In my last blog, I wrote about how 2013 had not started off well for me. The shiny penny of a new year had come out of the mint with some tarnish in the form of the flu. January was a wash with cancellations, rescheduling, rebooking… rebooting. When I turned the corner into February, I breathed a sigh of relief. Life seemed to have stabilized. My health slowly returned, my flu-ravaged voice felt strong again, and I was eager to finally march into the New Year. Little did I know that my trials were not over and that my hardest challenge was waiting for me in the Desert.
The flu knocked over everyone who set foot in my house during the end of December. Starting with my niece and my son, we had an interesting Christmas Eve with the two of them fighting over control of the tissue box. This particular strain started in the upper chest. After a nice dinner and the annual opening of the presents (which we always do the night before Christmas), my niece went off to her part of the world so I don’t know the particulars of what she went through, but I had a front row seat watching Jake get more and more ill as the flu took over. Though he was quite uncomfortable at times, he was also quite happy to have even this miserable excuse to play hooky from school.
The next to succumb was my father visiting us from Minnesota. One morning we heard the tell tale rattle of a cough starting, and within a few days he was as uncomfortable as Jake and probably more miserable because he had nothing to play hooky from. He tried in vain to tell me it “wasn’t too bad” while I made him as many cups of hot tea as he would drink. I now have a vivid memory of continuous Fox News and blowing noses. On the nightly news, we watched the numbers of flu victims all around the country grow to alarming proportions.
I lived daily with a sense of inevitability. There is nowhere to hide from a germ with the possible exception of the moon, and you have to book those flights way in advance. As my son and my Dad turned into science projects, I kept busy doing housework, laundry and picking up my son’s mountains of used tissue that could never seem to find their way into the trashcan. My Dad, the chef, insisted on still doing all the cooking that he had vowed to do during his 3 week visit, and so I watched him prepare meals, pouring his love and flu germs into every dish.
Each day I escaped contracting the flu was a victory. I went to bed each night starting to feel like I was invincible. My body was a fortress. Until one evening, shortly after I had crawled into bed, I lay there in the dark and felt an ominous little trickle in the sinus and a tickle in lungs. I softly uttered a four letter word, out loud, in the dark, to the ceiling I could barely make out – that four letter word that is the benchmark to all other swear words and the only word capable of perfectly describing in one word all the trouble that little snivel/tickle could and would eventually cause me. I had become a flu statistic. My little house was 3 for 3 and would eventually become 6 for 6 to include everyone who had sat around my Christmas Eve dinner table.
Of course, the other 5 would all just go about their regular daily business burdened by a cough, fever, headache, and runny nose that, although incredibly unpleasant, was still workable. Me? I boarded a plane on December 29th for Beaver Creek, Colorado to give a concert on the 30th and then ski until the 3rd.
But I was hanging tough and using all my power of positive thinking to hold the flu at bay. By the morning of the 30th the cold was blossoming into the kind of chest cold that takes away my ability to sing. I made it through the show with effort and some creative maneuvering. Three quarters of the way through, my voice was going downhill. I had two softer songs which I made it through fine, and then closed the show with “Son of a Preacher Man.” Knowing it was the last song, I used up all the gas in the tank. Unfortunately for me, the audience was demanding an encore. Every singer’s dream was now a nightmare. I went out on stage with just Billy Stein to sing “Over the Rainbow” and had an out of body experience. I had no idea whose voice was coming out of my throat. It was sort of like Demi Moore if Demi Moore could sing. For all I know, maybe she can sing. Somehow I doubt it, but, nonetheless, it was a voice I did not recognize. I have no idea how, but for some odd reason the last high note came out perfect and clear as a bell. At the very last moment, Linda regained control of her body to finish that song.
