhi, not that I’m anywhere near their league, but ya gotta aim for the stars, right?

Gun violence and terrorism in the United States are the topics du jour, every jour, it seems. And I don’t kid myself. I am not going to talk you into my belief that no one needs a gun unless you are going to eat whatever it is you shoot.

Is it the guns that kill people or the people holding them? It doesn’t matter. People are dying, and the beginning and end of it is that we no longer consider life sacrosanct.

Don’t get me wrong. We each consider our own lives to be sacred…just not everyone else’s. And not humanity’s as a whole. We separate, and segregate, and make exceptions. We do not consider that what is done to one of us is done to all of us.

It is not a matter of religion. It is a matter of practicality and civility. If we are not our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, then we are doomed to perish, because, friends, what does happen to one, does happen to all…eventually.

No matter how much you think guns protect you, they merely change who gets killed…today. The underlying acceptance of killing each other, just as long as it’s the “bad guys,” will neither gain us the moral high ground or any kind of lasting peace and security.

Instead of inciting fear to the point of mass hysteria, we should arm ourselves by vigilantly participating in our own lives fully.

Do you know your neighbors? Your kids’ school teachers? Their friends?

Do you have your own friends? Do you participate in your community? Are your eyes open and are you informed and aware of your world?

Who knows that you care about them outside of your own four walls?

Or are you hunkered down in your cave with your mobile device and large flat screen, deluding yourself into thinking that Facebook posts are a form of active participation in life or that love of a particular sports team actually matters.  

What sustains you, truly?

If we can each answer that and follow that, then maybe we can find our way to sustaining not only ourselves, but our country and our planet.

Peace and blessings to you, and thanks for stopping by and sharing a few minutes of your day with me. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

a blog of Thanksgiving...

On any given day, most of us can rattle off a long list of what we’re thankful for. This year, in particular, I think we are all keenly aware and thankful for our safety, our freedom, and the opportunities afforded us because we live in the United States of America.

I’ve had a hard time with Thanksgiving being largely glossed over this year, as the commercial Christmas season inches its way earlier and earlier. I have every confidence that it will begin in July pretty soon, bypassing Labor Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving altogether.

Be that as it may, I am setting aside this day to focus on the gratitude it warrants, thankful for more blessings than I could possibly ever list in a blog…which doesn’t mean I won’t try to articulate at least some of them.

I’d like to start by offering up a prayer for those who have suffered recent losses. There are many this year, and I know the holidays are the hardest days when people are absent.

And for those battling illnesses of all kinds, you, too, are held in my thoughts and prayers with love on this day, in particular.

When contemplating what I’m thankful for, I like to let myself be random and go with whatever pops into my head as I’m typing this. So here goes…

I am thankful for making it to Thanksgiving 2015!
I am thankful for good health and for my wonderful family.
I am thankful for my crazy dreams and the ridiculous amount of perseverance I still possess to make them a reality.
I’m thankful for laughter.
I’m thankful for the precious time I get to spend with my father.
I’m thankful for the colors of autumn.
I’m thankful for football. (Totally kidding. Replace that with figure skating.)
I’m thankful for the people I’ve met this year.
I’m thankful for the friendships that sustain me and make my life rich.
I’m thankful for all the work and income I’ve received.
I’m thankful for chocolate. (We can all come together on this one, can’t we?!)
I’m thankful for any way in which I’ve made any life better.
I’m thankful that Aaron Sorkin is still writing.
I’m thankful for lessons learned and who I’ve become because of them.
I’m thankful for old friends reunited.
I’m thankful for things that sparkle.
I’m thankful I finally found a great hair colorist in New York! (The importance of this cannot be overstated.)
I’m thankful for art that moves me.
I’m thankful for my faith in the inherent goodness of life.
I’m thankful for anyone who has ever stopped by and read this blog.
I’m thankful for the journey that lies ahead, whatever it may be and wherever it may take me.

Life is a gift. Today was not given to everyone, so no matter how heavy the burden we carry, we owe it to ourselves to say “thank you” and to wring every bit of joy out of it that we can.

Happy Thanksgiving…