Piti Theatre and Me!

Song #8: Electromagnet (That’s What I Am)

thumbnailPainting by Godelieve Richards

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Piti Theatre and Me!  (See below for lyrics to ‘Electromagnet’)

About 8 years ago, I played an opening set for a movie at Pot Hole Pictures, a classic film series in Shelburne Falls, MA.  Although it’s not a paid gig, playing at PHP is sort of a rite of passage for independent musicians in Western MA.  The weekly event takes place in a once-grand, historical building called Memorial Hall.  The police department is downstairs and upstairs is a huge, beautifully funky old ballroom/theater.  On the weekends they show popular old movies and they always have a local musician as the opener. That night it was just me and the piano.  The piano was an ancient upright set up on a wheeled dolly to make it more portable and there was one of those antique wooden piano stools with crystal claw feet.  The seat was stuck at the highest setting and if I sat on it I could reach the keys but  my feet barely touched the ground and the whole thing kept swinging to the left.  I don’t remember the movie.  Only about 20 people were in the audience.  I got paid with chewy popcorn.  It was a fun night with a sweet vibe.

I’m giving you all the details of this gig just to reiterate the often-pointed out point that life, (specifically MY life and my own music career), often unfolds through a series of random and inauspicious events.  Especially starting out as a musician, you never know what gig will lead you to the next thing.  If I hadn’t done that gig, I might not be doing the work I get to do today.

After the show I was approached by a couple who introduced themselves as Jonathan Mirin and Godelieve Richards.  They said they had a local theater company called Piti Theatre.   Godelieve liked my song about obsessive thinking, ‘Song For My Addiction’, and they wanted to do a choreographed dance to it. “Sure!” I said.

They ended up instead choreographing a dance to my song ‘Small White Rock’, but that was the beginning of us working together.  They asked me if I wanted to collaborate with them on a “play with music” they were doing.  The idea was that I would co-write songs with Jon, plus write other music for the show.  It would be an educational piece for children and adults, entertaining and humorous, but dealing with an intense subject: Colony Collapse Disorder in bee hives.  I’ve always wanted to write for musical theater and this was actually going to be a paid job so I felt pretty excited.  But, I was also skeptical.  It seemed like a depressing subject for a kid’s show.

CDC is indeed a depressing subject, but I quickly discovered that Piti Theatre has a way of making wonderfully entertaining, educational, poignant, smart, FUNNY art out of some of the trickiest subjects around.

I have to just say right here, that Jon and Godelieve are two of the most dedicated, hardest working artists I have ever met.  Together they form Piti Theatre and they each wear a bunch of different hats:  Jon writes, directs, teaches, and does all the booking, promotion, grant-writing and fund-raising; Godelieve co-designs the shows, designs and builds all the sets, props and costumes, plus does the choreography.   They are also dedicated activists: many of the shows they create have a strong environmental/social justice message.  They are using their art to change the world and I feel really honored to get to be a part of it.

‘To Bee Or Not to Bee’ was our first project together and since then we’ve collaborated on about 9 different shows, with various themes, which we have performed in public schools, libraries, festivals, and community centers throughout New England.

Two years ago, Piti and I received  a two-thousand dollar grant from Club Passim in Boston, via the Iguana Fund.  We used the money to help make a compilation of 16 of our favorite songs from some of the “mini-musicals” we’ve done.  This collection is a pot pouri of songs covering many different subjects/themes and includes songs from educational residencies at public schools as well as songs from our two touring plays, ‘To Bee or Not To Bee’, and ‘Innocenzo’.  It took us awhile, but we’re finally finished and will be releasing the record, ‘Piti Theatre’s Greatest Bits, Vol. I’, this Spring 2018.  I love all of these songs and am really excited to share them with people!

For the next 15 weeks or so I’ll be posting songs from this collection. This week’s song is called ‘Electromagnet (That’s What I Am)’ and was performed in a show with third graders as the culmination of a residency studying magnets at the Ryan Road School in Florence, MA.

