STAGE FRIGHT                                                                        (Strings 06’)
Amy Penwell

My father worked while I was growing up with two brothers.Tony and Jerry. Their last name was very Italian.

By looking at their business of construction, portable toilets, making gravel, and pouring foundations, one might draw the conclusion that they were related in some way to the Sopranos. In this case that stereo type wasn’t true. A few things come to mind when I think of Tony and Jerry; they really loved my father, tried to help him succeed after he went bankrupt, and helped him restore his pride before he died in 1985.

Tony was the younger brother. He and his wife had taken in 5 or 6 foster children from a group called Downyside, run by a group of fryers in Springfield Massachusetts. I vaguely remember going over Tony’s house for picnics and being introduced to children of many colors. At the time that was the only thing I could see. Not ethnicities, or children from different parts of the world, just different shades of hair and skin color different from my own. I thought it was neat, and yes, I think that is the word I would have used to describe if asked. This puts me at the age of 5.?

One evening our whole family went to Downyside for some sort of what looked like a church party. I was getting used to odd gatherings. My mother has been following the same Guru since 1973. I was subjected to a number of devotional chanting occasions, boring lectures on her gurus’ teachings, bland vegetarian meals, extra long days of worship, study and staring at his picture. There were long bouts of yoga and meditation/contemplation of his image. I would stare intently trying to figure out what all the hype was about? ( This is what I later felt about my first sexual experience). I was told that if I contemplated him long enough I would “feel his presence.” This was to a five year old. On Sundays after a two hour Episcopalian mass that was headed by a priest who later joined my Mothers’ guru loving community, this is what we would do. Mind you we were poor in a very white- collar town in Western Massachusetts in the late seventies. Let’s just say my mother was no longer invited to the neighborhood knitting groups. (You can’t make this shit up).

An evening with a bunch of guys in long brown robes, tied with rope around the waist was just another weird group of people, in an equally alien venue, that my parents introduced us to.  I remember being very curious whether, or not they wore any clothes under the robes. I  had no idea we were shopping for a foster brother that night.
We owned a house, and a church donated car. We nearly lost that house on a regular basis. The cops visited because of partying and truancy. My point being we were poor, loud and a little lost. This kind of poverty has affected my siblings and I in ways that are as different as we are. I can’t speak for them, but in my own life it’s been hard to allow myself to fully go for it, yet I have. The other shoe is always about to drop, but it doesn’t always. It’s going to fall a part at any minute, but it doesn’t need to. Will the cupboard be empty next week? Maybe, but probably not. Control issues. Of course, I have never starved, and always had a warm place to sleep. For many that is a lot. For fuck-sake I live in Marin County! I live with much less fear these days, but I see it in my brothers and sisters and that makes me sad. Poverty consciousness is a tough thing to overcome. It can be very subtle, but it cuts deep. I found that I couldn’t overcome it alone. It had be traced back, acknowledged, and voiced. I could find no other liberation from it’s grip.

One of the fryers came up to me and asked
if I wanted to go up to the stage with him and welcome the crowd.
My mom agreed, I reluctantly nodded in Fryer Tucks’ direction,
and when it came time, I took the strange mans hand and we walked down the aisle.
I was peering down at his feet as we were walking still wondering if he had his undies on when the fear of all fear hit me. It was the kind of fear where you feel like you are a mutant alien dropped on a creepy planet. It felt like a combination of burning embarrassment, constricting humiliation, with a lumpy, coating of smarm poured down my center. This was the beginning of a long stretch of stage fright that has only in the last year left me. It was of course fueled by other events where the feeling of your skin feels like it has been ripped off, but this is the first one I can remember. As I just mentioned I find it helpful to follow a neurosis to the source, and lean into what I most resist. I have done that in this case by performing a lot in the past couple of years, and saying yes to things I REALLY don’t want to do. A quote by Eleanore Roosevelt that I love is this:  “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” In my case it’s having a music career and staying true to myself under all circumstances. Sounds simple, but Lord have mercy, it takes a mountain of patience, a steady stream of cash, walking away when something is just not good for me, and yeah, talent helps too.

