Tag Archives: music

Yodelling. An art or an abomination?

I’m loving that Brad Pitt and Jimmy Fallon dig yodelling.

I’m sure Slim Whitman would have been proud. You may have heard the news that Slim died recently at the grand old age of 90. He was a man of many talents including yodelling. There may be some people who disagree with using the term “talent” to describe yodelling. It is a topic that divides opinion.

I’ll admit it, I have a bit of yodelling in my music collection. Just one or two albums by MaryMary Schneider Schneider, the queen of yodelling. Her Yodelling the Classics, is literally a classic. The William Tell Overture has to be heard to be believed. And she’s one of us, a world-famous yodelling Aussie. If there were a yodelling Olympics, Australia would top the medal tally.

I saw Robyn Archer perform a while ago and marvelled at her yodelling ability. I had a chat with her after the show and asked whether yodelling was a learnable skill or if you had to be born a yodeller. She told me anyone could learn to yodel, all it took was practise and a sound proof room far removed from dogs and small children. Much encouraged I started on a brief but magical foray into the fine art of yodelling.

Let me tell you, yodelling is more effective at splitting an audience than any political debate. When I was playing in a band if we started to yodel – and yes it is catching so more than one of us yodelled, harmony yodelling is another acquired delight – half the room would smile with joy. The other half would be horribly embarrassed for us. They’d look at us with pity as if they were thinking, “Didn’t their mothers ever tell them.” Then they’d pretend to go to the loo until we stopped yodelling and started singing again.

I think our band’s highlight was harmony gargling. We did a great version of Turkey in the Straw. But for some reason gargling has never taken off as a legitimate form of musical expression. I like to think we were ahead of our time. I have no idea when the rest of the world will catch up, we may have to wait until other galaxies are discovered.

Yodelling, however, is a well recognised money spinner. Just ask Mary Schneider. Most people would think that you’d get paid to stop yodelling but no. Even I, a humble common or garden uvula wobbler, have been paid big money to rend the air.

YodellingSome years ago now,the call went out for yodellers to promote a particular Swiss beauty product. Unfortunately for them it was Switzerland’s 700th birthday and all the yodellers had gone back to their homeland to celebrate. When I got the phone call they were really desperate. Scraping the bottom of the barrel. So that week I dressed up in the Swiss national costume. I remember puffy sleeves and something like a corset on the outside. Myself and my fellow harmony yodeller, also looking stunning as a Swiss milkmaid, trotted around Sydney doing radio and in-store appearances. We sounded more like true blue Aussie sheilas calling in the sheep for a dip and a dagging than enticing alpine nymphs extolling the virtues of Swiss powders and potions. It didn’t matter to us, we still got paid.

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I’ve long since hung up my yodelling talents, much to the relief of all the dogs in the neighbourhood, but if I got back into training I reckon I could win a bronze or at least some milk chocolate.

And if you want to torture yourself and listen to some truly dreadful yodelling check this out. It was recorded on the same day for the top-rating radio station in Sydney at the time. If you can bear it, listen to the end. The last one’s my favourite. Doug Mulray MMM yodelling stings

Ten Insights into Sex, Drugs and Meditation

From an interview with Beauty and Lace.

You have had quite a varied career Mary-Lou, what made you want to write a book?Sexdrugsmeditation-pile 2

When I traveled overseas some years ago people asked to see my photographs when I got back. I had only taken twelve and they were on a disposable camera. A friend pointed out that photography clearly wasn’t my thing and suggested I write about my trip instead. I did. That resulted in being asked to write a weekly column for the local newspaper which in turn led to writing short stories and a novel. The instigation for this memoir came from reading self-help books. I always loved the case studies where people transformed their lives. I realised my life was one big case study and that people might like to read about it.

Can you tell us a little about ‘Sex, Drugs & Meditation’?

I didn’t go to a ten day silent meditation retreat because I was happy. I went because my life needed to change. Sex, Drugs and Meditation is told within the framework of that ten day meditation retreat. During those ten days I confronted the demons of my past; drugs, alcohol, food and religion…. and the demons in my mind; paranoia, self-loathing, fear and rage. I relived my time spent in Twelve Step programs, my years at acting school, the joy and heartbreak of my former life as a musician and the journey that led me to work in radio.

