So today I saw Van Halen trending on Twitter. My first thoughts drifted to the recent disclosure that guitarist Edward Van Halen has been receiving treatment for throat cancer. Did something serious happen to the second greatest guitarist ever? Has the brilliant creator of numerous classic guitar riffs taken a turn for the worst?
All the chatter centered around a single, simple confession. It seems the latest pop sensation doesn’t know who or what Van Halen is. But that’s to be expected, right? I mean, Billie Eilish, the pop singer in question here, is just 17 years old. She was born in 2001. Van Halen hasn’t released a successful album since 1995’s Balance, which sold 3 million copies (physical copies, no downloads back then) in the United States, and another couple million across the rest of the world.
Okay, I sort of get why some older people might be a little miffed that this kid doesn’t know who the once mighty Van Halen is or were. This is a band that has sold over 80 million albums worldwide. They’ve had two albums pass the ten million (Diamond) sales mark in the United States alone. They’ve been at it for 40-odd years. Their tours are legendary. They’ve more than paid their dues. But do these same angry Van Halen fans know who Billie Eilish is? Most have admitted they don’t.
As stated above, Miss Eilish is just 17 years old (though she’ll be 18 this month). She wasn’t even born when the VH machine made legit music and world-conquering tours. That’s excuse enough right there. Yes, she’s a singer and musician. She ought to know more of the history of who and what came before her. But that is not mandatory. It doesn’t disqualify her from being legit herself because she can’t pass a pop-culture trivia quiz.
Billie Eilish is making some seriously good music. She is touring the world in support of her first album. She’s also released an EP. I own every Van Halen album (including the Sammy Hagar stuff).
I also own both Eilish releases.
I am a music fan.
I cannot wrap my head around the animosity going back and forth on Twitter. Both sides dissing each other. One side accused of being old and out of touch, the other side dismissed as young and ignorant. I couldn’t ever imagine myself dumping on a band like Bill Haley and the Comets simply because they had their success long before I was born. I like the music. I own some of The Comets CD’s. In fact, my collection of nearly a thousand CD’s (and countless downloads) contains music that traverses a wide spectrum. I have music from Django Reinhardt, a French jazz guitarist popular in the 1930’s and 1940’s. I also have many 1940’s Big Band swing jazz albums. Billie Holiday—the original Billie? I possess lots of her music. I own many titles from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis, Grace VanderWaal, Pink, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Tupac, Eminem, and, of course, the aforementioned Van Halen and Billie Eilish.
It’s a collection befitting any true music fan. In my younger days, if it wasn’t metal, it sucked. Then I grew up and my love of music matured. Good musicians always look toward the future with an eye on the past. There aren’t many successful musicians who rise to the top by not knowing the past. But here’s the cool thing: the past is so vast and filled with tons of great music and musicians just waiting to be mined by a new generation. And by that same token, the world today is filled with some incredible new music and talented young musicians. Why would anybody choose to dismiss a band or singer based on age? Music unites, ignorance divides!
For those who may not be familiar with Billie Eilish, have a serious listen:
Are you too young to recall Van Halen’s glory days? Let this seep into your mind:
Grace VanderWaal is a busy young lady these days. The 15-year-old songstress has recently released her fourth single this year, filmed three new videos, spent part of June opening shows for Florence and the Machine, and has just kicked off her own headlining tour across the United States.
“Waste My Time” is VanderWaal’s latest single. The track is quite a departure from the indie-pop sound cultivated on her debut album, Just the Beginning. The vibe here is more in line with the synth-pop sound that is common with dozens of other singers today. That could be dangerous for a performer looking to stand out from the crowd. But it’s the voice that sets “Waste My Time” apart from everything else on the radio today. VanderWaal, simply put, is a gifted vocalist. Her tone is rich and melodic, easily identifiable within the first word or two, and carries an honesty that cannot be faked. And her lower ranges are just incredible!
If I’m being truthful, this one took a couple of listens to grow on me—though it is now on repeat on my iPod. The change in sound is something I (and other FanderWaals I’ve heard from) didn’t expect. And that’s a good thing. Grace VanderWaal will never be accused of growing predictable or complacent with her music. My two favorite bands (Led Zeppelin and Metallica) never recorded two albums that sounded alike. This is what sparks longevity with music fans. It’s what creates classic songs that generations will continue to appreciate.
The accompanying video for “Waste My Time” is quirky and funny and sweet—much like the singer herself. She wanders through an empty convenience store after stepping out of a late-night rain. The only other person in the store is a lifeless clerk named Miguel. Grace is often the brains behind, not just her music, but also the videos. I’m guessing that’s the case with this one as well.
