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Since life is about second chances, sometimes a “re-do” kicks off without one even realizing it at first. Once Linda Marks' family responsibilities were resolved and lightened, she seized the opportunity to re-launch her artistic career. After years of raising her son and caring for her mom, the 60-something re-emerged in 2013 with a lot to say through her songwriting. She released 10 studio albums with award-winning sound engineer, pianist and composer Doug Hammer of DreamWorld Productions.
Marks’ style integrates elements of jazz with contemporary folk and pop, affecting the ear while soothing the soul. Her poignant originals and fresh arrangements of favorite covers are delivered in an intimate, heart-to-heart style. Over the past eight years, she’s played in most of Boston’s major venues including Scullers Jazz Club, Club Passim, The Burren, City Winery and Club Café.
Then came the pandemic which transformed the world, making the term “home” more central for most of us. Sheltering at home. Working at home. Studying at home. Finding peace, but also moments of isolation. Curating recipes for cooking. Appreciating our pets.
Explained Marks, “Home has become an anchor for many of us during this COVID-19 time. For me, working at home gave more time for songwriting as I was moved or impacted by what was happening in our country (the Capitol Riots, the killing of George Floyd, and political polarization while facing a public health issue).
“All of these factors and experiences informed my new album and the songs that comprise it. The title track was inspired by sheltering at home in a pandemic world, and reflecting on what home is, has been, and can be. I reflected on how pandemic life was impacting our relationships, our children’s experience of childhood and our older citizens. I experienced the seasons more intimately through walks outside every day, which are safer than going to the gym daily, as I had done for all of my adult life pre-pandemic. These daily walks through all seasons during this pandemic made me profoundly aware of the way light, life and growth cycle around. My experience of the daily changes of the natural world inspired ‘Shadows On The Ground,’ set in late fall in New England.
“In August 2020, I was lucky enough to meet my partner Rob. To keep safe during a pandemic, we talked every night for three months before meeting. We wanted to make sure a substantive enough connection was there before risking meeting in person during a pandemic. An advantage of this kind of getting to know someone is you can really talk about anything and everything. The song “In The Distance” came from words Rob had written about himself leading us to connect. One could say he gets a co-write on the lyrics!
“When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, we lost not only an extraordinary woman, but also a partner from an extraordinary marriage. This song, 'Marty And Ruth,' includes some actual words written or spoken by the two of them, celebrating their true partnership. Inspirational and rare.
During the COVID-19 turn down, her weekly “Songs From the Heart, Meditations For the Heart” livestream attracted a global following. She was featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” in Boston magazine and in the Boston Globe. She’s also co-founded of the artist-alliance group Women In Music Gathering (#WIMG), and has written songs to benefit community causes. Her song, “Light Up the Love” — an anthem for the global Light Up the Love movement — was voted the #1 song of Summer 2020 on Independent Share, Cygnus Radio.
Marks had produced 10 albums with Hammer and an 11th, “Home” which was released on Thanksgiving Day, 2021. That specific date, when most of us were spending time with loved ones at home, was a fitting time for the album to drop digitally. It was specially chosen for Marks’ 11th studio album, dropped in the 11th month of the year. What’s more, Thanksgiving Day was the 25th of the month, which was also Linda’s birthday.
As part of her new start, “Home” was mastered by Grammy-winning sound engineer Glenn Barratt. Marks’ arrangements came to life on ”Home” through a fine team of musicians: EJ Oullette on violin, guitar, bass and mandolin; Steve Latanision on pedal steel and banjo, Mark Bishop Evans on guitar and vocal harmony, Valerie Thompson on cello, Alice Hasen on violin, Jackie Damsky on violin, Andy Daigle on banjo, Judy Daigle on mandolin, Dave Birkin on saxophone, Bo Winiker on flugelhorn, Craig Akin on bass and Joe Sabourin on guitar.
Two songs really took advantage of such an ensemble. “During a rare dinner conversation with a friend who loves dancing, my own love of dancing, something I have not done in far too long, surfaced. As I reflected on how much fun it would be to actually partner with someone who shared my love of dance, the seeds of this song, ‘Dance Me Home,’ were born. Sadly, pandemic living has not allowed me to find ways to tap back into my love of dancing.
“Jazzin” is a fun uptempo Latin jazzy tune that came to me one morning. It uses vocalese from the Jazz tradition instead of lyrics and is designed to uplift the spirit. I loved arranging it with saxophone, flugelhorn, guitar and bass to complement my vocals and piano.”
The album closes with Be The Light, which has been called “an anthem for humanity,” inspired by Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem. As Marks noted, "Gorman invited us to not only see the light, but to be the light. I have always envisioned a large group of people of all ages and backgrounds singing this song together as a way of building bridges across what divides us and bringing our unique gifts to the world. This inspirational song has been called a "hymn for humanity.”
On January 1, a special CD version of the “Home” album was released for the global Folk DJ community. You can listen to “Home” on all platforms. Her 2022 album (“Every Day Legends”) is now in production.
