when i grow up

This is what I had want to express tonight when I perform, but if I don’t, then at least it is here:

After I play When I grow Up.

When I grow up, I wanna be a song singer.

When I grow up, I'll be myself. I'll break the spell. I'll be myself.

When I grow up, I wanna be a truth-slinger.

When I grow up, I'll be myself. I'll break the spell. I'll be myself.

When I grow up, I wanna be a humdinger.

When I grow up, I'll be myself. I'll break the spell. I'll be myself.

This is the song I would have written as a kid, if I had known what I know now. I wasn’t ready to know it then. Now, at 42, I am ready.

When my parents got me my first electric guitar and guitar lessons, at 15 years old, back in Brooklyn, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I could write songs, let alone sing them. I deeply wanted to sing, but I did not know I had a voice. I felt cut off from that ability. There weren’t a lot of rock-n-roll female role models or encouragement for that kind of expression, the few that were, I clung to: Joan Jett, The GoGo’s. But they seemed miles away from what I could possibly do. Within less than a year, I stopped playing guitar, and just continued to be a rock-n-roll fan. Over the years, I increased and expanded my fandom to include more expressive and alternative examples of what you could do with rock-n-roll. At 15, never would I have imagined that fourteen years later, at age 29, I would return to the same music conservatory I had studied piano at as a little girl, and sign up for voice, guitar and music theory lessons. That I would buy myself a $75 guitar at a stoop sale, and instead of whiling away the evening watching syndicated sitcoms, I would start to write songs, that I could play and sing. After a few months, I magically ran into an old college friend who happened to work in the same building as me, who also happened to be learning drums. A month later, I met a bassist at a party, and suddenly we had formed an all woman rock band. We called ourselves Social Service. We were all working in the social services at the time. We all still are. We had only one gig—at Meow Mix, a Lesbian bar in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. That was 12 years ago.

This show tonight is a sampling of songs that I wrote about the process of discovering one’s soul. Some songs are about the struggles of feeling disempowered, and lost, and some songs are about the joy and love and power of self-discovery. Most are about both. I have found that rock-n-roll is an expression that suits me, as it is about rebellion and carving out one's place in the world that didn’t exist before. True rockers are pioneers—wrestling with opposites: masculine and feminine, love and power, despair and celebration, creating space in the world with force, with a sound that is at once familiar and brand new. Rock-n-roll may not be for everyone, but it’s most definitely for me. Art, in all its forms, has always been about creating a context for myself so I can let myself be free. So I can let all my selves be free: man, woman and child. Everyone of us has many selves within. This is what I teach in my classes. This is what I express in my songs.

I have learned that there is no short cut, or easy path to self-actualization. It requires honoring both darkness and light, blood, sweet and tears, thousands of hours of dedicated work and play, facing and accepting and even loving our fear and pettiness. It is not an easy path, but it is most definitely a path filled with meaning, joy and connection. Once you start on this path, there is no turning back. There are times I have wanted to give up, I have turned away from myself, hidden, felt deeply ashamed or afraid.  But there has always something that has kept me going, kept me in the game: it was the quiet but consistent voice of my soul looking out for me, reminding me over and over to return to music, despite my fears, knowing more than I know about the soul’s destiny. And so I have shown up here with you tonight, with all my selves, playing my songs that reflect the truths I have collected up until now. Some truths are deeply personal, some are universal. If you get half as much enjoyment out of listening as I have out of creating and playing these songs, then I think we will have a really great evening!

I also want to say that I am very honored that there are young people here tonight. It is deeply meaningful for me to nurture the creativity of their unique souls. As a young person myself, I felt very powerless in the world, and I retreated into my own inner world of creative expression. In this way, I kept my voice true, even if it was a secret. I longed to have another person see my yearning to perform, to encourage me, to guide me deeper into myself.  This year I have had so many incredible opportunities to do this for others, which brings me to our next song. It is with great pleasure to introduce the amazing, Maria Jose Favela, who played La Flor in El Principito en Baja—the play that opened the film festival last month. Working with Maria José has been greatly nurturing to my own soul.

My hope tonight is that I may inspire you and spark your unique inner fire, that secret thing that you need to be, but can’t fully allow, or to have the courage to look honestly within, making space for and having compassion for your shadow selves, your struggles and fears as well as your love and power.

Remember: you are never too young, or too old, to be who you are already are.