For ten days and nights I battled with my memories, mistakes and fantasies. The long hours spent meditating resulted in excruciating physical pain.

Facing the pain, accepting it and overcoming it enabled me to understand, on every level, the basic tenet of the meditation technique – everything changes.

When I left the meditation centre I knew I had changed. What surprised me was that within 2 weeks something so wonderful and completely unexpected showed up in my life that even I, the great doubter, had to believe again in life and in love.

What would you say was the catalyst for changing your life?

I’ve had many changes in my life. The catalyst for giving up drugs was the death of my father when I was in my twenties. I realised for the first time that I wasn’t immortal and as I was going to die anyway, why rush into it.
The catalyst for doing the meditation retreat that changed my life was my work. My dream job had become a nightmare. My new boss made my working life hell. I knew he wouldn’t change. I knew the company I worked for wouldn’t change. If I was to keep the job I loved, there was only one thing I could change. Myself.

What was the most enlightening lesson you took from your 10 day meditation retreat?

I had many realisations at the retreat; why I’d always had trouble with relationships, why I’d always resented my bosses, and why I’d always felt like a victim. But the biggest realisation was that I create my own misery by the way I choose to think – always churning over the past, always worrying about the future, and if there’s nothing to worry about I invent things to worry about! I make myself miserable for no good reason. I learnt how to stop creating misery in my life and let the joy in instead.

Music, Radio, Writing – how closely do you think the three are related?

I love radio. It combines all my skills into one. When I played in bands I used to play music and talk in between. When I first started in radio I used to play music and talk in between. Perfect. These days I work in a talk radio format and there’s a lot of writing involved. I love to write introductions and teases that will interest people and hook our listeners.b&w performance 1 1995

I wrote songs for years and sometimes I would marvel as to where they came from. It was as if a muse had delivered them to me.

Writing prose can be like that too. And then there are other songs and writing that take endless rewrites and much changing around until they are ready for the world. But all three – music, radio and writing are best when they connect to the heart of the listener or reader. To me that’s what it is all about – connection.

Different readers will take different things from your book, but if you had to pick just one thing what would you want readers to take away from Sex, Drugs & Meditation?

That we create our own misery and that meditation can help us realise that and change it.

How does your life to date compare to what you had planned for it as an adolescent?

My life as an adolescent was not a happy one. I pretended all the time to be someone I wasn’t. The only time I was happy was when I was acting in school plays or singing in the choir but I never thought they could be career options. I did at one stage want to be an archeologist which is amusing in hindsight given that with this memoir I am, in a very different way, digging up the past.

What’s been the most satisfying stop on your career journey up until now?

My journey into working in radio was truly amazing. After many years of banging my head against walls as a singer/songwriter, once I decided to get into radio all the doors opened. It was incredible. I describe those events in my memoir.
And I must say, landing a publishing deal after years of writing was a real gift.

What’s next for Mary-Lou Stephens?photo-11

I continue to work full-time in radio and when I’m not at work I am writing the sequel to this memoir. Sex, Drugs and Meditation has a happy ending. My next book is the truth about the happily-ever-after.

What does being a woman mean to you?

I have worked in mostly male dominated areas, the music industry and radio. I had an epiphany when I was 36. For once I wasn’t wearing jeans and for some reason was painting my toe nails. I was suddenly struck by the thought that I was a woman. I realised that I had been living my life as if I were a seventeen year old boy; no responsibilities, playing and living all over the county, shooting the breeze with the blokes, going to the footy.
It made me take stock of what was important to me – being a token bloke or being the real me, a 36 year old woman. I stopped trying to impress the men and started exploring what was important to me. Being a woman means being equal but different. Taking pride in those differences instead of trying to deny them.

Thanks for your time Mary-Lou.

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.

