“YOUR DAUGHTER’S CHAKRA’S ARE DEAD”

Too much had happened for me to turn out a healthy, balanced, innocent thirteen year old girl. Too much of the world had revealed itself. Too many drinks drunk, too many locked psych wards visited (no not me, though that was just luck of the genetic draw) too much separation, too much death and too many rooms broken down and boxed up.

I would like to make it clear that I don’t fancy myself a victim of any of it. It is just the way things went down in my story and this is the report. 1988 brought the wrath of what I now believe was Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. My body shut down. My ability to function in the world collapsed. I dropped to 80 pounds, my gut and back went into spasms every hour on the hour that prevented me from being able to walk for months.
I couldn’t bath myself, I could barely eat. I cried, writhed in pain on the island of the living room couch for the back half of my freshman year into the first half of my sophmore.  With the exception of the excruciating pain that only subsided when someone’s hand, other my own, was on my belly, (and did I mention that I had braces?) I was kind of ……. happy to be stranded on it.

Before any desperate need for healing, I was an escapist. I came out that way. I was addicted to soap opera’s by the time I was 5. I would watch Ryans Hope, Days of Our Lives, and General Hospital almost everyday, though later on I betrayed it for Santa Barbara. I had been faking sick since I learned that I had to get out of bed, walk to the bus stop in the freezing cold and sit in a fucking desk all day for the next 13 years of my life.  By third grade one of my teachers began to catch on, so like any good future alcoholic I “laid off” my drug of choice for a while till the heat was off me. I was addicted to my bed, my couch, roller skating, and anything on the tube. Yes, I was the last of 4 and a half children (foster brother came on the scene when I was 5 and left when I was 12) My Mom was tired.

After months of tutors, home visiting healers, psychics, massage therapist’s (both shiatsu and deep tissue) being lifted and transported by my roommate Zion who read to me, watched television with me, carried me to the bath tub and rubbed my feet everyday (thank you Zion), one of the only things that brought about an hour of relief before the spasms kicked in again, was a visit to a team of chiropractic twins, soft spoken, patient, generous, and squeaky bald. Bless my Mom she tried everything! Thank you Mom.

The thing is, I just wasn’t getting any better, but looking back there are reasons for this.

There would be brief times where it appeared that the spasms were gone for good. It would allow me to begin being a teenager. Leave the house, have a sleep over, try and catch up, but things move fast when your 14 and 15. While I was at home on couch island, the friends I had left were having “experiences” going “all the way”, doing beer funnels at parties help at big Wellesley mansions, sitting with circles of friends in large linen closets getting high off quarter ounces of horrible Mexican shwag. For fucksake I was missing out and I wanted in!

One night I slept over my friend’s house. I slept there as often as I could. I loved her. We would sit on her screened in porch for hours smoking Camel Lights. We never got in trouble because in her house there were “secrets”. The threat of there surfacing was held and used as collateral when necessary if we were given any shit from her parental’s. My friend possessed a darkness that was just as potent as her brightness. I attracted many of these kinds of people through out my life, for I posses the same.

On this particular night at around midnight my friend asked if I wanted to do some acid. She had four hits of some cartoon, covered blotter from the Dead show she went to while I was stranded. At this point I was a smoker, I drank whenever I could, and I’d smoked some pot, but ACID? What the fuck was acid anyways? I just had no fucking idea of what I was getting myself into.
“Whatever, sure.”
Was my answer.

Two hits under the tongue, and down the throat. No taste, NOOOOOOO clue what was about to happen. We parked it in her basement. Parents upstairs asleep, seventy five pound, seventeen year old anorexic sister in the bedroom next to theirs. Let’s just say the vibes in the house were heavy to begin with, there were obstacles on our journey. She lived in bum-fuck, and we had 6 cigarettes to last us between the two of us for the entire trip.

She began out journey with James Taylor. Ok I can hang with this, a little Van Morrison, all right…….I feel groovy, melted into a yellow bean bag, and a giant vat of Christmas popcorn to my right. The kind that when you open the lid it has three different sections: Plain, cheese, and my favorite of the night: caramel.

The trails began to hit. The psychedelic colors warmed the room. It all started to pulsate.
“WAWAWAWWAWAW     WAWAWAWWAWA     WAWWAWAW”
said the room.

I grabbed a piece of caramel popcorn and began a stare off with it. It had little faces all over it like in Peter Gabriels “Sledgehammer” video when the hill erupts into heads of troll faces. I looked up at the ceiling, (the popcorn kind of course) for it was calling to me.

