Welcome to my first newsletter of 2015. Thank-you for joining me here. I have a couple of news songs to share with you today, and the stories behind them, followed by some well wishes for the upcoming year.
This past year, while working on my Master’s Degree, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to complete the several songs I did start to write. I did however, manage to complete 3 new songs, two of which were co-written with friends of mine and recorded in the studio. So, I am gifting each of you two new songs! I want to share them with you because you have all been so supportive of my work for so long, and since I don’t have a new album in the works yet, I wanted to give you the two, new recorded songs in mp3 format. Hopefully, most of you access music digitally (surprisingly, I do not…I still listen to cds, the radio…and even more old-school, records!).
The first song, “fYreflies” was written with a young, vibrant friend of mine named Chase McKee last summer. I met Chase at Camp fYrefly (http://www.fyrefly.ualberta.ca) back in the summer of 2012 when I was the artist-in-residence at the camp in Edmonton. Then, last July, Chase and I both attended Camp fYrefly in Calgary, he as a camper, and me as the AIR again. Chase asked me if I would consider writing a song with him during our time at camp. It was awesome that he approached me, because for a couple of years, I had been wanting to write a Camp fYrefly theme song: to capture just how amazing this queer youth camp is, in song. I heartily agreed. Chase also thought writing a song about camp was the perfect idea and so, we sat down for a few songwriting sessions and hammered out the song, “fYreflies”. We had such a great time working together: our creative energy flowed easily, and we laughed a lot. Chase is a very talented when it comes to rhythm, timing and word-play, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time co-writing with him. On the last night of camp, we performed “fYreflies” for all of the campers, staff and volunteers at the Showcase Night. It was a hit and we had a blast performing it for the camp. The co-founder/co-director of the camp loved the song so much that after camp was over, he provided funds for Chase to come to Vancouver so that we could record “fYreflies” in the studio. With my producer, Adam Popowitz, I organized the studio time, including a band: Adam on electric guitar, Toby Peter on bass, Richard Brown on drums, me on acoustic guitar of course, and Chase and I on vocals. We recorded “fYreflies” in August 2014 and gave a copy of the song to Camp fYrefly so they could use it on their website (above), where you can also listen to it. It was a heart-warming experience to be able to introduce Chase to the exciting process of being in the studio. It was also inspiring to see how well he performed and how much he enjoyed himself. We had so much fun together.
Breast Cancer Pink
The other song I co-wrote in October 2014 is a song entitled, “Breast Cancer Pink”, with my friend, Chelsey. I met Chelsey at University of British Columbia (UBC) last spring. She was 29 years old, and she was in the final year of her Ph.D. At first, I only knew her peripherally: she was in the same department as I, the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice, and I would occasionally see her around with other people in the Institute. She had these amazing different hairstyles, often with wild colours like purple, and light blue mixed with bleach blonde. I couldn’t figure out why her hairstyle always changed so drastically. It never even occurred to me that she might be wearing wigs because she had cancer. After all, she seemed quite young and like many people, I don’t associate youth with cancer. So, one day while a bunch of us were sitting down to listen to a guest lecturer, I boldly asked her, “So, what’s under the wigs anyway?” She looked at me and said, “I have breast cancer.” Oh shit. I immediately felt terrible. How could I have been so rude and insensitive? I think I apologized for asking and then, I didn’t say another word. I thought about it throughout the lecture, realizing that my response to her statement was also insensitive. I just didn’t expect her to say that she had cancer, and I wasn’t prepared with a kind and supportive response. So, I called her the next day. We talked for quite a while. She told me about cancer things and I again, apologized for my lack of tact. She told me about her blog and I signed up. It was a blog about her experience with cancer. As the months went by, we became friends. We would talk on the phone now and then. She invited me to her “Bye-bye Left Boob Party”. We ate cake that had breasts drawn in icing on the top. Some of her friends helped her make a breast cast using strips of cloth dipped in plaster which they wrapped around her torso and chest. She was having a left-breast mastectomy in a few days and she wanted to remember her body pre-mastectomy by making a plaster cast she could decorate and keep. She sent me a stop-motion video she had made with a little doll she fashioned at a “cancer camp” she attended. I love the video and I watch it now and then, from my laptop.
As we continued our friendship, I continued reading her blog. Chelsey’s blog is smart, insightful, funny and full of fire. In particular, one installment struck me: it was laced with pain, sorrow, humour and rage. I knew instantly that it would be the basis for a great song. I sent her a text telling her that I wanted to write a song with her using this blog as inspiration. She laughed and agreed. We didn’t pin down a date but just figured it would happen when it happened.
In the meantime last summer, the ex-wife of my partner, Maike (they have two children together) was on a steady decline due to her own cancer, which she and the kids, had been living with for seven years. Maike and I were preparing for everything that her ex-wife’s eventual death would entail, including how we were going to cope with the challenging new journey of parenting the kids full-time; two kids who were about to lose their birth mom to cancer. As some of you may remember from one of my newsletters last fall, their mom passed away last August, and the kids have been with Maike and I every since.