My work was finished. My stress level dropped. My immune systems crashed and I spent the next three days getting sicker and sicker, all the while a guest in a skier’s paradise. Instead of hitting the slopes, I hit the sofa, wrapped up in a blanket with a wad of tissues close at hand and proceeded to cough my lungs inside out. If it’s possible for coughing to kill you, then I was living in fear of my life. I forced myself to do things and coughed my way through a screening of the new Les Miserables movie. I don’t think I was a favorite in the theater, but I was also not the only one coughing. I couldn’t breathe through my nose and there was no air in my lungs anyway. It was, in a word, Hell.
I had a “Les Miserable” flight home on the 3rd of January and have never been so glad to crawl into my own bed. Of course, before I could do that, I had to clean up the mess that my son had left for me. After realizing that he had not done a few important chores while I was away, I got very angry and yelled at him. At least that was my intention. Nothing came out. A rush of raspy air and a consonant here and there was about all he got. I tried again. Still nothing. Helpless and now really pissed off, all I could do was wag my finger in front of his nose and glare at him. Somehow he still got the point. As soon as the animals were all taken care of, I crawled into bed and pulled the covers over my head.
I coughed my way through most of January. Performances were canceled and moved. Life came to a crawl and all my intentions for kicking off a new year got stalled on a highway of phlegm. Gross yes, but true. I heard from singer friends all over who were fighting the same thing. There is some comfort in knowing you are not alone.
Jake had seemingly gotten well only to completely relapse, miss 2 more days of school and use up 2 more boxes of Kleenex. (As a side note, he is not an inefficient user of tissue. His technique leaves a huge carbon footprint.) There seemed to be no end in sight. I succumbed to the collateral damage of the flu by coming down with acute bacterial bronchitis and ended up on a course of antibiotics, something I hate and avoid if at all possible.
But, because everything must change, even the good stuff, we eventually turned the corner and the dreaded flu of 2013 crawled away from us and went… wherever the flu goes for a well-earned vacation.
2013 was now going to be an 11-month year. February was the new January and all was well in the world. Jake went back to school and I went back to work. I was done, or so I thought.
On February 2nd I flew to Cleveland for a concert. Frank agreed to stay at my house that night for Jake. Cleveland went well… it was good to be singing again, great to see my band, and I flew home early the next morning a happy Linda. I walked into my house to find Frank sitting at my kitchen table sick as a dog with - you guessed it - a nasty cold! Someone give me a space suit, PLEASE! Jake got sick within a matter of days, and I followed suit about the same number of days after that - just in time to fly to California with a full-blown cold. I shivered with a fever the whole 6-hour flight. I talked to the nice lady sitting next to me, all the while thinking that she had no idea what was in store for her. Poor innocent lady.
I already had a tough schedule. The time change and dryness of California is hard on me, always has been. I had 3 shows in 4 days. Show 1 went great. The cold was only in my head giving me hope that it would stay there and while making singing tricky, I am usually able to work with a head cold. What I didn’t know at the time was that this strain of cold came complete with laryngitis that hits about 6 to 7 days in. Jake had come down one morning without a voice. I hadn’t thought much of it at the time except a sort of naughty satisfaction that it was payback for when I had lost mine. The next gig was in San Francisco. It was a tough night because it was 2 shows in one night. I could tell I was getting hoarse and I worked way too hard to finish the second show, like kicking a dying horse, but at least both went well and the audience seemed to really enjoy it. Two days down and one more to go. I went to bed worried but with no choice but to get up that next morning and fly to Palm Desert. The Desert… another word for DRY. Dry is not what sick, tired, swollen vocal chords need. I knew I was in trouble the minute I got up and tested my voice. River City’s got trouble!! Houston, we have a problem!
I met Billy and the guys in the lobby after we dropped off our bags at the new hotel. They kept asking me how I was and I just kept shaking my head. We headed to the McCallum Theatre for our sound check. I babied my voice all through rehearsal, skipped dinner (They always serve the best food at the McCallum. No “sound check chicken” for this place.), and took a long hot shower in the dressing room, trying to coax my voice up from the depths, trying to get the vocal chords to vibrate and thin, lose their swelling and make the sounds they were supposed to make. I have played the McCallum for years. It’s a big beautiful venue and I knew the house was packed with fans. I put on my make-up, my outfit, just like I always do. I stared at myself in the mirror and said a prayer.