“Amy, hey Amy”
Some kind of acid demon had come and carved millions of jagged irredesent skulls into it.
“WOW” was all I could muster.

Two hits of acid in a 14 year old 85 pound body. I hadn’t even gotten my period yet.
Gut spasms? What gut Spasms? I’ll be just fine.

Ha!

Midnight gave way to morning, when I got up the courage to leave the basement and have an adventure upstairs to watch the sun rise in the living room, though I told my friend that I just had to pee. I remembered that in their living room was a bright yellow shag wall to wall carpet, with baby blue couches, floral, orange curtains, with matching chairs and pillows.

It was stunning.

I arrived at it’s threshold, the house silent. It had just snowed. It was perfect. I kneeled down on the sunny fur, and began to pet it like a lion. I fell in love.
I was in deep acid hazed communion with the color yellow, I think I was expressing my love verbally like you do to a newborn baby, all mushy and instant. I thought it was responding back to me like the whispers from the ceiling downstairs, but it wasn’t, the voice was too deep. Reality had the balls to cross me.

“Amy? What are you doing on floor talking to the rug?” inquired my friends terrifying father.

I hoped that he was aware that I knew their ugly secrets, that I could without saying anything, get him to move along with one look, like his daughter could, show him I had some collateral too.

“I don’t know” Was all I could say. I got up and went back downstairs to the basement, where things began, in rapid succession to go down hill.

“When does this stuff wear off?” I asked my friend
“It’s different for everyone,  just relax and let it happen.”

But we were on hour nine or ten, the cigarettes were gone and the scary trolls upstairs were beginning to wake from their slumber.  I was officially tweeking.

I heard the front door close, my friend’s father went on his morning run, and I made a dash for it up two flights of stairs to my friend’s bedroom. My little brain was on overload. Maybe it was knowing all the dark secrets that were held in these walls, my angry, beautiful, experienced friend in the basement. Maybe it was the water bed, maybe it was the orange colored walls of her bedroom, with a big yellow arrow wrapping around the entire surface of it. Maybe it was the acid Aim!
The thoughts became dynamic and quickened in pace. I thought my eyes were going to explode in their sockets. Can you pass out from aggressive thinking? Some with Manic Depression say yes, well you can on acid too, and I did.

Nothing worse than tricking yourself into thinking that you can just sleep it off, that it will be over when you wake up. Nothing, except waking up still tripping your face off 5 hours later.

I awoke to foul smell of scrambled eggs. I knew I had to show my face without somehow showing my pupils. I crept downstairs a peered into the kitchen. Even if you weren’t trying to come off of two hits of acid you would find the scene….squeamish.
My friend was staring into a frying pan full of gooey, runny eggs, (GROSS) and a nearly dead anorexic teenager sitting at the table trying to get a piece of quiche down, and a mother pretending that everything was just perfect. It was fucking horrifying.

Needless to say this experience put me back on couch island, though now we had cable and in true Amy form I became addicted to MTV (when they still had something to do with music). A new duo was gaining momentum that year called Indigo Girls. There single “Closer to Fine” was on heavy rotation, along with Belinda Carlisle. The GOGO’s? cool. Belinda? Not so good.

I’ll tell you about the trip to California that followed, to see the crystal wand waving, chakra measuring, witch doctor, who told my Mom that my chakras were dead.

Yes, another time I think……

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“AIM, WE HAD TO KILL THE CAT”

Amy Penwell

On May 11th 1985, my father died suddenly of a massive heart attack. It was Mother’s Day weekend. My parents were in the middle of a separation, preparing for divorce. My sister and I were going back and forth between them. The times in between visits were growing longer and I was weakening under the seething strain of his growing absence.

Between Mom’s guru, fostering an alcoholic teen, bankruptcy, selfishness, and mental illness, my family exploded into fragments that scattered like shrapnel all over the fine state of Massachusetts. My childhood house was empty and on the market, every one living in different places, and my father decided to mention an hour before he handed me back off to my mother that he had to kill the cat. Benji had been assassinated.

Assholes!

Benji landed in an early grave with no warning, no crime commited, and no funeral. All that was precious and secure to me was going, going….almost  gone……….but not quite.

Five months prior to that eerie, and exceptionally vibrant spring day in May, I was prompted by a sense of urgency I can only liken to the feeling of needing to take a breath after too much time spent at an under water tea party, to move back with my father full time. It was a preview to what sort of determination I had to make something happen when I felt passionate about it. I think that children are more in tune with the big picture than most adults allow themselves to be. Call it intuition, call it psychic ability, call it Boo Radley, I don’t care, that feeling of urgency was my little gut telling me something, a gut that gave me that last five months with my father.