*

Electromagnet Song
by Jonathan Mirin and Carrie Ferguson

Performed by Carrie Ferguson
Bass and Guitar: Tommy Byrnes; Clapping: Ian Byrnes and Carrie Ferguson
Recorded and Mixed by Tommy Byrnes at Sovereignty Music, Bernardston, MA
Mastered by Angelo Quaglia, Northfire Studio, Amherst, MA

What’s the secret of my force?
Electric current, it’s a powerful force
I’m an Electromagnet, I can lift a car
Electromagnet, I’m a magnet star

I got a wire coil inside of me
Flowing with electricity
Wrapped around a metal core
Of ferromagnetic soft iron ore

Electromagnet, that’s what I am
Electromagnet, let me say it again
Electromagnet, I can lift a car
Electromagnet, I’m a magnet star

Well, I get a lot of work in industry
In loudspeakers, generators, MRI machines
You can use me to make your motor go
All I need is that electric flow

Electromagnet, that’s what I am
Electromagnet, let me say it again
Electromagnet, I can lift a car
Electromagnet, I’m a magnet star

Yeah!
Whoah!
Uh huh!
Hey!

When you flip the switch and the voltage flows
The stronger the current, the stronger I pull
But when you turn me off, I must confess
I’m just another weak magnet like all of the rest

Electromagnet, that’s what I am
Electromagnet, let me say it again
Electromagnet, I can lift a car
Electromagnet, I’m a magnet star

Yeah!
Whoah!
Uh huh!
Hey!

Electromagnet, that’s what I am
Electromagnet, let me say it again
Electromagnet, I can lift a car
Electromagnet, I’m a magnet star

Yeah, electromagnet, that’s what I am
Electromagnet, let me say it again
Electromagnet, I can lift a car
Electromagnet, I’m a magnet star

Thinking Out Loud

Song #7:  Found Myself Walking in Rain

scratch tree

 

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Found Myself Walking In Rain
Written and performed by Carrie Ferguson
Recorded Fall 2018, by Tommy Byrnes at Sovereignty Music, Bernardston, MA
Album: Walking Songs

Found myself walking in rain and everything seemed so clear
I almost forgot who I was and I almost forgot where I’d been
I know I’ve been living a lie and it scares me how long it’s been true
But the obstacle that blocks my path has become the only door to go through

Well, I came to the edge of a river and I saw the water spinning
There were fishes and trees inside of me and the cold gray sky above
Well I stood in that place and I remembered your face and I heard the words you told me
You said “It’s easier to take care of you then to let you take care of me”

It just ain’t easy changing, you can only do your best
How much can we chop off and examine and still have something left
Oh we give birth to ourselves through the belly, baby, its just like you’ve been told
You can lie on your back and push it out or you can spit it up on the road

*

This is another Walking Song, circa 1991-1992.  I think I was in Amherst waiting for a PVTA bus (which never seemed to run on time) to Mass.  It was raining and I was puzzling over stuff, trying to figure it all out, a little bit bored, entertaining myself.  I guess this song is kind of about growing up.  A process which apparently, never ends.

 

Found Objects

Song #6:  Kitchen Noises

emily kitchen edit
Print by Emily Breines

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Sometimes songwriting for me can be all about utilizing found objects, the little bits of music that suddenly appear or are stumbled upon.  This tune, Kitchen Noises, was recorded at my partner Seal’s house, maybe some winter evening between 2013 and 2015.  Seal hates overhead lights, so the living room was dark.  I was playing the dusty little old spinet piano that I inherited from my grandmother.  Seal was in the kitchen washing dishes; she was getting over a cold and kept clearing her throat.  I felt very drowsy and a little melancholic.  Seal’s old black and white cat, Morgana, was there trying to ignore me.  I had a chord progression and a little melody that I was enamored with, the song seemed to be coming right out of the piano and the timbre of the evening.  I just kept layering tracks until it was done.

