My 3 Things - December 2016

(What is this thing called My 3 Things? Find out in the FAQ.)

LISTENING: Satin Sheets by Willis Alan Ramsey
I'll let you in on a little secret: I'm just now learning how to say "F you" to the Harvard English department in my head and allow myself to write song lyrics as deliciously whimsical as "I wish I was a millionaire / Play rock music and grow long hair / Tell ya boys / ‘Bout a new Rolls-Royce."  (BTW: This whole album is a cult gem. If you don't know ... now you know. #yourewelcome)

LISTENING: Packing Up and Getting Ready To Go by Aretha and Friends
This is a jubilant workout of a song. Aretha and Co. bring every ounce of themselves to the preparations for packing up and getting reading to go. The first time I heard it, I couldn't believe my ears -- there was so much awesome singing and playing going on all at once. What I could believe, though, was my ass shaking and getting down. Are you ready?

LISTENING: Spiritual from the album Steal Away by pianist Hank Jones and bassist Charlie Haden
And now to the sublime. This is but one of a dozen beautiful tunes in this affecting collection. Whenever I am asked the question, "What music do you gift to other people the most?" my answer is "Steal Away." Who can resist the restrained touch of these two masterful players, the richness of these elemental melodies, the satisfying simplicity of two instruments in conversation? No one that I know of, so far. 

//\\// OUTRO //\\//
Thanks for reading! It means the world to me.

I'd love to know what music you are loving right now? Leave a comment in the box below.

Big love,
Kate

My 3 Things - November 2016

What is this thing called My 3 Things? Find out in the FAQ.
 

1. LISTENING: Sarah Vaughan covering "And I Love Her" by the Beatles
Sassy (that's Sarah Vaughan's nickname) always kills me. And nothing kills me more than going down every Youtube rabbit hole and finding yet another video of her making some familiar song utterly her own.

Her cover of this great tune is one of those moments. And her orange lipstick can't be beat!

Whatever you do, you HAVE to listen all the way through to the end. How she treats the last moments of this song, what she does with her voice, gave me goosebumps.

Still does.

2. SEEING: Kerry James Marshall's Mastry at the Met Breuer
"We never allow guests to the Press Previews at the Met," snapped the woman behind the desk at the Met Breuer (aka "the old Whitney") without even looking up at me or my journalist friend with the press pass.

My face felt hot, my hands enormous. I stood completely still, trying to dissolve into the crowd coming and going in the concrete lobby.

She heaved a heavy left arm out, over, and along the desktop, grabbing at a rather homemade sign-in sheet fastened to a worn clipboard. I could see the black pen scrawl of three or four other guests on the non-guest list and the thin white space where I was to write my down my shame, I mean name.

"Put your information down on this," she huffed. The clipboard appeared before my flushed face. I wrote as quickly as I could.

And then I was in!

Awkward but worth it. 

I followed the bespectacled and besuited crowd up the stairs to the start of the show and had my artistic clock cleaned. 

No joke. When I see shows like this it makes me a) want to fall in a heap on the floor and b) stop all this music b.s. and start painting full time. But I digress ... 

If you are unfamiliar with Kerry James Marshall's work, it's time you get familiar.

From the exhibition write-up: "Marshall has long been an inspired and imaginative chronicler of the African American experience. He is known for his large-scale narrative history paintings featuring black figures—defiant assertions of blackness in a medium in which African Americans have long been invisible—and his exploration of art history covers a broad temporal swath stretching from the Renaissance to 20th-century American abstraction." 

     // a little photo I snapped of KJM in front of three of his paintings at the Met \\

I dare you to think of a single living painter who does what he does, who investigates and reshapes the ENTIRE Western canon of art in such a restrained, deeply serious yet deeply playful yet deeply tender yet deeply heart-wrenching way. 

To see so much of his work in one place at one time is completely overwhelming. But if you can only go once, you must go and be overwhelmed.

And if you have the ways and means to, you must go back.

I did last week. I was even more stunned, smashed, and razed by the work. 

At the Press Preview, Marshall said "I always wanted my career to be a thoughtful one." 

He did it. He's doing it. 

PS. As part of this show, Marshall was asked to pick 36 works of art from the entire collection of the Met (Hello!? How awesome is that??) The pieces he selected constitute a not-to-be-missed mash-up of a show within the show -- Dürer, Wyeth, Tooker, a Dan people mask from Côte d'Ivoire, to name only a few. As if you need another reason to go ...)

 

3. SEEING: The film "Moonlight" written and directed by Barry Jenkins
Brilliant? Check.
Tough? Check.
Full of aching heartbreak? Check.
Restrained? Check.
Visually poetic? Check.
The viewer's expectations masterfully thwarted? Check.
Incredible acting? Check.
Important for the culture at large? Check.
Like nothing I've ever seen before? Check.
Not for the faint of heart? Ch-check.
So much more than the sum of all these checks? CHECK. 

