Friday, March 4, 2011

blog has moved.

Hello..to the 7 people who follow my blog--Thanks, by the way-- the blog has moved from this site to Wordpress... the URL is http://www.capecodwoman.wordpress.com/ 

Thanks, I hope you will all follow me over there!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Blocked No More

I finally did it. This weekend, with some free time on my hands and very little in my energy reserves, I broke through my songwriter's block. Block...it was more like a brick wall, but in any case, I chipped away at it until something finally got through. On a quality level I'm not sure where it ranks, but hey, after 20 years I'll take anything. It's a beginning, if nothing else.


Lately I've been listening to a few singer/songwriters, hoping to find some inspiration. To hear how their lyrics flow, to hear what kinds of words they use, and what kinds of melodies they chose to pair with those lyrics. I've never been one of those musicians who has songs mysteriously just "come" to me, as in a dream. For as long as I can remember I've always had to sit down and really work at crafting a song. Some were ok, some were crap. Such is life. I was hoping some of the creativity of these other singer/songwriters would seep into my subconscious by way of osmosis...but not to the point where I might end up unwittingly copying them in any way. I got some ideas that I filed away in my brain for a later date. (I instantly forgot those ideas because I didn't write any of them down.)

I had a complete set of lyrics and had no music for them...then one night I was noodling around on my guitar, and came up with a chord progression I kind of liked. And I decided I was in a 3/4 waltz shuffle kind of mood, so I played the chord progression that way. I liked it. Unfortunately, I did not like it with the lyrics I had. So...I started writing, in a stream of consciousness sort of way, just writing anything that popped into my head. I'm not sure what made me start thinking of a particular person and situation, but for some reason I started to think of my earlier "Rejection" post...and the writing became fast and furious-less fast and more furious I suppose.

Then I tried to mesh the words I had written with the chord progression, but it just didn't seem to want to fit together. Something wasn't quite right, but all of a sudden the dam burst, and ideas and melodies just came flooding into my brain. I grabbed my iPhone, which has a handy little voice recorder in it, and I quickly recorded little snippets before they vanished from my mind as quickly as they appeared. Within the next hour, I had a completed song on paper. I was elated, thinking to myself "I did it! I finally did it! After scraping off 20 years of rust, I finally managed to find that former me that was a singer/songwriter/musician and drag her back to the surface. I took a deep breath and enjoyed that triumphant moment, before playing the whole song again, just to make sure it was real.

The song is not ready for public ears just yet. My musician friends will agree that it takes multiple run-throughs and edits, polishing and perfecting, before a song is really a song. I'm sure I'll tweak and edit some more here and there, because every time I play the song, I find something else to change that makes it that much better. Eventually, when I'm satisfied, (although I'm never completely satisfied, and I never really feel that my songs are as good as other people's) I'll post the song online somewhere, either on YouTube or some mp3 file sharing site. I'm not sure how to go about recording it just yet...we had much less sophisticated recording equipment twenty years ago. I remember thinking I was so advanced in 1985, using my Tascam 4 Track recorder to lay multiple tracks. Now everything is done on laptops, which is great but I am not yet familiar with the software that is available or the process for using any of it.

I'll get there, I'm sure, just like I finally got back to once again being a musician, and oh how I missed it. Next project: those lyrics I didn't use that are still missing their melody. I'm really hoping I'm on a roll, and the wall will remain down.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

songwriters who inspire me...a video sampler

To go along with yesterday's post about songwriter's block, I thought I'd try a new twist and do a video blog. Not me talking at you via YouTube, but a sampler of sorts, of some of the songwriters that inspire me. This is a small sample, naturally, because I couldn't possibly find videos of all the songwriters I like and respect. I probably can't even name them all in one post. For some, I may even post two videos, because I just can't get enough. Without further ado, here are some of my favorites:
Jim Cuddy





Rose Cousins- Home...probably my favorite song of hers. Beautiful.


Tim Easton

Amos Lee - from just this week on Letterman



Chris Trapper -



Ray LaMontagne actually I'm posting two of his... just because.