A strange teenager came up to my family after the stage fright sent me running back into my mothers’ arms. His name was Kenny. He was wearing a red down jacket. He was odd looking. He had a strange nose. I later found out that it was a plastic surgery nose due to some violence he had encountered in one of his twelve foster homes. We were number thirteen, and like it’s reputation for being unlucky, I believe our family was worse than that for him, but like most true stories you don’t find that out in time enough to change the circumstance before there is more damage than can be repaired. In real life it can drag on, and on.

We ignored, we built resentments, learned how to keep deep, dark secrets, and we children learned how to drink in a relatively alcohol free home. (no small feat) People who loved disco were being forced to share rooms with people who loved hard rock. I like to refer to the next several years in my family life as ” The Jerry Springer Years.” It was almost all wrong, but in real life, with real pain there are also real joys and real “Jimmy Fly Snooka” moments. There is learning how to disco dance, there is learning the Barbara Streisand parts while the new brother is Barry Gibb on “I Am a Woman in Love”. There is a shared joy of winding up so tight that you pee your pants from being tickled too much. There is playing freeze dance and pretending to be Leroy and Coco from Fame. There was the first stereo he bought me from the money he saved working at Denny’s. There was the first U2 record he let me pick out for my 10th birthday. It was The Unforgettable Fire, another album that changed my life. It introduced me to my favorite photographer Anton Corbijn, my favorite band of all time (except for Radiohead), and introduced me to my favorite producers; Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. That is a whole lotta good mixed with a whole lotta painful. Honestly, I am very grateful for all of it. Right now as I edit this I am listening to a Sade song called ” It’s only Love that Gets You Through”. Ain’t that the truth.




SEPARATE WAYS (Steph and me)
Amy Penwell

Big changes on the horizon for the Hosmer (my maiden name) clan in 1980, though I suppose I could say that for any year of our history together. This particular year, a family of four from my mothers’ spiritual group came to stay with us for a while. Why? At the time I had no clear idea, or where they were going to stay. Were they going to take over my room? Or, worse yet my basement Xanadu? NOT IF I HAD ANYTHING TO SAY ABOUT IT! Gratefully for me the parents gave Rick, Laura, Genie and James, my oldest sister Stephs’ room. Steph got the shit end of the stick and had to stay in Leslies’ room. These two rooms were co -joined by a folding door in the middle, which was never able to entirely close. This left Steph wide open for frequent invasions by a sister five years her junior. Big head phones were a prized possession, but when someone else laid claim to them there where other methods of escape. When sneaking up on to bug, or spy on any one of the elders who occupied the upstairs, I would often find a teenager lying on the floor, head buried in the middle of two blaring speakers. ACDC, ZZ Top, Van Halen, something by Molly Hatchet perhaps? Or now with the new edition of the disco dancing, alcoholic foster brother; Diana Ross.

The most logical place to put this family of guru
loving guests was up in Stephanie’s quarters,
for her room also possessed a small meditation hall,
well, not a hall (word used for meditation room) exactly, a closet.
On most mornings and evenings, I was made to offer a gift of fruit, or flower, to Bubba. These gifts were called prasad. At night we chanted and meditated, or in my case spaced out in utter boredom while my father had his after dinner coffee with his nightly check in with the news, or The Smithsonian. I always felt like I was doing something dirty in the closet. We would squeeze in the tiny hall, light candles and incense (which I was allergic to), hold our hands up like “Hold up your hands, or I’ll shoot position” and bow at the foot of the photo which “WAS” really an embodiment of HIM. This worship I was being taught, this Bubba being God business just didn’t take with me, though at times I pretended it did to please others, and to fit. It seemed that the kids who were experiencing some sort of ecstatic spiritual experience were getting points with the adults. Perhaps they were real for them, they just weren’t real for me. It also put a gigantic tear into the fabric of my family. To make matters worse, I was well aware that my father didn’t approve, or want anything to do with moms’ spiritual way of life…… or my new brother. It would be an understatement to say that I was conflicted about how to go from one world to the next, let alone try and integrate them. Going to the meditation closet after dinner, and disco marathons on weekends with the new brother felt like a betrayal to my father.