Dreamed Memories

Song #5: One Warm Afternoon

white circles

 

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One Warm Afternoon
Words and Music by Carrie Ferguson 2001
Recorded by Tommy Byrnes at Sovereignty Music Studio

One warm afternoon when I was a baby
It was time for my nap, they lay me down in my bed
When no one was looking, I started floating
I rose towards the ceiling til I bumped my head

It feels so familiar, I remember flying
My body is weightless as I drift towards the door
Look out through the window, see everyone playing
I hear someone coming and I sink to the floor

And that’s where they found me, silent and smiling
They say it’s impossible I climbed from my crib
They say it’s impossible but I remember flying
It feels so familiar and that’s what I did

They say its impossible but I remember flying
It feels so familiar and that’s what I did
That’s what I did

*

The first home I remember was the little one bedroom apartment on 18th street in Arcata, California, where my family lived between 1973 and mid-1975.   We were about 2 blocks away from Humboldt State University which was on the other side of the new, highly-controversial and still under-construction freeway, Rt. 101, which split Arcata in half.

18th street was a cul-de-sac lined with rental duplexes and a few 2 story apartment buildings, most built back in the 40’s. They were sturdy little bunker-shaped buildings, dark brown or drab green, all with front yards and backyards. Most of the residents were college students.

People often mistook my parents for graduate students because of all their books. My Dad had just started teaching 3rd grade at Jacoby Creek School. My Mom took care of me and the house, plus played her flute in several local ensembles.  Every day she walked with me through the no-person’s land of freeway construction up to The Humboldt State University Child Development Lab, where I went to pre-school.

I remember our apartment: There was a little dark-paneled, blue-carpeted bedroom in the back with a bathroom and a closet that scared me because I dreamed it was full of witches. This room was where my crib and later my bed were. The front room had my parent’s big bed and the HiFi which was a long wooden rectangular cabinet, comprised of a record player and radio in the middle, with a speaker on either side. It sat on the top shelf of a book case made from dark painted boards and cinder blocks. My parents used the HiFi to play Jazz and Classical records. At the back of the big front room was the kitchen area with lots of windows and our table which looked out on the overgrown backyard and my Mom’ sunny vegetable garden. We had a small dog named Robin, a Cocker Spaniel and Chihuahua mix, who was at best ambivalent to me (she nipped me once or twice).

There were lots of children in the neighborhood. One of them, when I was 5, became my first best friend. Her name was Dodi. My parents thought that she and her siblings were wild and that their parents neglected them. She was obsessed with Polar Bears and spoke of them as if they were gods or fairies. She taught me how to steal, which I practiced by “stealing” the neighbor’s newspaper off the lawn (I then also practiced feeling guilty). She wore a dirty white sweater and coveted the little yellow plastic perfume-filled brooch my grandma gave me. Dodi was fickle and mysterious and exciting and I was both infatuated with and intimidated by her, a pattern that was a prototype for many crushes that came later.

I have a vague memory, though it used to be much stronger, of being left for a moment by myself in the front room. It was late afternoon and I remember gently rising off the floor and drifting across the room towards the window. Then I bumped my head on the ceiling, and softly floated back down to rest on the floor.

Dream, fever dream, fantasy, who knows, but this memory has always felt as real to me as the rest of the details from that time period. Do vivid dreams count as life experiences? Some dreams have been very formative to me and their memories are as visceral and meaningful as real life events.  Perfect fodder for song writing.

The One Song

Song #4:  The Zebras

falling zebras

 

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The Zebras
Words and Music by Carrie Ferguson

Written August 2017
First demo, recorded with Garage Band, August 2017 at Deer Paths, Wendell, MA
Baritone Uke, Tambourine, Melodica played by Carrie
Album: Carrick Thistle and the Certainties

It has rained for days
The valley is covered with long shallow lakes
The highway glitters with overjoyed rivers
And the sun laughs down

You and I sit up on the mountain
Squinting our eyes at the water below
We thought we knew every inch of this valley
But now we’re not certain what it is that we know

It has rained for days
All the shapes that we treasured have melted away
Fields and fences and baseball games
All awash in the flood

A great herd of zebras leaps off of the mountain
Flying wingless, galloping through sky
It doesn’t surprise us, we are jealous as always
They make it look easy as they fall by

If we can lose it all tomorrow, tomorrow
Why not love today?
If we can lose it all tomorrow, tomorrow
Why not give it all away?