I began clawing my way back to him before the actual separation. It began at the inception of the ashram my Mom made me go to most weekends for the majority of my child hood.  Any time away from my father in the name of “spiritual development” was not time well spent in my eyes. After one last “incident” consisting of another Guru loving roommate trying to discipline me by ripping me a new one for climbing up to the third shelf in the kitchen, where I spotted some kind of chocolate protein drink.  I assumed it was chocolate milk powder, and at that time anything resembling a treat was forbidden. (way to fuel an alcoholic in the making!)

I was only going to take a little. No one would even notice. I had gone through my stash of candy that I kept stored in the lining of my Snoopy stuffed animal, and I was jonesing for some fucking sugar. I was even going to be all right adding it to soy milk, (dairy forbidden as well) snort it if I had to, but NOOOOOO. I got caught in the act and was treated like I was caught smoking crack.

ASSHOLES!!

I sat at the kitchen table with this woman all up in my mug, yelling some shit that I betrayed their trust, MEOW MEOW MEOW was all I heard. My refusal to respond with anything other than evil silence lasted through the night. I sat at the table like a dunce in the dark. My message was as loud as a bomb.  I AM DONE WITH YOU PEOPLE, LET ME GO HOME TO MY FATHER.

Nearing the darkest day of the year, I experienced a true Christmas miracle, better than any amount of elven loot. My prayers got answered.  After telling my father about the “protein powder incident”  he said yes to me living with him, and his girlfriend in a little house, in the land from once I came.

I arrived to my new life, and fell in love within moments. I don’t think I have ever felt a sense of relief like it. I still haven’t, (maybe after I got home from a horrifying acid trip with my sister. -violence, cops, awful!!!) but that is another story. I became, if for only a brief moment, an only child in a normal home, with pictures of unicorns hanging over my bed, chocolate cake for dessert, and a dog named Becca. She had a beard and mustache like Yosemite Sam, chased the vacuum around like it was the devil, and hung with me after school while I, with my allowance went to the convenient store next door and gorged on Hostess Crumb Cakes, and frosted cinnamon buns till my father came home from work. Becca was a great distraction from the fallout, the loss of all that was sacred to me, and from the reminder that only a few weeks prior… they killed my cat.

Still assholes.

While I was sleeping on mattresses, on the floors of communal guru- worshipping households, and sharing rooms with my mother, abstinent of all regularity, security, television, or treats, in the hell of home schooling, I can see now, I was being prepared for a separation so painful, that there is no getting ready. I was being prepared for the death of my father. I was learning about radical change, and steeping myself head first in my first faithful relationship. It was with music.

After the news hit on that Saturday night the 11th of May in 1985, we got in the car and drove from Cape Cod to Boston to pick up the other sybs, and made it to the mortuary in Springfield by 3am. We listened to “Pachabells Canon” for the entire trip. The next song I sought after seeing my father’s body in the mortuary that morning was “Purple Rain”.

With the first strike of the guitar chord a wave of devastation pain hit my 11 year old body like a flash flood.  That 8 minute song wrapped up everything I was feeling. The progression understood the flow of grief that was just starting to hit. For that morning it gave me a path to follow. The build and chord changes designated a place to fall apart, the time to be contemplative, to lose it, and a time to come down. When it was over and the last cello note played out, I pressed rewind, rewind, rewind. I listened again, again, again. It let me get lost. Escape. It was all I could fucking do.

Powerless.

I learned something from the song that morning that I have  only realized through the writing of my first album:
Quiet spaces in a song can be the best part of the song. Perfect structure can and should be broken sometimes. Giving it up is a vital service to others. Being of service is spiritual.  These things play very important role in the songs I write, and the songs I love, and the life I live.

Prince understood this, and indirectly taught me to draw upon the power of emotion without abandon, or shame and to use it creatively, match it with passion, honesty and experience, and interweave it with a composition so beautiful, and pressing, that I still put on “Purple Rain” when ever I have a hard time remembering what my fathers’ hands looked like, or begin to doubt that he was ever real.

Grace.

THE WILL TO RECORD

Since my last entry things have taken some shape. I am almost done with my record. Through vast distances with at times, little to no inspiration, no $$$$, self doubt, and feelings of futility, through  brief blasts of writing, recording, and rejoicing, I have been guided  S-L-O-W-E-Y through the dark swamp of my mind to an oasis within, I could only hope at the beginning, was going to be there. I have a group of songs that I feel enough love for, to give to the world (some time in the late fall).

