Sunday, March 26, 2006

The fear of the brown skinned people.

A few miles from my home in Oceanside, every summer, it is harvest time in the strawberry fields. From sunrise to sunset, you can see the brown people picking thousands of strawberries in the hot noonday sun, backbreaking work that no American born person would do unless they owned the farm or loved to garden. While all the tourists enjoy the sandy beaches and Lego land, while the yuppies drive their Hummers to La Jolla Cove and the San Diego Zoo, these hardworking people are hunched over hour after hour, males and females alike, until every strawberry is picked. Not many people would be desperate enough to take a job like this but these illegal immigrants are grateful when they are given this brutally hard labor for wages my teenager would laugh at.

When they were very young, my sons would ask questions about the men who stood on the side of the road day in and day out, waiting for work while we were carpooling it to school. “Who are they, Mommy? Where do they get the ten-speed bikes? Do they steal them?” When the boys were old enough, I took them down to Mexico myself to show them the appalling conditions these people live in everyday. From our air conditioned car I explained how hundreds of people risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones to sneak across the borders in the trunks of cars and sometimes boats, crawling through underground tunnels, walking across deserts in 100 plus degree heat, swimming across rivers and hiding in barrels, boxes and modified truck beds like common cargo. While we sleep in warm beds with running water and electricity, cable television and toasty central heating, these human beings live in inhumane conditions worse than most dog houses. I watched my kids grow wide eyed as they witnessed firsthand, entire families living in home made shacks thrown together with cardboard boxes, discarded tires and trash can lids; mothers and children combing the streets, barefoot and in rags selling tacky homemade trinkets and chewing gum for pennies, just to survive. It is worse after the rains come, when entire neighborhoods haphazardly built on the hillside, come sliding down and litter the Tijuana streets below. What little shelter these poor souls had is washed away with the mud and debris as if their makeshift lives never existed at all.

I told my boys “You can bet that if we lived in a cardboard box on a hillside, that I would do anything I could to try and get you kids a ticket to a better life.” They wisely shook their heads and never asked again about the men standing street side and waiting for some job, any job. I meant every word I said.

Now our government is proposing that we label these resilient people “felons.” That anyone who aided an illegal immigrant would be aiding and abetting a felon. These are hardworking people who are mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. These are my eldest sons grandparents. These are my best friends parents. Illegal immigrants are not aliens. They are human beings. They are not felons. They are people, who want a piece of the American dream. Felons are rapists, murderers and drug dealers. Felons are drunk drivers and robbers and thieves. If illegal immigrants are felons, then every immigrant who came to this country should be labeled a felon. George Washington? A criminal! Betsy Ross? A common crook! Anyone who is not a Native American Indian would be described as a felon under the terms of this law. These felons are the people who wash our dishes in restaurants, babysit for our children, clean our bathroom floors and pull our weeds. They are the people who risk everything just for a little chance to make their lives better.

Yes, there are legal ways to enter the United States. But since 9/11, it has become even harder for people to migrate legally. These are people who aren’t able to wait for years to find out if they are one of the paltry few allowed legal entry into the USA. These are people who would die waiting. People of privilege get into our country first; people with light skin and an education. People like our governor, Austrian immigrant Arnold Schwarzenegger, who backs HR 4439 to solve the illegal immigration issue here in his adopted country. This is the same country that Arnold dreamt of; the country that made it possible for him to marry a Kennedy and become a billionaire. This is the country my great grandparents escaped Ireland for and the country that lured the pilgrims to Plymouth Rock. In this country, we celebrate our diversity, brag about our freedom of religion, and our inclusivity. We proudly show off the Statue of Liberty, calling out to the huddled masses, the tired and the weak. Today the Statue of Liberty cries real rusty tears of shame down her peeling, grey façade. While we criticize Israel for building a wall to keep suicide bombers out, we build our own walls to keep hard working families in - abject poverty. They aren’t coming over to blow themselves up on our busses and in our shopping malls. They are literally dying to come over just to take a shitty job. Anyone opposed to illegal immigration should have to pick strawberries in the sun for one day and then go sleep in a cardboard box.
What are we so afraid of?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

buck owens is gone!

I am so sad to hear about the passing of Buck Owens. He was a great singer and a great human being. I opened for Buck a few times, most memorably when I was nine months pregnant with my youngest son Tommy. Buck, Dwight and I played at the SDSU open air theater that night. I was huge and Buck was so sweet, offering a hand to me when I came offstage. Here he was, this big star and he was just the sweetest gentleman. Buck was so humble and down to earth. I am lucky to have many of the original pressings of Buck and the Buckaroos plus a few cutaway records that were only sent out for promotional purposes. We once had the same agency, Halsey entertainment represent us. My favorite Buck songs are above and beyond, love's gonna live here (both of em I used to do in my live show) Loose Talkin' especially the version with Rose Maddox, Tiger by the Tail, Together again. I would love to hear any favorite buck stories you might have.