This release and many others reflect the impact the Covid 19 pandemic has had on many musicians and creative people in general. So Marks' efforts prompted this Q&A as a way to understand how she coped.
Q: When did you first decide to go public with your music?
LM: I wrote my 8th grade graduation song and led my class in singing it at graduation. I performed in college both as a singer-songwriter and co-founded Yale's third women's a cappella singing group. I performed as a singer-songwriter in the ’80s and released my first album, a tape! Between the late ‘80s and 2010, I performed here and there but mostly operated in the undertow of life, not as an artist. I formally committed to re-engage in professional music in early 2010. Since then, and after my mother’s passing in early 2014, I’ve focused lots of energy on my music and released 10 albums.
Q: What are your favorite bands?
LM: I love soooo many kinds of music, that in some ways, I love my music song by song. When I choose covers, I choose them song by song, whether it be "Something That We Do" by Clint Black, which presents a very real and healthy vision of love and relationship. OR "Give Me Wings," made popular by Michael Johnson, which gives a beautiful vision of a man supporting his wife. Among the other selections I’ve included are "Heart Of The Matter" by Don Henley, "I Need You To Survive" by Hezekiah Walker and "Shallow" by Lady Gaga and Brad Cooper. The song by Mike Greenly and Grant Maloy Smith, "I See You", is among them.
As a child growing up, I admired Carole King. (People always mention that I’m like her as a woman singer-songwriter and piano player with wavy/curly blonde hair.) Also catching my attention were Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Burt Bacharach, Herb Alpert and Harry Belafonte.
Add Broadway musicals to this list of influences. From "Pippin” I’ve covered "Corner Of the Sky"). From "A Chorus Line” I chose "What I Did For Love”. And from “Godspell” I’ve been covering "Day By Day" since my teen years. I also love East Bay Soul, Walter Beasley, The Rippingtons, Brandi Carlisle and more. The list could go on and on.
Q: And your choice of musical styles in general?
LM: Descriptions of my musical styles have taken into account the fact that beyond music I’m also a body psychotherapist. People have observed that I have a healer’s heart and am a body psychotherapist.
I do my utmost — it’s my mission — to weave together carefully crafted arrangements that transform pain into gold, ideally soothing the ears while touching the soul. I do my best to deliver spiritually uplifting messages that integrate elements of jazz, gospel, Americana, contemporary folk and a taste of Broadway as a full genre buffet.
My most fundamental style is "from the heart to the heart” so almost any genre can find its way into my songwriting.
Q: Do you have a pitch for yourself as a therapist?
LM: I invite people to listen to their bodies and follow their hearts. The body is so full of wisdom if only we learn how to translate what get called "symptoms" into communication and information we need to understand. Most all somatic feelings have emotional material just under the surface: a heavy heart may be connected to sadness, a lump in the throat might have something we are afraid to say, a headache might be what is weighing on our thoughts and feelings. And most all emotions can be felt in the body: sadness with a heaviness in the heart, or tears forming in the eyes, anger with a tight jaw or clenched fists, fear as a knot in the stomach of shallow breathing. Learning to work through emotional issues at a body level helps us gain insight and heal. Emotional safety is a key building block for this work.
Sadly, emotional unsafety is the norm in our culture. When we feel emotionally unsafe, most any symptom that can send us to a medical doctor or psychotherapist can appear, from headaches, to stomachaches and digestive issues, to elevated heart rate to anxiety and depression. As we learn to experience emotional safety in an emotionally embodied way, we tend to feel more of a sense of well-being and peace.
My work is very helpful for people who have a trauma history. It’s also very helpful for couple therapy (learning to truly speak and listen from the heart), exploring meaning and purpose in work and life, living with a sense of vision, and improving the quality of all our relationships -- with ourselves and others.
Q: Many of the songs were written by you except for one. How did you discover “I See You”?
LM: I was fortunate enough to take a master class with Grant Maloy Smith. At the end of the class, he did a concert and played “I See You.” I fell in love with the song immediately. I loved its message and the fact that it will be part of an anti-ageism campaign sponsored by Masterpiece Living, focused on healthy longevity. I decided I wanted to arrange and record it. It touched my heart. [Go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsV-9BHd1bE to experience her version.]
During the pandemic, I have thought a lot about children and older people. Having fallen in love with Grant Maloy Smith and Mike Greenly’s song about our older citizens, I found myself imagining an older person sitting down with a younger person and sharing the wisdom of their life’s experience. And so came this song — “Wisdom Words.”
Q: What keeps you plugging away?
LM: Music was my first language as a child. I didn’t talk until I was three but gravitated towards pianos even as a toddler. Even then, I intuitively knew how to sound out songs and play them. Sadly, my father didn’t value my innate passion and discouraged me from getting the piano I yearned for. No surprise: my first word was “piano!”
