Baby Brain

May 31st, 2011

maggie.jpgI’m 38,000 feet over Albuquerque, New Mexico, when the newborn in 8B begins crying. I can hear it all — including the woman behind me whining and sighing to her husband — despite my noise canceling headphones.

A baby’s shriek is a difficult sound, to be sure. Still, all I can think is, ‘Lighten up lady; you were a baby once too.’

Shriek or not, the sight (and sound) of a baby is enough to tear at my heartstrings.

I left Maggie and Abbi at 7:06 am. I won’t return until roughly the same time next Tuesday, June 7th — Maggie’s first birthday.

There was just enough time this morning to wake Maggie, change her diaper, and sprint for the door for my nine o’clock flight.

She woke up singing quietly to herself, lay patiently for her change, and held her own bottle. Abbi walked her to the door, I stole a kiss (she delivers on our kiss requests about 2% of the time, making each one sweeter still), and grabbed my bags.

I looked back one last instant as I reached for the doorknob and froze. Maggie’s lips flattened, and closed. She squinted her eyes a bit, tilted her head almost imperceptibly, and smiled a tiny, confused smile as if to say, ‘Where are you going? We were having such a nice weekend.’

And we were.

Abbi, Maggie and I spent nearly every second together. We went to Central Park a whopping three times, and St. Catherine’s twice. Maggie played in her first sandbox (tentatively), ran her first 5k (well, in our new jogging stroller), chased bubbles barefoot, and swung on innumerable swingsets.

Even the mundane felt magical. At Home Depot, she walked wide-eyed down the football field-aisles, stood flummuxed, windblown by a massive fan, and charmed nearly every employee in the place with her determined waddle, gleaming blue eyes and infectious smile.

Friends of ours, a younger couple, visited us for lunch Saturday. He’s a young rock star. She’s a tv producer. They’ve been married a few years and are probably beginning the careful, deliberate conversations that end (ideally) with a new life.

Abbi laughed as I told them both how massively recalibrating parenthood has been. Everything that I thought mattered — rock shows, record deals, late nights — had been immediately replaced by something — someone — that really mattered.

Every step is a miracle. Every gesture is a gift. And every smile is a revelation.

I am finally free (largely, not entirely) of myself; it really is all about her, and all about us.

Which only makes leaving that much more painful. I spent the entire ride to JFK (well set-designed by Whomever Is In Charge Of The Universe with fog, gray sky, and black sheets of rain) listening to REM’s “Every Day Is Yours To Win,” the band’s recent update to its maudlin chestnut, “Everybody Hurts.” The gently arpeggiated guitar lulled me into a deeper melancholy still.

Here I am, now, landed and checked-in some 2,800 miles west of my precious daughter. The sun is coming up on Tuesday, and the only consolation is an iPhone full of photos, the promise of iChat, the fact that time passes, and the knowledge that her song is in my heart on infinite repeat.

Rachel Platten’s 53 Steps Into The Great Unknown

May 24th, 2011

rp.jpgMost major music careers begin on modest stages. Springsteen cut his teeth at Asbury Park’s Stone Pony. Elton John made his stateside splash at LA’s Troubadour. And Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta became Lady Gaga at Rockwood Music Hall.

Of course, Rockwood’s been my home turf since founder Ken Rockwood (the Professor half of one-time Bar/None recording artists, Professor & Maryann) first swiched on the PA in 2005. The room’s knows for Ken’s careful curation, fierce intimacy, excellent sound, and well-considered wine list. Amongst performers, it’s know as one of very few places in the city where you’re not treated like lunch meat.

As a result, the place is brimming with bona fide talent, folks who’ve parlayed Rockwood’s stage for other and larger ones, but always returned like spawning salmon. Folks like Amber Rubarth, Ingrid Michaelson, Ian Axel and Bess Rogers. And folks like Rachel Platten.

Rachel’s voice is sweet, clean and pure — like Kate Bush and Tori Amos with a dash of Swedish synth-pop. Her songs are fundamentally Millennial: well-realized, self-aware, optimistic and laced with big beats and tiny blips. Her new album, “Be Here,” topped iTunes when it was release last month.

Couldn’t have happened to a better person.

* * *

BW: Tell me about the album’s title, “Be Here.” Very Zen.

RP: Yes indeed. It’s a little reminder to myself to be present, to be in the moment, and be conscious and grateful for all that transpires. The lyrics on this record all resonate with this idea so it seemed like a good overarching “pull it altogether” theme for the album.

BW: What’s your songwriting process? Melody first? Key phrases? Beats?

RP: Melody first almost always… I wait until the last possible moment to bring it to my keyboard or guitar, because I feel then you become limited by what you hear. When it’s in your head it’s still unformed and can go anywhere. Lyrics last. Once in a while I try to mimic some Rhazel beat (from the Roots) and then a beat will lead me first… but usually melody.

BW: I find you AND your music remarkably up, optimistic, bright, bubbly. How do you pull it off amidst the noise, choise, and general cynicism of New York City?

RP: I don’t know that I pull it off..I mean…. I do try though! First of all, I’m rarely in New York City these days, so maybe being on the road and traveling helps. But, I work very hard at being optimistic, I do a lot of yoga, meditate a lot, and try to constantly remind myself to be grateful for all of this. We are so blessed to be living the way we do, in the time we do. The fact that I get to make music and bring it to people is just incredible to me. I truly feel so lucky and I’m so glad it comes off in the music.

BW: Bono’s got a great lyric (based on the philosopher, Pascal), about “Looking for to fill that God-shaped hole.” It speaks to that existential thing that’s missing in most of us, and what how we seek to fill it. What’s yours?