 



There you have it, but believe me when I say...this is a SMALL sample of the songwriters who inspire me...and I keep hearing new ones every day, it seems. I don't know if I will ever consider any of my songs on the same level as theirs, but it's something to aim for.



Wednesday, February 23, 2011

songwriter's block

I've been struggling lately. When it comes to this blog, I seem to have no problem coming up with something to say, even if the topic may not interest anyone other than myself. It's become more of an online journal than an informational blog. When it comes to songwriting, however, I am stuck like a monster truck in quicksand. Hmm, possible song title?
 I've Googled "songwriter's block" and found all kinds of advice on how to "cure" it, and most of the suggestions are either common sensical or too dumb to even consider. For example, one blogger suggests taking a nap, or listening to someone else's music. Who has time for a nap? And I do listen to other people's songs, but I'm always afraid I'll subconsciously plagiarise a lyric or a melody. I listen to singer/songwriters I respect and admire, like Jim Cuddy, and I've noticed a few things. I've noticed that Jim has a few phrases that he must really like, because he uses them quite often in his songs. Phrases like "caving in" and the image of lying on a bed seem to reappear in many of his songs. I wonder if anyone else has ever noticed it. I'm sure it can't be because he is stumped for a phrase or a visual, so he says "hey I'll just go with the old tried and true "caving in" line again". Maybe he's not even aware that he's used it in multiple songs. He probably is though. But after over twenty very successful years in the business I don't think anyone is going to complain, certainly not I.

Part of my problem is coming up with good lyrics that convey what I'm trying to express without sounding cliché or sappy. It would help if I knew what it is I'm trying to say. There are too many thoughts in my head most of the time, so it's difficult to narrow it down to a few simple lines. That is another thing I've noticed in the songs I really like. The lyrics are so simple. They don't ramble on, complicating things by being too verbose. They say what the writer feels, simple and to the point. Jim's lyrics are pure poetry. Some are longer than others, but his words paint a picture, and tell a story. For example, from "5 Days in May", one of my favorites:

 
All I know is one cloudy day


They both just ran away


Rain on the windshield heading South


Ohh she loved the lines around his mouth


I think the last line is one of my all time favorites lyrics, and I have no idea why. He uses words that make the listener feel what he wants them to feel, and it works. I spend too much time searching for just the right words...and end up sitting there looking at a blank page. When I finally do get a song written I fear it will be a very angry song because I'm so frustrated by the whole process.

The actual music is the other stumbling block for me. I write songs using my guitar, and if I'm being totally honest here, I'm not the world's best guitarist. I've been playing since I was fifteen, but I have not mastered the instrument. I don't know as many chords as I should, I suppose, but I can learn more. It seems when writing, however, I go to the same familiar chords, and there aren't a whole lot of those. When I was at Berklee, I was there as a vocalist, not a guitarist, so I did not take guitar lessons. I haven't had a real guitar lesson since high school. I can play enough to get by, enough to accompany myself, and I feel like I'm getting better now that I'm playing on a regular basis again. When I got married and started having babies, I put my guitar away and didn't touch it for over ten years. That's a lot of rust to get out of my fingers. Now I'm also trying to teach myself how to play the Irish bouzouki, which is an infuriating instrument. It is not as easy as I thought it would be, and it has been leaning against the wall in my bedroom mocking me since I broke a string last weekend. It will remain there until I can special order some strings and have them mailed to me. In the meantime hopefully I can conquer this writer's block and get something done.

I think I'm putting too much pressure on myself. I want to write a really good song, a beautiful song, a song that will move people. The problem is, I have no idea what it's about, or what I want to say. I have a few ideas rolling around in my brain, and that could also be part of the problem. These ideas are battling for my attention. I need to pick one and stick with it, whether it's a song that tells a story, a love song, or a kid's song. I just don't want it to suck.



All I know is, until I get past this block, I'm singin' the blues.

addicted to technology?

Does this look familiar?


It's funny, no doubt, but I bet some of us can relate a little too much to Fred's panic while in the "loop". I know I can.