VanderWaal is not yet a superstar—at least not on the Katy Perry/Taylor Swift/Ariana Grande level. Again, I believe that’s a good thing. She seems to be well-grounded and able to handle the success that has come her way thus far. Time is on her side. Grace VanderWaal hasn’t even hit her stride. Her best music has yet to be created. If you have the opportunity to catch her on the “Ur So Beautiful” tour, I highly recommend you do so.
Grace VanderWaal’s Ur So Beautiful Tour Dates
August 10 – Lexington, KY @ Railbird Festival
August 11 – Asheville, NC @ The Orange Peel
August 13 – Nashville, TN @ Cannery Ballroom
August 14 – Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
August 16 – Dallas, TX @ The Granada Theater
August 17 – Austin, TX @ Emo’s
August 18 – Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live
August 21 – Phoenix, AZ @ The Van Buren
August 25 – Santa Ana, CA @ The Observatory – Orange County
August 27 – Los Angeles, CA @ El Rey Theatre
August 29 – San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore
September 1 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The Depot
September 3 – Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater
September 6 – Minneapolis, MN @ Varsity Theater
September 7 – Chicago, IL @ Park West
September 9 – Detroit, MI @ St. Andrews Hall
September 11 – Toronto, ONT @ The Opera House
September 13 – Boston, MA @ Royale Boston
September 14 – New Haven, CT @ College Street Music Hall
September 16 – Philadelphia, PA @ Theater of the Living Arts
September 17 – New York, NY @ Webster Hall
September 20 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
November 22-24 – San Diego, CA @ Wonderfront Music and Arts Festival
deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources.
Eclectic. It’s a word that distills the very essence of singer/songwriter Grace VanderWaal into a single definition—if that’s even possible. To those who have followed this young lady since her rise from YouTube vid kid to international musical acclaim, she’s simply a breath of fresh air in a world of sound-alike pop pablum.
“Stray,” VanderWaal’s latest single and video, pairs Grace’s raspy vocal with a lush, jangly guitar riff that sends this new music in a direction much different from her previous work. And this is a good thing. It’s a sign of maturity and of a fresh approach—rather than an attempted re-capturing of what has already been accomplished.
Her words are poetic and cautionary, filled with real and raw emotion. An undertow of fear and urgency is detectable just below the surface of her mournful voice. The anxiety of growing into an adult and facing a world of uncertainty is a central theme the singer has discussed in recent interviews.
“’Stray’ is close to me,” she explained. “Not because it’s the re-start of my continuing path, but because it explains the exhilarating fear and freedom of growing up. Growing up feels like a storm you weren’t prepared for. But how do you prepare? By practicing and appreciating you.”
Her lyrics in “Stray” illustrate a fear of losing that one thing that has brought her this far: songwriting.
I gotta write a song
But I wanna feel my words
And I keep getting it all wrong
Think it out, write it out, rip it out
Throw it all to the wall
To be certain, this fear is unfounded. She hasn’t lost a step in the songwriting process. If anything, she’s unveiled a greater prowess in crafting melodies and moods and words within her music.
The video for “Stray” is a gorgeous visual steeped in creamy, earthy tones splashed across a canvas of loneliness, longing, and desperation. The desert setting finds Grace, garbed in a long flowing dress and barefoot, searching for something elusive and undefined—a yearning common to human beings since the beginning of time. Symbolism adds to the rich scenery, with VanderWaal riding a bike through desert scrub while blindfolded, adding to the narrative of, not only the song, but of its creator, and her incredible journey in just under three short years.
Director Blythe Thomas skillfully captures mood and vibe and real feeling with an artistry one would expect from a master filmmaker. Her partnership with Grace routinely produces stark and unforgettable results. If you aren’t familiar with the director’s work, I recommend you visit her website. CLICK HERE
The song itself is a haunting piece of guitar-driven beauty—which is something we don’t normally hear in Grace VanderWaal’s music. It is this driving guitar that adds an indie-rock element throughout the track. It stands in contrast to the “Clearly” single, released last March. And “Stray” would show out as markedly different among the tracks on her brilliant Just the Beginning album. This is what elevates her above the mechanical, formulaic pop singers inhabiting today’s musical landscape.
Grace’s music has soul. It has life. It sounds the way music is meant to sound—alive.
