Red Leigh Cooper

Red Leigh Cooper

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Monkey Cage

     "Look, Dana, it's like this:  If a monkey dies at the zoo, the zoo doesn't shut down.  They get another monkey..."

    My friend, Ben, saying this looked earnestly at me over the table where we and our spouses were having dinner. His extremely patient wife, Lisa, rolled her eyes as the conversation had turned once again to band issues.  See, Ben, at any given time, may be in any where from 2 to 4 bands and has extensive experience when dealing with issues that arise from the dynamic of putting three or more possibly dysfunctional people in a room together. (Note to my friends in bands:  Don't you fight that last statement.  There is a reason we are musicians...c'mon now...)

     What Ben was trying to say to me, and what he would say later in no uncertain terms, was "You have options."  I thought he was just talking about replacement monkeys to keep the zoo exhibit open, but I found it was ultimately something more than that...

     I mentioned in my last post that this last year had not been easy.  Not only had my band Stonekracker been "out of the game" essentially for well over a decade, but repairing the prior emotional battery that had taken place leading to our ultimate demise, would take it's toll on me several times throughout the year even after this conversation.

     My response to this ultimate wisdom from Ben regarding monkeys and their keepers? "But I just got them back..."

     This is pivotal and may be where I started losing sight of dream and purpose. I wanted so badly to keep them all; to have this second chance that I just started putting away parts of myself piece by piece in order to never loose any of them ever again from my life.

   To be fair, this actually was a time where other pieces of myself started coming to life.  My lyric writing had become more vulnerable and I started playing guitar. I think that's how I was dealing with what was happening to me internally. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and it made for great music, but what was causing it wasn't necessarily healthy. I oftentimes kept hidden what I would feel about certain situations that would arise within the band.  I would feel paralyzed to say something when I didn't like what was going on or disagreed with something.  In an effort not to come off as the control freak I had been years earlier, I went completely the other direction and just would smile like I meant it, no matter what was going on..  I didn't want to be the person I was, but am really having trouble being the person I am.  So, while I may have been churning out the greatest lyrics and music I had ever written, it was slowly killing me and my desires to even have a dream or live out any prior notions of purpose.

     The reason I struggle so hard is this:  I love these guys.  I'm finding out that may be unusual for a band dynamic these days.  I don't know if it's because I'm a girl or how long we've known each other, but I love them.  Sometimes that makes figuring out how to handle confrontation difficult because you have to prepare yourself for the possibility that something you say might hurt that person you love and you so don't want it to...

    ...but sometimes you just might not have that choice...because you are the monkey dying at the zoo...

     I don't want to repeat the mistakes of the past and at the same time, this should be fun.  At this stage in life that's all it should be and that's for everyone.  I just want that option to be happy and have that help take that dream of mine where I want it to go...
     ...oh...wait a minute...

    Having options doesn't mean you throw the baby, or the "monkey" out with the bath water, but what it does mean is you can't compromise your own happiness for the happiness of others.  Doing that will ultimately kill your dream.  It won't be fun anymore no matter how great the process seems to be going.  You have to communicate your needs if working with others, because let's face it; it's not about them, it's about you. You just have to hope you and your monkeys are on the same page.  If a monkey isn't happy with the conditions at the zoo, and they have to be transferred, it is and ultimately will be okay. That goes for all of you. This is because you know what does and what doesn't make you happy, and there is no more secure position than that. This is because for the first time you realize you are not trying to be a control freak in voicing opinions, but that you want happiness for all of the primates involved precisely because you love them...

     ...You have "options"...

Happy Fishing!


P.S - This week Ben put this on my Facebook page wall.  Maybe not totally related...but maybe so!  Thank you Ben for all of your time...I'll expect the bill in the mail!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been

     How cool is that?  That's me...see? Really tiny on that stage in the middle...the one with the red hair?  It's been an incredible year...

     I recently realized I hadn't touched this blog in a year.  A whole year.  I thought this might happen.  I mean, once you "grab the starfish" you have to go out there and live the dream, right?  Wait...did I just refer to my purpose as the dream?  I guess when I started this blog it was about finding out what my purpose on this planet was, and I suppose the vehicle by which it was delivered too, but, really, is that necessarily the "dream"?  Before we get to that, let me explain what's been going on from where we left off with each other.

     My band got back together. It's part of the purpose I had discovered for my life ("No Diving in the Shallow End"). The very same band that caused me to question who I was and whether I should be  able to be happy after what happened ("What Doesn't Kill You" ).  Yup. Them. Stonekracker. At first I was excited that we could all exist in the proverbial "water under the bridge" space and felt like that hole in my heart was going away ("The Donut Hole").  It's been one of the best band experiences I've ever had really.  We have greater freedom to create, ego's aren't the problem they were when we were younger, and some of the pressure to "make it" that comes with being a younger person is gone. I play guitar now and I didn't before. People come and see us play and we have so much fun. We are all much older and wiser now.  Piece of cake, right?