Yesterday I got my very first iPhone. I have not been able to turn it off. I mean, I know HOW to turn it off...I just don't want to. It will take me days to figure out everything this phone can do, possibly weeks. I'm sure my 9-year-old could figure it all out in about 30 minutes, but hey...I'm slightly older than him and my brain doesn't function the way it did before I had kids. Nevermind the fact that I went to college in the 80's at a music school...

So now I have two computers at home, one at the office, an mp3 player, a Kindle, a work cell phone, a GPS, a digital camera, my old cell phone, and now my new iPhone. I use ALL of them on a regular basis, too. It is rare that anyone sees me without some electronic gadget in my hot little hands. Much like dear Fred, I can't put them down once I start using them. And, like Fred, when I am at home on my laptop, I'm usually multitasking. I email, while I have a chat box open, while I'm listening to music, and sometimes surfing the web, Tweeting, Facebooking--it's a wonder my laptop doesn't just shut itself down in a rebellious fit. I wonder what all of this techno-multitasking is doing to my brain. Is it making it stronger, because I'm focusing on more than one thing at a time? Or is it weakening it, because let's face it, am I really that focused on any one thing if I'm doing that many things at once? Is it shortening my attention span?
I even multitask on the bus, during my two-hour commute to work. I usually have my ear buds in, listening to music, while reading my Kindle...with the occasional email response or Tweet. What I should really be doing on the bus is trying to nap, and make up for some of the sleep I'm missing out on because I have to get up at 4:30am.

Sadly, I know I'm not the only one like this. I happen to know for a fact that several of my friends are the same way. I know because they are the people I'm emailing, tweeting, FaceBooking and texting when I'm on the bus. I just hope it's not shortening our attention sp...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Justice

*editorial note: Normally I would not post another blog entry so soon after my previous one, however I feel the need to get this out there for anyone who may benefit from it. I just hung up the phone with my friend, about whom I wrote this post. He sounded in good spirits, hopeful for a positive outcome on February 16th. If any of you knows someone who is fighting the battle of their lives against injustice, please tell them to keep fighting and don't ever give up.*

I have a friend in a tough situation. We've been friends for about two and a half years and for two of those years he's been in prison. We became acquainted with one another after I called his talk radio show on a couple of occasions to argue with him. He's a republican and I'm a democrat, so naturally we rarely saw eye to eye on anything political. However, even when we were disagreeing we always maintained our senses of humor, laughing with each other because of a mutual respect between us. He made me crazy at times, but he also made me laugh and I became quite fond of him.

One day his radio station made some cuts and my friend was one of a group of people let go. His show was canceled and he was suddenly out of work along with several of his colleagues. The recession was in its early days and layoffs were starting to happen all across the country. That was shocking not only to my friend but also to his many listeners. I hoped that he would find a new home for his show on another station without too much delay. I received an email from him saying he was ok, just in shock, and that he had some irons in the fire and was working on some leads. He asked me about the internet radio station I had at the time and how I'd gotten that started. We emailed back and forth several times over the next week, brainstorming and chatting. Then one night as I was watching the evening news, I saw my friend being led away in handcuffs, having been arrested on a fugitive from justice charge. Fugitive? Wouldn't that have meant he was hiding out somewhere, avoiding the law? How do you have a daily radio talk show for over a year if you're a fugitive? He was accused of a crime that allegedly took place over four years ago. FOUR YEARS and they were just getting around to arresting him now? Did they have trouble finding him, though he was on public radio every weekday morning, and active and quite visible in his community? I found out later that his accuser had just gotten around to telling this tale, which was the reason for the time-lapse. Four years...no evidence, no eyewitnesses, just one person's word against another's. I figured he'd be in and out within a week with such a flimsy case against him. After all, we have a great justice system here in the good old USA right? Lack of evidence and the four-year time-lapse surely would be enough to have the whole thing thrown out of court right?