The meditation closet was my mothers’ equivalent of my roller rink in the basement. A Sanctuary. I, of course would rather be worshipping on wheels. I think I even came up with the idea of putting a picture downstairs. I could roll by with my new Hot Tracks record playing track 1 “Don’t Stand so Close To Me” by The Police, stop, kneel, offer my apple and be done with it. I would get my “Darshan” (a word used for blessing/receiving of grace by the guru) out of the way and move forward in the art of roller-skating. Dad wouldn’t go for it. NO guru love in the basement! Keep it all in the closet. My father died at 46 of a massive heart attack for a reason. Most of his resentment and anger was unspoken, but I could feel it all around me.

My mom always had a fire under her ass for God. She sought him out in anyway, in every church, yoga studio, or food coop in the greater New England region to find him. For some reason she found it in the eye’s of a guy named Franklin Jones also known as Bubba Free John, when some of his missionaries came to UMass Amherst from California. We made fun of this name often, though it always made me feel so guilty because it felt like such a direct insult to my mom. There was a big picture of him on the mantle in the living room right across the two framed photographs of The Red and Green Rooms of the White House that were given to my father as a gift for his work for Kennedy during his administration. The embarrassment whenever a friend came over was excruciation. I used to tell everyone that it was my Uncle, he does kind of resemble Uncle Fester from The Munster’s, but my close friends knew that it was just some weird guy that my mom felt compelled to worship more openly by the day. It didn’t help matters that his name was Bubba. This is the time when I started to lie about my life. The big cover up began. The chameleon was born. Much of what was warm and safe was eroding. I began to harden.

There were three converts in Amherst that day in 1973. They became known in the Bubba Community as “The Springfield Ladies”. My mother was the only one of these women who never looked back. She was like Bubbas’ head cheerleader. Bubba was later to have more names than I can remember, or pronounce though now I believe he goes by Adi Da. In the early eighties his name became just “Da”. It was almost like when Prince became a symbol. The “Da” came with a new symbol as well. There was some sort of transformation so deep that demanded a new name, image and island. He shaved his head, moved from the Ashram in Northern California that his devotees bought him, to a Fijian Island that once belonged to Milton Burl, and yes, the island was purchased by his devotees’ too.

This brings me to the point of why this strange family came to stay with my strange family. They were there to find an East Coast ashram. My mother was to lead them in their search, and before their three month stay was over “The Garden of Lions” was purchased. The “Garden of Lions” was a sanctuary that served as a place to educate the children of devotees, as well as, a place of communal living “Bubba” style. It was to become place of retreat, study, open worship, and of course a place to welcome their guru, though in all of it’s 10 years of operation………… he never showed. For the next four years my mother took me most weekends in our little yellow Pinto to the Catskill Mountains in up state New York. We were the pioneers. With Rick, Laura, James, and Genie (among a few other faithful) we got the place ready for the bus load of children who arrived later on that year to a property with a bunch of old, shabby cabins, a scary hotel that looked like it could have been in “The Shining”, a broken down swimming pool, and some ratty-ass basket ball courts. Not sure what all their parents said to sell them on it, but the overall sentiment when they arrived was “You gotta be fucken kidding me!”

The youngest children were 6, the oldest 16. It was like a spiritual version of the “Bad News Bears, or Meatballs.” It was two and half hours away from my home, my father, disco dancing, roller skating, sugar, and any thing I considered to be normal, but it was for the most part just on weekends. For these guys it was three thousand miles away without any parents, for an indefinite period of time, which for any child I know, is torture. Journeys’ Escape album came out around this time. I used to listen to “Separate Ways” over and over again and get weepy. A six year old can get sentimental about the past. I still get sad when I here it….and yes, I still love Steve Perry! Wow, I feel better for telling you that.


Opened up for Glen Phillips
(Toad the Wet Sprocket) last night.
Amy Penwell

When I was 18 years old there opened a tiny window of opportunity to move out on my own. Away from a spiritually based communal house hold, full of vegetarians and kundulini breathing guru fanatics. I jumped into an apartment with a friend of mine who was a 32 year old musician named Lynn. She was taking a temporary break from being a guru fanatic. I thought at 32 she was ancient, but she smoked pot, liked music and boys as much as I did so I converted her 15 foot ceilinged living room into my own private paradise. I could smoke out the window, drink red wine and let my boyfriend sleep over. Yes, it was heaven…. for a while, the imminent demise is another tale to tell.