Grace VanderWaal’s latest single, “Clearly,” is finally available. This re-imagining of Johnny Nash’s classic 1972 hit “I Can See Clearly Now” became a staple in the fourteen-year-old singer/songwriter’s concerts during the second leg of her Just the Beginning tour over the winter.
One listen to VanderWaal’s rendition, and those familiar with Nash’s version can tell this is a completely different song. In fact, only the chorus remains from the original. Speaking of the track, Grace says, “It’s about hope, and having the courage to face the world, which can be pretty tough sometimes.”
VanderWaal’s voice is always her strongest asset, a gorgeous instrument full of all sorts of lush tones and textures. But those who follow her career—FanderWaals, if you will—know her secret weapon lies in her lyrical prowess. “Clearly” is a fantastic example of this power on full display. Her words have meaning. There’s never a stray verse that lacks cohesion with the rest of the song. She doesn’t drop lines into the mix just because they rhyme or sound cool. Grace is a storyteller. She paints vivid pictures with the poetic beauty of a true artist.
The song and accompanying video go hand in hand—this, too, a hallmark of the genius that is Grace VanderWaal. These are her ideas, her visions, her gifts that she has chosen to share with the world.
“Clearly” is catchy and addictive—as is all of Grace’s music. A gentle acoustic guitar opens the track, ambling along on warm currents of air. VanderWaal’s voice sways with the music in a delicate dance, slowly building from soft desperation to soaring determination. Between the lows and highs, there is a point where her vocals reach that sweet spot that gives even the most jaded among us goosebumps.
The video for this song is a visual feast for the eyes. It opens under a blue sky with just a notion of a cloud. Birds can be heard singing in the trees. Jumpcut to Grace, in a darkened room, dressed in gray sweats, strikingly beautiful in an almost fragile sort of way. A hint of tears gives her the weariness of a struggling soul. And just as VanderWaal’s lyrics paint meaning into the music, so, too, does each and every image captured within this story. As she sings the line “Gone are the dark clouds, the dawn has come,” she frantically wipes away her freshly applied makeup. Down the stairs she goes, ever cautious, wearing a flowing white dress with pale pink accents. She wanders through the kitchen, eyeing herself in a mirror, singing, “Take a breath and say a prayer, find the strength in my despair, it’s not gonna take me down.” Soon she is bursting from the darkness into the sunshiny day. Behind her is the house, its windows filled with singers from a gospel choir—an unexpected and touching scene. The camera play has brilliantly captured the sunshine at just the right moment and at just the right angles.
Nothing is wasted with this young lady. There’s no room for cheap gimmicks. She brings a message of optimism, of hope for a better life—for everybody.
Grace explains, “My favorite lyric from the song is ‘I accept all the things that I cannot change’. As much as we try to change ourselves, we will always be the same person deep down. We should embrace what makes us different and love that about ourselves.”
I’ll happily confess to being a FanderWaal; I have been one since her audition on America’s Got Talent two years ago. Grace’s music has had a profound effect on my view of life and the day to day living it requires. I am at a loss to attempt an explanation. I just know that I want to be a better person when I hear her music. Maybe it’s that voice. Or those lyrics. Perhaps it’s her beautiful melodies. I’m guessing it’s a combination of each. And it’s the girl herself. She is proving to me—and to the rest of the world—that kindness remains a beautiful thing.
Widetrack is an alterna-prog band based in my home state of Michigan. One description tags them as: “Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling holds a group therapy session with members of Pink Floyd and Soundgarden.” The band has recently completed their third album, entitled Widetrack III. This latest offering is filled with great hooks, catchy jams, and some incredible musical moods and addictive vibes.
Widetrack’s lineup consists of Ron Tippin on drums, vocals, and guitar, Ron’s son Zach Tippin handling bass duties, and Brian Burleson on lead guitar.
Long-time band producer Andy Patalan twisted the knobs once again on this latest effort. Patalan, known for his stellar work with 90’s Detroit alt rockers Sponge, offers a great ear in helping the band capture its incredible sound in the studio.
The album kicks off with an infectious rhythm weaving its way through a track called “Burning the Sun.” Solid all the way around, this tune calls to mind a time when music was fresh and exciting. The lyrics draw the listener into soul-searching mode:
The last run
Before the darkness descends
Through one constant frame
Only vices left
To relieve your wait
Demons on your back Feeding off your faith
Knowing not for certain
If its real or feigned
Feeling all the while
Nothing’s bound to change
Knowing something more
There’s no let-up as the band segues into a mesmerizing number entitled “Zero Hour.” The vocals on this one modulate between pleading and demanding, pulling the listener along for a trippy ride.