That was two years ago, and my friend is still in prison, awaiting trial. He had to rely on weak public defenders (more than one) and bail hearing after bail hearing. My friend does not have the financial resources to pay his ridiculously disproportionate bail or hire an attorney who specializes in his type of case. Only recently, after a friend who happened to be an attorney stepped in, has he received a court date for a day this month. NOTE: My friend could have accepted a deal and been released a long time ago, but that would have meant pleading guilty to a lesser charge. He would not do that. He maintains his innocence, and will not say otherwise just to be released from prison. My friend refuses to cave in and admit to a crime that he swears he did not commit, no matter how long he has to sit in prison. I have great respect for him because of that. He is standing up for himself, his integrity, and for every other person who has been wrongly accused and imprisoned. Because of this he has lost everything: his home, his reputation, and even some of his friends and family. But still he perseveres. I write him letters of encouragement, reminding him that he is not alone. He needs to know that someone believes in him, and I am not the only one. I know he gets letters from other friends as well, giving support and encouragement. I don't know what he'll do once he gets out. I just hope he can rebuild his life and not be bitter about what happened to him.

I know some of you are reading this thinking "how can you be so sure he's innocent?" or "how can you be so trusting?" and I don't blame you. But think of it this way: what if it was me? What if it was you or one of your family members? People are wrongly imprisoned every day in this country, don't kid yourself. Our system is broken and until something is done to fix it, this will continue to happen every day. Since the advancement of DNA research, hundreds of people, wrongly imprisoned, have been released but more needs to be done. These people shouldn't have been incarcerated in the first place, but because of glitches in the system, reliance on faulty eye witnesses, or circumstantial evidence they were sent to prison, some for years. Lives are ruined, lost, and forgotten.
The other reason I continue to give my friend the benefit of the doubt can be found in my last blog post. I cannot turn my back on someone who would refuse to take a deal in order stand up for what's right. If he is willing to remain in prison for two years rather than plead guilty to something he did not do, how can I shut the door on him? At the end of my last post I said that the lesson I'd learned from being ignored or having the door slammed in my face was to give people the benefit of the doubt and listen to them. Acknowledge them and really hear them, as a fellow human being. I'm not stupid or naive. I am fully aware that there are some people out there who are dishonest and take advantage of others' good hearts. I know, everyone in prison is "innocent". I have been fooled before by people I believed in and it's not a great feeling. If I'm wrong about my friend and he's not the person I believe him to be, then that's on him, not me. If that is the case, he'll have to live with that karma. I have faith in him, though, and I truly believe he is innocent.

We all need someone to believe in us, especially in our darkest hours. How would it feel if everyone turned their backs on you when you needed them the most?

I'll be thinking of my friend on the date of his trial, hoping for justice.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Rejection

I’m not quite sure how to tackle this blog entry…perhaps I should turn off the computer and walk away. I was advised by friends, however, that writing might help me get these feelings off my chest so I can let them go once and for all. And these are very caring and smart friends so I think I’ll take their advice. They also recommended burning or deleting my writing after completion, not posting it for the entire world to see, but I’ll make that decision when I’m finished. Their suggestion was just to go through the process, as an exercise, to release those hurt feelings. Just typing the phrase “hurt feelings” made me feel silly. What am I, a fourth grader? At my age I should be beyond letting others hurt my feelings, right? I’m not a wuss. I’m a strong, independent, educated, mature (most of the time) woman…how can it be possible for someone to hurt my feelings?


While going through this exercise, although I do want to purge these nagging thoughts from my mind, I also don’t want to come off as whiney, sniveling, or immature. I hope that’s not how it comes across. Maybe that will be the deciding factor in whether or not it gets deleted or posted.


Let me start by saying, I didn’t used to be the kind of person who took risks, or reached out to strangers, or put myself out there at all. I was shy, intimidated, and timid, afraid of rejection and tried to avoid ridicule at all costs. Somewhere along the line I grew out of that. Maybe it was when I was attending Berklee College of Music as a vocalist, where enduring rejection, ridicule, and criticism was part of the learning process. I didn’t exactly develop a thick skin, because believe me, it still hurts, but I’m more willing to risk my pride now that I’m older, because I had plenty of practice and I learned to laugh at myself.


It could be my job as an outreach coordinator. I’m forced to reach out to people and try to make connections, all the while risking rejection. I don’t take that personally, however, because it’s just part of the job. If it doesn’t work out, I move on and get over it because I have nothing personally invested. For the most part, I am successful, I make many good and meaningful connections. I’m told I’m very good at my job. This leads me to my current situation.


