Groove Lily Groove I first met Brendan at the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at NYU (yes, I can write musicals---I have the paper to prove it). Back then, GMTWP accepted one class of 22 every two years. The class consisted of words people and music people, and we all came together to write musical theatre. Brendan was a composer and class accompanist from Cali. I was a playwright and Beckett girl with four years of living below 14th Street under my belt.
Back in the early nineties. Brendan had brown hair, and I was a bottle blonde. He was big time goof cadet, but so what. Clinton was in the White House, dot coms hadn't busted yet, flip phones were still on Star Trek, the information highway was a new hip term. It was fabulous nineties. It was the time of the goof cadet. I suddenly found myself in a world flooded with music where some guy name Sondheim was a really big deal. For my MFA thesis, I co-wrote a cyber musical based on The Bacchae by Euripides with a jazz score (I kid you not, I really did).
Sometime while we were all in school, Brendan met Valerie, a violinist and singer. Then, poof, we all graduated, and our class went all over the place. I moved all the way to the Upper West Side and saw very little of most of my musical classmates including Brendan and Valerie. I heard they had a band called Groovelily, thought that was nice, then went on my merry adventures.
So many many years later (okay, ten years, I can admit it), about two months ago, down in San Diego I was wandering around the Old Globe Theatre gift shop and spotted a Groovelily CD. Ahhh! I shrieked. I told the volunteer working the gift shop that I had gone to school with the blonde guy on the CD cover. The Volunteer talked like a dottering old aunt about Groovelily. Apparently they had done a Christmas show called Striking 12 at the Globe a few years back.
Cut to, Jen driving back home on the 5 in seriously yuck traffic and listening to Groovelily CD. The CD is appropriately titled Are We There Yet?. Then I hit the traffic.
Groovelily is a trio of Brendan, Valerie and Gene on the drums. Brendan and Valerie do the singing/songwriting thing with Valerie playing six-string electric violin and Brendan playing keyboards. Their sound is a rock/pop soundscape where crunch notes and bubble gum co-exist in peace and harmony. The music playing is stunning. Valerie pushes the violin to some really wild places, and Brendan simply belongs at a keyboard/piano. One minute you think you're hearing a kind of Billy Joel thing but then he just takes it somewhere else. But back to the traffic.
So Jen's on the 5. She is going 40 mph. Brendan's singing:
I need to get my hands on the remote control of my life and press rewind.
Whoah. Regret. But sung with pep. Tension between content and performance. Jen's fascinated. The traffic speeds up to 50 in OC with Valerie singing:
We would go round each road block in this crazy town Back then it never crossed my mind at all That this was going to stop This is going to stop
And hit the brakes. Yep, that's a stop. The traffic on the 5 has just stopped. That's what freeways in So Cal do sometimes. The cars just freakin stop, and ya gotta just ride with it.
Have you ever thought, ‘I'm gonna just stop this crazy thing I'm doing?' Last year, for the first time ever, I considered stopping the writing. As the song goes on to say, ‘it's so damn hard. . .I get so tired, and I'm feeling like all hope is gone'. As you can see I did not stop writing (that idea lasted all of two weeks---thank you, Aunt June). Still, I had that questioning of why do it and saying okay, I'm in my thirties, I'm gonna be an adult now and stop doing these crazy creative things. Then I find the hope again and it carries me up Mount Doom (okay, loving the Lord of the Rings metaphor, but I digress). Besides, if maturity means conformity to mediocrity, then I'll stay immature thank you very much. And at the end of the day, all you can say to your inner demons is simply so what. I couldn't believe this was all coming from the grad school ghost in my CD player. Some ghosts are good.
As we all crawled into Los Angeles County, I got another poppy song from Brendan:
I'm going green with envy, I am brimming full of bile I am running red with rage like it's going out of style I'm becoming bluer every moment that life just isn't fair And I'm yellowing with age and fear that I'll never make it there But I'm happy, happy, happy, happy for you Happy, happy, happy, happy for you
Wait a minute, sarcasm in a pop song??? Sarcasm from Brendan??? There use to be no tricks up his sleeve. Now he's giving us an internal world contrasting with an external world. And, and, and there's world repetition! Wow! No pandering. He's just telling it like it is.
You know when you meet people who are successful and you can't hate them, you are sincerely happy for them, but at the same time, you feel small around them? You know when I'm-okay-you're-okay does not apply? Have you ever forced a smile to the point where your cheeks strain while your teeth are gritting? Yep.
Cut to: Chinese Restaurant in West Hollywood. Jen goes to see Groovelily play. Jen drinks martinis and eats fusion Eastern cooking. This was just the Groovelily duo of Brendan and Valerie on a west coast tour. Jen meets up with Brendan and Valerie afterwards. The first words out of Brendan's mouth:
"Jen, you're a brunette!"
Once we agreed that we had both gone through an eternal metamorphosis, we did the quickie last eight years of life in two minutes. Do you ever see people you haven't seen in awhile and realize why you liked them? Do you ever go to see friends in a band and hope they don't suck too bad so you can think of one nice thing to say? Well, Groovelily did not suck. They were great. In fact, I was having epiphanies of Joycean proportions (and I didn't even have those on Bloomsday, but then again, I was drinking a lot, but I digress).
There's something special about Brendan and Valerie. They're living their dreams. They just keep going. It hasn't been easy, but all that living comes out in their music. Their songs are theirs, and contain a poppy enthusiasm mixed with a grounded reality. They will never fit into anyone's box because they remain uniquely themselves. These guys are just doing it, and they do it well.
When you're living your dreams, it might seem like a nightmare, but still you're farther than most and closer to where you want to be than you might think. The older you get, the more stupid some dreams might seem, but that's when you realize you've been living it all along. For the Groovelily duo, it's the music. For me, it's the writing. For others it might be painting or whatever. Just keep coming back to that, trust that, don't trust the bullshit, keep the writing going. . .and then you're home.
Two more quick things and then I'm done. At the Chinese Restaurant, the Groovelily duo played some new songs from a musical they are writing (musical theatre, it's all coming full circle man) about their lives in an RV. There's even a hellish day job song where the singer talks about fading into walls at an office. Then after the RV breaks down, they lived on friends' couches in NY for about a year. When you have to turn to other people for basic shelter, that does require a lot of sucking in of pride, but it does show you how generous people can be.
Finally, I've got to talk about this great song that Brendan wrote about his Mom. Really great storytelling lyric. It starts with:
She said in 1967 she got married to my father with a borrowed pair of blue jeans and a bridesmaid And San Francisco was a bubble of excitement like a butterfly a-flapping in the stomach of a decade
The song goes on to tell the Mom's story through time marked by a relentless drumbeat. The chorus slows down and contains one of those little jewels of wisdom that are sometimes just enough to keep one going:
You make a choice, you make a call You may rise, you may fall You will pay for what you get, But you got no room in your bag for regret