The band walked out on the stage and I stood in the wings while they tuned and got set. It all felt a little surreal to me. I knew in my bones that I was about to “walk the plank,” but because I could speak and sing somewhat and standing next to me was the man who had booked me, I had to go out on the stage and try. The old “show must go on” rule was poking me in the back and blocking the escape route.
I walked out to the most lovely, heartfelt response and my own heart sank. I was afraid, really afraid. I’m 52 years old and I have spent the last 32 years standing in front of audiences trying to give them what they want. My whole being to my very core is trained for that sole purpose. It is what shapes and defines who I am in this world, and I owe it all to two tiny chords in my throat and the intricate group of muscles that surround them. Now in that moment, the common cold was about to humble me and bring me to my knees. I sang. My voice was there and not there, in control and not in control, clear or rough, and there didn’t seem to be any way to change it. I sang through more songs, praying the muscles would respond and picking my way through a minefield where all the things I usually relied on were all out of place or gone entirely. I sang through six songs, and with each one, my voice was disappearing. I had hoped the opposite would happen, which is that my voice would warm and that 32 years of experience would win out and I would find a way to give the audience what it wanted, a night of sounds and words that moved them, touched them. After the 6th song, I whispered to Billy that the next song would be the last. It was my medley of Patsy Cline, CRAZY and WALKING AFTER MIDNIGHT. CRAZY was, in a word, crazy. My head voice, which usually never fails me, failed me. I went up for a note in the chorus and hardly any tone came out.
Years ago I had been talked into going onto the stage for a 60 minute show when I was sick. By the second to last number, I had ended up with no voice to the point where I could barely speak to the audience to tell them I had to leave the stage. It had taken me many days to recover my voice afterwards. I was 1/3 of the way into this current show at the McCallum, and I knew that was where I was heading and this was a full 90 minute show. There was going to be no way to pull this one out. No Hail Mary to win the day. When I finished the medley, I stood center stage and looked at the audience for a long silent moment trying to get up the courage to tell them what I had to tell them. In typical fashion, I got the first few words out and then I started to cry. I was devastated.
All I can say is that I don’t know of a kinder audience that I could have stood in front of that night or any audience that could have poured more love back on to the stage. As I struggled for words to try to explain why I couldn’t go on, all I felt was warmth, and I leaned on that warmth to hold me and help me walk off the stage. There is a first for everything and that was a first. They say some of our most trying times live the deepest and the longest in our souls. I had a sleepless night and a long plane ride home to think about that night, and what has already washed away from me is the fear, devastation, feeling of failure, and what remains most clear is that amazing feeling of warmth and support. So many times fans have told me that I gave them something in a time of need. Well, on February 17th 2013, a wonderful audience gave me something so precious in my time of need and I will be forever grateful.
Today I went to Agway to buy dog food for my wolves and there are displays already up selling garden seeds and new fruit trees outside. Spring is coming and I for one am so ready for its warmth!
I don’t believe I have ever begun a year with so much indecision. It’s in times like this that I often wish I had a boss, a real boss, someone who told me where to go, what to do, and what I was going to get for my effort in a routine that I followed 5 days a week, and which left me no room to wonder or wander. As it is, I am my boss and as a boss I am, frankly, “wishy-washy.” When the ticker is ticking, I am on fire. I have energy to burn and enough ideas to require ten lifetimes to complete. When the ticker slows… there aren’t enough “Everybody Loves Raymond” reruns on TV.
I usually head into a New Year ticking at full steam, but this year I was laid low by a nasty head and chest cold that flirted with pneumonia. So I feel in a sense that I have gotten out of the blocks slowly, and it is taking me a while to hit my stride. On a positive note, I am happy that the Mayans were wrong. I don’t want to say that I believed them, but the whole idea may have played with my ability to think ahead.