I have reached out, repeatedly, to a few people who are important to me. They don’t even realize that they are important to me, or why. They are meaningful to me because they are part of a bigger picture, and I really want to make this connection. It’s hard to explain it here without giving too much away, and I really don’t want to tell it all. I’ll just say that by shutting me out they are leaving a gaping hole in this chapter of my life story. I can’t understand it, because it’s not like I’m trying to latch onto them, force myself into their lives, or become important to them. I’m just trying to reach out and make a connection, simple as that. I’m not untrustworthy, or unworthy for that matter. But that is how I feel when they shut the door on me. It’s frustrating to me and frankly, it hurts.


I’m a decent person. I’m not mean-spirited, jealous, or an opportunist. I just want to make a connection with a few people who mean something to me. They are part of my life not by choice, but by circumstance. We are just a few common threads woven into a complex tapestry.


On days that I feel invincible, I like to think that it’s their loss, not mine. Go ahead, shut me out, but you’re missing out on knowing a great person who would like to share some common experiences with you. Screw you, basically. I don’t need you. But on other days when I’m not feeling quite so superhuman, internally I’m standing outside that door begging to be let in, feeling unworthy and inadequate. It’s painful.

I guess we never learn to fully accept rejection, no matter how old we get, or how practiced we are. It always hurts. We just learn to hide that hurt and smile through it. This experience has taught me something, though, so maybe it hasn’t been a total loss. I will never shut the door on someone who is making an honest, sincere attempt to reach out to me. I will give that person the benefit of the doubt, and at least listen to what they have to say before I decide if I want to continue to have any kind of relationship with them. Maybe that was a lesson I needed to learn and this is Karma’s way of making me learn it…if so, it sure is a hefty price to pay for a life lesson.


I’m not sure what kind of day today is…but, though it still makes me feel a little sad, I’m leaning more toward the screw you type.


If you’re reading this, it’s obvious what my decision was, and I made that decision because even if I come off sounding selfish and whiney, it might help someone else who is feeling inadequate or unworthy. Let’s say it together: “screw ‘em”.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Inspiration

Writers always say, when giving writing advice, to try to write every day, without fail. Even if it’s just a paragraph, you should try to write something, even if it’s awful and will never see the light of day. I’m thinking of giving that a try. I should be doing it with songwriting, but maybe if I start with the blog, the songwriting will follow naturally on its own. Maybe.


Today I’m thinking about inspiration. What inspires people? I know that answer is different for everyone, but I’m curious. I find that I am inspired by other people, more often than any other particular thing or setting, or situation. As a musician, I’m inspired by other musicians, who I think are doing great work. My cousin, Alan, for example, is a huge source of inspiration to me. We are close in age, and he is actually living my dream life. I look at him and think, “Wow, he’s doing everything he wants, and probably some things he never even dreamed of before. He’s almost as old as me, and he’s still doing it.” And he’s doing it very well, putting all of his talents to work, not letting them go to waste, as I have been guilty of doing for the past couple of decades. I wonder sometimes, if he ever felt the same fear or self doubt that I feel every time I think about getting back into music. If he did, I wonder how he overcame that. That is something I’d like to ask him someday.


I’m also inspired by some of the local musicians I run into here on the Cape. People who play at O’Shea’s, a place I’ve come to love. There are so many talented musicians here, and there are a few I’d really like to befriend and learn from, and maybe sit in with.

When it comes to songwriting, I’m most inspired by Jim Cuddy, from Blue Rodeo. There is something about his lyrics that I cannot explain. They are simple, but so powerful and moving. And when I say simple, I mean that when I hear them, I think “now why can’t I write something like that? Simple and to the point, but clearly expressing everything he’s trying to get across.” I’ll be driving in the car, listening to a Blue Rodeo tune, or a Jim Cuddy tune, and hear one of those lines and say, “YES!” He touches on common emotions and sentiments, so simply and eloquently. Then when I go home and try to do the same thing, I end up getting frustrated and giving up. It can be maddening. How do these musicians write such beautiful songs? I just don’t get it. I’ve been trying since October, after returning from Newfoundland, to write a song that might possibly come close to expressing my feelings about that place, and I have done nothing but curse and tear pages out of my notebook, crumpling them up and firing them into the wastebasket. Needless to say, songwriting is not something that comes naturally to me. I’m used to keeping my feelings bottled up inside…typical repressed Irish Catholic girl that I am. It’s enough to give me a migraine.