It has rained for days
All that precious water was too much to save
We will have to wait
The sun has returned but she promises nothing

Up on the mountain we’re watching the zebras
Splash through the water in the valley below
You want to swim with them and I am willing
When nothing’s familiar to let it all go

If we can lose it all tomorrow, tomorrow
Why not love today?
If we can lose it all tomorrow, tomorrow
Why not give it all away?

*

In August 2017 I decided to try to write a song every day.  I’ve seen other people do this before and it is always very impressive.  I’ve tried it several times and I never get that far before I fall in love with one song, get totally obsessed for several days, and the whole project gets completely derailed.

Often, a song is a problem to solve.  How to show THIS, how to get to HERE without the listener knowing what’s happening until they’ve arrived.  How to tell a story without blatantly stating what it’s about.  How to give the listener a feeling without telling them what to feel.  How to come up with imagery, rhymes, melodies, that are so exciting they explode in your mouth like pop rocks.

Every once and awhile the One, the One Song, comes along and I fall in love, head over heels, completely smitten, haunted by the melody day and night, obsessively reworking the lyrics over and over, walking around mumbling to myself.  All I can think about is the song, all I hear over and over is the song.  It keeps me up at night.  I become weird and pale from lack of sleep.  I am constantly restless and anxious, jonesing to be alone with my song.

But you know, it’s always a fleeting affair, a one night stand that lasts maybe 3 days to a week, and then it’s over.  I solve the problem, I complete the song, I sing it into garage band, and move on.  Later, when I’m performing the song, I might remember that feeling, but it’s never quite the same as the first time.

Or maybe I don’t complete it, because the timing isn’t right.  Maybe I archive it and find it years later, like reconnecting with a lost lover.  Maybe I finish it then, or never.  Maybe it’s just a snippet that I revisit now and then, mulling over, trying to conjure up the previous spark of passion, urgency, and mystery.

In August 2017, the 2nd day brought the love affair song to me.  I woke up from a dream of mass flooding and flying zebras and heard my house mate weeping from her recent breakup.  I was sleeping on the front porch futon and the sun was streaming in through the dusty windows. I picked up my baritone ukulele and played the only 3 chords I know on it in a slightly different way than usual and began to write this song.

I worked on it feverishly for four days.  On the fourth day,  at my girlfriend’s house in the woods, I turned off the refrigerator (which clucks wetly like a chicken), and made this living room demo.    Maybe I’ll make a more polished studio version of it some day, maybe I won’t.  I’m pretty attached to this one with its twangy uke, slightly out of tune melodica, and random ambient noises.  Every time I listen to it it reminds me of being in love.

 

P.S:
My friend Danielle Anderson, a.k.a  Danielle Ate the Sandwich is about to stage an event where she writes/produces/records an entire album in 24 hours…with the help of friends/fans calling in with writing prompts and take-out suggestions.  I think she intends to live stream most of the 24 hour process.  She is fantastic.  Check her out.

If I Get Lost I’ll Sing a Walking Song

Song #3: One Way Ticket From Springfield

broomstickers

 

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Recorded by Tommy Byrnes at Sovereignty Studios, Bernardston, MA

One Way Ticket From Springfield
Words and music by Carrie Ferguson

I’ve got a one way ticket from Springfield
Blind eyes in the back of my head
I’ve got a heart that won’t stop loving
And a mind full of crazy ideas
Well I know we gotta keep on changing
But not like the weather or like I change my clothes
The thing about life, the thing about life
You can act once or you can think twice
Sometimes I don’t know where I’m going til there I am

Well I woke up in the middle of loving you
Like I’d been doing it all of my life
You told me from the beginning you we’re gonna leave soon
You’d been planning since before I’d arrived
Well I know we gotta keep on moving
Songs in the sun are for those rainy days
The thing about life, the thing about life
You can act once or you can think twice
Sometimes I don’t know where I’m going til there I am

Well you can buy yourself a van but don’t throw away your broom
You can drive across the country and I’ll meet you at the moon
Cause I know I gotta keep on dreaming and if I get lost I’ll sing a walking song
The thing about life, the thing about life
You can think and act once, or you can think and act twice
Sometimes I don’t know where I’m going til there I am

*

In late August 1990, when I was 20,  I arrived in Amherst, MA, via a Peter Pan bus from Bradley Airport, by way of Arcata, CA.  I knew only one person in MA, and that was my Aunt Charlotte, who was in the process of moving down to Pennsylvania to teach English at a community college.   In a week I would be starting as a junior at the University of MA, Amherst.