RP: Oh man, what a question. I seek and sometimes find spirituality in music, in yoga, in meditation, in good conversations, in laughter, in being on the road. I find it especially in Touring these days. I of course feel that emptiness sometimes too, but that is just the ego, trying to make noise so it can get our attention. When I hear my mind getting very loud and mean to me, I try to shake myself out of it. I am also a self help book junkie. So lame, I know ;) I especially love Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now and Julia Cameron’s the Artist’s Way. These are my little bibles.

BW: You worked with some huge producers on this record. What did they bring to your songs?

RP: I think that at it’s best, the record sounds “big”….and that was my aim. I wanted not just a hip sound or a trendy stylized sound but one that was instantly universally appealing so that people could appreciate it across age, gender, ethnic lines. It was ambitious, and I think that working with these guys helped me get closer to achieving that.

BW: What with your YouTube duets with Nick Howard, and Martin Rivas, and your gorgeous duet with Alex Wong for our “Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4,” you’re quite the collaborator. Who’s next? Who’s your dream?

RP: My dream collaborator is Jack White. I love that man, the way he plays, the way he writes, he’s just in the purest sense of the term, a rock star. I also am a big fan of a producer I met recently Kevin Agounas who has produced for Edward Sharpe, Cold War Kids and some other peeps I respect a lot. I hope to get to work with him on a project sometime.

BW: How’s life on the road? What’s the single most-inspiring thing you’ve experienced?

RP: Oh man, this year has been such a dream come true. I’ve been on the road pretty much nonstop since last April, and we’ve seen and experienced so much, it’s such a hard thing to take out one experience from the bunch. But I can tell you that we are in Buffalo right now for a couple of shows up here and we went to see Niagara Falls today. Holy crap, I felt so small… have you seen that yet? It’s so beautiful and inspiring. We now have a goal to check all the rest of the 6 wonders off our bucket list.

BW: Ok, speed round. Favorite color?

RP: Blue

BW: Ice cream flavor?

RP: Mint chocolate Chip

BW: Movie quote?

RP: “Anchorman” is my number one favorite. “What? You pooped in the refrigerator? And you ate the whole… wheel of cheese? How’d you do that? Heck, I’m not even mad; that’s amazing.”

BW: Song?

RP: “One” by U2.

BW: Cheese?

RP: Goat cheese from farmers market in Union Square.

BW: There’s an elephant on your album cover and in some random press pics. What’s with that?

RP: When I was little my parents asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said “I want to travel to Africa to save the elephants.” I said this for years until my teacher told me it wasn’t a viable career (I still don’t forgive her).
Anyway, I’m also very into yoga and have read a lot about Buddhism to dive deeper into my practice. I found out one of the most revered God’s is Ganesh (a man with an elephant head), lord of success and destroyer of obstacles. Powerful shit! I dug the idea and thought it was an excellent logo given my early obsession with elephants. So there ya go.

Rachel’s hitting the road with Bess Rogers this summer. Do yourself a favor: be there; the stages are only getting bigger.

Tuesday In The Park With Maggie

May 11th, 2011

maggiesm.jpgIt was a cinematic, spring afternoon.  

The sky was unwaveringly blue, shot through with bleached-lemon sunlight, all framed by the piercing, green canopy of a long-slumbering Central Park.  A cool breeze blew from the northwest, scattering pollen like snowflakes on a blanket of fresh grass.

In the middle of it all, my eleven-month-old daughter walked, twirled, stumbled, collapsed, sat and giggled. She studied each blade of grass, each fallen leaf like it was her first.

Because it was.

Abbi and I’d returned from our first, brief vacation without our precious cargo scarcely twenty-four hours prior.  And while our four days and three nights in paradise (well, close: Turks & Caicos) were memorable and meaningful (we dove with dozens of reef sharks, blew through twice as many many Turk’s Head Lagers, resolved our Fifth Annual Los Ochos Locos Internacional competition in a draw and laughed at our numerous obscure, absurd inside jokes), we spent an inordinate amount of time talking about Maggie and — through the genius of iPhone — watching her numerous YouTube videos.

I read just two books there: Haruki Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” (no explanation necessary) and Dr. Margaret J. Meeker’s “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters,” a ten-point, self-help book that elevated my already heightened sense of paternal responsibility (I said she wouldn’t date until she’s thirty less than twelve hours into her beautiful, little life) to uncomfortable levels through alarming statistics and first-person medical and psychological observation.

Not that I needed a doctor to raise the stakes. No matter how many guys warned me how great fatherhood would be, no one prepared me for how massively transformative it is. So many things I thought were important — rock shows, movies, beers with pals, even running — have genuinely, authentically and comprehensively been replaced by the singular desire to spend time with Maggie. There is no sweeter sound than her laughter, and no greater sight than her smile. Ergo our trip to the park.

And it happened so quickly. Standing there in the Tuesday afternoon, I marveled that — in just a few short months — I’d gone from taking cautious, infrequent and almost-instantaneous solo trips with Maggie to this: lunch in the park, neither harried nor hurried, patient and blissful than I could ever have imagined.

Not that it was easy.  I watched her every move, senses tingling like a lioness in the wild.  I explained away danger (“That’s traffic, Maggie. It’s very dangerous and can hurt you very badly.” “That’s for looking and touching only, honey, not eating.”)  “Let’s stay away from Harry and his friends, honey; they’re big boys.”) as if she understood.  

Maggie clung tight to my pinky — just enough reassurance for both of us — racing to and fro across the field, looking up at me periodically with big, wide eyes and a wider, two-tooth grin.  

Later, I spun her around and around above me head, shafts of sunlight backlighting her billowing, blonde hair.  Her laughter rose above the cacophony of passing cabs and buses, helicopters, planes and pedestrians.  Her fierce-blue eyes shimmered from behind her delicious cheeks and fixed on me absolutely confident in my grasp.