So, this is my struggle for the New Year. To overcome this roadblock, and create something--anything-- that I can play in public without ending up humiliated. To get this stuff out of me, in a creative and maybe even beautiful way, and to once and for all clear the songwriting hurdle and move the hell on.
I’ll be looking for some inspiration.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Finding more than just my roots in Newfoundland

I’ve been trying to write about my trip to Newfoundland for some time now. Ok, maybe that’s not entirely true…I’ve WANTED to write about my trip for some time now, but have not been able to concentrate long enough, or find the right words, or reign in all of my impressions and feelings about it in order to actually write it all out. It was only one week in October, but there is so much in my heart and head regarding that week that it makes it difficult to find the words…but I will do my best, before too much time passes and it all starts to feel like a sweet dream. That one week has inspired me to learn more about my heritage, as well as to get back to my music, which I've let sit dormant for far too long. Maybe a blog posting will start the writing juices flowing again and it will carry over into my songwriting…one can only hope. I keep trying to shorten the story, but I’m not sure I want to do that. So a word of warning—she’s a long one.

By way of explanation, I guess I should start by saying that over a year ago I began working on my family tree. I didn’t really know much about my mother’s side of the family, but the more I learned, the more fascinating it was. I knew my mother’s family was from Newfoundland, and I knew I still had cousins there, but that was pretty much all I knew. I knew nothing of Newfoundland itself, and the more I learned the more curious I became. Then one day my cousin Joanne mentioned something about our Newfoundland 2nd cousin, Alan Doyle, being in some movie with Russell Crowe called Robin Hood. She also mentioned that he was in a band called Great Big Sea. That sparked my curiosity; since my mother had told me before that I had cousins in Newfoundland who were musicians, so I did some Googling. I had no idea that Great Big Sea was so big, and had been together for 17 years, and were about to release their 10th studio cd. Impressive, to say the least. I listened…I liked it…I was hooked. I wanted to learn more about Newfoundland and its musical culture, and meet some of these very musical cousins. Luckily we got to see Cousin Alan before the trip, when GBS was in town for a couple of gigs. My boys were thrilled to meet their movie star relative, who they think is “very cool”.
The King b'ys and mom's cousin Alan Doyle

Rich and I flew from Boston to Halifax, NS, then on to St. John’s NL, on October 11, 2010. When planning the trip, I’d neglected to note that October 11th happens to be Thanksgiving Day in Canada...next time I will be more aware. We almost missed our connecting flight to St. John’s and ended up running through the Halifax airport, surely raising suspicions as we rushed through security and customs in order to make our flight. If we’d missed it, we were stuck because there were no more flights to St. John’s that day. Another lesson learned for when I plan my next trip—leave plenty of time between flights.


Luckily, things went smoothly from that point on, until we tried to leave…but I’ll get back to that. Rose and Bill were there to greet us when we landed in St. John’s which really helped us feel more relaxed. We seemed to recognize each other right away. After getting our rental car, we followed Rose and Bill to my Great Uncle Jerry’s place for a quick visit. It was so great to see Jerry and Mary again after so many years. I think the last time I’d seen them was when I was in high school, so over 20 years. Of course, they looked exactly the same as I’d remembered them, and we had a really nice visit. I was so excited just to be in Newfoundland, seeing family and in most cases, meeting family members for the first time.

Great Uncle Jerry and Great Aunt Mary Doyle

That first night, we had dinner at Don Cherry’s restaurant. I thought of my 12 year old son who was both a hockey fanatic and a fan of anything Canadian. After dinner, we went back to the hotel bar and drank Screech late into the evening.


