Category Archives: Music

Sex, Drugs and Meditation – Sunshine Coast Launch

For those of you who couldn’t make it and for some who were there and would like to hear it again. Parts of the In Conversation I did with John Stokes plus a solo performance of Nature Girl – an angry and bitter song that, for some strange reason, everybody loves.

 

 

Writing for Small Spaces (ABC Open Blog)

Writing for small spaces

I knew my writing was good when my friend told me he read it in the toilet.

This post is by guest blogger Mary-Lou Stephens.  Moo (as she’s affectionately known around the studios) is a radio broadcaster with ABC Sunshine Coast.  Her memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation was released this month. 

I didn’t mean to become a writer.

Not of books anyway.

I always dreamed of becoming a famous songwriter. I played in bands, put out CDs and did the endless gigs that being an independent musician requires.

It was a fun journey but eventually led nowhere. The doors remained closed.

Writing prose came later and quite by accident. I returned home from a trip overseas with only twelve photos taken on a disposable camera.

A friend pointed out that photography was clearly not my thing and suggested I write about my trip instead.

I did, imaginatively calling it “My Holiday”. My friend enjoyed it so much he kept it in the toilet and read it on his regular visits there.

He told me this was high praise indeed. Higher praise came when he recommended my work to a journalist who was looking for a new columnist for the local paper.

A door began to open. But first there was an ordeal of fire. The journalist asked me for some sample columns.

“Don’t be surprised if I tell you can’t write,” he growled. “Most people can’t.”

I sent him three sample columns and waited nervously.

He rang back that very afternoon. “You can actually write,” he said. The surprise in his voice was obvious.

I wrote a column every week for four and a half years.

Much encouraged and with a lot of words under my belt, I moved on to short stories, a novel and a memoir.

For years now I’ve been writing never knowing if anyone, besides my writing group, would ever read the result.

A publishing deal is the prize is it not?

 Maybe, maybe not.

My memoir has just been published and I am grateful, thrilled that the reviews have been favourable and amazed that people I’ve never met are reading it.

But caught up in the heady spin of publicity I find myself growing anxious.

Am I enough?

Am I doing enough?

There is so much involved with getting a book out into the world, what else can I do to make it happen? A publishing deal is not a full stop, it is an ongoing commitment to do my best for those who have invested in my words.

It is not until I pause, find the space to clear away the clutter of my endless To Do list, and immerse myself in the writing that I find peace and a true excitement. It is a joy that comes from my soul.

This is where the doors swing wide open and angels sing.

I am connected at last, not lost but found, in the words and in the journey.

This is a gift, the true prize. Writing in itself is enough.

And if the toilet is the only place it’s read, that’s enough too.

Mary-Lou Stephens’ memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation was released this month through Pan Macmillan.

IMAGE CREDITS: Author: ABC Open Sunshine Coast

Living the Dream

If one more person said to me “When one door closes another one opens,” I was going to throttle them. But you know what? They were right. For years I’d been playing in bands, touring and releasing CDs. I’d had a great time but I was getting nowhere. When my last speedo dress Aug '95band broke up I knew I couldn’t do it any more. I was heartbroken and exhausted and had no idea what to do next. My only tertiary qualification was a diploma in performing arts and, at the age of thirty-five with no skills other than acting and performing, a series of dead-end jobs was all I could envisage.

Weeks after the band’s last performance, I woke to the seven am news on my clock radio. Half asleep, I heard the Queen sending her condolences to the people of Tasmania. That’s how I found out about the Port Arthur massacre. In shock and grief I went home to Tasmania for the memorial service. There, quite coincidently, I met up with an acquaintance who was broadcasting the service for the ABC. He took me to lunch later that week. I told him about the band breaking up and, even though it seemed trivial in the context of the horror at Port Arthur, how lost I was.

He paused, looked at me and uttered one life-changing sentence. ‘Mary-Lou, you want to be in radio.’

I knew he was right. It was a pure light bulb moment. ‘I do,’ I said.‘But I didn’t realise that until right now. How did you know?’

