Early music & Early Music
I grew up in a musical family that sang and played everything from Beatles songs to Medieval rounds. We also made up songs about almost anything, which I now credit as great training for being a songwriter. I studied classical guitar as a kid and ended up playing the Renaissance lute for a while, even going to grad school—briefly—for it. When I got really tired of people telling me exactly how to play each trill and singing lyrics from hundreds of years ago that often didn’t jibe with my 20th-century self, I dropped out and started a duo, Petronella, with my college buddy. The Village Voice described our music as “funky, feminist tunes—the band to engage you.” I was quite taken with Michelle Shocked’s and Suzanne Vega’s music around that time. I loved the story-telling of their songs, the tunefulness and the sense that maybe I could be like them.
I had lived in London for a while and, after seeing an exhibition of artwork done by children on the theme “Who works for Me? Mummy, Sister, Auntie,” I become involved with a grassroots organization called The International Wages for Housework Campaign. The drawings and writings were powerful, especially the ones showing the work the girls themselves were doing, like an 8-year-old cooking for her father, uncles and brothers because the adult women were back home in India caring for elderly grandparents. This struck a chord with me about my upbringing and the differing expectations and treatment of girls as compared with boys.
I wrote the Campaign a song and it was my first experience of the excitement people feel when their/our stories are put into song—how people feel represented, understood and encouraged by hearing them/ourselves reflected in song. This sense of my songs being able to support a cause I believe in stayed with me and has fully blossomed in the work Pat and I do as Emma’s Revolution. It is extraordinarily gratifying to know that people identify with our songs, take them to heart and rely on them as tools in their lives and their activism, whether it’s to sing at the opening of their community meeting or to keep them going every morning as drive to work. It’s also been extraordinary to witness how songs travel from person-to-person without any commercial radio or record label support. Many of our songs have been sung around the world, both with and without us. We wrote “Peace Salaam Shalom” in the days following 9/11. A few months later, we were leading it at a teach-in in Minneapolis. A woman came up to us afterwards and said, “I just learned that song in India.”
With Pat & Emma's Revolution
Pat and I met through her song, “Swimming to the Other Side”. A friend of mine was playing it at a meeting at his house and, as I always like to say, I’m not sure if I was attracted to the song or to the little postage-stamp-sized photo of Pat on the cassette cover. (Yes, that’s how long ago it was!) So I wrote Pat a letter (yes, that’s also how long ago it was) and invited her to come on a tour my musical partner and I were organizing at the time: “WomenFolk”, a tour of women folksingers to women’s colleges for Women’s History Month. Pat and I then sang on and off together for 8 more years before we got together as a couple. In 2001, we had your average Jewish, Cherokee, lesbian, outlaw wedding ceremony in New York. Our friend Pete Seeger sang at our wedding. A number of years later, we were touring in Iowa when that state voted in marriage equality, so we got married legally there, too. Our love for one another has survived our decision in 2014 to split up as a couple and we are happily continuing on as a musical duo. (Yes, it can be done!)
I tend to write and sing the more pop-tinged of our songs. I love the Dixie Chicks, “Taking the Long Way” CD and some of Taylor Swift’s songwriting too. If I’m driving by myself, I’ll usually scan through the stations, listening to whatever sounds good, whether it’s Top 40, Classic Rock or just plain Classical. And, while Pat will crack a joke or two, I tend to hold down the lion’s share of the schtick in our show. I enjoy making Pat—and the audience—laugh. Folks have always loved Pat’s laugh. They commented on it so much that we even made a 2-minute-long Laugh Track that was one of the more popular perks in our fundraising campaigns for our last two CDs.