I loved Newfoundland right away. I don’t know why exactly, but I felt totally at ease from the moment I arrived, like I’d come home. I ended up falling in love with St. John’s as well, after spending the following day wandering around downtown. We were lucky to find a parking spot, left the car behind, and explored on foot. We went into many different shops and cafés and without fail were greeted warmly by everyone we met. It took some getting used to at first, but by the end of the week, it had rubbed off on me and I found myself talking to just about everyone I ran into. I think Rich was starting to wonder what was happening to his wife.


One of the highlights of this trip was the second day, Tuesday. After an awesome lunch of fish and chips at Leo’s, (has to be one of the best places to have fish and chips in St. John’s) we stopped in O’Brien’s Music shop, which is one of the oldest shops in St. John’s. There, I bought an Irish bouzouki. Gordon O’Brien, the owner, was extremely nice, helping me choose my bouzouki, then taking care of the case, some personal adjustments to the instrument, and shipping to the US. What a great shop the O’Brien family has there- I will be stopping in the next time I’m in town, for sure. Oh, and, since I know some of you are wondering…No, I don’t know how to play the Irish bouzouki, but I am slowly teaching myself to play. (key word being slowly) So far I can play one song, and I’m working on some more. My cousin Alan Doyle plays one, as does his band mate Bob Hallett, so I figured, why can’t I learn? I’ve played guitar since I was 15, and I have a degree in music education from Berklee…if I can’t teach myself who can? Turns out it’s a lot more difficult than it looks.
Leo's had the best fish and chips




We also went up to Signal Hill that day, where stands Cabot Tower. From there you can see some of the most magnificent views of St. John’s and the harbor. Windy but well worth it!









That night my cousin Leslie-Anne had us over for dinner. She has a beautiful new home, which was warm and welcoming just like her. Her young son Liam was there too and he entertained us with a few songs. He is adorable, and was such a good boy during our visit. Dinner was delicious, and afterward some other Doyle relatives arrived. I was getting excited, because I had a feeling this was going to be a fun night! We all ended up in Leslie-Anne’s living room-Rose with her accordion, and a few other cousins had brought guitars. There was even a set of spoons, which we gave to Rich. We all sat in a big circle; everyone taking turns singing/playing songs.


Suddenly I felt panicky and nervous, because I didn’t know any of the songs they were doing! It had also been at least a decade since I’d performed in front of anyone, and I was suddenly wracked with stage fright. What was wrong with me? This was my family…ok, I’d just met them but still, they’re my family! And they are all so wonderful and warm and friendly, I had no good reason to be so nervous. Finally, after a few drinks, I forced myself to sing Raglan Road, an old Irish tune I had just recently heard and tried to learn. Better than nothing, I figured, but it was certainly not as good as the music I’d heard in that room up until that moment. I just couldn’t allow myself to let that night go by without participating, so I had to literally force myself to sing that song. I’m glad I did it, now, but trust me, next time I’ll be much better prepared! I think the highlight of that evening, besides getting to meet a bunch of Doyle family, was when Great Uncle Jerry stood up and recited, from memory, a few poems. Great Uncle Jerry is 93.
The next day, Wednesday, was rainy. I think it was the only day it rained the whole week. Rich and I went back downtown anyway, and wandered around in the rain. I just love walking around downtown St. John’s no matter the weather. We ducked into a small café, had some coffee and watched people walk by the front window. We went to Fred’s record store, a funky looking purple shop, and browsed for a while. I have to admit to spending more than I probably should have on music that week. Five or six new CD’s came home in my suitcase, if not more. I wanted to bring Newfoundland home with me, and the music was a huge part of that.


That afternoon my cousin Jim came and picked us up at our hotel. He drove us to Petty Harbour, where my grandfather was from. I’d been really looking forward to seeing this area, and it was too bad that the weather was so wet, but it was still a stunning place to see. Jim showed us where several relatives were born or had lived, telling us stories and stopping now and then so I could jump out of the car to snap photos. I tried to imagine what it was like growing up there, in a simpler time. Though I know it was not during the easiest of times, it must have been beautiful. I loved how families all lived close by to each other, and stayed close. I don’t think I ever experienced that here in the States, which, regretfully, is probably why I don’t know my relatives very well. Jim also took us to see Cape Spear, the easternmost point in North America. That night we had dinner downtown (for some reason I was constantly drawn to downtown) at Velma’s, where I had cod tongues…yes that’s right, cod tongues…and they weren’t bad. Then we went across the street to Nautical Nellie’s for a few pints before heading back to the hotel.


