Inspiration for 10/4: “Try Just a Little Bit Harder” by Janis Joplin

“If it’s a dream, I don’t want nobody to wake me.” 

42 years ago today, Janis Joplin was found dead in a Los Angeles hotel room. On that October 4th, the world lost a soulful, powerful vocalist who’s influence would be felt for deacdes to come. Janis was one of many artists whose flame was put out by drugs and alcohol. Her story has sadly become a rock and roll cliche and gets repeated several times every year. Yet it’s her take no prisoners music and badass vocal stylings that survive today. And “Try Just a Little Bit Harder” is one song which truly captures this legacy.

The track appeared on her 1969 record I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! While not lyrically, complex, “Try Just a Little Bit Harder” embodies the kind of attitude and sass that the world found irresistible in Joplin. While reading about Janis I found this quote by another idol, Stevie Nicks, that sums up Janis’ power perfectly:

“Janis put herself out there completely, and her voice was not only strong and soulful, it was painfully and beautifully real. She sang in the great tradition of the rhythm & blues singers that were her heroes, but she brought her own dangerous, sexy rock & roll edge to every single song. She really gave you a piece of her heart. And that inspired me to find my own voice and my own style.”

So on this chilly Thursday I’m going to rally and turn “Try Just a Little Bit Harder” into my funky theme song. Maybe I’ll blast other Janis tunes during my day to honor her.  Also as I work on some writing projects, I’m going to strive for that “beautifully real” quality that Stevie pinpoints in Janis. Finally, I’ll use the title of the song as kind of a mantra. Spiritually, creatively and emotionally I can try just a little bit harder today. And it’ll feel good. Or  as the lady herself would say, “You know you got it if it makes you feel good!”

 

 

Inspiration for Sept. 20th: “Fame” by David Bowie

Sometimes I need to start my day with a deep, reflective moment. And other times, I just need a funky, booty-shaking jam that serves as my soundtrack to my day. Today is the latter. Therefore imagine my delight when I found out that on September 20th, 1975 , Fame by the incomparable David Bowie was the number 1 song. That’s right- 37 years ago, the country had actual taste! I’m kidding. Kind of. “Fame” is one of those “attitude” songs. You know. The kind of song you move your head to and maybe even strut around your apartment to. It’s a track with a funkiness you can’t deny- see the Soul Train dancers in the above clip for further proof.

The song like most Bowie songs has a great back story. Apparently Bowie wrote it as a kind of response to being ticked off at his management company at the time. According to Wikipedia:

Bowie would later describe the song as “nasty, angry,” and fully admits that the song was written “with a degree of malice” aimed at the Mainman management group he had been working with at the time. In 1990 Bowie reflected that “I’d had very upsetting management problems and a lot of that was built into the song. I’ve left that all that behind me, now… I think fame itself is not a rewarding thing. The most you can say is that it gets you a seat in restaurants.”

To make “Fame” even more awesome, the song was co-written by John Lennon, who can also be heard on the backup vocals! Ever the collaborator, Bowie later re-released the song in 1990 with a rap from Queen Latifah back when she was still a badass.

So on a day like today where I’ve got a lot to do a song like “Fame” is the perfect jam to rock out to. But Bowie’s ability to channel a bad experience into something genius is über inspiring as well. Instead of stewing in situations or feeling hopeless, I will try to remember today that I have talents and tools to help me make things better. Also, Bowie’s willingness to collaborate and learn from other artists is something I need to take with me all day too. Mainly, I’ll use “Fame” as my funky, full of swagger, theme song today.

Readers, what’s your Thursday theme song? Post it below!

 

.

 

Inspiration for September 19th: “Make Your Own Kind of Music” by Cass Elliot

Nobody can tell ya there’s only one song worth singing.”

-Make Your Own Kind of Music

Had she survived a massive heart attack in 1974, “Mama” Cass Elliot would have been 71 years-old today. In a short but rich career, Elliot recorded no other song that better described her individuality and “screw ’em if they don’t like you” attitude better than “Make Your Own Kind of Music”. Recorded in 1969 as a followup to her hit, “It’s getting better”, the tune didn’t really make much of an impact at the time and only reached #36 on the Top 40. Elliot struggled to stay relevant as she departed The Mamas and the Papas and as the 60’s were becoming the 70’s. Nevertheless, this curious little pop tune has endured. Barbara Streisand, Bobby Sherman and others have recorded the track but it’s Cass’ version that survives. She really sells the songs corny but sincere message and elevates the track to classic status. Upbeat, catchy and unabashedly optimistic, “Make Your Own Kind of Music” is own of those songs I picture playing during the opening credits of the sitcom based on my life. Anybody else? No? Just me? Okay. Moving right along…

Fans of the show Lost will undoubtedly remember Desmond playing the song on a record player during the season 2 opener entitled, “Man of Science, Man of Faith.” “Make Your Own Kind of Music” shows up in several other episodes and even had a surge on iTunes, thanks to Lost. 