 

Success with Each Step

I used to have a very fixed opinion about success. I knew what it looked like, how it would arrive and, once I obtained it, I knew my life would be perfect. My plan was to become famous. I studied acting and performed on stage and screen. Unfortunately I wasn’t particularly good at it and I didn’t like hanging out with other actors. They were all completely self-absorbed. So instead I decided I would become a famous singer/songwriter. I played in bands, I toured, I wrote songs, I recorded. I was even offered a recording contract. But bands break up and recording contracts disappear. When all was done and dusted I didn’t have the energy or desire to keep going.

Then along came radio. It was the perfect combination of acting and music. After years of banging my head against closed doors, all the doors swung open. It was a miracle. It was meant to be. I landed my dream job. Success at last. And here’s the thing about having a fixed opinion of success; the goal posts shift, life is fluid, everything changes. In other words my dream job turned out to have warts. I did discover, after much resistance and then acceptance, that I could still love it, warts and all, but it no longer fulfilled my definition of success.

Perhaps a successful relationship would do the trick. I achieved the required standard by getting married. But, you guessed it, I found out there is no such thing as the promised happy-ever- after. My job might have had warts but my marriage had bunions. However once again, after much resistance and then acceptance, I learned to love it, bunions and all.

Years ago I started writing. A quiet pursuit, never in the spotlight, unlike my other attempts at fame. Most people wouldn’t think I was a success because I wasn’t published. But my definition of success had changed by the time I took up the pen. Finishing eight drafts of my novel and finally completing my meditation memoir after six years, these were successes to me. I sent them out into the world and they returned with kind suggestions and notes about revisions, most of which I took on board. Each small compliment was another success. I did the work and sent my manuscripts out again. A process of growth and refinement.

And now, success. My meditation memoir will be published by Pan Macmillan next year. A cause for celebration. But I know this is not the end. This is just another step on the journey. A journey where every step, no matter how many warts or bunions, is a cause for celebration, is a success.

***You can also find this post in the latest edition of Holisitic Bliss 

 

 

A Laugh of Your Own

I know what it’s like not to know the sound of your own laugh. Some people have distinctive laughs; the snorters, the guffawers, the gigglers but I was never brave enough to have a laugh of my own. I used to try on other people’s laughs to see if they would fit. I’d choose people I admired, copy their laugh and practise it till I got it right.

Sometimes I still hear the echo of a long ago friend or colleague in my laugh.These days it makes me smile but back in those days my own laugh sounded like a cynical shrug. I was too scared to laugh in case I was wrong to think something was funny, or in case a trick was being played on me and I’d look foolish. In such cases cynicism is by far the best attitude to take. But if I copied someones else’s laugh I had no need to feel vulnerable. I could hide behind it.

It seems that I’m not the only one who’s been too scared to express myself in my own unique way. I was listening to an album called Poet, a Tribute to Townes Van Zandt. Townes has been described as a self-destructive hobo saint and the greatest American songwriter of his day. His day ended in 1997 at the age of 52. He was a poet and a drunk, and fully committed to both.  I put the album on and without having to look at the cover I could identify the singers; Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Nanci Griffith and Lucinda Williams. All of them with distinctive, individual, brave voices.

What’s happened to brave voices? Where are the Janis Joplins and Van Morrisons of today? Frank Sinatra’s voice was beautiful but it was still distinctly his. Even with the onset of age and toupees he still sounded like Frank. Now there’s just a bunch of wannabes who try to emulate Old Blue Eye’s vocal chords. Why don’t they find their own voice? Too scared or perhaps too cynical, wanting to go where they think the money is.

And what of the endless stream of popstars and idols? Where are their voices? They blend into one homogenous vanilla ice cream soft serve. None of them have enough face or faith to front up and be themselves. Where are the voices that will be remembered, that will travel through time because of their strength and their truth?

Ray Charles tried to sound like every other artist of the time before he found his own voice. It wasn’t until he was brave enough to be himself that he became truly successful.

I can understand that, I can relate to it. When I stopped being scared of what other people thought, I found my own laugh. And funnily enough, I started laughing a lot more.