Petty Harbour
Cape Spear Lighthouse
Thursday we visited The Rooms. What a place that is—art gallery, museum, archives, restaurant, all in one. And it has one of the most amazing views of St. John’s you could possibly imagine. We spent a few hours there, although I did not go into the archives. I wouldn’t even know where to begin searching for information about my family, and it was a little overwhelming. I think I would need a whole day for that.


That evening we had a great dinner with Rose and Bill after doing some more driving and sightseeing. Everywhere we went was so beautiful! Portugal Cove was amazing, especially the sunset. After dinner, Rose and Bill dropped us off on George Street.


beginning of George Street

We went to O’Reilly’s, because I had heard that Fergus O’Byrne was playing there and I wanted to see him. When we walked in, instead of Fergus on stage, there was this young guy, playing guitar and singing. He sounded a little bit like James Taylor, I thought. Turned out his name was Allan Byrne. I thought, could he be related to Matthew Byrne, the St. John’s musician I had only recently discovered before the trip? About a week before we left for Newfoundland, I stumbled upon the music of Matthew Byrne, listened to it, and downloaded his CD. I thought he sounded a bit like James Taylor too…funny. I asked our friendly barmaid, and indeed Allan was Matthew’s brother. A few minutes later, who should walk into the bar but Matthew himself! Well, if I couldn’t see Fergus, this was a pretty good substitution! I sent pints over to both Allan and Matthew, and then after a while I walked over and said hello. They were both very nice and friendly, and more than a little surprised when I mentioned that I was from Cape Cod, and had been listening and sharing Matthew’s music for the past two weeks! It was such a fun night at O’Reilly’s that we ended up staying there, and missing out on all the other pubs on George Street! (It just gives me yet another reason to return.) We took a cab back to the hotel that night…neither of us was in any condition to drive after a night at O’Reilly’s!

Allan and Matthew Byrne


Allan Byrne


The next day, sadly, was the day we were to leave Newfoundland. The week had gone by so quickly—much too quickly. We had breakfast with Rose and Bill, who are always great company. I knew I’d miss them when we left, and it was nice to spend our last morning with both of them. We did some more touring by car, and stopped at the Basilica in St. John’s, which is a thoroughly impressive creation. We went in and met a 99 year old nun, who showed us the Veiled Virgin statue. This piece of art was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. It was so realistic; the veil looked like actual cloth. We walked through the Basilica itself, with its gorgeous stained glass windows and two enormous pipe organs. Weeks later, when Christmas Eve rolled around, even though I was back home on the Cape, I couldn’t help wondering what Christmas Eve mass must be like there, and I wished I was there.
We headed to the airport a couple of hours later, boarded our flight, and sat on the tarmac. The pilot announced that the starter switch for one of the engines had failed, and they were trying to get parts for it. Unfortunately, we would have to deplane and rebook our flights. Air Canada put us up at the Comfort Inn at the airport, and we had yet one more night in Newfoundland. I called Rose and Bill, just to leave them a message to let them know what was going on. We were fine, staying at the hotel and having some dinner, and we’d be leaving the next morning, very early. I just wanted to let them know, as a courtesy; after all they’d done for us. I certainly never expected them to drive all the way back out to where we were, but as we were eating dinner, Rich said, “look who’s here”. Yep, it was Rose and Bill, just making sure we were ok! The last thing we wanted was to inconvenience them anymore, but it was a nice surprise to see them both one last time before we left.
Our flight back to Boston was at 5:30am…we made it home safely, with many happy memories and pictures and stories, souvenirs for the boys, and a bottle of Screech. I returned home with a better sense of who I am and where I came from. Add to that a renewed interest in getting back to playing live music, as well as a burning desire to return to Newfoundland as soon as possible. I’m planning on August of 2011, in time for the St. John’s regatta, folk festival, and George Street festival. Join me?

boats in Petty Harbour