During my recovery, I spent a few long days in bed with the guilt free intention of emptying the full load of DVR programs in my machine. It was jam packed with no recordable space left. I coughed my way through marathon sessions of “Hot In Cleveland,” “The Incredible Dr. Poll,” “Housewives of Hell”… excuse me… “Beverly Hills” and “Miami,” and “Downton Abbey.” I guess my taste in television is as eclectic as my taste in music.
When I finally had the energy, I took down most of my Christmas decorations and cleaned the house from top to bottom. School is back in session, the house is clean, the cold is gone except for a lingering cough, and now I have no reason to procrastinate any longer. Still it has been like pulling my feet out of quicksand. It’s time to wind up the spring to get the ticker going again. 2013 isn’t waiting around for anyone.
This letter is a start. It has an effect on me in much the same way that writing a list helps us to get organized in order to get things done. It forces me to do a mental house cleaning and take an inventory while I’m poking around in there. As a creative person, the concepts come easily; as a procrastinator… they pile up, often to the point where I can’t see them behind all the junk. I can’t begin anything until I’ve stacked, sorted and cleaned off the workspace, even the one inside my head.
Now is when you are probably asking, “What are these creative concepts?” Well, I can’t really tell you just yet. At this point, I don’t know which ones are pipe dreams and which ones have a shot at actually making it out into the world. I can say that I have had a burst of creative energy. Whether or not the product is good, I don’t really know yet because I haven’t shared it with anyone to date. It may be that I had a slight fever when I was working on some of it, and therefore I only think it’s good... time will tell.
I can tell you that I am struggling more than ever with the status quo. Every year I fight harder and harder the urge to chuck it all and run off with a hillbilly band. If the concept of being a cowboy and drifting from ranch to ranch herding cattle by horseback still existed… you might never see me again…. :) But just as fences stopped the cowboy way of life, I have fences that hold me to mine. I have a son to support and get through school. When I was a child, my family had to move a few times forcing my siblings and me to change schools, and as a result, change friends. That is never fun for a kid, and if at all possible, I would not want to put Jake through that. That’s one fence. A big fence. As I type this, he is sitting with his Piano Teacher having a lesson. She comes to the house and teaches him classical piano. I hear him slowly pick his way through a piece that I don’t recognize but which is lovely. It sounds so old fashioned and brings to mind another era. There is comfort in the past. Maybe it’s a natural reaction to reaching what I consider to be the halfway point of life. Maybe it’s a result of all the unimaginable and unexplainable stuff that has been happening in the world the last few years. No matter how much we try to ignore or deny it, I think the world is changing. So, yes, there is comfort in the past.
There are those who would say you shouldn’t look back, and you certainly can’t go back. You have to live always in the moment and look to the future. I don’t agree at all. What’s the point of doing any of it if we can’t relive it? I had the chance to do just that by sharing the stage at Town Hall with Robert Cuccioli and Christiane Noll, singing the songs from JEKYLL & HYDE. It was a magical night that flooded me with memories that were once again vivid. In a year that was a little too status quo, it was perhaps the highlight. The three of us fell right into step despite the fact that schedules had made it almost impossible to get all of us in a room at the same time to rehearse. It made me feel good to see the joy in their faces on stage that night, and to know that it matched mine. A lot of years had passed and the time was right. It was also amazing to feel the thunderous reaction from the audience packed with Jekkies young and old. All the nerves I had carried into the evening just melted away. The only obstacle left was navigating in my ridiculously high heels.
Outside after the show, the stage door was a reunion of the familiar faces that had greeted us night after night outside the Plymouth Theater when the show was running on Broadway. For a moment it was 1997 again. In 1997 I had a boss. I had a time card. I punched in 6 days a week at the Plymouth Theater. I had a schedule and a routine. I had a uniform and co-workers. I was told where to go, what to do and I had little time or energy left to wonder or wander. And I did love it… for a time. But then I remembered. I had longed for freedom, for time to create, for not knowing what was around the bend. The cowboy in me had longed for the wide-open spaces.
So, it’s okay. It is 2013. I don’t know what is around the bend… and that is exciting.