This was a giant move for me, the first time I had really left my hometown of Arcata.  I had one clear intention, and that was to come out, as in out of the closet (although at that point I was so green that any form of sexuality would have been coming out).   I had chosen UMass Amherst to do this for several reasons, the first of which was super practical.  Through an inter-state student exchange program that existed at the time, I was able to attend UMass for a year, while still paying the tuition rate of my current school, Humboldt State University.  This option was not available at many of the other schools in the program and it was a great deal because at the time HSU cost only $750 a semester for in-state students.  So, I could afford to come out in Amherst!  This is probably one of the few fiscally responsible decisions I’ve made in my life.

Second, using the big exchange program’s school catalog I had meticulously researched the “student life”  section of several schools in order to determine who had the biggest and most active GLB  (back then the other letters hadn’t been added yet) community.  Lucky for me the biggest and best GLB club was at the cheapest school!  And, to make it even more right, I had actually been to Amherst once before while in high school to visit Aunt Charlotte.  And although nobody overtly told me, I knew she had been in a same-sex relationship for many years…which meant that there was definitely some gayness going on there.

Other than this one intention, which was somehow both vague and extremely clear, I had no clue as to what I was doing.  Once I moved into the dorms and Charlotte had packed up her UHaul and taken off for Pennsylvania, I was completely on my own.  I decided to start off on the right foot by announcing on the first night to my new roommate, while we were each in our little bunk beds on opposite sides of the room with the lights out, that I was bisexual.  (At the time, calling myself bisexual seemed somehow less intimidating than calling myself gay, or lesbian…like I could always “go back” if I needed to.  Besides, I was just barely anything-sexual at that point!)  Once again, the fates were with me because she immediately replied “Oh good!  Me too.”

And then that was that.  I was out to everybody I met from that moment forward, and it felt completely fine.    Within 3 weeks I had already experienced my first hot sex/hook-up/break up with a woman and moved on to a highly dramatic and desperately unsatisfying relationship (we both did our best!) with the first real love of my life.  I was right on track for my singer-songwriter career!

I had also found myself a new group of friends that were the most passionate, interesting, and exciting women I’d ever met.  They were all queer and activists and Women’s Studies or Social Thought And Political Economy students and we all worked together at (or were affiliated with) the student-run cooperative vegetarian restaurant on campus.  Most of them were  just a bit older than me and I felt that I had somehow had the fortune to stumble into a magical sisterhood or coven.  There was a sense of strength and power, of belonging to something amazingly cool, that I’d never experienced before.  It was exhilarating.  I used to imagine that we had this other life, that late at night we would meet on the roof of the Tower Library to fly out across the valley on our broomsticks.

During this period, I did not have regular access to a piano, and I didn’t play guitar yet, so all of my songwriting was done acapella.  I didn’t call it SONGWRITING,  it was just something I did all the time, especially when I was walking across the enormous UMass campus.  I was never someone who walked around with a Walkman, instead I made up songs to entertain myself.  But the songs had another function, too.  I was figuring things out, trying to understand and shape my swiftly expanding world into something that made sense to me.  Subconsciously I was trying to document and remember myself throughout all the changes that were happening, so that I could always find my way back to myself.  I ended up calling these songs Walking Songs.