According most biographies of Cass Elliot, she struggled with truly loving who she was and suffered a lot of emotional and physical pain due to her struggle with her weight. It’s a shame she never got to really believe the message of personal acceptance that she inspired in her fans. So on this slow-moving Wednesday where there isn’t enough coffee to get me going, I’m going to try to take the song’s message to heart. I have a few “what if they hate it” or “what if I fail” creative projects that I’m going to jump head first into today. Also, it’s important as a creative person to keep going and trust the process so I’m going to try to help others do that today too. Finally, I have to remember to do things in my own voice and not care if “nobody else sings along.”

Happy Birthday Mama Cass and Happy Wednesday, friends!

 

 

Inspiration for September 17th: Henri Rousseau

Beauty is the promise of happiness. -Henri Rousseau

In September 1910, Henri Rousseau died at the age of 66. He died relatively obscure and definitely broke. You know. The oldest artist song in the book. While alive Rousseau exhibited his works with other artists and usually took a critical beating for painting in the “naive style.”  Obviously, Rousseau transcended bad reviews and snobbery by his fellow artists. His work captures the imagination and brews up excitement for art lovers of all ages.

While reading about Rousseau this morning, one biography of the artist said that despite falling on hard times and harsh criticism “his faith in his own abilities never wavered.” A former army officer with a teenage delinquent past, Rousseau claimed that for the most part he had no formal art training and that nature and his surroundings were his only teachers. Paris’ botanic gardens, taxidermy in museums, the countryside and illustrations in books were all Rousseau needed to paint his famous jungle scenes. These works are what most artsy types consider his quintessential pieces despite the fact that they were universally hated at the time and that Rousseau himself never went to the jungle.

Rousseau’s final painting was entitled The Dream. It was shown in an exhibition in 1910, a few months before he died. Despite dying in poverty, Rousseau’s own dreams live on. He was a major influence on Picasso, Jean Hugo, Beckman, and the Surrealists. His paintings inspired Joni Mitchell’s song The Jungle Line and even the animated film Madagascar.

There is clearly a lot to be inspired by with Henri Rousseau. His resilience and perseverance are good things for me to strive for on this gray Monday morning. Also, as I work on some big projects, I need to remember that so much of what I need for research or to stay inspired I can find right here or in my imagination. I need some library time today and Rousseau’s use of the resources around him have made that a priorty for me today. Lastly, I will have an unwavering belief in my own talents today. Haters (especailly the ones in my own my mind) be damned!

Happy Monday everybody!

 

Inspiration for Sept. 10th: Kurt Cobain

Released as a single 21 years ago today, Smells Like Teen Spirit  by Nirvana is one of those rare tracks that defines an era. It’s the theme song for a generation of unimpressed youth and the guy who wrote those lyrics Kurt Cobain was something of messiah for the grunge set. Truth be told, at the time I didn’t see what the big deal was. Top me Cobain seemed like another drug addicted hipster whose message of indifference was as old as drug addicted hipsters themselves. Yet it wasn’t until I heard Nirvana’s Unplugged record that I actually got it. Their cover of David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ resonated with me for with it’s starkness and Cobain’s haunting delivery.

Cobain’s artistry and talent are on thing but his strong point of view and voice are what made him a star. Cobain was a strong supporter of Pro-Choice, gay rights and very anti-war. In the liner notes of Incesticide, he wrote, “”if any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us-leave us the fuck alone! Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records”. Cobain was also an incredible storyteller in his songs. Each tune paints a picture of a man at odds with loneliness, disillusionment and the world at large.

And yet its as important for me to remember that Cobain died because of addiction. He killed himself and his body was found in his home on April 8, 1994. He was 27. He’s not so much of an American hero but a tragedy. So on this Monday, it’s Cobain’s artistry that inspires me. Also,Cobain’s legacy makes me think about the millions of people who are suffering with addiction and alcoholism. I’ll remember that today I have a choice that I can choose recovery. And Cobain’s struggles will remind me that I’m not cured and I have to keep doing this thing if I want to stay well.  Lastly, I’ll try to remember where I was when I heard this song for the first time. Enjoy your Mondays, homies!