“Gift” is the third track on the album. The bassline drives an incredible vibe through the center of the song, painting a mood that feels both new and yet still familiar.
“Unknown” kicks into high gear with a frantic chase going on between drums and guitar. The vocals conjure a dreamy state of mind floating above the fray, watching it all unfold.
A nice Queens of the Stone Age-influenced jam called “The Other” follows. The guitar work on this number is stellar, verging on shredder-mode. There are even elements of classic Pink Floyd sprinkled into moments.
“Loveless” is a haunting melody drenched in flourishes of darkness. The vocals are incredible in their delivery of emotion, anguish, and, in brief moments, they even carry a hint of menace.
Bouncing along on a pulsing rhythm, “Desolate” recalls a time when bands had the talent and the skill to flex their musical muscles without even needing to add words. This instrumental tethers Widetrack to some of the great bands of the past while teaching those coming up today that musicianship should always take precedence over image or attitude.
Tracks like “Ghosts” and “Hindsight” and “Life Force” add their own flavor to the stew that makes up this incredible album. But it’s the song called “Transcend” that is the true standout here. The elements that make up this song mesh so well. It transports the listener to another plateau in some far away universe—the way really good music will do. This is currently my favorite track on Widetrack III.
“Still Here” closes out the set. There’s something subtle going on here, underneath the tone of this track. It’s a tension and a volatility that threatens to snap and take over. But it never loses control. The vocals of Ron Tippin keep the mood on an even keel—even as the music itself works up to an almost manic pace toward the end. This is another excellent track on an album loaded with great music.
Widetrack is a band fueled by many contributing influences. These all coalesce into a sound that is both familiar and uniquely their own. The best songwriters in the world are those who, when crafting their music, are able to interlace differing moods within each song. This is what the Beatles and Rush and Pink Floyd did so well. It is refreshing to know that this skill is very much still in use. You won’t find any computer-generated beats on this album. Neither will you find filler material. For those who appreciate the talents of real musicians playing real instruments, Widetrack has an album just for you.
Here’s a pleasant surprise from the FANderWaal News YouTube channel. They were kind enough to share a live video recording of Grace VanderWaal’s Cambridge, MA, show from February 5, 2018. So, I’m sharing the video here, simply because the more I see and hear from this gentle old soul, the more in awe I become! Have a look and a listen.
Every so often, when the stars line up just right, and the angels find themselves all in agreement, there comes to Earth a talent so unique, so otherworldly, that even the staunchest of skeptics begin to consider the notion of reincarnation.
By outward appearances, Grace VanderWaal is a mere child. The world first glimpsed her as a contestant on the hit NBC television program America’s Got Talent. With her distinctive voice and skillful ability on ukulele, this girl dazzled viewers with an original song during audition week. She impressed the judges, who then sent her into the next round with the Golden Buzzer—an honor reserved only for the very best perfomers. With each subsequent week, Grace, like an onion, peeled back the layers and showed the world what lies beneath.
What we saw is a very old soul masquerading as a young girl. Grace VanderWaal, at the tender age of twelve, won season eleven of America’s Got Talent. And now, as if gifting the world, she’s released her debut album entitled Just the Beginning.
So, what does an album from a now-13-year-old sound like?
Pure heaven. Joy. Bliss. A sweet addiction that stirs up all those pleasure receptors in the brain.
I kid you not.
This 12-song full-length album is chock full of catchy tunes and sparkling gems that will still be relevant enough for airplay decades from now. On the album, she works with some award-winning producers that really capture the pure essence of the voice that first got America to take notice. And the fact that young Grace wrote or co-wrote every tune in this package boggles the mind.
The album opens with the ukulele-fueled “Moonlight,” a track that has listeners conjuring summer evenings under the night sky, when holding hands felt like the greatest thing in the world. “Sick of Being Told” moves us quickly into those teenage years of rebellion, when we felt old enough to make our own way, only to be reminded (by every adult) we still had a long road ahead of us.
Beneath lush piano, there’s a torment in Grace’s vocals on the darkly tinged “Burned,” a warning against continuing to do those things you know will only hurt you. “Just A Crush” dares listeners to sit still while hearing the honesty of a person who knows what she wants—and it isn’t the one she’s singing about. “So Much More Than This” is a bouncy number capable of painting even the grayest of winter skies with the lemon-yellow of summer sunshine.
“Talk Good” is a reminder of those moments when the mind wants to say the right thing but the tongue refuses to cooperate.
