No Matter What – Treble and Bass.

I will always go to music. There is music from every genre that I love. And own (bought, because I like musicians and sound people not to starve). Growing up, my parents kept tight control of the radio. My father was a Southern Baptist Preacher and my mother was the untitled and unacknowledged and unpaid Minister. We got two channels – Oldies and Christian music, if available. I grew up in the 1970’s, so Oldies meant music from the mid 1950’s to mid 1960’s…before the Hippies got ahold of airplay. Early rock n’ roll. At least the white version of it…which I would discover is woefully watered down.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved that music. I mean, who doesn’t love “Blueberry Hill?”

I sang in the choir and solos in church since I was in elementary school. I took seven years of piano lessons and learned how to read music. I yearned to write my own songs, but my piano teacher was very strict about practice time and “going off on your own.” Everything in my life was controlled.

Strangely though, hymns are still isolated from the cynicism that pervades any reading of The Bible. One of my most-prized possessions is a Baptist Hymnal that I kept. Not singing them hurts.

Songs have always been portals for me. And god knows, I needed an imaginative space for my soul to be.

During middle school, I was exposed to current pop music, some late 1960’s and 70’s music and metal. I ate it all up. It was around this time that my hair began to express my identity (as I understood it), you can hear me telling a story about that here. Singing in the choir gave me lifelong friends and a way to express myself. My middle school years were 1981-1983; an amazing time to be tuning in. One of the best memories I have of this time is receiving Michael Jackson’s Thriller (on vinyl yo) as a consolation prize for not making the cheerleading team. I was a bit chubby and not so much with the grace or jumping. My mother let MJ heal me…she knew me well enough to know that music always works with me.

She wasn’t always so open and supportive about music though. There were songs and artists that were taboo in my house: Queen, Prince, Donna Summer and generally any music about sex, drugs and violence. Prince was smuggled in like contraband.

One afternoon, I had put in the cassette to listen to Purple Rain. Of course, right when I got to the good part of Darling Nikki, my mother walked in and heard the sinful (and sinfully good) part – Nikki started to grind. Catch Foo Fighters covering it:

And the Man himself:

Binge Video: Prince- Darling Nikki (360p).

She yanked the tape out and pulled the tape out in a dramatic fashion, the thin black tape shooting all around the room like an ancient evil unleashed. Needless to say, Prince was clearly banned. Raise your hand if you think this worked. Moving on… (You can watch a fab documentary of Prince here).

Bottom row, 2nd from right

Bottom row, 2nd from right

Because I’m a Preacher’s kid, we moved quite a bit. I attended two different high schools – Airport High in Columbia, SC until smack dab of my Jr. year, when my parents moved us to Nashville. I finished high school at Beech Sr. High outside Nashville. In both schools, I sought refuge in Chorus. At Airport, I was in Show Choir (aka Glee) and our choir competed in state-wide competitions. When I moved, Chorus (and quickly Drama Club) saved me. We had drama with the Chorus teacher we loved. You can read about what we did when they fired her (or forced her out) because she was a lesbian here. The new one was atrocious.

One thing about a bad teacher…all the students have cause to rally together to mock and/or resist her/him. Again- not just the music (my favorites were always Spirituals), but the camaraderie was crucial for the “new girl” at a small high school.

College began with a Music scholarship and a Music major. By this time, I had explored most corners of musical expression with fervor. My friends from my 2nd high school and an early boyfriend (who made me several dozen mixed tapes) had given me a robust music education. I also dated my first musician around this time. You do not want to hang out with the band and not know what the hell they are referring to…you do not want to be vapid eye candy. So you learn the names of guitar players and albums and the history of rock and roll…or you sit quietly and wait for the subject to change.

I learned the first semester of college that Music couldn’t remain my major. I had discovered Psychology, Sociology, English Literature and Political Science – nothing else mattered but The Mind. I remained in the Chorus during college, but I wanted to dance to music, not perform it. I was bursting at the seams with freedom – exploring the world madly and with only one purpose…Become.

Festivals, road trips to shows, concerts dotted my calendar as soon as I got out of my parent’s house. If I tried to list all the bands I’ve seen, I would lose a day. It was sublime.