 

Song #2: Glacier Baby

icebergscan

Glacier Baby
By Jon Mirin and Carrie Ferguson

I may be cold and old and moving slow
I may be white and thick and got a ways to go
If you walk on me you might find fleas
Or Polar bears and seals or arctic seas

And when I left, I carved the mountains
And when I left, I carved the hills
And when I left, I carved the valleys
I left the rocks and clay, it lies there still
I left the rocks and clay, they call it til

I May be below zero celsius
I may be below 32 fahrenheit
I covered this whole valley, I covered Canada
My ice was everywhere sparkling white

And when I left, I carved the mountains
And when I left, I carved the hills
And when I left, I carved the valleys
I left the rocks and clay, it lies there still
I left the rocks and clay, they call it til

I’m a glacier baby, keep me around for you
I keep the world cool so just say thank you
Don’t count me out don’t let me get melted down
I keep the world cool, you need me around
I keep the world cool, you need me around
I keep the world cool, you need me around

Glacier Baby is a track off of the album Piti Theatre’s Greatest Hits, Vol. I, which will be coming out in CD form in March 2018.  This song is part of a “play with songs” written a few years ago by Piti Theatre director, Jon Mirin, and performed with third graders at the Ryan Road School in Northampton, MA.  The lyrics were written by Jon, with some additions and edits by me.  I wrote the music and recorded it with Garrett Sawyer at Northfire Studios in Amherst, MA.

I’ll say more about Piti Theatre and my ongoing collaboration with them, as well as our “greatest hits”  project, in a later post.  Right now I wanted to post this song because of what is going on, or maybe is about to go on in Alaska.

It doesn’t seem to be getting talked about a lot, but the big tax bill that just passed in the U.S. Congress, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, includes a sneaky little clause that allows for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Northern Alaska.

At 19 million acres,  ANWR is the largest expanse of protected wilderness in the US and is home to polar bears, migrating birds, caribou and the McCall Glacier. The question of whether or not to drill for oil in this pristine wilderness has been a partisan controversy for decades.  Unfortunately, the Republicans have finally succeeded, at least on paper for the time being.  For more about ANWR and oil drilling, check out this wikipedia article.  For more about efforts to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, check out the organization Defenders.

Besides the inevitable damage to wildlife and habitat that comes with drilling, there’s the larger question of Fossil Fuel usage and its roll in contributing to global warming.  For more about this, check out this Global Warming FAQ sheet by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Earth is currently comprised of 10% ice in the form of glacial ice sheets and icebergs. Glaciers are shrinking world wide, which is both the result of climate change, and a contributing factor.   When this ice melts, not only do sea levels rise, but the chemical make up of the sea water is changed, both of which have negative affects on natural ecosystems and the humans and other creatures that depend on them. And, something else that maybe many of us don’t think about, all that ice is Earth’s natural air-conditioner.  It helps moderate the planet’s temperature.  As it melts, the temperature and weather is drastically altered. For more about this, check out this article from the Extreme Ice Survey website.

Honestly, thinking about global warming terrifies, depresses, and overwhelms me. I feel COMPLETELY POWERLESS. I feel enraged that so many bad decisions have been made, are being made; I feel grief-stricken, paralyzed by hopelessness, unable to do anything, not sure what it is that I would do anyway. And then I judge myself for being whiny, self-absorbed, and passive.  I HATE THESE FEELINGS.  I want these feelings to stop.

But, of course, here’s the thing:  there’s no way around it.  Global warming is happening; things ARE going to change, things are changing.  But who says there is a fixed outcome? What if there IS a more positive future? And what if these feelings are not only normal and unavoidable, but necessary wake up calls in order for us to get there?

I often say to myself   “Well, if there were something obvious I could do or not do, then I would do it.”  But you know what, it turns out there ARE things I can do.  I just don’t do them because I feel hopeless.  My little daily contribution, even participating in larger collective actions to fight the greedy powers that be, feels futile and pointless.  It is much easier to collapse into despair.

Hey, I know this is not a new revelation, but, what if EVERY DAY, EVERYBODY did their little individual thing, or participated in a big collective thing, to fight global warming?  THAT would be a movement, right?  That is really what it is going to take.

If we’re all paralyzed by these feelings of despair, that’s not going to happen.  There’s no way around these feelings.  We have to actually FEEL them and move through it and then we have to change our behavior.  And keep doing it.

Here’s a list of 35 things we can do every day to help fight global warming.

For resources, inspiration and support in transforming feelings about global warming and other environmental threats, I suggest checking out the brilliant work of Joanna Macey and her organization.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading!  What do you think about all this stuff?  What different things are you doing to save energy and stop global warming?