My mother put me in an experimental recorder program for three-year-olds at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, MA. Although the staff told my parents that I was gifted and talented, my father proceeded to create a mantra that haunted me most of my life: “music is a waste of a good mind.” He shamed my passion for music, but the pull towards it remained inside me. I saved my own money till I was 11 to buy a guitar. When I was 13, I was finally able to buy my own piano. From the moment the piano arrived, I began passionately playing when nobody was home. It was on our unheated, three season porch so, in the winter, my fingers froze.
I chose to major in Music at Yale where I focused on songwriting and co-founded Yale’s third women’s a cappella singing group as a 17-year-old freshman. I moved into my first round of being a professional musician after college and through grad school but my father’s voice still haunted me.
One could say I fell into the undertow of life -- having to work, raise my now 25-year-old son as a single mom and care for a mother with Alzheimer’s. Music remained farther away than I wanted it to be. In the last years of my mother’s life, I started creeping back towards music. But being in the middle of an intergenerational sandwich, kept taking me away.
When Mother died in 2014, I made a commitment to let myself fully pursue my deepest lifelong passion. That’s now my Round Two of being a professional musician. Released 1/1/22, “Home” is my 11th studio album and my 10th since 2014. The music flows abundantly.
Q: Times have changed since your first career phase. Do you do much with social media?
LM: As a musician I do whatever I can with social media. It’s how we stay relevant, especially during a pandemic when live music is riskier and more scarce. I’ve been doing a weekly livestream series on Facebook since March 2020. I’m now past 90 episodes and climbing.
My photos, YouTube videos, live streams, news about upcoming projects, including others’ opinions and liking others’ posts are all key activities on social media platforms. I’m also a LadyLake Music artist. The label’s founder. Cindy D’Adamo, promotes my music on all media platforms too.
During this December, noted deejay Tony Smith would have celebrated his latest birthday. Unfortunately, lung cancer took his life earlier in 2021. Though the Sirius XM radio host and veteran dance song spin-ster — who worked at such legendary clubs as Xenon — is gone, I had an opportunity to be at an event which honored him.
More than 40 years ago, during disco’s heyday, we had known each other and had re-connected a few years ago. Thanks to his husband Mike, I attended the recent Legends of Vinyl™ DJ & Artists Hall of Fame annual award ceremony.
As a perpetual outlier, I have long identified with music that reflected my outsider nature: punk, new wave, hardcore on the rock side of things; funk, blues and jazz on the Urban side of it all.
Somewhere in the middle of this was disco, dance music — in all its permutations such as drum & bass, EDM, etc. — and deejaying. Back in 1983, I learned about mixers, Technics 1200 Mk2 turntables and the joys of playing live. From then on, I started doing gigs, first at private parties and then, regularly in clubs. Probably my most significant gig was being the Friday/Saturday night China Club turntablist. I also played a hell of a lot of parties, weddings and bar mitzvahs.
While I loved cutting-edge music, most of it you couldn’t dance to — unless you were tripping and then it didn’t matter anyhow. Okay, there was moshing and pogo-ing to punk. But from the blues, rockabilly and bluegrass on, music that came from the streets meant it was for dancing — or at least could be. First it was R&B, then rock, soul, funk and ultimately, disco. But of all those genres, disco was all about dancing brought by a deejay to an audience in a club. And by the late ’60s and early ’70s, it became a worldwide phenomenon.
I deejayed for 13 years until I was burned out and decided that because of problematic club owners and the wretched conditions they offered, I couldn’t take it anymore. Unfortunately for me, I chose to stop just as digital equipment was coming in. That change eliminated the need to move heavy boxes of records and big equipment. Bad timing but C’est la vie.
I never became a great deejay but the work brought me into another arena and closer to actually making and performing music. I thought I would turn to remixing and started doing it, but got sucked back into writing. Then I launched a music magazine which led me into a new phase of my life.
Recently I got a chance to be immersed in a world I’d left behind. Once again, I appreciated the joys of getting people up to dance and of seamlessly segueing music based on the beat and texture.
At this year’s annual ceremony, honorees included Mark S. Berry, Sal Abbatiello, DJ Richie Rich (recipient of the Legacy Award), Lisa Nocella-Pacino (recipient of the Golden Circle Award), and the recipients of the 2021 Icon awards, the first lady of Salsoul Carol Williams as well as the incomparable Smith.
Musical artists such as Pattie Brooks, Pamala Stanley, Phil Hurtt, Cyre, Unlimited Touch and all of them performed with dance tracks. DJ Jeff Yahney and DJ Jimmy C provided the tunes for the late night dance session.
The entire event was produced by Luis Mario O. Rizzo who had founded the Legends of Vinyl™ LLC Organization and the L.O.V. DJ/Artists Hall of Fame years ago. Now he’s working on a book to capture his memories and the special people he’s met along the years. He expects it to be published next year as “My Life, My Music, My Love” by Luis Mario Orellana Rizzo. So this offered a great occasion for Rizzo to enthuse on his love of this music and its impact on his life and the world as well.