This tale is about the night Lynn took me to the Paradise Club in Boston to see Chris Whitley. Chris had just released Living with the Law. I had fallen in love with the song Big Sky Country. Lynn was turning me onto a lot of music. Songwriters like Chris, Luka Bloom,and Bonnie Raitt. I was brought up with Journey, Rush, and Van Halen and U2. This was a new world. These song writers were a new ingredient to my musical education.

Toad the Wet Sprocket opened that night. A band I had never heard of before. Out came this unassuming young guy that kind of reminded me of Shawn Cassidy. They went through their set and I immediately loved them. Yes, they were a nineties, Dawsons Creek chick band, and yes, there was a bit of that in me. Chris followed all wire like with big hands full of silver rings. This was before he trusted his quiet falsetto, the one Daniel Lanois pulled out of him on Dirt Floor. A side from a lame sound guy Chris was amazing. Living with the Law was way over produced and it was a gift to hear those songs stripped down. I made a decision that night that I wanted to write songs that were good enough to stand on their own. In fact they would be better stripped of any fancy arrangements, or layers. It took me fourteen years to accomplish that goal. I did it last night while opening up for Glenn Phillips (the Shawn Cassidy guy) from Toad the Wet Sprocket. It was a full circle moment. I got to hang with him for 20 minutes before we began a Bay Area House Concert that my friend Drew Pearce puts on here in Marin County. It was a big deal that Glen said yes to playing for an intimate gathering of fans, and an even bigger deal for me to land as the opening act. I had the fortune of being able to ask him some questions about what it was really like to be on the road for 6 months a year, away from his family in clubs every night. He was honest, open and unpretentious. I was grateful.

When it was time I gave what I had to give and he gave what he had to give. His performance was comforting, humorous, and sweet. He did a great cover of Radioheads Exit music from OK Computer which is one of my favorites. He hit Thom Yorks high notes with ease. I was impressed. I realized I was standing in a room now with people in their forties who didn’t know any Radiohead. I’m now 33 and can happily admit that I have integrated sensitive songwriters with what ever Radiohead is, into my mesh of influences. The highlight was singing harmony on Walk on the Ocean with Glens invitation of course. After the song was over Glen turned to me and said “Nice Harmony Amie”. Yes, it was a good moment.



I used to think the Partridge Family lived in my speakers.

In our dining room we had an old wood cabinet
that housed our Hi-FI,  our records,                               (me and steph                                                                                           30 years later)
the fancy silver, and china that was
only brought out for the holidays.
We possessed in our record collection an array of albums. Journey, as mention in previous entries, Fleetwood Mac, (Mick Fleetwood terrified me!) Rita Coolidge and Kris Kristopherson, Rush , Van Halen, Willie Nelson, Neil Diamond, and my favorite at the time The Partridge Family.

I was MAD for Keith Partridge.
I was young enough not to be able to make the
“TH” sound with my tongue and teeth.
I thought his name was “Keif”.

My oldest sister Stephanie sat me down one day, record in hand, and helped me learn to pronounce my boyfriends name properly. I wanted to be prepared for him when he came out of the speakers for me.

To my horror some other sibling had taken the time to draw a beard and glasses on all of the Partridge family members. It was the only picture I had of my boyfriend, and until he came out of the speakers to sing with me and watch my dance routines, I was left with a blue bearded Kief.
“Fuckers” thought the four year old.

I was an alarming escapist as a child. My mother of four (sometimes five) also had the amazing ability to turn off her surroundings and enter her own world. My mom did her yoga, morning meditation, and study on the days when she didn’t have to substitute teach. She usually made me do this with her.  Lots of “Sun Salutations” heavy “Pranayama” breathing, and my least favorite; “The Belly rolls” followed by jogging in place. I remember watching my mother, holding her breasts while running around the living room, breathlessly saying “lift up your knees sweetie”.

The sounds of our rolling, running stomachs completely grossed me out.

During the morning yoga sessions I refused, I could be found having my own spiritual experience staring into the speakers in the living room, adjacent the dining room. I would stare into the tan colored fabric of the speaker, into the alternate universe where the Partridges’ lived.