Beginning in 1992 and all the way through Grad School – these were the Ani DiFranco years. Not exclusively of course…but my main connection to music mimicked my intellectual journey. There was very little dancing and singing. In retrospect, my brain would have flourished with less focus on The Mind and more ass-shaking.

By 1997, I was literally dying for lack of music. I worked a very demanding set of jobs as a Social Worker/Mental Health Counselor. My martyrdom was high during this time and at some point, my depression became too heavy. I knew I needed the oxygen that creative people create. I didn’t like the Open Mic scene in Knoxville (I felt it hostile to women like myself), so I started my own. Women Out Loud ran from 1997-2000.

Jane Crowe and Kari Hoffman perform poetry at Women Out Loud, circa 1998 in Knoxville, TN.

Jane Crowe and Kari Hoffman perform poetry at Women Out Loud, circa 1998 in Knoxville, TN.

I met a group of men and women that gave me my creative outlet in big colorful blasts. My dear friend Kari Hoffman (and the AH-MAZING women I lived with in an intentional community in South Knoxville) and I spearheaded many creative endeavors. We scrapped together a decidedly and vocally feminist and lgbt-friendly creative space…almost every week for four years. We held contests and gave away guitars and studio time. We had erotic poetry readings. Most Saturday nights, we would gather for parties. Everyone sang, danced or played an instrument and hours went by, sitting on porches and making harmonies work. We were a Force and brought an audience with us to every venue we were fortunate enough to get. We held fundraisers for the local causes we believed in. We spawned future recording artists – some you’ve likely heard of. In Knoxville, Tennessee.

I'm the one on the ground with the yellow hat. This was at an Erotic Poetry event. We also had bellydancers and snakes from time to time. Burlesque-ish.

I’m the one on the ground with the yellow hat. This was at an Erotic Poetry event. We also had bellydancers and snakes from time to time. Burlesque-ish.

 

This time changed my life in so many ways, it took me YEARS to process it all. Most of it was Grade A. It gave me back my voice. Nothing made me happier that hosting Women Out Loud and then hopping up on stage to sing backup for a friend. Looking back, it was a radical experiment (pretty much all I was doing during that period could be described that way). And it kept me alive inside.

Since then, my chances to sing are very limited. This is what I truly don’t give two hoots what I look like singing in the car. I look forward to driving so that I can sing. I don’t get to as many shows because I have three kids. It feels like a ceaseless hunger not to make music or be in a space where music is being made – I live in Nashville…I could literally drive five miles and be blown away by talent. I miss it. Lord, I miss it.

This picture was taken at Pied Piper in East Nashville. It shows off both letterpress (YAY Yee-Haw and Hatch Show Print) and some of my favorite musicians.

This picture was taken at Pied Piper in East Nashville. It shows off both letterpress (YAY Yee-Haw and Hatch Show Print) and some of my favorite musicians.

It is time to look for a Community Choir. I’m just not willing to miss it anymore. I can’t start a band because of the time commitment. It is hard to be a part of a “scene” because my responsibilities are so time-sucking. I’m all about doing something and not complaining, so I need to be intentional about making this space for music again. I’ve always wanted to cover Wildflowers (the album) by Tom Petty, but finding all the right people takes time I don’t have. There is a language that musicians speak – mostly wordless – conversation that allows my brain to exercise in healthy ways.

I am going to hunt though. There must be a way for me to plug in musically in Music City. (When I type this it makes me want to smack myself for being so daft). And if I cannot find a scene to be a part of, maybe it is time to do what comes naturally to me — make my own.

Begin. Again.

 

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About Kristen Chapman Gibbons

Loosely connected facts: Storyteller. Curator of a Better Internet. Lifelong Politico. Social Media Maven. Creativity and Empathy Evangelist. Performer. Creator of Content Worth Sharing. Digital Strategist. Former Social Worker. Decade teaching in Higher Ed. Master's Degree in Theology. Married to an Irishman. 3 darling kiddos. Preacher's kid. Appalachian. Music maker. Music devour-er. ENTP. Bohemian. Geeky. Obsessed with thrift stores and all things vintage. Lover of species.

View all posts by Kristen Chapman Gibbons

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