Pictured above is Andrew McKee, my good friend and... oh my ... what a great singer he is... I have seen him play King Arthur in a local production of Camelot... seen him play the lead in Sweeney Todd ... and I wish you could hear him perform ... he brings me to tears.
Oh but wait... you can hear him perform.. he and I are doing a performance together March 26 in Mesa, Arizona to benefit the Boys and Girls Club.
We are calling it an evening of Stories and Songs. We have chosen songs to sing that mean a lot to us... and we'll tell the stories about those songs. Bring friends and family.. the stories alone will be worth it.
And the songs. They are so moving to me it's even hard to rehearse them. Ever have a song like that in your life? You start to sing it and you can't continue because it is lyrically so moving to you and some mad man has written a melody so beautiful that the voice catches just trying to sing it?
And the music.
It's at the Heritage Academy in Mesa at 7:30 p.m. Don't live in Arizona? Some people are flying in. You can too. It's for a good cause. It will be a night to remember. Pay anything you want at the door. Ten dollars. Twenty? Up to you. A haypenny will do.
Please reserve your place or places by emailing Jill McKee at Jillmckee2000@gmail.com.
The Heritage Academy is at 32 South Center Mesa, Arizona 85210, with plenty of parking in the rear of the building.
An Evening of Songs and Stories at the Heritage Academy in Mesa at 7:30 pm March 26.
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"Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so?
Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live.
Before they know it, time runs out."
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes
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This brings up a story I tell a lot when I speak. People ask me to tell this story because there's something in it that they want to hear again and again.
This is a true story and I was there when it happened.
You may have heard me tell it before, but listen to it again and put yourself in there somewhere:
It helps to have a picture. . .
In order for us to learn to be owners of the human spirit, it helps if we know what being an owner looks and feels like. It helps to have a picture.
I remember a few years ago when I gave two of my daughters a picture.
Margie and Stephanie were both rehearsing for school singing assignments. Margie was in 6th grade singing a school choir solo of a song from Beauty and the Beast, and Stephanie was rehearsing for the junior high school talent show, in which she was singing a Mariah Carey song called "Hero."
Both girls asked me to listen to their rehearsals, and I did, and I told them that they sounded good enough musically. Both girls had good voices and were hitting the notes, but something was missing: the spirit-the vital principle-the animating force.
I told them it was okay to let loose a little. To really get into it. I recommended that they start to over-rehearse. To rehearse enough times to reach a state of ownership of the song. To get that feeling that the song was all theirs. Flowing out of them naturally, powerfully.
Margie pinned a piece of paper to the wall of her bedroom and made a mark on it every time she sang her song. She sang it over, and over, and over.
Stephanie also rehearsed more and more, and still her song was coming out tentative and prissy, held way back.
But they both pushed on.
Finally, Margie's concert came and she was great. She stood out when her solo came because she sang with fire and force, whereas the other girls and boys that night were like little cautious robots. The extra rehearsals had given Margie ownership.
Next up was Stephanie's talent show, and things still weren't right with her song. Her rehearsals still weren't taking it anywhere.
So I got an idea. I went to a video store and found a used copy of a musical documentary of Janis Joplin's life. It contained a concert performance that I had been lucky enough to be present at personally-her performance at Monterey Pop Festival with her band Big Brother and The Holding Company.
At the time of the concert I was stationed at the Presidio of Monterey in the U.S. Army. I was there that late afternoon sitting by myself in a fourth row seat when Janis blew a hole in the music world with her performance of "Ball and Chain." The moment is also captured in the film Monterey Pop as Mama Cass Elliot is seen in the same audience in a reaction shot to Janis Joplin, her mouth gaping in awe.
Janis Joplin was on fire that day. I never saw anything like it. None of today's feisty, angry female rockers quite have the exact spirit, because Janis wasn't as angry as she was, well, on fire.
I put the videotape in for Stephanie and Margie to watch, and I'd cued it up to the performance of "Ball and Chain." We watched together, and as usual, I got goose bumps and tears in my eyes when I watched it.