“Florets” is dreamy and gorgeous, filled with little bits of heaven. This one had been my favorite for the first few listens of Just the Beginning. But then I found myself entangled in the dark poetic beauty of the album’s closing track, “Darkness Keeps Chasing Me.” Anybody who has ever fallen under the blackness of depression can connect with this number. The maturity in her lyrics contradicts Grace’s age:
Opening my eyes
Seems like it gets harder sometimes
Look at the skylight
Would you mad at me if I tried running away to it in the night?
I tried to fight
But I’m not strong enough
I just want you here but I also wanna be alone
I don’t know what I want anymore
This is not a child singing here; this is a wise old sage taking refuge inside a young girl.
Have a listen to “Darkness Keeps Chasing Me” and find out what I’m talking about. If this song doesn’t touch you on some level, you just might want to check your pulse.
I decided to have a little fun with this post. In the years since Jazz Baby first saw publication, some readers have been curious as to what happened to Emily Ann “Baby” Teegarten. Did she ever make it to New York? Were her dreams of singing jazz professionally ever realized? Did she find success? Well, presented here, is an interview with Baby Teegarten, which takes place ten years after the novel ends. This is meant to be a glimpse into the life our protagonist may have created for herself.
The Baby Teegarten Interview!
April 15, 1935
She chose the meeting place. I could lie and tell you readers that I arrived thirty minutes early just to get a feel for the room. But the truth of the matter is, I get a little nervous with this one. Most of you have been reading my column for the better part of 15 years. You know the names that have graced my page: Babe Ruth, Harry Houdini, Clara Bow, Harold Lloyd—even Charlie Chaplin agreed to a sit-down chat back in 1924.
Still, this one is different.
The she I’m referring to is popular jazz vocalist Baby Teegarten. They don’t come any bigger than Baby these days. Three consecutive years as the country’s highest-paid entertainer proves this fact.
I lock down a table at the rear of McSorley’s Tavern on East 7th Street—which also happens to hold a strict policy for not allowing women inside.
But Baby Teegarten, well, she’s not just any woman.
“This is her neighborhood,” the fellow tending bar tells me. “She has a swanky place overlooking Central Park. Bought it from Babe Ruth himself.”
It’s the Babe who introduced Baby to McSorley’s.
“Nobody bothers her in here,” the barkeep explains. “Besides, if she’s pals with the Babe, she’s all right by us.”
I knock back a Scotch and soda. It’s what steadies my nerves. Only Mae West ever had me taking a nip before an interview.
I’ve seen Baby perform a dozen times easily—this going back to those first shows she did at Swelby’s Joint. Two thousand patrons lined up every night just to witness the Baby. She’d been just shy of her fourteenth birthday back in those early shows. But any fool with eyes and ears could tell she was special.
Oh, sure, we all recall the backlash at allowing a mere child up on those club stages. But nobody could—or would—stand in that girl’s way. No, sir. She’d have busted any full-grown man in the chops, should one be so bold as to try.
Prompt, this one. She arrives at 3 o’clock sharp, with her entourage in tow. By entourage I mean her manager, Abe Horowitz, and Job Pritchett, husband of Baby.
Mr. Pritchett, he’s a large fellow, to be sure. Tall and wide, real sturdy; the sort of man who likely spent his youth throwing bales of hay around the farm, maybe even punching cows—literally. Hollywood handsome: blond hair worn messy, pale blue eyes, an easy laugh. He’s more threatening than threatened. Famous in his own right, he’s known the world over for his paintings and sculptures.
Baby is a true vision, greeting patrons by name up by the front door. She’s resplendent in a violet-colored summer dress that falls just below her knees. Diamonds sparkle on her fingers and wrists, her ears, at her delicate throat. There’s even a gold bracelet on her right ankle.
Eyes as green as emeralds track me down in my corner.
There’s a subtle sweetness in her scent.
“Hey, there,” she says. “I’m supposed to talk with you today?”
I’m lost for words in this moment, so I just nod like a mute fool.
“You don’t mind it here, do you?” Her accent is rich, wrapping her every word in a southern twang thicker than molasses—and just as sweet.
My voice carries a slight tremble, but I manage a quick, “No, ma’am.”
Baby Teegarten settles on a bar stool next to mine. “This is Mister Pritchett, my husband,” she says.
Job Pritchett’s massive hand takes mine with a gentle squeeze. “Good to meet you,” he tells me in a boyish tone. A lucky fellow, this one.
Abe Horowitz needs no introduction: Club owner, manager of a handful of singers and musicians. Connected. He mined gold when he discovered Baby Teegarten.
