I hear that life is short. But compared to what? Everything that comes before and after? Some truisms aren’t true at all. Life isn’t short, not by any measurable standard. That’s just how it feels when you figure out you’re going to die, and you’re going to die without doing a lot of things you thought you might like to do, and if there’s something juicy on your list you’d best jump on it nowish.
Last week I was talking with Liz Frame, a singer-songwriter who stopped singing and songwriting. She spent a bunch of years devoting herself to family. She taught grade school. She was happy and then she wasn’t. The marriage ended. Her mother died. Frame had the epiphany.
“I realized life is way too short to not be doing what it is you love to do,” she said. So in 2007 Frame started going to open mikes. She formed a band. Made an EP. Started playing the club circuit. Made an album. Started playing better rooms. Here‘s a calendar. Frame is 51 now, at once exuberant and clear-eyed.
“I really believe in the record,” she says, “but it can be discouraging. I sent some stuff to somebody at ASCAP in Nashville and he basically said they just don’t hear anything here. And I’m thinking, ‘You don’t?’ So what’s the truth? For anybody pursuing an art endeavor, the truth is your truth. And whoever likes it, it becomes their truth. And that’s what allows artists to keep moving forward, even if it’s on a very small scale. If you’re OK with that then things have a tendency to fall into place on their own. The right people come into your life. Things happen and you’re ready for those things. You pay attention, and before you know it you wake up and you are exactly where you hoped you’d be.”
Jonatha Brooke is a singer, a songwriter, and a caretaker. For the past couple of years her music career has taken a backseat to caring for her mother, a poet who is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Brooke has been writing about it with signature candor in the journal on her website. We spoke on the phone recently during a lull in the action.
Q: I know things are kind of crazy right now. Is this still a good time to talk?
A: This is actually good timing, because we just finished up this morning’s poop drama with mom.
Q: Poop drama? That’s a good place to start.
A: I am a poop expert. I could write a thesis on poop management for the elderly.
Q: Give me a snapshot of the situation. Where is your mom living?
A: Mom lives on three and I live on seven. A year ago August I moved her from her supposedly independent living facility in Boston to an apartment that happened to be open in my building, She was at this very lovely Christian Science manor called The Benevolent Association, but she was not independent or really living. I mean, it was a mess, and she was falling, and everyone was in denial about the reality of her physical needs. So I kind of rode in and told everyone to fuck off and said, “I’m taking it from here.”
The slaying dragons tweet from a couple of days ago was about this song. Everything having to do with “My Cake” has been hard, which is funny because it’s a breezy little thing. The whole enterprise feels more like code-cracking than songwriting. Now I have six parts: drum machine, two keyboard parts and three vocal parts. I have no idea where I’m going from here. Neither does the drum loop, which rolls on forever because my Garageband to MP3 conversion skills are a wee bit limited. Just hit stop when you’re ready. Headphones, by the way, make it sound an awful lot better. Sorry about the pitchiness. It’s hard to sing in tune.