 

//\\// OUTRO //\\//

Thanks for reading. I'm super grateful that you take the time. 

Here's what you do next ... 
1) Please leave a comment below in the comment box.

The best kind of comment is when YOU tell ME what YOUR 3 things are -- what you're reading, listening to, thinking about, seeing, pondering, etc. Fill me in! 

2) Send me an email and say Hi. I read everything you send my way. 

Big love,
Kate

PS: I've been playing and singing old and new songs on Facebook Live. It's fun and the sh*t gets real at these mini-concerts. How real? I pretty much cried my way through the most recent one. But it was worth it, as one viewer commented, it was "One of the most brave and beautiful things I've ever seen."

Find these vids on my "official" Facebook Music Page.

Go ahead and "like" the page. That way you'll get notified the next time I play live there.

And don't worry -- you don't have to have a Facebook account to watch. My page is public. 

My 3 Things - October 2016

My 3 Things FAQ 

1. LISTENING: John Coltrane's "Blues to Elvin"
It's not about the saxophone. For me, this song is all about Elvin Jones's drumming, specifically his ride cymbal. Elvin's feel at this tempo is so great -- a buttery, luscious, savory earful. But I am a total sucker for these oh-so-slow tempos. Take your time with this one.

 

2. OFF-THE-GRID-ing: Backpacking in the Wind River Range in Wyoming

This was my view last week.

I was backpacking for five days in the Winds (how the locals say it) with a friend.

That brings my total days off-the-grid to 18 for the year. (In June, I sailed around Svalbard, Norway and was off-the-grid for 13 days.)

Eighteen days that I couldn't reach or be reached via the internet or a cell phone. Thank goodness.

Sure, I'm happy that I racked up that many. But another part of me, the B.S. detector in my head, says : "Seriously? WTF! Only 18 days?? That's nothing. You know your soul needs more downtime than that!"

And that voice is right.  

Here's what I notice when I'm deep in the wilderness, way out-of-touch: it's completely different from opting-out. 

I regularly opt-out of email and texts for a few hours or a half a day. If I've got a songwriting deadline, the phone goes off and and the laptop gets closed and put in a drawer.

But here's the thing: those screens are still right there, just across the room. I can turn them on any damn time I want. It's as easy as reaching over, powering up, and just like that I am sucked into the vortex again, checking texts and skating around the web at the same time. 

When you're off-the-grid, with absolutely no way to connect (my phone went into a zip lock bag in the top of my backpack and pretty much stayed there after we left the trailhead), something different happens to your mind.

The noun "sedimentation" gets close to the feeling: "the natural process in which material is carried to the bottom of a body of water." My thoughts settle. The worries drift downward. The chatter quiets. And the longer I'm off-the-grid, the more everything in my head gets clearer.

With the trail sticking to my boots last week (a September storm had left snow in the shadows and the long, brown path very soupy), each step away from the trailhead and civilization was one step towards clarity. 

Here's hoping I can turn 18 days off-the-grid into 20 or more by the end of 2016.  


3. LOOKING: Artist Sheila Hicks's first show in Canada at the Textile Museum
If I was within striking distance of Toronto this month, I'd run (not walk) to see this show.

Sheila Hicks is a master of "colour, texture, space, and scale," redefining fiber art and influencing a generation (and counting) of contemporary artists. 

It was her quiet, intimate textile works that first beguiled me. But, further down the rabbit hole, her entire wide world opened up: global weaving traditions, the history of painting and sculpture, architecture and much more.

The show is up until February. But I wouldn't wait. Go now. Then write me and tell me how much I am missing. 


//\\// OUTRO //\\//
Thanks so much reading. I'm super grateful for your attention. 

Here's what you do next ...
1) Send me an email saying Hi. Just hit reply and get in touch! I read every email you send.

2) Leave a comment in the box below. Other awesome readers like you like to post their 3 things in the comment box (what their listening to, what's inspiring them, what they're reading, etc.) Get creative and share what things make you feel good this month.


Wanna make my day ... a few days from now?
On October 13 around 8pm EST -- if the internet gods are with me -- I'll be doing another Facebook Live concert.  It'll be happening on my "official" Music Page.

Can't wait for it! It is going to be a bit of a doozy (my Mom died a year ago on October 13 so I will be playing for her.)  I hope to see you there. Until then ...