Job’s lips brush Baby’s lips. His voice comes soft, almost a soothing thing. “Me and Abe will be up at the bar—if you need us.”
It passes there in the space between them: his subtle caress of her cheek, her gentle squeeze of his hand. These two are infatuated with one another.
“Lord a-mercy, I love that boy,” she says, once we’re alone. “We got our tenth anniversary coming this summer.” She waves her right hand in my face. “He just got me this one right here.”
She means the full five carat diamond set in white gold on her ring finger.
“What does it feel like to make more money than the president of the United States?” I ask, leading us into the interview.
Her petite shoulders give up a shrug. “Just means I can buy whatever I want—’Cept Jobie’s the one buys my jewelry. That boy makes nearly as much as me.”
She’s a tiny thing, maybe five foot two. I’m guessing it might take an extra big lunch to push her past a hundred pounds. And though she doesn’t mention it, this day is her twenty-third birthday.
I ask, “When did you first start singing?”
“Since I can recollect. Pastor Pritchett first had me up in front of the congregation when I was just five. That’s when I took to singing for other folks who ain’t just my kin.”
Her head tips a short nod. “Down Rayford—up a piece from Biloxi.”
“A Delta girl, huh? You pick cotton down there?”
A silver cigarette case finds her hand. “Picked a bunch. Mister Kuiper used to pay me a dime for each sack I managed. I made a dollar a day most days.”
“Doesn’t sound like much.”
“It does to a little girl ain’t got much of nothin’.”
A Lucky Strike settles between her lips. Smoke rolls from her dainty nose.
Questions my editor suggested filter through the small talk. “You’re working a lot with George Gershwin. How’d that come about?”
“Georgie’s sweet,” she says, sending smoke rings chasing after her words. “His family knows Mister Horowitz’s family. He liked my voice and wrote some songs for me—’Cept I’m the one writes the words, since I’m the one has to sing ’em.”
Sales figures wedge their way into the conversation—nobody sells more phonograph records than Baby Teegarten.
“A million,” she offers. Says it as if she doesn’t really believe it herself. “I mean, a person can reach into his pocket, grab a hundred of something, and toss it on the floor and say, ‘Yep. That’s a hundred.’ But nobody can throw a million anything on the floor and count that.”
She’s had three of them reach that plateau in recent years.
“Where’s your favorite place to play?” I ask, scratching off another one from my editor.
“Paris is nice.” Her hand gives up an abbreviated wave, catching the barkeep’s attention. “What’s so amazing there is, those folks don’t speak no English, but they sure know all the words to my songs.”
A bottle arrives at our table. Not exactly what I expected.
“Co-cola,” she says, drawing a long pull. “Mister Horowitz don’t like for me to drink liquor while I’m gabbing with newspaper fellas. He says I just might talk too much.”
I feign shock. “Secrets?”
There’s an endearing sweetness in her giggle. “Oh, I got plenty of secrets.”
“Horowitz really looks after you, huh?”
“He’s the best. Like a second daddy. Doesn’t let anybody get close enough to take advantage.”
She spends a lot of time on the road, traveling by train, singing in places like Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Kansas City. Big theaters, is where she sings these days. Gone are the smoke-filled clubs with dance floors and drunken revelers.
“I like the theaters,” she says. “And I really like seeing different places. But I do miss the New York clubs. I could do two shows a night and be at home with Mister Pritchett by one in the morning. Now, I do one show for five thousand people—nobody drinking or dancing—a night at a hotel, then up before the devil and off to the train station and the next city.”
There’s a weary tone creeping into her answers. Well, maybe weary isn’t the right word. Cautious, perhaps.
“Do you ever take time off? Maybe stay home for a while?”
She does—but only because the men in her life force her to do so.
“Once Mister Pritchett and Mister Horowitz get together, they’re worse than two fathers.”
Baby Teegarten will soon add actress to her resume. She just this week signed to play a role in a new James Cagney movie.
“It’s only a small part,” she explains. “I play a singer in a jazz club. I’ll sing two new songs they wrote just for the film.”
Just one. But that’s fine by her. “I ain’t no movie star.”
No, she’s not. But that doesn’t stop the real movie stars from turning out wherever Baby Teegarten treads a stage. It’s fashionable to be seen at her shows.
“Jean Harlow got my autograph last summer in Chicago.” She says it like it’s a normal thing that happens to most people.
“How’d you come to be friendly with Babe Ruth?”
That shrug raises her shoulders again. “He came to my shows most nights he was in town—back when I still played the clubs. Once he decided to buy a house in the country, I bought his apartment.”