I played “I Woke up in Love This Morning” over and over and over again.  That was “Our Song”, by that I mean mine and Keiths’.  I believed with my whole four year old body, mind and soul that he was in there. A tiny little version of Kieth to love and in this case, behold. I couldn’t quite make him out, but I could see the shining reflection of the tambourines, guitars and microphones. What other explanation could there be? My mom may have tried to set me straight, with some sort of dry, adult explanation, but I don’t remember being affected by it.
I believed.


Amy Penwell
Prince taught me a lot about sex.
I was always a bit obsessive about my idols as a child.
I got stuck on him……well until Bono. First it was Journey. Yeah, I know… but in my defense I am from Massachusetts and I grew up in the early eighties. Steve Perry taught me about melancholy and shameless power- pop balladearing. Very valuable stuff I might add.

I had one of those scary cemented basements that I transformed into my own private roller skating haven. I would blare Journey on our Hi-Fi upstairs (bless my parents) and let the songs flow through my own private Xanadu. The dark, scary basement was the only space in the house to transform. This space was sacred to me.

I have to pay homage to the siblings for introducing and shaping my musical influences. Some times they led me a stray, but most of the time they just led me to a new world to explore. So in comes 1984 and the album/movie Purple Rain. These events changed my life. An album and a movie? To this girl that’s heaven. Yes, horribly acted, self indulgent, a piece of crap movie, but in my opinion a great fucken album. I always wanted to be the hot, black chick, with ass-length hair, and a big round booty who danced on Solid Gold. Needless to say that is not me. I loved the way she moved, and all though she scared me a bit, she possessed something I wanted to be. Sexy.

I loved the album so much that I begged my mother to let me see my first rated R movie in the movie theater. She was reluctant, but more lenient with her rules during this time, because my family was being ripped a part for a myriad of painful reasons. Any fun that could be had, we took take advantage of, so it was off to the movie theater in Boston with two big Krackle candy bars to spend two awesomely uncomfortable hours with Prince.

I had naturally memorized the record in it’s entirety.
I was fascinated to see how the music would fit into the story.
This is where I learned what “grinding “meant,
and who Wendy and Lisa were.
They were the two tough chics with hair slicked over to one side.
One played guitar, one keyboards. They played Princes’ minions and band mates in The Revolution. It was at least a year after that I wore my hair the same way except I just looked awful. It was the first of so many bad hair mistakes in the name of finding an identity of my own. My entire 4th grade year was so odd and lost, but I felt secure knowing that I looked like Wendy and Lisa. I was also deluded enough for years to come, in thinking that maybe one day I would run into Prince, and he would think I was sexy and ask me to join his band.

The song “Darling Nikki” comes to mind as one of the most uncomfortable tracks to listen to around a parent. The explicite sex scene with Apolonia in Princes’ parents’ basement was also one of those moments you wanna shrivel up like a salted snail while witnessing with a parent, but as I said before the boundaries at the time were skewed. Let me just say the my Mom is a sweet, kindergarten teacher type. This was a new world for both of us. In her parental defense I am grateful to her for letting me have my likes, and curiosities. She is a trail blazer that one.

After the movie we went out and bought a poster of Prince with flowers all around him. I put it on my door, and proceeded to worship it daily. I practiced being a roller skating solid gold dancer (or a future stripper) with the poles in my basement. I also learned how to kiss on those poles. Ewe!! I would then take my moves upstairs, skate-less of course, to perform them for Prince, though I couldn’t pretend to make out with him because I hung the poster too high. I then bought 1999 and listened to “Let’s Pretend were Married” over and over again because it had the nastiest language on the album, I quote “I sincerely want to F**k the taste out of your mouth.” What!?!? Most of it I didn’t even understand, I just knew it was somehow important.

I look at kids now and think to my self “Britney? Whatever!” She’s a pansy – ass compared to how raunchy and perverse Prince was. I don’t remember when the Prince shrine came down. I moved so much during this time in my life that my memories are a bit jumbled. I do remember a combination of glam metal bands taking over the door one year. Thank God that was short lived. 86’ a sad year for music for the most part, except of course, Peter Gabriels’ “SO” record. Thank God for “The Joshua Tree in” 87’. I’ll get to my love affair with those albums soon. Steve Perry to Prince. That’s a lot to take in. These set the tone of my musical extremes. Hang in there. I’ve got more…….

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