Making a record “Independently” is, as I have made clear in previous entries, NO SMALL FEAT!  There is much more tied up in the process than I was aware. Maybe not for all, but for me it’s been learning how to play as I go along, picking out on piano what I hear in my head. I don’t read music. I play incorrectly, not really knowing proper chord, song structure, or the rules of engagement.  I have been learning to find my voice both literally and figuratively as I go along.

I hear other “Songwriters” and don’t relate all that much to the majority of what I hear or see. I’m not great at following recipes, reading maps, or following rules. I am a bit hard to impress. Don’t get me wrong I love structure to a point, but the perfect voice, the verse that completely makes sense, the chorus you can’t get out of your head doesn’t always ….“move me”.  Total PRO-NUNC-E-A-TION is often for me, an annoyance. I would rather hear one quiet note, one jumbled phrase, one jagged little edge if I can feel their guts wrapped up in the delivery. I have a hard time with vocal, or instrumental masturbation. Call it a pet-pieve.

It’s one of those things that had known what I was commiting to, becoming  a musician and record maker, I would have prayed for the passion to be a mail delivery clerk, or a baker. Some how (a really supportive husband and an insatiable desire to live inside a song) I am making my way. Through feelings of fury and failure, fear and flight, at the end of the day I know I have been blessed with the gift of music in all it’s mystery, as a way of keeping me sane and connected to the experience of being human.

A teacher of Buddhism here in Marin county;  Jack Kornfield wrote this:

“We awaken most easily to the mystery of life through our weakest side.”

Yup, it’s true, and I have chosen to share my weakest side with you.  (It’s my entire right side by the way) and to record my experience of it on cd, now, for no other reason than the songs won’t leave me alone.

I have made it this far through the litany of  those self defeating voices that have lied and lied and lied to keep me from my dreams.  The one’s that have told me:

“It’s no use Aim, you are too old.”, or
“You don’t even know how to write a proper verse, your nose is too big, your forehead, and gums are too high. WOW, that song is boring, and self indulgent”

But I have learned that those voices were trying in their own fucked up way to protect me. I now invite them when they begin to squak to go somewhere else and play poker, or to kindly go fuck themselves now, thanks very much. Slowly, but surely new voices have been allowed to get a foot hold, (the voices! God!  the voices!) walking with me through fear, through phantoms to mirages, to a brighter, simpler, more authentic place that is more true, than any form the fear may come in.

I have come to find out that I don’t care who one has worked with. I don’t care if one’s chorus made millions, if you’ve cracked the code to worldly success. And I don’t care if I do either. Once one begins to dribble on about what they are “doing” (including myself) and with “Whom” they are doing it with, I begin to hear the voice used for the adults in “The Peanuts”:
“WA   WA   WAWAWAWA     WA    WAWAWAWAWA!!!!!”
Or the chorus of meowing cat’s from the “Meow Mix” cat food commercial that I loved so much growing up:
“MEOW MEOW MEOW – MEOW MEOW MEOW –  MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW”

To quote “The Verve”
“ I need to hear some sounds that recognize the pain in me, yeah”
If any one wants to respond I would like to hear about the songs you turn to when you need them the most, the songs you turn to when you just want to know that your pain, or joy is understood. The songs that make you feel “Apart of “ instead of “Separate from”.

As of late I’ve been spending a lot of time at home with my songs, Peter Gabriels’ “US” album,  David Darlings’ “The Tao of Cello”, and Ben Harpers’ “The Will to Live”. Ben is who I most want to go on tour with if ever given the opportunity. We would make an interesting show, if any one knows him tell him to contact me.

Whether we are the giver, or the recipient of song, we are able to jump into, from either end for a moment, alive and connected for THAT moment. I don’t believe that I need to go to a cave in Thailand, or a guru in India to find my soul, or God, or whatever you want to call it. I have caught glimpses of it alone in my living room at my piano birthing a new song, with Radiohead at The Greek Theater in 07’ when they played “Pyramid Song”, at Harford Civic center in 87’ when U2 closed the show with “40”.  Just to name  a few moments when I felt  “Apart of” not “Separate from”.  This is why I am a listener and maker of music. This is why I walked through this past 2 years of writing and producing my first record. In this moment I am grateful.

Synchronicity…no not The Police

Amy Penwell
7/8/08

Here’s the setting.  A big, fat, huge house.