Big, huge love,
Kate

My 3 Things - September 2016

My 3 Things FAQ

1. LISTENING: Nina Simone's version of Mr. Bojangles
You and I have heard most of the covers of Jerry Jeff Walker's 1968 song but this one is the best.  Sure, you may be attached to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's version or even to Sammy Davis Jr.'s (or Whitney Houston's or John Denver's, to name only a few), but there is no denying that Miss Simone nailed it. There's something about HER voice -- that unmistakable vibrato, the way she sounds vulnerable and powerful -- that matches the scene painted by Walker's lyrics. Mr. Bojangles has beguiled me this past week as I've been writing a new song that is also largely a character sketch. The more I listened to this version, the more I thanked god for singers who can take a very curious, personal song and make it their own.

2. POEMING: "Poetry Off the Shelf" -- The Poetry Foundation's Podcast
Every week, I get a dose of contemporary poetry via this podcast. Host Curtis Fox takes the temperature of the poetry scene via readings, interviews, and short profiles. The best part about the whole endeavor is that "nothing is off limits, and nobody is taken too seriously."

There is always at least one jewel-like moment in each installment. I have to stop what I am doing and jot down names and titles to seek out later. Needless to say, the poetry section of my personal library has grown exponentially since I started eavesdropping on these conversations.

Here are two episodes that are not to be missed: "Middle Passage," a reading and discussion of Robert Hayden's harrowing poem about the slave trade and "The Achievement of Geoffrey Hill," a look at Hill's work on the occasion of his death. (The first minute-and-a-half of Hill's podcast will have you raising your eyebrows in astonishment and mischievous delight.)

3. READING: The New York Review of Books book club
This was a slam dunk of a birthday gift from a friend: a half-year subscription to the New York Review of Books (NYRB) book club.

The books I received -- one a month through the mail -- are ones I probably wouldn't have gravitated to on my own, making them all the more intriguing and important. (Who says I should be reading just what suits my fancy? How will I grow intellectually if I only read things I like? But I digress ...) So far, I've read three of the six: The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe by D.G. Compton, In the Cafe of Lost Youth by Patrick Modiano, and The Hill by Jean Giono. They've all occupied my thoughts in different ways, but my favorite was The Hill. Giono's story of a small village in Provence felt like a fable. His characters are of the land but find themselves up against it. His language is simple, his images startling. I am so looking forward to reading his other books. 

//\\// OUTRO //\\//
As always, THANK YOU for reading and listening. It means so much to me and you are the reason why I do this.

If you are new around here, the drill is this: in the comments below, tell me what YOUR 3 things are or just reach out and say hello. I want to know what's inspiring you, what you are listening to, what you are reading.

Recently, I've been doing surprise Facebook Live performances of brand new songs (I mean really brand new ... Like piping hot brand new). One of my listeners had this to say about a new song I recently played on FB live, "Kate, your song gave me chills. So right to the center of it all, as usual with your work. Amazing, inspiring, soulful and such deeply true emotion."

I'm on Facebook on a Personal Page and also on my "official" Music Page. Say hi on both, please!

Find out when I am doing the next Facebook Live new song video by subscribing to my mailing list. Sign up here.

My 3 Things - August 2016

What is My 3 Things? The FAQ is here.

1. LISTENING: Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now"
This orchestrated version of Joni's best-known song is a touchstone for me as I write the Death album. I listen to a similar version (the one from her album of the same name, released in 2000) almost every day. When I was in Norway on the Arctic Circle Residency (read about it here) , I'd walk out, over, and away and stand in front of a massive, glittering, silent glacier, put on my headphones and listen, tears streaming down my face. Or I'd lean over the bow of the ship and stare into the water, listening, watching the fulmars wheel over the waves, wondering about death, life, those I've lost, and those I've found. 

2. SAVORING: Turkish Peber
Do you ever want a savory candy? Probably not. No one to whom I've posed this question admits that they do, at least not to my face. Well, I've wanted a savory candy for a long time and I finally found one in Norway: Turkish Peber (pronounced "pepper"). It's sweet, but the dominant flavors are salt, black licorice, pepper and ... a certain zing! I'll let you find out for yourself what causes that tongue-puckering zap. It's bizarre, but not unpleasant, and it comes on after the fact. I read somewhere that there's even a Turkish Peber ice cream. Given my love of making absurd ice cream flavors, I say, yes please!

3. EATING: Brunost aka Norwegian Brown Cheese
"It tastes like a weird, super-thick peanut butter." That's what the haters say. I'm a lover and can't get enough of this stuff ever since my first bite aboard the tall ship Antigua in June on the residency. A thin slice on a piece of toast, slathered with butter is my favorite way to eat it. I cannot wait to try the other varieties: Fløtemysost and Ekte geitost. Packing to come home, I put half a block of brown cheese in the bottom of my suitcase. When I ran out, I promptly ordered two blocks from a place online called Willy's Products Scandinavian Food Store. Luckily for me, just last week a fellow artist from my trip texted me this: "They have Brown Cheese at Zabar's!!" Wonders will never cease!