I got that same feeling I always get when I see the ownership spirit. I got it when I saw the early, young Elvis. I used to get it watching a lyrically insane football player named Chuck Cecil play football. I've gotten it watching Michael Jordan play basketball with the flu and still outplay the whole court. Or watching Alvin Lee and Ten Years After at Woodstock. I've gotten it watching Pavarotti sing "Nessum Dorma" and almost explode with the joy and volume of the song. I've gotten it watching Marlon Brando in One-Eyed Jacks and Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. I've gotten it hearing Buffy Ste. Marie sing "God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot" from Leonard Cohen's Beautiful Losers. When you're in the presence of an owner of the spirit, you know the feeling.
Owners of the spirit are beautiful losers. They risk all. They are losers because they have lost all fear of embarrassment. They have lost all inhibition. They have lost all concern for what other people might think.
Stephanie's eyes grew a little wider as Janis Joplin sang on. The passion and abandon and power in that one small woman was something that only a corpse would be unmoved by. When the song was over, the video showed Mama Cass mouthing the word "wow" just as Stephanie was saying, "Wow."
And a hero comes along.
While I was putting the tape away, I told Stephanie, "There are times in life when you know you have a chance to really go for it. You are a great singer, so I know you're going to sing your song very well in the show. You have to decide for yourself how much you're going to go for it. You are never who you think you are. You can be anyone you want. When you're singing, you might remember Janis Joplin."
The night of the talent show was fun and lighthearted. I had all but forgotten about my Janis Joplin lecture with Stephanie, and I was just there to enjoy the show and see her sing.
After a few acts in which the performers showed varying degrees of talent and self-consciousness, it was Stephanie's turn. She had a compact disc of the background music and background vocals to the song "Hero" and she stepped out on stage in a black dress and began the song as her friends in the audience in the gym cheered and clapped to encourage her.
Her voice was a little weak and nervous at the start, although right on pitch as she softly sang through the first verse, looking out at the crowd and occasionally smiling with self-consciousness. As her song continued to build, I saw something start to change in Stephanie. She stomped her high-heeled shoe forward as the song took the turn into the last verse and she was no longer smiling. Her voice grew louder and louder and you could tell that the audience no longer existed for her. It was just the song. I began to get tears in my eyes and I could feel my heart race and my throat tighten, and I remember thinking, "She's going for it, she's going for it."
Stephanie rounded the corner into the last chorus in full possession of the song, sending it through her spirit and out into the auditorium in a way that I'd never heard her sing before. The kids in the audience jumped to their feet and raised their hands and started screaming, but Stephanie's voice soared beyond them, above it all, living only for itself as the song came to an end among the loudest sustained cheers of the evening.
Even grownups were on their feet at the end, knowing that they had seen a moment they themselves may not have lived in a long while-a moment of the human spirit on fire.
I turned to my friends and family and said, "Wow." I was inspired. I'd shown Stephanie Janis Joplin, and then Stephanie showed me Stephanie.
The trick is to pass it on.
The song of the hero is in you. Touch your heart right now if you know that you know that.
Oliver Wendell Holmes observed, "Most people go to their graves with their music still in them." He was right, most people do. But that's because they've never heard that music. They simply don't know it's there.
There was nothing in the circumstance itself that caused Stephanie to find her spirit. The whole point of watching the Janis Joplin video was to show her that it can be invented.
You can tap into the spirit in yourself. Any time you want. It's always there. Stephanie doesn't have anything that you don't have. Janis Joplin didn't have anything that Stephanie didn't have.
The next time you see the spirit in someone else, don't just admire it; think of how to do your own version of it. Don't envy it; duplicate it.
Talk to yourself. Start thinking about it. Practice saying, "I can do that!" every time you see someone do something great. Most people say, "Wow, I could never do that."
They've built a deep neural pathway with that negative affirmation. By saying, "I could never do that," they deepen the illusion that they are stuck in something mediocre, that they are stuck in someone mediocre.
You can set yourself free by how you talk to yourself about your capabilities. The greatness you see in others is in you. I promise you that you can find it inside you, no matter who you are.
No matter who you've invented yourself to be.
Stephanie saw herself in Janis. You will see yourself in Stephanie. Someday I will see myself in you. The trick is to pass it on.
When you come to see us sing at the Heritage Academy March 26 I promise I will be doing my best to pass this on.