“I guess that makes you a Yankees fan, huh?”
It’s a playful thing, that sideways glance she throws at me. “Ain’t no self-respecting Mississippi girl gonna ever cheer on no Yankees.”
Abe Horowitz’s approach signals a wrap to our discussion. I’d been promised twenty minutes, Baby gave me thirty.
“Gotta get ready for the trip to Hollywood,” she says, gaining her feet.
She offers a handshake, which abruptly becomes a friendly hug.
Job Pritchett, arm around Baby’s shoulders, sweeps the girl away, following Abe Horowitz out the front door, into the crowd moving along 7th Street.
It takes a few moments for my head to clear itself of her scent, her voice, her very presence. It’s not a difficult thing to see why so many have fallen for this lovely young woman.
“She just has a way about her,” the barkeep says as I make my getaway.
She certainly does, I tell myself. She certainly does.
A few years ago I stumbled upon an indie novel that so entertained me, I became an instant fan of the author. Sienna Rose has since published three more novels. The second and third are science fiction stories. Truthfully, I have never really been a big science fiction reader. But I read her books, and they shine. It’s her most recent book that has me sitting here, in front of my computer, seeking to share this gem of a writer with you, my readers. So let me introduce to you the author of Sparrow in the Wind. This is Sienna Rose!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
In second grade. I remember what it was like to hear Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Swing. I loved the rhyme and the imagery. I could just see the “cattle and all”. Because of those elements, I found I could quickly memorize the poetry and keep them with me. I was so inspired that one day while I was supposed to be doing math (which I can’t do, due to learning disabilities) I wrote a long poem with similar rhyme and meter. When I proudly showed it to the teacher, she found it so sophisticated that she accused me of plagiarism and demanded to see “the book I stole that from.” Of course, there was no book. She then told me I wasn’t supposed to write poems, because I needed to spend my time on learning math; I never wrote again until it was assigned in grade six. Teachers, don’t ever do that. I still can’t do arithmetic and I would have spent the time better writing. I think that early lesson (more like trauma) warped my future. If I hadn’t been so worried about finding a regular job, I definitely would have become an English major and gone on to an M.F.A., instead of a psychology Major and then an M.Ed. I didn’t start my first novel until age fifty, after the degrees I took led me to jobs I didn’t like and wasn’t really suited for.
How long does it take you to write a book?
At least two years, often sitting 8-9 hours per day. The most important part is getting every phrase, every single word “right” in the first chapter. The rest won’t flow until that’s done. Once a story comes to life, I am immersed in the writing and can’t think of much else. I admire people who can do more than one thing at a time, like work a day job and write. I do student advocacy, but when I have a case, the writing gets put aside until it’s resolved. I really have a one tract mind.
Your characters are quite vivid and believable. What goes into your creative process when developing characters?
Thank you, Beem. When I wrote my first novel (Bridge Ices Before Road), I heard vague whispers from two characters that became Frances and Maddie. They were in an embryonic state in some closet in my mind, waiting to come out. I didn’t know much about who they were until I started at the keyboard. As soon as I got Frances right, Maddie burst forth and took over. She wrote herself into the world—told me her story and the details of each of her family members. Sometimes my fingers could barely keep up with her demands. I began to dream about the characters. I would walk the dog or take day to go kayaking (very important to care for the body if you want your mind to create) and I’d be dialoguing out loud without realizing it until I saw someone staring.
Where do you find these ideas that become the basis for your books?
The idea for the plot is very loose. The real story begins with a solid character or two, and the rest just flows. I don’t know what will happen until they tell me.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
The mysterious process of character development and the story that flows from them once they turn real to me.
What does your writing process look like? Do you outline, or do you write as the story comes to you?
I’ve pretty much answered that. I never outline—it would halt my creative process.
If you could write any book in history, which would you like to have created?
I can’t imagine wishing to have created another author’s work.
If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaptation of Sparrow in the Wind, who would play your characters?
I picture Gudrun as a forty-something Liv Ulman; of course she’s much older now, but I can’t think of anyone else. George Parsons is definitely a young Jimmy Stewart. Since they aren’t available, I don’t know who I’d cast. When the time comes, I’ll let the film industry decide for me.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name-choosing resources on which you rely?
Names are important, some more than others. The idea of the Sparrow in the Wind as an Indian name came to me out of the blue. It began with the story of the half Ojibwa girl and how she got her name. Cassandra was coming to life at the same time. I knew that they had to meet and have a life together, so I built the story around them. Once again, they told me the details. I was just as surprised at some of the things they did as any reader might be.
Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Racy? So far I haven’t noticed. The characters seem to do all the work.
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
Don’t write in hopes of getting published or of even getting widely read if you do publish. Write because you have a story waiting to be born. You know it when you feel it.
What are you working on now? What is your next project?
I’m sorry to disappoint you, Beem, but I’m working on another science fiction book. Three characters materialized in my mind. One is a being from Mars that was stuck in stasis nearly 4 billion years, after the last Martians launched him on a quest to locate a new world since Mars was dying. The other is an eccentric, rich, science geek who befriends him and the third is the woman who falls in love with him. This stirs up controversy because the Martian is of an aquatic race and not at all humanoid. I am having a wonderful time in my own little world writing this story, which brings me to the best advice I have for aspiring authors. If the work is a genuine creative expression that makes you feel—whether you’re laughing, crying, angry or anxious—then that’s all that matters. Having said that, I wouldn’t be above contriving a commercial success (under a pseudonym). If I could only think one up.
Funny how memories work, the things you remember, the things forgotten, the things that change you. Back in the summer of 1962, ten year-old Cassandra Parsons has her life all figured out. She lives with her father and mother in the upstairs flat of a well-appointed two family house in a pleasant neighborhood of Racine, Wisconsin. Her maternal aunt and grandfather live right downstairs and her best friend Kitty has always lived two doors down. Cassandra’s well-ordered world comes undone when her father decides to move his nuclear family to the backwoods of Northern Wisconsin, to renovate and manage his father’s hunting lodge. Isolated and friendless, she is suddenly left to her own devices as her parents plunge themselves into their new business endeavor. Loneliness and self-pity gradually give way to growth as Cassandra learns to appreciate the beauty of nature and the peace of quietude. Soon she meets a half-Ojibwa girl named Sparrow. The girls become fast friends and have a final fling with childhood, spending their last carefree days fishing in the river and roaming the woods, pretending to be ancient Ojibwa. But their sweet Indian summer comes to an abrupt end as tragedy strikes both girls’ families. Cassandra and Sparrow’s friendship is tested as they try to forge a mature, enduring relationship that hopefully will see them through even these darkest of times.
Sienna Rose is a Massachusetts native, born in 1959 and residing in Florida since 2002. In 1996, she earned a BA in psychology from UMASS Boston, and in 2001, an M.Ed. in school counseling from Cambridge College, Cambridge, MA. Because she has always been concerned with those who are different and vulnerable to bullying and abuse, Ms. Rose wrote her master’s thesis on the needs of gay/lesbian/bi/trans youth in school. In addition to school counseling, she is licensed to teach English, social science, primary education, and exceptional student education in the state of Florida. In 2011, Ms. Rose started an educational consulting and advocacy service, ESE SOS, in order to assist parents of children with disabilities in school. Bridge Ices Before Road is her first novel.
Sparrow In The Wind is the fourth novel I’ve read by S. Rose. The middle two books, while well written and entertaining, are science fiction. I’m just not a big fan of that genre. This most recent novel—along with her debut title—falls into my favorite genre: coming of age.
Sparrow In The Wind tells the story of young Cassandra Parsons, a girl living with her parents in 1962 Wisconsin. As the story’s narrative voice, Cassandra shares her life’s experiences with readers, telling us about her move from the “big city” of Racine, to the backwoods of northern Wisconsin.
Along the way Cassandra learns of several long-hidden family secrets—some of which have the potential to destroy relationships within her family structure. Upon her move to the sticks, she befriends a half-Ojibwa Indian girl called Sparrow. The stark contrast between these two girls’ worlds is painted onto the pages of the book in vivid living color.
Cassandra, brought up in a solid middle class home filled with love and family, has never gone without the necessities of life. Sparrow, living in abject poverty, has never known any but a life of nothingness.
Despite these contrasting situations, these two girls forge a bond that holds their lives together even as the world around them spins recklessly out of control.
Ms. Rose writes coming of age stories as well as anybody within the genre—and this includes both indie authors as well as the traditionally published. To say I am a fan is an understatement. Her ability to bring characters to life is an admirable skill, to be sure. However, it is her rare gift of moving readers to actually care for her characters that sets her stories apart from other writers working in the coming-of-age genre.
I read her debut novel, Bridge Ices Before Road, several years ago. The story and characters remain with me to this day. Good writers do this with regularity. S. Rose has two books now that occupy the book shelf in my mind. If you haven’t yet discovered this incredible talent, the loss is yours.