Q: What made you decide to do these awards?
LMOR: About 20 years ago, I thought about giving thanks to my peers in one very special way, creating a Hall of Fame for DJs. This was a dream for me. It became much more than that as I presented the idea to my friends. Immediately it became something amazing because there were so many individuals who had never received the recognition that I believed was necessary, and that no one had ever thought of providing for many reasons.
One of the requirements of legendary attainment is remaining committed, consistent and passionate about turning dreams into reality. I had that commitment for L.O.V.
And now, over 12 years later, we’re the only organization fully engaged and responsible for keeping the musical legacies of our industry in the forefront and alive. I take pride in having created this magnificent entity and am confident that it will continue for years to come.
Q: Who selects the awardees and how are they chosen?
LMOR: When I created the Hall of Fame for the industry in general, I put together a Board of Directors who are part of the industry. They can select/nominate those who are deserving of the acknowledgement for their contributions to our industry.
I have no involvement in these choices. That’s because I, as the founder and CEO, must remain neutral while allowing my Board to make these very difficult choices.
Each year we update some of the Board membership to provide an opportunity to others with fresh ideas. Even more importantly, I need a proactive Board to keep the organization alive and moving forward. It’s my responsibility to keep Legends of Vinyl™ relevant and interesting to the world. We are the Legacy keepers, doing our best to leave our history intact so that future generations can learn from our success and or mistakes.
The Board of Directors are from each city we’ll visit and bring the awards event to. These individuals all have incredible personal histories. They themselves know the “who’s who” in the business, from DJs to Recording Artists. They spend months studying each bio and then vote in a democratic process to finally send me a list of awardees. Only then, as executive producer of Legends of Vinyl, do I begin production of the whole event.
Q: What is your role in picking the award-winners who appear each year?
LMOR: I’m the last to review the honorees as I give primary responsibility to my Board of Directors. They are usually right on target!
Q: What about the Icon awards in particular?
LMOR: The Icon award was created to celebrate those who are multifaceted in our industry. They stand out for obvious reasons.
Q: And as to this year’s Legends of Vinyl Awards?LMOR: There was no 2020 celebration and as time passed so did a lot of our legends. 2021’s celebration proved that although time took away some of us, time also left a lot of us here to make this year’s gala awards event an unforgettable evening of honoring those with us along with, unfortunately, a longer than usual “In Memoriam” segment. We attendees all saw many peers and friends in person after such a long period of time. A feeling of victory over the pandemic won out, with hope and gratitude for the legends who are still here.
I began to move forward to include artists of the ‘80s freestyle. We don’t want time to further pass them by as has happened over the past two years. The inclusion of Phil Hurtt, music achiever since the ‘70s and younger artist Cyre, was seen as the beginning of going into the future with a full recognition of ongoing music history.
Q: You honored DJ Tony Smith, in particular, to whom you recently gave a posthumous Icon of Music Award.
LMOR: As far back as I remember, Tony was a creative and generous peer to everyone he came in contact with. An impressive quality about Tony was that he would talk with you as if he had known you forever without the “ego” that was so predominant and still is in our industry. I considered Tony to be a purist to the fullest extent of the word. Friends like Tony are very few. I’ll always remember those precious moments when we saw each other and interacted.
Q: What made Tony an Iconic Legend in music history?
LMOR: Icons are people who break barriers because their voice/image and talent is so captivating. I believe an icon is someone who uses their talent to introduce a new concept into their field, all while knowing how to display their image and music to the public. This describes Tony perfectly! He’s widely acknowledged to have been a major factor in the historic rise of Disco, for example.
Q: What prompted your passion for music?
LMOR: I believe it’s a natural passion that I was born with. I feel blessed to have inherited a natural love and understanding of music in general. In my home there was always music of all genres. Growing up, my ear was always tuned to old and current melodies, compositions and songs.
Q: What were your favorite clubs?
LMOR: In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s I can recall The Electric Circus, The Haven and The Sanctuary as the home of my favorite schooling. They created a valuable source of interest for me. That is how I became a DJ and part of the generation of pioneers during the inception of the Dance Music Culture.
Q: And what was your favorite song?
LMOR: Too many to mention. It wouldn’t be fair to just pick one song. I have a library of so many genres of music in my head that only a few in the world can understand.
Q: Favorite group?
LMOR: Growing up in the ‘50s listening to a vast range of music from both my parents and family, I will also restrain myself from choosing just one favorite group.
Q: Okay. But how about your favorite deejay?
LMOR: Francis Grasso who was my mentor and friend. He created the movement through which we, the DJs/Vinyl Spinners, came to present our talent to our audiences. They reacted on the dance floors to evenings of non-stop seamless change from one song to another, with music and dance flowing continuously for hours on end. Francis took charge of the dance floor to drive people to ecstasy night after night!
Q: Do you still have your vinyl collection? How many records do you still have?