Inspiration for September 7th: You

This is the 100th post here at UrtheInspiration!

Can you believe it?!? I started this little blog back in December 2011 and here we are. The goal of UrtheInspiration was always a simple one: to perhaps provide a laugh or some hope for somebody who’s going through the things I went through. See, when I got sober in 2009 I read the words of people like Elizabeth Lesser, Deb and Ed Shapiro, Carrie Fisher, Louise Hay, Alexander McCall, Raymond Carver, Dorothy Parker, Shakespeare and so on and so on. I clung to them, quoted them and re-read them because I needed them. These words healed me, made me laugh and helped me feel better even if it was just for a few minutes. As a lifelong writer, I thought to myself, “I hope I can do that some day.” I also wanted to really write down parts about my story I was always afraid of and maybe that could help somebody too. And if nobody cared or no one read and everyone hated it, then big deal.  I got it down, I tried and I could move on.

Well, that didn’t happen. You happened. That’s why you’re today’s inspiration. You showed up, you read and most amazingly you told me I wasn’t alone. You told me you had been through the same thing and how you got through it. You laughed and made me laugh.I talked about crazy, uncomfortable shit and you returned the favor by sharing your own honest and courageous battles. The fact is, we writers like to say that we write for ourselves and fuck what anybody thinks. And to some degree this is true. You can’t worry about reaction or if anybody is gonna get it too much or you’ll never get a fucking word on the page! But writers also need readers too. We need people to say, “Yes!!!” or “I loved it” and we even need people to say “WTF” and “Sorry I didn’t get it”.  I  love hearing all of it and I need it. The real gold here is the rare, crazy times over the last year when one or two have said, “Thank you for talking about this” and “I’m going through a rough time and this helped me”. Holy crap. Mission accomplished! Really.

Oh but I’m just getting started! This blog and you all have inspired me to put a book together (Sparkleholic- coming in early 2013!). UrtheInspiration recently got a spiffy new makeover and I’m hoping to get guest posts from you guys too (hint, hint. email me at urtheinspiration@hotmail.com hint, hint). So here’s to you my blogging friends, Twitter troublemakers, writing comrades, fellow hotmesses, and recovery warriors. Without you, I’d just be talking to myself.

One more favor, (as if listening to my dribble day, after day, wasn’t enough!) if you read this blog leave, please say hi in the comments section today. Since you’re the inspiration today, I’d like to say hello personally and thank you for well, being you!

Inspiration for September 4th: Hal David

What the world needs now,
Is love, sweet love,
No, not just for some but for everyone.

Over the weekend, we lost a great lyricist when Hal David passed away at 91 years-old. As the sometimes thankless task of being the guy who supplies the words can be, David was often forgotten. His writing partner Burt Bacharach and their musical muse Dionne Warwick often grabbed more headlines than David did. But without David those catchy lyrics to some of the best pop songs on the planet would not exist. As I read his obituary and tributes in different publications, it blew my mind how many hits David wrote. Some, like Brokenhearted Melody, are tunes he crafted before his partnership with Bacharach. The song is a showstopper for Sarah Vaughn and I dare you to erase it from your memory after listening to it:

David’s lyrical genius can also be found in mega hits like the Oscar- winning Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, Walk on By, The Look of Love, and one of my all time favorite songs, I Say a Little Prayer for You.

Naturally, everybody has their favorites and the list is endless. David and Bacharach’s hit making machine attracted the biggest names of time and their collaborations with goddess Dusty Springfield are utter genius.

What inspires me today, on this Tuesday after a long weekend, about David’s lyrics is the optimism that permeates in every song. Even the sad ballads give the listener a sense that everything will eventually work out. Sure, these sentiments might seem corny by today’s standards but as I look at the tragedy, cynicism and intolerance in today’s headlines, I think David might have been onto something. Love is still the only thing that there’s just too little of.

Inspiration for August 31st: Princess Diana

“Everyone of us needs to show how much we care for each other and, in the process, care for ourselves.” – Princess Diana

It’s hard to believe that it was 15 years ago today when Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed were killed in a car accident in Paris. Being a kid of the 70s and 80’s, this tragedy is the one from  our generation that we all known exactly where we were when it happened. I was at my roommates birthday party in Los Angeles. In drag. Honestly. Oh yes, on the day the People’s Princess died, your’s truly was decked out in a Farrah wig, a silver glitter mini dress and platform boots. I even lip synched to Sheena Easton’s classic “Strut.” And strut I did. But back to Diana.