Rest in peace sweet cowboy!
Alvis Edgar Owens Jr.

Friday, March 24, 2006

My friend Tab Hunter

My friend Tab Hunter has written a book about his life called Tab Hunter – Confidential. It is on the New York Times Best seller list and it really is an interesting read. My first exposure to Tab Hunter was from my mom’s 45 records. She had his big hit Young Love among her collection. I later met Tab’s partner, Allan Glaser twenty years ago when I was working as a phone sex girl in Marina Del Rey. Allan was producing a movie for 20th Century Fox called Sorority Confidential about phone sex and the college girls that worked the phones. He interviewed me for a part in the movie and hooked me up with his writers for the project. Unfortunately, they lost the funding for the movie and it never happened but Tab and Allan went on to write, produce and direct the fabulous Lust in the Dust movie starring Tab, Divine and Lainie Kazan. Tab has said that Divine was his favorite leading lady which is pretty incredible considering he co-starred with Sophia Loren, Lana Turner and Natalie Wood to name just a few. Tab and Allan had a beautiful home back then, in Benedict Canyon where they invited me to a fabulous dinner. They were the first gay couple I ever met and I remember being so impressed by their kindness, warmth and genuine love for each other. They have since moved to Montecito and I reunited with them at the Jewish Community Center here in La Jolla when Tab was here last week promoting the book. It was wonderful to see them both again. Tab and Allan have been together for 23 years! While he does address his gay lifestyle in his book, Tab doesn’t want to be a gay icon or role model. He relates to sexuality as a human condition and doesn’t like to label people gay or straight. Tab lost his brother in the Vietnam War and is extremely patriotic and I think a bit conservative in his own way. His book is amazing though, and I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in early Hollywood and the studio system that created the stars of the 50’s. And the pictures are GORGEOUS. What a hunk he was and at 75 he still looks great! Once again, Tab is living proof that gay men are often the sexiest and best looking.

Monday, March 13, 2006

My rant on Abortion in South Dakota

There is a Planned Parenthood location less than two miles from my home. Once every few weeks, there are two long-haired guys who look like bikers, standing outside with a gigantic poster of bloody fetuses. I get so angry every time I see these men, that my hands are shaking by the time I pull into my driveway. These men will never have a menstrual period, experience cramps or have PMS. They will never have to wear a patch or take the birth control pill. They will never experience a mammogram or a pelvic exam. They will never get pregnant. They will never experience what it feels like to squeeze out a baby from one of the tiniest orifices in the body after 30 hours of labor. YET, they have nothing better to do than stand around and harass young, poor women at the clinic.

It should be against the law for men to make laws that only affect women! It should be illegal for these men to assault innocent drivers-by with their disgusting photos of violence. How are these men any different than the Taliban who want women to be covered up in a burka, while they make all the decisions for us? When a man can get pregnant, then and only then should he be allowed to write or introduce any bill about womens reproductive rights!

It saddens me deeply that my sisters in South Dakota will now be forced to scrape together enough money to go out of state for an abortion. The abortion ban in that state will affect poor women the most. The poor will be the ones who have to struggle to find a solution to their unwanted pregnancy. They will be the ones who seek out illegal abortionists and die trying to help themselves. They are the ones who can ill afford another mouth to feed. Margaret Sanger would roll over in her grave if she could see how backward we still are in America after all these years. While we are forcing democracy down the collective throat of the world and allegedly trying to civilize the un-civilized in other countries, here in our own, we are taking a huge step backward to the days when women were dying from botched abortions.

I wrote a song in 1983 called "She wore a Red Carnation." The song was inspired by a true story I read about a woman who went to Mexico and got an illegal abortion. It was included on my first cd, Home Cookin' and later on a CD called Rock for Choice and it landed me on the illustrious Christian blacklist. Apparently starring in porn movies and being on the cover of Juggs was not enough to get me blacklisted, but when I came out as pro-choice, that was the real abomination! I performed the song at a rally in West Los Angeles in front of the Federal Building and I had the good luck to meet the woman who was the subject of my song. We both cried together as I explained how her story had inspired me so much. I didn't think I would ever live to see the day that free and equal access to abortion was not available to all women here in the liberated United States. But now I realize I went to bed last night and woke up in the middle ages.