LMOR: I started collecting vinyl as a child in the way that most kids collected toys. When I immigrated to the United States, years later I went back to my homeland for a visit and I brought back those records. After returning to the States, I started to collect vinyl prior to becoming a DJ. Then, as a DJ my collection became a lifestyle.
To this day I can proudly say that I still have my personal vinyl favorites to the last days of vinyl production. I have about 25,000 records of 78 RPM, 45 RPM, LPs & 12”. They’re approximately 75% Promotional Copies from Motown, Doo-Wop, Standards, Rock n’ Roll, Opera, Classical, Show Musicals, Jazz, Latin, Reggae, etc.!
Q: Have you ever used digital equipment?
LMOR: As a consistent performer, I had to adapt to the changes around me. It was not my preference to do that, because technology presented itself as cold and indifferent compared to the feeling of listening and playing analog on Vinyl! But I was naturally curious. And in order to continue to be relevant to my profession, I had to adapt to a new era. To this day, I can confidently play Vinyl to Digital without missing a beat and Loving It!
Q: How did you get your first gig?
LMOR: Non-paying in the late ‘60s doing house parties, then as a paid professional DJ it all started in 1970.
Q: I lean towards deejay but which term do you prefer — deejay or DJ?
LMOR: I’m fortunate to have grown from a DJ to a Producer. That being said, I use DJ.
I have many “firsts” in my career. I have traveled both nationally and internationally, representing myself at first. Now I represent the company which maintains the legacies of all those legendary pioneer DJ’s. They include those who have and have not been recognized by their peers. These achievers include artists, sound & lighting engineers, club promoters, producers, etc. I call the program Legends of Vinyl™ with the goal of helping their legacies to live on into perpetuity.
Artists Hall of FameLink: https://www.legendsofvinyl.com/artist-hall-of-fame
Pioneer DJsLink: https://www.legendsofvinyl.com/hall-of-fame-pioneers
Eight albums in, multi-talented musician/actress Patricia Vonne is back with a new recording. This time it’s her holiday celebration, “My Favorite Holiday" (on her label Bandolera Records). This award-notable filmmaker and two-time SXSW best female vocalist winner released the full album on November 19th, building an audience with its many music videos which can be seen on YouTube.
Vonne’s ode to this special time of the year features 10 original songs and one cover. Joining her in an all-star cast are Rubén Blades, David Grissom, Alex Ruiz, Rosie Flores, Stephen Ferrone on drums (Tom Petty) and Carmine Rojas on bass (David Bowie).
For the San Antonio native, Christmas meant gathering with her parents and nine siblings (including hit film director Robert Rodriguez). Recalls the statuesque performer, “As children, we would perform ‘Haul Out the Holly’ and other Christmas favorites with big candy canes and perform for our family and friends. Another family favorite was the singing of ‘Carol of the Bells,’ which I included on this album to invite the world into our family through music. My sisters recorded from four different cities in three states. I am thrilled to share their voices and this song with the world.”
The album opener, “Santa’s On His Way,” is a pop-flavored kick-off featuring lush piano and orchestral arrangements by Scott Plunkett of Chris Isaak’s band. Originally intended as a one-off single, Vonne says it inspired the full-length album project with producer Rick Del Castillo at the helm. The title track displays Vonne celebrating her inner Brenda Lee with an ebullient pop arrangement featuring Johnny Reno blowing red-hot saxophone. Powered by drummer Thommy Price (Billy Idol, Joan Jett), the ferocious rocker “Old Man Santa!” reveals Vonne’s rocker roots:
“Old man Santa’s cruisin’ down the hill
Used to drive a Chevy now he rides a Coupe de Ville…
Bag full of goodies, guitar on his back.”
The smoky rockabilly number “Santa’s On A Rampage,” features Vonne’s San Antonio sister-in-arms, Rosie Flores (one third of Texicana Mamas with Vonne and Stephanie Urbina Jones) and longtime Chris Isaak sidekick Rowland Salley on bass.
As to less upbeat realities that are also part of the seasonal package, “Alone On Christmas Day” — co-written by Austin ace guitar-slinger David Grissom — envisions the holiday among the homeless. Inspired by Vonne’s own volunteer work with the homeless, the song has what she calls “a Tom Petty feel,” enhanced by Petty’s drummer Stephen Ferrone and David Bowie bassist Carmine Rojas.
Born Patricia Vonne Rodriguez, the 50-something celebrates her Hispanic heritage by adding a bilingual vocal and musical flavor to “My Favorite Holiday” with a song like “Nochebuena.” Co-writers Del Castillo and Alex Ruiz touch upon the divine, the miracle of God and salvation. “Las Posadas” is inspired by Joseph and Mary’s night journey to Bethlehem, and the classic Spanish passion play it inspired. On the track, Vonne is joined by salsa and Latin jazz giant Rubén Blades and the pair put a cumbia spin on the ancient tale. “Cumbia Navidad” is an ebullient, multi-lingual celebration of a San Antonio Christmas. Vonne wrote it to perform at her beloved Holiday River Parade which features floats carrying scores of entertainers (including, in 2019, Vonne herself).