Big. Big. Big.  A Gorgeous evening. Marin county at the base of Mt. Tamalpias. Summer. Synchronicity is in the air. I got to meet Record Company Founder of small label, my friend Larkin Gayl just released an album off of. He seemed to adore fact that I was Irish/Italian. First kudos for just being me, good start. I have no expectations of being signed, (maybe a few hopes), but it is nice to get the opportunity to get listened to by someone who is trying to put real artists into the world.  Mixing art and commerce.

If Bono can do it so can we.

I believe it can work as long as it is balanced, and the feelings are mutual, though there seems to be more of an abundance of talent, than the cash it takes to launch them into a profitable career. My friend Chris and new aquantance John, (also at the party) are doing the same thing with writers. There is cool stuff brewing in Marin County, and if I have anything to do with it, it will merge in some way to birth a pioneering model of bringing the two together. (art and commerce that is).We really can’t do it alone! It takes creativity, smarts, patience, and integrity. Most of the people I am connected with have those qualities!

The evening was in honor of Larkins’ debut record “Two Hands”.
A beautiful record, a beautiful lady.

I will admit to being a jealous wench when she first got signed. I couldn’t help it. It helps to admit this. As I have stated in previous entries I believe we are as sick as our secrets. Harboring toxic emotions is cancerous. Giving people their proper respect feels good with a little practice, though it becomes most challenging when it appears that they are getting everything that you want. It’s just the fear of not getting what I think I need again. That fucker likes to rear it’s mangled head when I’m not paying enough attention to my own path. I believe people come along to mirror lessons to us. Through prayers, and late night livingroom confessions “Don’t shoot the messenger, just admit your jealous Aim” began to infiltrate. Prayers answered, thank you. That is what I call grace.
Larkin got signed because she if the real deal. She’s lovely on so many different levels, she’s not full of shit, and her music is meant to live life here on earth…. and yes Larkin is her real name, given to her at birth.

Oh yeah, and my cd release party  for my first album will be held at the same house in Oct. 18th of 08 with, or with out record companies! Mark your calenders!!!!!

The sober (myself) often need to get creative
when partying. While others sipping whiskey that was more expensive than my rent, out of fancy glasses over ice, from a wine room larger than my cottage (I notice all presence of all alcohol being consumed), it’s just who I am. I liken it to being a man in a room full of hot scantily clad women, with your wife on your arm, saying “No baby, all I want is you,”. You may even mean it, but you still feel….a bit….hot. The “super ego” just cannot prevail with out gargantuan consequence. For some it’s food, some it’s heroin, sex, shopping….the list goes on and on, as Erika Badus’ album questions “What’s Your Ism?” (Damn I wish that title wasn’t taken! )
Well Erika, for me it’s King Alcohol. I carry my “Ism” with me where ever I go, He will never abandon me. He’d like to see me dead, but like any good Jedi in training, I have learned to work with the dark side by accepting and  respecting it’s existence. A day at a time for 3129 days (but who is counting)I have been victorious.

Hence the night swimming.  I remembered that there was a heated pool over looking the redwood trees, under the stars. Mind you I was decked out in full make-up, red dress, matching fingers and toes. I was having a good hair night. I was willing to give all that up for the glorious high school feeling I got when we went pool hopping at 4 in the morning, but drunk. I was willing to look like Alice Cooper coming out of the sewer. I was willing to live the seventies Marin County fantasy…sober and faithful. It was the only time in my life that I was happy that Steely Dan was playing in the back round. I have no love for Steely Dan, sorry to offend. Supporting, schmoozing and swimming seemed to be the right mix. Luckily I wore boy’s underwear shorts under my dress, sobriety has made me modest.

So tonight I’m off to mix some songs down with producer Ben, to hand them off to friend and colleague Drew to hand off to record guy George. I’m going to ask him to talk me up, to remind him that the songs are from that Irish/ Italian girl with big hair and red dress from the fancy party.
Remind him that the world needs a dose of honest/passionate music right now. Who better to offer it up than that Irish/Italian girl Amy Penwell?
“I think she’d be huge in France!” perhaps. (I’m told they love women with deep voices).  Ireland would embrace, though I don’t know about this American place, (good song line consider it copy written!) maybe the coasts. America may have it’s head too far up it’s own ass to be ready for Amy Penwell songs, but who knows, maybe they’ll embrace something more than  kitchy love songs from Grey’s Anatomy,  horribly watered down pop rock sludge, or more sorry excuses for hip hop songs, selling ass tapping to 10 year olds…..a girl can dream.