Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Letter To A College Student

"Hi Cindy Lee, Still I wonder what has been your experience as a woman in the music industry as it is predominately occupied by men? Gender and women's journeys since the right to vote and then some prior has been the picture of this coursework. You've come a long way baby! What's memory of you standing up for your powerful femininity shall you share, my love?"

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I'm not sure what I have to say about it these days. I'm so out of the loop of the music business now. I worked very hard for many years, putting my music work before all else then when Paul had his brain injury accident in '95 things started to slip. Maybe they slipped before...who knows.

My first album came out Nov. of 1987, I went on the road and the whole thing began to take off, in an underground kind of way. I had been courted by Rhino Records since 1985 and it took over 2 years for the negotiations and their offer to come about and things started cranking for women in music by then. Suzanne Vega's first album came out in 85. Then Sinead's came out in mid 87. By the time my album came out two other women songwriters in my area, Los Angeles, also had albums released, Victoria Williams and Lucinda Williams. It seemed like we were compared alot in those early years. We were all informed by Americana type music, folk music, rock and roll somehow.

By 1990 my second record had come out but the indie music world had changed and was fueled by indie boy bands that had a tube-distortion-pedal sound, so it was harder to find a place for me on the college radio circuit. I had to find a new record company too. I had a manager guy that carted me from one company to the next only to hear stuff like "You should sound more like Liz Phair" or "Your music sounds like christmas music" or just plain old "I don't get it ". It's true my sound had changed in the years since the Rhino releases I had rediscovered the music of my youth, the Beach Boys, and had uncovered the hidden music of Brian Wilson (SMiLE, Surf's Up, etc.). While living in Taos, NM for five months I'd had a dream that directed me to go home to San Diego and write music with love in it. I had a vision that I ought to use orchestral instrumentation and then... Garage Orchestra was born. Certainly not 'womens' music and didn't sound like Liz Phair, or grunge, maybe there was a little christmas aspect to it.

Though I've written songs like Damn I Wish I Was a Man, I can't say that I've tried to come across as political or topical. There have been times where a song like this has popped out suddenly and then I'm a 'topical songwriter' again in some eyes.

I have to admit that I've, at times, gotten some attention for being a female songwriter when some of my male counterparts couldn't get the time of day. Wearing a little black dress, combat boots and singing Damn I Wish.....Man got me some attention to be sure. But in other ways it was a struggle being a girl musician. Maybe it's just me, but I feel like women have to be better vocalists then men songwriters do. I never wanted to sound like any other female singer but I've been told over and over by music executives that that is the game. Maybe, if I could I would...but who told Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Lou Reed to sound like Perry Como?

I love some of the great female rock singers like Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Byork (sp), Jefferson Airplane. I never tried to sound like anybody else however, I just never learned how to do that. I'm okay with my own weird sound, but it would have made me a few more bucks I think, if I'd had the pipes of Sheryl Crowe or Lady Gaga.

Now I'm in a place where I can accept what tiny bit of success I've had and except the loss's without feeling regret. I've also made some tough decisions along the way that took me away from the single minded, purpose driven, career carpool lane. I helped my husband Paul gain his strength and confidence after his injury in 1995, I had a child in 2001 and have made my life with him a major focus. And, I did everything in my power to try to help Paul keep from falling into what we now know is early onset of dementia. Trying out different suppliments and vitamins, anti depressants, anti dementia pharmaceuticals, exercise and various health regiments. Only to find none of these could hold back the flood gates. Eventually I came to see that the disease was winning. If I hadn't taken the time to help Paul I would have felt lousy that I hadn't tried to make him okay.

So maybe I gave up a few years there, did the mommy track, played nurse. I'm older now and I don't give a Flyin' Rats Ass that I don't sound a thing like Celine Dion. That's the beauty of gettin' on and doing things your own way.

Hope that helps you Shell, clb


  1. Isn't that the way of the music industry and many of the labels. There's a push to homogenize, to want everyone to sound like someone else who has made money for the folks in charge. It's understandable, from their perspective and given their business goals, but it doesn't do much for music as art or personal expression. Cindy, I've been listening to your music for almost 15 years precisely because you sound like... you, and you write like... you. I'm glad you don't want to sound like anyone else! :)

  2. There is only one you, and it always seemed to me that you followed your own rules and made your own decisions, and it's always been one of the things I most admired about you. I remember Jewel's first album - loved it. It felt like it was hers to make and she did with it what she wanted. Then the record company people got to her and I haven't really liked anything she's done since.

    Your albums always seemed to come directly from you. Your sound has changed, your topic matter has evolved, but your music is so incredibly authentic it's always "spoken" to me on some level.

    And your live shows have been some of the most personal I've ever seen. Quirky, for sure, but heartfelt and the kinds of experiences that truly stop time.