Vonne has always felt doubly blessed because her birthday falls six days before Christmas, and she wants to share that spirit with listeners. With “My Favorite Holiday,” San Antonio’s native daughter brings a gift to the Alamo City and the world.
Q: How do you craft a Christmas song? Where do you begin?
Patricia Vonne Rodriguez: On my Christmas album I started with titles and chose themes like the spanish song "Nochebuena” (Christmas Eve.) "My Favorite Holiday” was inspired by Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top”. "Las Posadas” is a popular theme that has many renditions and I wrote my own inviting Ruben Blades as a duet. (Las Posadas is a passion play of the Nativity Journey)
I wove elements from the film “It's A Wonderful Life” into the first track, “Santa’s On His Way,” mentioning “Bailey Park” and “every time you hear a bell ring an angel gets his wings. And on “Alone On Christmas Day” I chose to write about those that don’t have a family to go home to. That song was based on an incredible community in Austin that helps mitigate homelessness and it’s called Community First Village. I volunteered there and brought the idea to David Grissom to write the song with me. I then reached out to Stephen Ferrone (Tom Petty’s drummer for 20 years) and Carmine Rojas (David Bowie’s bass player) and they generously came on board for this great cause.
Q: What determined which musicians played on what songs?
PVR: I had just met Tommy Price in my hometown of San Antonio when I actually had the two last perfect songs for him to play. He’s a legendary ferocious drummer and his style and muscle totally matched the barn-burning energy of “Old Man Santa" and "Santa’s On A Rampage.”
I chose Stephen Ferrone for “Alone on Christmas Day” because David Grissom and I wrote it with a Tom Petty feel. I had met both Ferrone and Carmine Rojas at the Legendary China Club in NYC when I was an 18-year-old coat check girl. So getting them together on a special song is truly a gift to the world. ‘
For “Las Posadas” which is a nativity story celebrated all over Latin America and beyond, Rubén Blades was the perfect choice to sing with me. He surprised me by contributing lyrics in the solo and singing my name. I melted to the floor and wept.
Q: Is there anything special a Christmas song must have?
PVR: Spirit, and a catchy melody would be very cool to get you in the mood. Q: What are your favorite holiday songs?
I absolutely love “Santa Bring My Baby Back” to me because of its ebullience and joy. “With my baby far away, what good is mistletoe “ makes me dance and sing along.
I adore Washington Square Park because it reminds me of those in the service that can’t be home for Christmas. It really is a touching song because not everyone has families to go home to and this song brings this sentiment home.
I love “We Need a Little Christmas “ by Jerry Herman because we used to sing it as a family when I was little. That led us to sing “ Carol of the Bells” with my sisters as a tradition which is why I am thrilled it is on the album for the world to share.
I also love “ Washington Square Park” by Chris Isaak and The Ronettes’ “Sleigh Ride.”
Q: Who are your inspirations in music and life?
PVR: My parents inspire me every day. My dad was a door-to-door salesman for 39 years and my mom worked the night shift as a nurse in order to be home when we got home from school. They sacrificed everything for us.
Musically, everyone from The Stray Cats, Johnny Reno and the Sax Maniacs, Tom Petty, Cruzados, Lone Justice, Pat Benatar, and Rubén Blades!
Q: Recently the legendary Mexican music star Vicente Fernandez died. Do you want to comment on that?
PVR: He was “El Rey de Canción de Mariachi!” He was the music and voice of Mexico that will never be forgotten. He was Elvis, Sinatra and Tony Bennett rolled into one. He will be sorely missed.