    You will never know what you are made of until you are faced to be in contact day after day with the one person in your life who did the most emotional damage to you. Navigating the waters with my lead guitarist, Marc, has been...well...I've described it as a yo-yo.  It just hasn't been easy, and that's for both of us. The old conversations, the way everything went down, the feelings of betrayal between two people who had trusted each other completely at one point; these things come back just by looking at the other one.  Sometimes that's really all it takes. You can't stop the movie from playing.  It just switches on...except it's a horror movie instead of a John Hughes coming of age type movie.

    He apologized over Facebook a few months before we started playing together and I readily accepted that apology, but as you all know, for me, forgive doesn't mean forget. Somewhere around February last year, I was starting to think that we were never going to be on the same page ever again and that there would always be this "thing" that would always be between us.  Some days I still feel that way, but it was at that moment, almost out of the blue, almost as if I was being given a gift from God, he handed me this leather bound book.  It had music stanzas on the front, tied closed with a tiny ribbon, and bore his name at the top.  He told me it was a collection of song lyrics he had written. I felt like this would be a breakthrough for us.  An olive branch to maybe stop the emotional bleeding and start rebuilding the trust.  These were his personal thoughts...and he wanted me to read them.  He wanted to let me back into his life on some level.

     I read it ravenously.  It was all I thought it would be.  It confirmed much for me about him and about us. Then I left him something inside it upon its return...

     Months before he gave me the book, I wrote my apology to him for what had happened between us, but I didn't do it on Facebook.  I had written a song entitled "Fight".  I tucked the lyrics inside his book and was honestly not prepared for the reaction when he found them days later.  Marc was so moved he stayed up for days writing the music, trying to capture the desperation, loneliness, and regret that I had spelled out on the page... 

     ...and he did...and it was amazing.  The song, however, didn't see the light of day until the band recorded it in October for an acoustic compilation we were going to be on. The song, although absolutely remarkable, was too painful, but we agreed that it was finally time to release it.  Over the last year we also killed our entire back catalog of old songs and wrote all new ones so it's been a busy time.  I've been working on repairing my relationship with Marc, writing new music, trying to keep my head above water playing the guitar...I also did start a new job that has taken me a little off of the accounting trail as I thought should happen. I've really been working at all of those things I found out about myself and what I'm supposed to be doing with my life...or have I?

     Marc and I during this time had also decided to start a business together.  He's an audio engineer and wanted to get back into recording and producing bands.   I was over at my friends Jeremy and Amy's house last weekend picking up some business cards that Jeremy has made for our business.   Jeremy is an amazing graphic artist and has his own small business, Punk, Rock, Love - Illustration and Design.  We were sitting around talking when Amy asked me why I went into business with Marc.

    "It's Marc's dream to do this and I want to help him do that," I explained.

    "Yeah, but what's YOUR dream?" Amy asked.


     When the Greatful Dead wrote "Truckin'", a song about their misfortunes on the road as a metaphor for getting though life culminating in the refrain "what a long strange trip it's been", I think they were on to something.  I have found myself so sidetracked lately with the band business as it's gotten bigger and the new business, that maybe I'm starting to forget about the purpose.  Maybe I am forgetting about my dreams in all of this, because when Amy said that, I had nothing. I've been just running ragged; completely on "what do I have to accomplish next" mode without ever asking why, is it necessary, and am I happy.  With all of the work to get all the songs ready, the work to promote all of the shows we did, the emotional upheaval I've experienced being back in this situation, the details of learning a new job...with the "long strange trip it's been"...I may have lost me a little bit along the way.

     It's time to dial back and return to the writer I am in the core center of my being to figure all of this out. I know the purpose, but what's the dream, and do those things compliment each other and with the rush that is life, how do I hold on to them?

    As I sip, my coffee, and stare out my office window at a cold and dreary winter day, I'm listening to "These Dreams" by Heart... 

"These dreams that sleep when it's cold outside
Every moment I'm awake the further I'm away
There's something out there I can't resist"

     ...welcome back... and here we go again...

Happy Fishing


PS - If you'd like to hear me expound upon the story of  "Fight", and hear the first time it was played on the radio, you can do so right here!  Many thanks to Loris Lowe and KLBJ FM 93.7 in Austin, TX for having me in the studio! Loris is an amazing person and supports the local music scene in Austin with her show Local Licks Live.