‘Because I know radio and I know you,’ he said. ‘It’s a perfect match.’

It was true. I came alive when I was being interviewed in a radio studio. I loved the sense of performance. I’d performed all my life in one form or another. Radio condensed performance down to one person, one microphone, one listener. A pure connection.

Days later, through another friend, I found out about The Australian Film Television and Radio School and on my return to Sydney I was asked to present a program for a public radio station. Within a week of discovering my true vocation I was being offered a gig on air. The doors continued to fly open. With help and support, and after three rounds of auditions, I was accepted into AFTRS and less than a year later I landed my first professional job in radio.2TM 2

I had always thought I’d be a famous singer/songwriter, and who knows, I may still be yet, but when I let go of that dream and dared to dream another, I discovered a whole new life of adventure, creativity and fulfillment.

My latest adventure is that of an author. My meditation memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation is published this month by Pan Macmillan. 

Digital Heaven

And now, along with the cassettes from years gone by, my extensive collection of CDs, the collection I valued so highly I had it listed separately in my contents insurance, has been 2012-12-27 09.12.55dispersed. Lugged to the charity shop in boxes and bags to be picked over by bargain hunting music lovers. And what joys they will find there. A collection of memories, adventures, passion and heartbreak.

Was a time when CDs were essential to my world. The CD player at home was always in a whirl. The stacker in my car was always stuffed. When The Hubby told me he was thinking of buying me an iPod for my birthday a few years ago, I told him not to. I would never use it. He bought it for me anyway. I never used it.

But everything changes. He vowed he would always read real books, that he loved the heft, the smell, the reality of them. Now our bookshelves are denuded and he reads from a device. I still read books made from paper and glue but for how long I wonder?

We bought ourselves a new stereo. A tiny thing, with a dock for my iPod. It is also capable of playing digital and online radio stations. I spent hours loading my CD collection into my computer ready for transfer to the iPod I said I would never use. And when all my CDs were loaded and all my musical memories were nothing more than bits and bytes in my computer, I gave them away. All except a few old friends; Sigur Ros, Harry Manx, Frank Sinatra. I hang on to them just in case the world of binary code comes crashing down. We have a universe inside my iPod now, so much music in such a tiny space. A Tardis of sound. But do I use it?

When tuning in to online radio stations I found one that both The Hubby and I like. And now, when we press the button on the remote control, that’s what starts playing and that’s where we stay. My iPod sits in its dock and waits, all the music I have ever owned inside its silver shell. The internet radio station plays on. My iPod gathers dust. I am, if nothing else, a woman of my word.

Death of the Cassette

This is a piece I wrote a few years ago. It’s a pre-cursor to my next blog. 

I’m sitting on my bed surrounded by the past. Little plastic boxes full of memories, love andcassettes pain. Today I hauled the last of the cassettes out of my car. I finally came to the realisation if I wanted a car with a CD player then I’d better get one installed because I’d be waiting a long time for a new car with a CD player already in place.

However my transition to the 21st century means that I’m left with a whole lot of my life recorded on cassette that I don’t have a place for anymore. So I sit on my bed and decide what to discard and what to keep.

Amongst the cassettes I had in my car was the first compilation tape I was ever given. Harry made me a Joni Mitchell tape that I still treasure to this day. I was 20. I’d never heard of Joni Mitchell. Harry was 11 years older than me and introduced me to a lot of music that my peers weren’t listening to. Jazz, blues and Joni. His handwriting has faded and my memory of him too, but my love for Joni has lasted.

Since then I’ve had many boyfriends and potential boyfriends that delighted in making me tapes they thought I’d like, that they liked, or perhaps that they thought would impress me into liking them. It seemed to be part of the courting process back then, many of my friends received compilation tapes from their beaux too. It was kind of delightful to know that they’d gone to so much trouble. That they had been thinking about you with every choice they made. That they’d be wondering and hoping what you’d be thinking and feeling with each song. Once I was listening to one of these tapes for the first time, in my car naturally, and had to pull over. There was a song right at the end of side two that expressed all the longing, all the dreams and desires of the person who’d given it to me so clearly that I was shocked into incapacity. I sat there and cried. I was amazed that he would expose his feelings in this way. The meaning was so clear but I knew that I could never respond in the way he hoped. I played that song over and over until the tears stopped and I was able to drive on.