When Chelsey and I finally sat down to write Breast Cancer Pink together in October, I was going through my own breast cancer scare. You see, the previous year, they found a lump, strangely enough, in my left breast, too (this will make more sense when you listen to the song), which turned out to be nothing to worry about. But then, this year, when I had my annual mammogram again in the fall (which another friend of mine likens to having a garage door come down on your chest), it was followed up with a letter from the BC Cancer Agency telling me I needed further testing: an ultra sound. Thankfully, Chelsey knew so much about breast cancer. Being a bit of an academic nerd, she had done a lot of research on it and had much to share with me about what to expect, what to ask…those kinds of things. My ultra sound turned out to be negative, and the screening practitioners and doctors deemed me healthy. But I will continue to monitoring my body every year.
Eventually, Chelsey and I recorded Breast Cancer Pink because I got a small arts grant from UBC for my thesis work and I used the money to record this song, which I hope to include in my thesis as part of my research around songwriting. I think the song rocks, especially at the end, where Chelsey and two of her friends who also have cancer, are singing along with me on the chorus. I have since been to a couple of follow-up appointments with Chelsey and now we are writing an academic paper on breast cancer, songwriting, gender, visibility and belonging, with the goal of getting it published in an academic journal. We are also planning on filming a music video to accompany the song because we feel like it’s an important song that needs to be heard (and seen on YouTube) because it challenges the mainstream narratives that are perpetuated in society about women with breast cancer. We will be putting together a crowd-funding campaign in the near future.
Chelsey and I chose lyrics for Breast Cancer Pink very carefully, words that we feel express our anger and indignation at the way that breast cancer is framed in our culture. Not that Chelsey I don’t understand the need for hope and positive-thinking, we do. But, this song also opens up a space for other feelings to be aired: feelings like anger, grief, humour, and a different kind of hope – hope for a society where we can express what we need to express about what it means to be diagnosed with a life-threatening illness without being told it is “too much”, “too negative”, or “too angry”. This is Chelsey’s story, the story of a brave, intelligent and pissed-off woman who got married, completed her Ph.D and was diagnosed with breast cancer all in the span of a year. And, it may also be the story of other women with breast cancer.
I have learned so much about breast cancer from spending time with Chelsey. I have learned how corporations have “appropriated” breast cancer, and the colour pink in order to sell their products and increase their profit margins. I have learned that dominant narratives of breast cancer in advertising and in the media can, and do, silence and render invisible a lot of women’s stories of their own breast cancer experience. I have begun to notice how “breast cancer pink” is everywhere and how women are told, in overt and covert ways, that contracting breast cancer is their fault because they didn’t eat enough greens, get enough exercise, drank too much red wine, have too much stress in their lives etc.etc. And, of course, in this songwriting process, I have been reminded once again, of the healing power of music and song.
Thanks for reading the stories behind the songs. Please let me know if you have any problems downloading the songs. Chase, Chelsey and I hope you enjoy the songs.
You can download both songs here: http://www.katereid.net/music Go to "New Singles" and you will find the songs.
Heal Myself – The Documentary (www.emtpycupmedia.ca) is finally complete. Carla, Colin and Richard at Empty Cup Media are now busy on festival applications, one of which is Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto, which showcases world premier documentaries by up-and-coming and established filmmakers from around the world. Wish them luck on a successful entry! After that, they hope to screen it in as many festivals and cities as possible. They will be working on a tour for the film this year. It’s amazing to see Carla’s work come together after years of dedication to this project. When she approached me 9 years ago asking to do this film, I had no idea she was actually going to see it through. She’s an amazing artist with drive, talent, vision and oh-my-god commitment.
I have committed to head down to Santa Fe University of Art and Design sometime this spring to work with my good friend, Dr. Corine Frankland, who is a professor and the liberal arts chair at SFUAD. I will be doing some workshops for her students, and a public concert there, and then hopefully, I will be able to spend some time at the New Mexico Women’s Retreat. I lovelovelove going to the women’s retreat there: it is spectacular and such an incredible place to be alone: to just write, hike, eat, sit outside and marvel at the sky and the landscape, and sleep….at least, that is what I do when I go there. The website is slightly out-of-date but the land is so worth a visit for those of you who need to get away and fulfill some creative urges (http://www.nmwomensretreat.com) and by checking out the photos on the website, you may get a sense of why it is so amazing. Other than that, I have nothing else on my musical calendar because I am busy for the next 3 1/2 months doing another semester of seminar leading at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and as a teaching assistant at UBC.
I wish all of you a year filled with joy, laughter, challenges that move you forward in your lives and relationships and peace, where ever you may live. Thanks again for reading my newsletter. I so appreciate that you take the time. All the best for 2015, and by “all the best”, I mean, “everything that is coming your way in this life, the good and not-so-good”, because all of it can teach us something, if we let it. To quote one of my favourite songwriters, “…and maybe the sun will shine or maybe it won't at all, but whatever is coming for you, you get to have it all.” ~ Ferron
Yours in music,