“Passing”Director: Rebecca HallCast: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Alexander Skarsgård As the film “Passing” opens, two mixed-race childhood friends run into each other while “passing” as white women shopping in midtown Manhattan. Both are living in middle class adulthood; they become increasingly involved tapping into each other's insecurities. While Irene "Reenie" Redfield [Tessa Thompson] identifies as African-American and is married to a black doctor Brian Redfield [André Holland], Clare Bellew [Ruth Negga] "passes" as white and has married a prejudiced, wealthy white man John Bellew [Alexander Skarsgård] who is unaware of his wife’s origins. Based on American author Nella Larsen’s novel, — first published in 1929, — it’s set primarily in 1920s Harlem. The story centers on this reunion and their increasing fascination with the practice of "racial passing", — a key element of the novel. Clare’s attempt to pass is the novel’s most important depiction and a catalyst for the tragic events that follow once the enter each other’s circle. Larsen was informed by her own mixed racial heritage and was praised for the book’s provocative narrative. Now celebrated for its complex depiction of race, gender and sexuality, it’s all capably presented in this sensitive and subtle film as well. In this Q&A conducted with director Rebecca Hall — a veteran actor herself — and cast members Thompson, Negga and Andre Holland, they explore what it took to bring this project to fruition and how it felt about to consider what life was like in those days. New York City is a place where life happens and it shapes who we are today — something that was revealed in this film and poignantly discussed after this preview screening held in the Paris Theater. Q: When did you realize there’s something here that you wanted to make into this movie? RH: I remember specifically seeing the book in the window. Then I finished the book, loved it, opened my laptop, and started writing the screenplay. It was suddenly like being possessed. I think that I had freedom to do it because honestly, I didn’t think it would end up like this. Or I talked myself out of it. Also, I was just struck by the modernity of this: how it speaks to so many aspects of humanity, in this tiny, tiny book. Now it’s not just racial passing, it’s all the ways in which the thing that you think you believe in doesn’t match up with the thing that you want. The ways in which we all put ourselves into containers or let other people put us into containers, and then we’re massively spilling out of them because nobody can be defined by one thing. That is a very contemporary idea. We have words like intersectionality or something [like that]. I was blown away by that so when I arrived to work, I just thought I wanted it to look a certain way. I came up with ideas that shocked me when [placed] in the movie. I got really attracted to the screenplay, thinking, “I’m going to get into this because I’ll never make it. So it’s fine, this is just for me.” And then it was a 13-year process, maybe not quite 13 years. It was about a six-year process of me getting the nerve to take it out of the drawer, and then another six years of actually trying to get it made, which is normal. Q: What was one of the early shots that you had in your mind? RH: Of the feet. Also I had the idea of the meeting between the two of them. I committed self-matching at that scene. I had [that] in my head. I look at her playing the central character, and is she in a place where she was being observed, and you didn’t know why she was hiding from something, to a place where she was taken in this room and feeling safe, and then she’s looking around and suddenly there’s this other person looking right at her. Q: In an interview you talked about bringing Tessa and Ruth to your house for a weekend before going into production because you felt that it would be imperative to have that time together. So tell me all about that: what did you do? RH: Well, I’m an actor so I understand rehearsal very much, so I just kidnapped them and said – Q: Was it like a rehearsal at the house, or was it bonding time connecting everyone? RH: There were some. You and I sat down and did a lot of work. We’d sit down and go through scenes a lot. Mostly it was just time for the two of them to be together and explore each other’s [thoughts]. Q: Tessa, you said that you were terrified to take on this role. But you did it with such grace and depth, it was a beautiful performance. What ultimately made you say yes, what intrigued you about diving in? TT: I guess I like being terrified. In the sense that I like to, when I am approaching work, there’s something that is central to the thing that I’m not sure that I can do. In this case, it had to do with being in the character and also that there was this — so much is expressed, as Rebecca said, with her example of that panning shot of their passage. It focused squarely on Irene’s obsession with staring at her. Without the movie looking away, and looking back, there is no cinematic journey. So Rebecca was able to tease that out, and so I felt very comfortable. If she could do it… What I was worrying about for myself is, there’s this incredible document in Nella’s words. There was a wealth and a depth of feeling that this woman has inside, and when you don’t have a lot of dialogue to express that, and also in that she’s playing someone that’s quite restrained, the moments when she’s feeling strongly is whenever she’s around this person and that stirs things in her— [which I had to express]. She’s a feeling person. How do you say that without saying that? And that terrified me. And then also other stuff terrified me, but I won’t go into that. But the easy thing is that she just needs to be really beguiled and blown away by this woman and look at her. Q: Ruth, in bringing this really complex woman to life, what compelled you to play this woman? RN: I love the word “haunting”. I love it. I was haunted by this book. I was haunted by these characters, and I think what struck me most is, I never really read a friendship like that: the full, deep complexity of female friendship with all the usual attractions, and also repelled by one another at the same time, that push and pull. We have all combatted the disease of UJE: the ugliness of it, the jealousy, the envy. I was bewitched by these women. For me, for Clare, I was so curious about this woman – her intention of living so fully and authentically. It brings to mind a Mary Oliver quote: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Clare, for me, she embraced it fully and deeply. And I guess after reading it, I found – I don’t know, this atmosphere of sense of ending somehow that haunts the book and that lingers way after the final frame. I think Rebecca shocked us, and that’s a terribly hard thing to do. I don’t think I’ve ever seen film writing that captures the feeling, the emotion, having read