It is so scary to witness the erosion of our civil rights as these so called Christian bullies cram their religious fear and evil down our unsuspecting throats. Who are these men who are so self righteous that they feel qualified to make decisions for the rest of us? I wanted to find out and so I watched a video on my pal Susie Brights blog. It's a video of the Senator from South Dakota describing his anti woman, anti abortion stance. When asked what it would take to get an abortion in South Dakota, Senator Bill Napoli almost started breathing heavy as he gave the following vivid details:

"A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl [would be] a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life."

It is shocking to hear a man who will never be raped, (unless he goes to prison; one can only hope) or carry a child, speak about a rape victim in this way. Why does Mr. Napoli think it is anymore heinous to be savagely raped if one is a virgin? Any woman who endures a rape could be "messed up physically and psychologically." And what will Mr. Napoli do if it is his wife or daughter who is raped? Will he allow the abortion if his wife was only tied up and raped, but not sodomized? What if his daughter is raped but she isn't married? What constitutes a brutal rape? She is slapped around but not pistol whipped? She is penetrated only once, not twice? Who will judge whether the rape is brutal enough? How bad can you make sodomy? Senator Napoli seems to be a real expert on the subject. I am sure the good Senator will find a way to pay for his daughters' abortion in neighboring North Dakota. But unfortunately most of the citizens of South Dakota live on farms or in trailers and they dont have the luxury of a Senators' salary.

This is not a moral issue. This is economics. The only ones really affected by this law are the poor and destitute. Anyone with money can afford to fly out of state and visit the gynecologist of their choice. Just like the women who visit the planned parenthood here in oceanside because they cannot afford a private gynecologist, and have to drive past the gruesome signs of the biker protesters, the poor women of South Dakota will have to weave their way through the assholes in their State legislature to find free and equal access to health care. Is this what the founding fathers on Mt. Rushmore mean't by justice and equality for all? It's a sad day for women when men are still more equal than us in 2006. When will our liberators come here to set us free?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Revolving Door of Band Life

Band Life isn’t easy. Maybe for the Rolling Stones, Madonna or Dave Mathews who can afford a big tour bus, drivers, teams of roadies and tech people, nannies, first class hotels and luxuries on the road, it can be a cinch but when you’re a poor and struggling road band, it’s tough. Many people think they can and want to endure it to live the so-called “glamorous life” of a rock star. Once they find out that a minimum of six hours a day is spent sitting on your behind in a van with five other sweaty people you’re not sleeping with, many quickly change their minds. We drive as fast as we can, all day long to get to the town we are playing in, that night. We stop along the way for fast food and/or snacks at the gas station while we take restroom breaks and gas up (no pun intended!) Upon arrival in the town, we rush to the bar, load in our equipment, do a sound check and hope for enough time for a hot meal and a shower at the hotel. Sometimes we don’t have enough time and we have to change clothes in the graffiti filled dressing room or in the van itself. I have become an expert at applying my make up in the 4X8 light up mirror in the van parked in the alley of the venue. We play our show, meet the wonderful people who support our music, load up the van again with all our amps, guitars, luggage and equipment and find our way to the hotel in the wee small hours of the morning. At check out time, (or earlier depending on the drive distance) we hop in the van, rain or shine, and do the whole thing all over again day in and day out.

Your personal space becomes very precious when you live your life out of a rolling sardine can. Where you place your pillow, sweatshirt and backpack is the mark of your turf. When someone takes the liberty to move your stuff, it can be a proclamation of war. I have seen fights break out over the crumpled paper bag that was thrown away accidentally. Who knew it held the pianists half eaten roast beef sandwich that he was saving for later? The pillow you benignly pushed aside becomes a threatening insult to the sax player. Little inconsequential things take on powerful new meaning.

Put artistic musicians with big egos in a small space and you are likely to witness great art or monumental pettiness. Individual quirks seem magnified when you have 397 miles to observe them. Human beings have idiosyncrasies and they are up close and personal in the Ford Econoline. If the guitar player is an alcoholic who is hung over, it affects everyone who has to smell him and drive his shift because his pounding head and shaking hands make him unsuitable. If the bass player is lazy, rest assured someone else is moving his equipment and picking up the slack for the jobs he refuses. A bad back, a bad headache or a bad attitude can affect everyone in the small quarters and alter everyone else’s mood and road experience.

