MOTHER’S DAY MOTHER’S WAY

mo and fredWhen I was 16, I gave my mother an ultimatum – deal with her addictions or I was leaving. Her decision was articulated clearly, and that’s when I left home. I stayed with a friend, I stayed with my uncle, I went to governor’s school for the arts in the summer, and by fall I set out to start again, now calling my father’s house home. I went in search of music, I wanted to play jazz. And I knew that there had to be more to sound than competition, and I was willing to start at the bottom rung. So at 17 I started in a new school, in another of my three home states, and got my first chance to play in an orchestra, but was told I wasn’t allowed to play clarinet in the jazz band. If I wanted to play that music, I’d have to change my voice, and I don’t take well to being told I have to change who I am. Seemed to go against the ethos of jazz anyway, so I kept going on my own. Thinking I’d never improvised a note in my life…thinking I needed someone to give me permission to try. But dad’s house came with it’s own addictions – anger and belittlement filled the air and suffocated my dreams – and so I started skipping school to get high on culture. I’d drive off to school and continue on to art museums, to hear street musicians, dance in parking lots, read philosophy and spar intellects with my friends. I’d return in the afternoon to work one of my four jobs – anything to stay out of the house – anything to save money and soul for my future.

Mom had started to build herself back, and she’d send letters to tell me what she’d learned. Words don’t come easy to her, I know now those efforts were really from the depth of her soul. I was put on the truancy list so it seemed like a good time to go, and I moved back to Virginia. Back into my grandparents house, because in times of crisis, that’s always where we go.

I was offered scholarships to colleges in the south – opportunities to become an educator– but something else pulled at my soul. So I made a cassette tape audition for a little arts school in Seattle, the place every part of me was dying to go. With a friend who taught himself piano, a director who held my hand, and a teacher who told me to go for it and not look back, I got in. I was too scared to try for the jazz program, too afraid of sounding so bad, so I went for classical training, knowing I could shift tracks once the boat had finally started to sail. I was excited to be accepted, but the stakes had never seemed so high. There were no dorms, tuition was expensive, I had never lived in a city, and I’d be leaving to do so before even legally turning 18. But I was excited. This was my shot. The family, to put it lightly, was not so happy. And all their words still echo in the chambers of insecurity today. No one wanted me to do it – no one saw any value or any way.

Mom and I had started to rebuild. We met on Sundays for lunch and a movie. We saw Titanic 12 times that spring, because it was what was playing that we could agree on. And the longest chance for us to just be with each other. And one day at lunch I made a comment. That I was scared and knew I had to do it anyway – I had to go to Seattle and become a performing musician – and I said in passing that I wish she could come with me, that it would be so much easier that way. And then one day I went to meet her at work, and they said “we’ll really miss your mom” and I said, “why, where is she going” – which is how I learned that she gave her notice that she was moving to Seattle so I could go to art school.

The sun goddess was leaving for the dark forests because I said I had to try.

We came to live without ever visiting. For both of us, it was pretty much the scariest shit ever. One night a couple weeks in, as I sobbed in an Outback parking lot, I kept saying “what have I done to us – everyone was right – I shouldn’t be here trying to do this”…..and not knowing anything about anything, she told me we would be alright. That I needed to do this. That this was me.

She worked her ass off. We both did. We grew up together. I got on my feet, and fell off my feet, and got on my feet again….and so did she….and again, and again, and again…..there’s too many turns in the road to tell for this particular story…

But when I finally graduated, I knew it was because of her, and my ability to continually recommit to music, to performing music, and to making my music in particular has been because she is my backbone. She believes in me even when I don’t.

Never underestimate the impact of one person’s belief in something. Sometimes that’s just yourself, and sometimes it comes from someone else.

A lot has happened in the 18 years since I made that decision to come out here – a lot of turns in my life, body and career – but in terms of partners, supporters, patrons, fans and friends – she’s always, and still is, my No. 1.

This is the first song I ever realized I wrote, way back in 2005. It came in the wake of my divorce, and it was a great surprise to me that the first thing that came out of me was country! Of course now that I understand more about my muse, I’m not surprised at that all. So here’s the first song I ever wrote, and it’s been age updated accordingly. It’s still as true today as it ever was.

Most of the music I make is very different than this. But these are definitely my roots, I was born in the birthplace of country music after all, and for this Mother’s Day I made this living room recording for my momma – who carries a twang that’s the sweetest music my heart knows.

Thanks for standing by me Mo. We now have more good years than we ever had bad. I love you – you are MY sunshine…

“Good Lord Willin” (Beth Fleenor 2005)

Goodness gracious, sakes alive
Good lord willin and the creek don’t rise
I ain’t comin round at your beck and call
And goodness gracious, sakes alive
Good lord willin and the creek don’t rise
If you ain’t nice to me I ain’t comin at all

Goodness gracious, sakes alive
Look at me I’m 35
And I been fightin hard all my life
And goodness gracious, sakes alive
Good lord willin and the creek don’t rise
There’s much more for me than bein his wife

Cause he don’t believe what I seen from that mountain
He don’t believe what I heard from that stream
He don’t believe all these things that I’m talkin
And I been talkin bout them since I’s three

Goodness gracious, sakes alive
Good lord willin and the creek don’t rise
I’m gonna walk the walk all my life
And goodness gracious, sakes alive
Good lord willin and the creek don’t rise

I’m gonna take some power from all this strife
Cause I believe what I seen from that mountain
I believe what I heard from that stream
I believe all these things that I’m talkin
And I been talkin bout them since I’s three

Sometimes Yes and Sometimes No
Sometimes you know when it’s time to go
Sometimes you stay even though you oughta leave
But goodness gracious, sakes alive
Good lord willin and the creek don’t rise
You gonna love me more for being me

Cause you gonna believe what I seen from that mountain
You gonna believe what I heard from that stream
You gonna believe all these things that I’m talkin
And I been talkin bout them since I’s three

Goodness gracious, sakes alive
Good lord willin and the creek don’t rise
They ain’t gonna be back talkin to me
Cause goodness gracious, sakes alive
Good lord willin and the creek don’t rise
I’m gonna live to be 103

(great big special thanks to Tristan Gianola who played guitar for this, and for understanding the paramount importance and inspiration of paying homage to the greatness of mom)

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