Gone now, a little cassette death. Consigned to magnetic heaven as I move into a digital world.

Oh you pretty things

In the process of decluttering, of clearing out the old and creating space for the new year, I found evidence of my previous life. What could I do but post it to Youtube? Isn’t that what every woman who’s spent most of her life performing in one way or another does?

This first one is from Good Morning Australia, March 1995. I’m the one in the middle.

Isn’t Bert a sweetie? And he hasn’t changed at all, unlike me!

The second one is from a long defunct TV show called It’s Country Today. Oh dear, I’m taking myself a bit too seriously in this clip I fear.

And I do believe that’s one of the Reyne brothers. Not a patch on Bert but has a certain charm nevertheless.

 

It’s beginning to sound a lot like Christmas

It’s the time of year to retrieve the Christmas carol albums from the bottom furthermost Christmasrung of the CD stand where they’ve been waiting their moment of glory for almost 12 months. After dusting the cobwebs off mine I’d put them on one of the stereo speakers ready for the big day. It’s a shame that I’ve got such a great collection of Christmas tunes and they only get played once a year. Clearly The Hubby thought so too and very early this morning blasted me with The Huddersfield Choral Society doing a jolly medley of Joy to the World and Ding Dong Merrily on High. I felt like donging him merrily on high, that would have brought great joy to my world. Needless to say The Huddersfield Choral Society had an abbreviated airing. Bah humbug! They’ll have to wait their turn on Tuesday along with The Blind Boys of Alabama’s Christmas album “Go Tell it on the Mountain” and my personal favourite “Christmas Cocktails“. This album has a wonderful selection of festive faves including Julie London singing “I’d Like You for Christmas”, “Jingle Bells Bossa Nova” by Eddie Dunstedter and Kay Starr’s rendition of “Everybody’s Waiting for the Man With the Bag”. Hand me an eggnog I feel like hanging out under the mistletoe!

I’m an old-fashioned girl and I like to keep the Christmas tunes to the day itself, well maybe a few on Christmas Eve but that’s about it. So I decided to visit a few ghosts of Christmas past as I’ve been wrapping presents, writing Christmas cards and doing a bit of fattening festive baking (why does everything to do with Christmas have to contain quite so much butter!).

Sometimes it takes a bit of courage to revisit the soundtrack of your life, knowing that songs and music have a powerful way of bringing back the memories and the emotions of that time. Dare I play Radiohead’s album ‘The Bends” and go back to a summer in Sydney and the boy who’s heart I broke, seriously damaging mine in the process? Much easier to choose The Leisuremasters, the precursor to Karma County. Every morning I’d swim at the Boy Charlton pool in Woolloomooloo, walk back home and eat a mango for breakfast while listening to their E.P. Sweetness, heat and satisfaction.

The one Christmas I spent in Tamworth you’d think I would have Slim Dusty’s Greatest Christmas Truckin’ Greats glued to the stereo. Instead I almost wore out my copy of Shawn Colvin’s “A Few Small Repairs”. I had the CD in the house and the cassette in the car. Luckily I got a job in Townsville otherwise my friends would have run me and Shawn out of town I’m sure.

And what did I listen to while gazing out over the Coral Sea towards Magnetic Island?  I revisited Moby’s “Play” and was amazed and how slow and melodic a lot of it is. My memory was of a grooving’, jumpin’ album that gave me the energy I needed to go and work the 16 hour days I was putting in. Seems I never had time back then to listen to the whole thing.

My time living on the Sunshine Coast has been dominated by The Woodford Folk Festival at this time of year. It starts on the 27th of December and wraps up on the 2nd of January. Last festival The Hubby and I by happy accident found ourselves sitting almost front and centre at a Nick and Liesl gig. We were both entranced and have been all year. Their album and EP have been on high rotation all year. It’s always wonderful to find music that we both enjoy. And who knows I maybe I’ll learn to enjoy The Huddersfield Choral Society doing a jolly medley first thing in the morning. Maybe…

I’m just an animal

Is it something innate? Something in all of us? This longing for home, this wanting to belong? Or is it just in those of us who never felt as though they had a home, never felt as Cowsthough they belonged?