It was a strange occasion to find out that such a beloved icon had died so tragically. All of us crazy club kids in various states of dress or undress (there was topless rollerskaters in our living room that evening if I’m not mistaken) drinking like fish and trying to make sense of this horrible piece of news. Diana had recently emerged a single and liberated woman after her divorce from Prince Charles. Her work with HIV and AIDS patients is legendary as are her daring  visits to Angola to help ban land mines. Helping others, instead of the family she married into was becoming her legacy before her life was cut short.

And it’s this legacy that inspires me on this hot and steamy Friday of Labor Day weekend. As I go through my day, Diana is a good reminder of thinking about what I can do to help others and make the lives of those around a little more enjoyable. I can’t exactly diffuse land mines in a 3rd world country today. But I can hold the door open for someone or be extra kind to the person behind the counter or call somebody I know who is having a hard time. Not only does it make the planet  a nicer place but, as Diana noted, it’s a great way of caring for myself too.

Inspiration for August 28th: “Magic” by Olivia Newton-John

From where I stand
You are home free
The planets align so rare
There’s promise in the air
And I’m guiding you

I know. You just read those lyrics and said “Huh? WTF.”  Trust me. This will all make sense. To truly understand the depth and brevity of “Magic” by Olivia Newton-John, one must first sit through the brain melting cinematic donut that is 1980’s Xanadu. Suffice it to say, “Magic” is a song of encouragement performed by Olivia’s character Kira help inspire the leading guy who never worked again to build a clandestine disco roller rink that could perhaps save all of humanity or at the very least Venice Beach. Did I mention that Kira is a Greek muse and that ELO wrote “Magic” (along with the rest of the soundtrack)? See, I told you it was all totally logical. Clearly, this inspiration is one of the guilty pleasure variety but 32 years ago today, “Magic” celebrated it’s fourth week on top of the Billboard charts cementing Olivia as one of the era’s most popular stars. And really what’s not to love?

Plus the song itself rocks. It still stands up as a great roller skating jam with weird, trippy lyrics and a thumping baseline. Granted, Tuesday, August 28th could be a depressing, inappropriately hot and uncomfortable day but I’ve decided it will be magic. Sure I might not have the gumption to build my own mystical roller disco but I can drop my crappy attitude, blast my favorite tunes and generally enjoy myself. Even if it is just for a few moments. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to turn your home office, car or kitchen into a temporary roller disco too. Remember, we have to believe we are magic and nothing will stand in our way. Now, where did I put my legwarmers?

 

Inspiration for August 27th: Man Ray

“It has never been my object to record my dreams, just the determination to realize them.” Man Ray

Founding member of both the Surrealism and Dada movements, Man Ray is that freak artist whose massive body of work seemingly has something inspiring for almost everybody. Paintings, drawings, sculptures, fashion photography, movie making, Man Ray did it all. Friend and collaborator with the likes of Dali, Hemingway and Duchamp, Man Ray was born today in 1890 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Stark, stunning and sometimes a little unnerving, the work of Man Ray in every medium is utterly unforgettable. 

In an interview from the 1970’s towards the end of his life, Man Ray was famously quoted, “I have been accused of being a joker. But the most successful art to me involves humor.” Joker or not, Man Ray’s most memorable pieces are the ones that winkingly give the viewer something to smile about or something unexpected.

At the age of 86, Man Ray passed away and was buried in Paris. His sense of humor is immortalized on his tomb stone with the words: Unconcerned but not indifferent.

Many an art student has pondered the meaning of Man Ray’s epitaph and the internet, as you can imagine, is filled with heated discussions all claiming to know what he was thinking when he chose those words. I think he’d get a laugh out of that too. To me, the words personify the way he created art and lived his life. He wasn’t filled with worry but he wasn’t dispassionate either. Man Ray loved life and loved love (he was married twice, had several scandalous affairs and was spent his last days with his beloved Juliet whom you see buried with him above).

Today, on a Monday filled with big projects and annoying “to do” tasks, I think being unconcerned but not indifferent might be a wise path to choose. Also on busy days like this it’s important for me not to take myself too seriously so I’ll try to do that too. And lastly, I want to marinate on that opening quote of his today too by taking even little steps to realize my dreams.