Then there is the inevitable rehearsal that one person cancels at the last minute, inconveniencing everyone else. Or one guys DUI makes it so he can’t pitch in and drive his shift. Family issues can complicate band life as well. A guitar player marries and suddenly his young wife doesn’t want him to tour anymore or she wants to travel with the band, adding one more body and one more personality to the stew. A musician’s parents are elderly and frail and she is an only child. I have lost musicians to other bands who have snatched them up after seeing them on a festival with me. I have lost people who have decided they want to be the front person and go out on their own. People have developed health issues that needed attention. I have had to fire people who ditched a rehearsal for no good reason, wanted to be paid for the rehearsal, or refused to learn new material or even learn the old material correctly. Musicians decide to go back to school and get an education or take a day job where they can make good money without being gone all the time. People have left because they have young children at home and are tired of missing out on precious baby steps and first words. Marriages are threatened and break up. One former guitarist’s ex wife went to prison and he had to take custody of the kids. Another developed a drug addiction and after having illegal drugs fed-exed to our hotel, in my name, I had to let him go.

People come up to me and say, “What happened to your guitar player?” or “that band you had in Munich was the best band you ever had.” People make assumptions that it’s the bandleader who must be hard to get along with. In some cases, that may be true but there are also a whole slew of other extenuating reasons why musicians leave. NO health insurance, no retirement, no unemployment and no guarantees other than artistic expression are also factors. I often say to well meaning fans, “This ain’t the civil service. It’s impossible to keep someone where they don’t want to be.”

Bands are like dysfunctional families with all the good times and bad times included. We are blessed to play music and often humbled by the thunderous applause and the love and energy of a live audience. Yes, we choose this life on the road and we get the glamour and glory of show business along with the unique and unusual occupational hazards. We drive through rain, sleet and snow to deliver live music from coast to coast. Many of us do it because we love the road and the people we meet on it. Some of us do it because we want to be famous. And all of us, who stick with it, year after year, do it because we love music and maybe for all of the reasons listed above.

So, the next time you see your favorite road band with a new person in the group, realize that there is more to the story than you could ever know. These aren’t robots; these are human beings with all the blemishes and complexities that make us humans. And if you’re a musician, wishing you could be in a road band, carefully consider all the complications you are inviting and then get in that van and do it! Band life isn’t easy but for some of us, it’s the only life we would ever want and the life we are blessed to be living. Let the music begin.

Monday, March 06, 2006

the state of the blues

I was talking to Bill Stuve last night at my gig in long beach. My bassist and I had a falling out and he isn’t playing with me anymore. Bill was there to check out my gig and consider joining me for some tours. I am worried about the state of the blues, as is Bill. After 30 years in the Mighty Flyers, Bill was let go because Rod and Honey want to tour without a bassist to cut back on expenses. Gigs are paying less and less. When someone like Rod Piazza who is at the top of the blues heap, has to cut corners, I worry about the rest of us small fry's trying to eke out an existence.

Bill said he hasn’t seen it this bad since 1976. I was in junior high then so I don’t have a point of reference but I wonder how bad it was? Is this as bad as then? I was just offered some dates in Alabama for my upcoming tour. Two of them were $500 on a friday and saturday. That’s okay money for a local band, but to drive from city to city for $500, with gas at $2.75 a gallon is insane. I can’t afford to run a business that way. Fridays and Saturdays are supposed to be the nights we make the big money to float the lower paying weekday nights. If the big money (which was only $1000 to $1500 anyway) is reduced to $500 on weekends, it will seriously limit the amount of touring national acts can do. Only solo acts can afford to tour at those prices. What is the state of the blues? Is it getting worse? Is there hope? I haven’t been offered one blues festival this summer and I'm one of those artists who is blessed with a great and reputable agency. I am noticing more and more that gigs are drying up. My crowds are still there, when I do tour but I am deeply worried about what lies ahead.

I know that the economy is suffering even though our beloved George Bush keeps telling us how great things are. The first thing to go when money gets tight is entertainment. People can drink and smoke weed at home and they can watch music on television. They don’t need to spend $10 to go out and see a live band.

I am lucky to play other music besides blues. I have many gay pride festivals to subsidize some of my touring and thankfully, the gay community has been wonderful and supportive for years. At least I have some options. For many blues musicians, the state of the blues is really getting bluesier every day and that will trickle down to all musicians on the road, eventually.

For $500 on a Saturday, I don’t think I will be driving out south from San Diego any time soon. That’s a real shame for me, my band members, my fans in the south and for the business in general. What’s happening elsewhere in this blues world? Should we be scared? The state of the blues seems to be a third world state. I’ve heard the proclamation again and again that the blues is dead. Now, I am really worried that they are right.