The times I’ve felt a sense of belonging are few and far, scattered through this life, these many lives it feels like. A friend and I made a home in a small flat in Coogee. I loved her and I trusted her. Still do, though years and distance have passed between us. I asked her, as we sat together in our kitchen, our playground for cockroaches, if she ever felt as though she belonged. Her reply surprised me.

“All the time,” she said.”

“How?”

“Because home is in here.” She tapped her heart.

I loved her all the more, and admired her, but I didn’t feel the same. Instead I had a vague wavery sensation inside my chest, as if I could dissolve at any moment. My home was less substantial even than straw.

I played in bands. Bands can be like family. A substitute perhaps. We worked, rehearsed, toured and played together. We shared secrets and disappointments, dreams and realities, and grew a history that was ours alone. Like a family.  But bands break up. My sense of belonging shattered each time.

I spent many years in Twelve Step programs. A big sprawling dysfunctional family. I found like-minded souls, soul sisters if you like. I wedged my way into belonging by doing lots of meetings and hours of service. I was admired by some, befriended by others, and the true friendships endured beyond the realm of those rooms. But eventually I discovered that this adopted Twelve Step family was much like the family I’d left behind. I didn’t like it any better the second time around.

I see people attracted to movements and modalities, causes and committees, and I see them as craving the connection that a sense of belonging gives. Like family. I understand it. But I’m no longer a joiner.

I still have a vague wavery sensation in my chest but perhaps this is the way I am. Movement and energy, floating and free. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe my sense of home is beyond the realms of this body, this reality. A place I cannot yet understand even though it’s here with me, always.

My dog comes up for a pat. My husband is on his way home. A tray of mangoes on the dining table fill the room with their scent. Two magpie larks build a nest in the tree outside my window. The native bees return to their hive.

Guess that this must be the place.

The Unexpected Joys of Detoxing

“Why do I always do this to myself ?” I found myself thinking three days into a detox retreat. When other people take time off work, most of them have a holiday. Instead I spend seven days without food, taking lots of herbs to clean out my entire system, which before it gets clean feels like…well you get the idea. Other so-called holidays I’ve had involved meditating in silence for ten days and only having lemon water for dinner.  I seem to think that holidays are meant to fortify the body and soul rather than relax them. Perhaps I feel a certain amount of guilt living in a permanent holiday destination, where driving to work means a beautiful meander along the Maroochy River and I get to go to the beach everyday.

Friends and family laughed when I told them I was going on a detox retreat. “You’re the cleanest living person we know,” they said. “What have you got to detox from?” And that was a very good question, a question I didn’t find the complete answer to until almost the end of the retreat.

The answer I found was that I was detoxing from the media, from the news, from the gossip, from the latest round of tragedy and betrayal. I was detoxing from the internet, and boy did I go through withdrawals. Not being able to google myself up an answer or some information at the touch of a keyboard was almost as tough as going without three meals a day plus snacks.

I was detoxing from a certain mindset that pushes us all to achieve in the external world, to acquire and grasp and cut ourselves off from each other with our possessions and positions in life.

I was detoxing from fear, from the need to constantly prove myself in the eyes of others.

And strangely enough of all, I was detoxing from music. I fill my ears constantly with sounds from all over the world, the latest hit single from the multinational multi-labels to obscure bouzouki playing duos recorded on the last two-track reel-to-reel in existence. Sometimes your ears need a good cleaning out as well as the rest of your system so that you can appreciate a simple melody or a beautiful lyric.

The joy of detoxing is that you get to begin again all squeaky clean and when you do you can really enjoy that brand new song, the latest factoid on the internet and the taste of, well let’s face it, just about anything tastes good after a week of not eating!

**This post also appeared as a column in Holistic Bliss Magazine November 2012