Pat and I are multi-issue activists. Our songs cover a wide variety of issues that are up, at any time, and we see activist causes as inter-related. I have a particular interest in environmental songs and had written a song called “Kilimanjaro” for a demonstration outside the Capitol. The song highlighted the melting of the ice-cap on that mountain and the sea level rise accompanying the melting around the world. Some years later, we played at one of the largest environmental rallies on the National Mall in Washington DC. We sang “Kilimanjaro” and then sang, “Peace Salaam Shalom”, with me introducing the song by telling the audience what I had read in that morning’s news: Israel had bombed Lebanon and the fires were burning so hot that the sand on the beaches was being fused into glass. One woman in the crowd came back to chastise us: “I didn’t come to this rally to hear about Israel. I came to protect the environment.” We talked to her to make our point. I guess we had done our job that day. Militarism affects environmental issues; women’s rights are affected by economic policies and so on. There can be a personal story in any one of these issues or a way to personalize the information so that people can identify with the issue and feel motivated to make change in the world.
As a Jewish person, I also have a particular interest in issues of the Middle East and Israel/Palestine. I have friends and family in Israel and now have friends in Palestine, too. I stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine. No one—Israeli nor Palestinian--is safe with the deep power imbalances and deep inequalities that exist between these two peoples and two countries. After our trip to Israel/Palestine in 2007, I wrote “Shadow of the Wall”, which is on our new CD, Revolution Now. The shadow is both literal and figurative: literally darkening and endangering people’s lives in Palestine and, figuratively, the heaviness of the reality that the Palestinians are living in an open-air prison. There can be no peace without justice.
When you come to one of our concerts or hear one of our cds, you’ll hear a wide stylistic range of songs. The core of our music is our duo vocal harmony and acoustic guitars but we will write a song in whatever style the song demands: a jazzy vibe for “Feel the Wind”, a rock edge for “I Am A Woman”, a torch song delivery for “Into Your Heart”. Sometimes, we then have to catch up with the song and learn how to play it. Whether it’s a funk bass line or a Western swing feel, it’s all in the service of the song and the message.
From the Heart
While it’s always exciting to finish a new CD, we have one especially big reason for being thrilled to have completed Revolution Now. On Thursday, June 2nd 2016, we were in San Diego, beginning to record what was to become a fundraising video for the new CD. On Friday, June 3rd, I had a heart attack. It was terrifying and I am deeply lucky to have gotten the advice from my homeopath to go to the ER, to have had my super-calm, cool and collected friend drive me to the nearby ER and to have had extraordinary ER care that saved my life. Oh, right . . . and to have had Obamacare coverage that covered the intensely expensive emergency procedures. I am grateful for all of this, every day of my life.
Because health care is political and especially because health care for women is political, I talk about my heart attack from the stage and from the page: I had the kind of heart attack that happens to otherwise healthy women. I had no blood pressure issue, no plaque, no elevated cholesterol. I had what’s called a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection. SCAD is the #1 cause of heart attack in women under age 50 as well as the #1 cause of heart attack in women who are pregnant and new mothers. The heart attack is caused by stress—physical, emotional or mental—that causes a spontaneous tear in the lining of the artery. Blood then flows in between the lining and the artery wall and causes the blockage.
Take it from me, whatever it is that is stressing you out in your life, is not worth it. I talk about my heart attack from the stage both because I want to thank the hundreds of people who contributed to the recovery fund that allowed me to not work and to do my initial recovery, but also because the symptoms of heart attack in women are different than for men. Women do not have the grab-your-chest-and-fall-down movie version of a heart attack. Here were my symptoms:
I had had chest pain and indigestion all morning. I thought the chest pain was from being worn out from a very busy and emotionally-intense month and I couldn't really explain the indigestion, because I had eaten normally. But, when my left arm went weak, I contacted our homeopath, who responded immediately "Go to a doctor." After some procrastinating (who wants to think they're having a heart attack?!), I googled “symptoms of heart attack in women”. It was all there, plus this symptom: Pain between the shoulder blades. I started to say to myself, "I don't have 'pain between the . . .' but I couldn't finish the sentence because there, indeed, was the pain.
I strongly suggest women—and those who love women—look up the symptoms of heart attack in women so we can help protect ourselves and each other.
Yes, there’s definitely a song in this and, because I’m not putting stress on myself to write it, it will come when I’m ready for it.
Thanks for reading.
Now let’s sing!