it, onscreen, sufficiently. Q: Had you read the book before anyone suggested you read it? RN: Yeah, I’d read the book. I’d wanted to work with Rebecca for a long time. We met up in New York and she said she was adapting this, and I [said] I’d do it anytime, anywhere. Q: André, your character is so complicated and so rich. There are so many scenes that jump out at me when I think of them. But I ask you what I was asking them: what was it that intrigued you about this character, and do you want to explain it to the audience? AH: This character gave me a chance to explore this world. I think that’s one of my favorite things about this job: getting a chance to learn about men I didn’t know before. I didn’t know about Nedda’s work, I hadn’t read that. Q: In the dinner table scene, there’s an argument that you have with the other characters. It’s very much of that era, but also very contemporary. Black parents have had these conversations all the time. What was it like preparing for that and diving into that performance? AH: Well, I was really looking forward to that scene from the very beginning. Which is exciting. Q: Tessa, how was that exciting for you? TT: What struck me is just that: how modern it felt. And this was before the events of last summer. But it’s like forever and always in this country, right? I think that’s the negotiation you make as a parent to black children and in particular, I’d say, to black men. So there was that on one hand, and to activate that which would do him a favor even now. And on the other hand, I think the scene has a uniquely important physicality that it felt like we were playing a piece of music together. To me there was a real specificity in rhythm. So that was what I liked. Something that I really enjoyed about this project is the precision, I think, because of the precision of every angle. If you were off your mark by a little bit or just objectively not in the right place, Rebecca would come and be like, [gestures] “Once again.” But I don’t know — I like that. I didn’t do sports and I’m not into doing anything else. This is just something I like, so I’ll do it right. RN: You did, you know? TT: And inside the form is such freedom when you know what the form is. When I was into Shakespeare and the Classics... But [Ruth] knows, go see her in “Macbeth” [on Broadway co-starring with Daniel Craig]. Q: Ruth, you talked about the precision of the technicality of the camera. How did that stretch you as an actor? How did you get that joy of finding freedom? RN: In order to play you have to have rules because it just tightens everything up. I felt a great comfort and relief in it because I think the way Rebecca works is a very lavish process. We were let in on this. This wasn’t a proletarian office. We knew that there was a goal as we were [performing], and we were recruited. And that’s a lovely thing, I think, about Rebecca, especially in her being an actor as well. There’s a gift in ensuring trust. That’s a lovely thing for an actor to have, a director’s trust, and to let us in on it. We had freedom to discover within the scene, working with Tessa and Andre. Q: The framing is so beautiful. There is such a precision, and such a beautiful stillness in every shot. How did you arrive at that framing as the visual language of this film? RH: It’s as I said earlier. An inherent problem in adapting this book for the screen is that if you were unable to show the inside of your protagonist’s mind, it would [belie her reality] because she’s not truthful to herself. That’s the whole point of this story. She doesn’t really know who she is. She’s so bound up in the idea of this respectful, proper, erect life – wife, mother, and everything – that there's no room for her expression of herself. So this was the bottom of that problem: How do you get you guys in on that? How do you show that? I think the formality of it felt to me, finally, correct, that there should be a way of slowly giving signals to the audience that this person is unreliable, and finding the visual language to do that. You slowly start to see what you are saying or she is saying it, maybe it’s not real. It’s fuzzy, it’s blurry, and you literally use lenses that compressed the image, but were soft on the top and bottom. That creates a sense of her world dissolving around her. Also, it occured to me what I thought about this novel. The '20s are famous for being loud – the Jazz Age, color, photographs -- and there was something so — this book was so simple and held so much in it because it allows you to do the work. So I couldn’t help thinking about... What's the simplest version of this? And that comes down to shot-by-shot. I didn't want to have to cut away. So let's see how long I can contain the two-shot. Let’s use a mirror if we have to. Let’s play a two-shot in the mirror with that person as well. That formality also literally puts them in a box, it puts them in this place of restraint — Irene, specifically. It should feel claustrophobic. And, the music is deliberately beautiful, and haunting. It’s deliberate. So I was very specific about everything. Q: It made us curious as well. RH: Yes. Correct. Well, she was an exile for most of her life. And that song that you hear all the way through the movie is called “[unclear] Walker Rag.” I heard it when I was doing a rewrite at some point. Not right from the beginning, somewhere in the middle. I remember hearing that piece of music and thinking, "That’s the film." That’s the time, that’s the feeling, and that’s the sensibility, and what we were looking for. If I can make this film sound like how this sounds, then it’s worth it. Q: And the house [which was used in the film] was a character as well. RH: Well, the house was pretty bright. I did want the feeling that the house was meaningful. It was meaningful to be there in Harlem, in that house, in a brownstone like that, knowing that these houses and these spaces, and the apartment that’s at the end of the film was a historic building. There were probably parties in the ’20s that took place in that building. RN: Yeah, I think so. The house, the residence, we learned a lot and we would use the bedroom as the place where we were all sitting. TT: So we’d all be sitting in this bedroom together. It was a little claustrophobic. Which was helpful for me, because Irene was supposed to feel very claustrophobic. [I would go] “Irene would love this.” But the bathroom was open, and I could go in there. TT: I was very happy for you except when I had to pee. RN: And it’s the set you want to work in… RH: There were things that weren’t right. RN: I believe that when I’m not working, I’m haunted. I think the bricks, mortar and moulding carry memories. I am living there. All the memories that one would have in Harlem are so vibrant and so, of course, it is its own costume. I love that. So yeah, I definitely felt that. And it was all that for a lot of nothing [in the end].
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