//\\//\\
Ever since I started writing this monthly list of interesting songs, books, ideas, and, yes, food, I've gotten amazing feedback.  

More than a few people have written to ask if they can "steal this idea" and do something like it for their website. Hell yes! Please do!

A chronicle of my thinking and attention, My 3 Things is my way of connecting and sharing what I am up. If you're new around here, Welcome! Don't be afraid to hit reply and send me a message. Some people even like to send me THEIR 3 Things, which I totally encourage! And if you've been following along for awhile, I hope you know how grateful I am. You're the reason I do this. 

Leave a comment below. Let me know that you're here and you're real. I read every one.

My 3 Things - July 2016

1. LISTENING: "You Should Be Here" by Cole Swindell
Given the kinds of songs I'm writing these days, it's no surprise this song found me. Last week, a dear friend asked if I'd heard it. When I said I hadn't, she dialed it up on Spotify, cranked it, and the two of us stood staring out the window thinking of her brother, my Mom, my friend's husband, and countless others that should be here.

2. MAKING WORK & WRITING: The Arctic Circle, June 2016 -- Artist Residency
I just got back from the June 2016 expedition of The Arctic Circle, an artist residency aboard the tall ship Antigua that sails from the port of Longyearbyen, in the international territory of Svalbard, above Norway. We were twenty-seven artists of all disciplines (painters, mixed media, photographers, writers), four polar bear guards/guides and eight crew. We spent two weeks making work in this Arctic archipelago, sailing, hiking, walking, standing, looking, listening, being. 

I did many things on the trip -- played guitar and sang to a glacier and to the pack ice at 81° North parallel, performed at an art-opening in an abandoned Russian coal-mining cantina, recited poems on mountaintops, set square sails with a team of friends in the midnight sun, flew a kite to the end of its string. I also wrote on deck, on beaches, mountaintops, moraines, on snow and ice.

I have been writing letters to my Mom ever since she died.

My 3 Things - June 2016

1. LISTENING: Camille O'Sullivan singing "Look, Mummy"
The doormat lay on the sidewalk. In a mix of fonts, it welcomed me to the Irish Arts Center. I got my ticket from a large woman squeezed into a small coat closet under the stairs. I squeezed myself into a sagging, crooked seat in the second-to-last row. Four songs in, Camille killed me with her raw, heart-wrenching performance of this raw, heart-wrenching song. When I stopped being dead, my only thought was "I wish I'd written that."

 

2. SEEING: Shakespeare's Henriad at Brooklyn Academy of Music in late April
I'm a Shakespeare freak. Though I'd dabbled with the Bard in high school, my habit got serious at Harvard thanks to Professor Marjorie Garber's fantastic class on his later works. Garber's swagger was infectious. She encouraged a deep, visceral engagement with the plays and with the phenomenon of "Shakespeare," in quotation marks, as he appears across the centuries. 

Ever since, I've seen as many of the plays as I can, wherever I can -- in theaters large and small, in warehouses, on movie screens, on people's porches.

My 3 Things - May 2016

1. LISTENING: Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson "Alexandra Leaving"
I have a category in my head for songs like this one: Mystical. Such songs are extremely hard to pull off without sounding cheesy or over-reaching. They transport us to a strange time and place. When I first heard "Alexandra Leaving" it literally floored me. Some part of me is still down there, trying to get up. 

(Want to hear other examples of this type of song? Check out: James Shelton's Lilac Wine (Jeff Buckley's versionNina Simone's version), Kathleen Edwards's The Lone Wolf, Suzanne Vega's The Queen and the Soldier, Van Morrison's Rave On John Donne, Rickie Lee Jones's Ghost Train, and, of course, much of Tom Waits's music. You're welcome.)  

2. SEEING: Jeremy Denk, piano recital at Carnegie Hall
I did not know who Jeremy Denk was until very recently and for that I am sad. His sharply articulate, often hilarious writing about his life as a musician has been an inspiration to me ever since a close friend turned me on to him. (He has a review in this week's NYT Book Review section.) In mid-April, I was lucky enough to catch his recital at Carnegie Hall. I went on a whim, in a rush, snagging a third-row seat, in full view of his hands on the keyboard. 

Though Denk began and ended the afternoon concert with the familiar (Bach's English Suite No. 3 in G minor and Schubert's Piano Sonata in B-flat Major), the show was really about the in-between: a quirky, winding tour of his mind cogitating on the word "ragtime."