Working Through is the fifth in a series of novels centering around a crowd of forty through seventy something artists from Utica, New York. In the latest story, struggling writer and first-time novelist Heather Toth and her fiance, musician Quin Sartini, land steady work in the arts, working for a woman who appears poised to launch as the next social media star. Working for Michelle Milford should be a dream, an opportunity for both artists to work in interdisciplinary arts, provide arts education, and earn steady income, all while becoming part of a little crowd that supports and encourages each other to do their best to serve others. But things do not often work out as they should…in the arts, at work…or in general.
Heather thought this type of thing would be in the past by the time she reached her fifties, and Quin neared seventy. She thought queen bees, the in-crowd vs. the outcasts, and most of all, bullying would be something they’d be helping grandchildren through, not dealing with themselves. But things are different when you’re an adult, and Heather does not need to take this type of treatment anymore. But what does that mean when you’re an adult?
Join Heather, Quin, Mindy, Brenda, Heidi, and the rest of the crowd from previous novels Lifting the Shadows, Chatting as Adalee, Mostly on the Internet, and Attracting Virtual Reality for a look at an issue often faced, but rarely talked about, among adults in the workplace.
Click here to order your copy from Amazon.
Jess Szabo is a writing teacher, novelist, and arts writer.. the owner and head writer here at Artist Cafe Utica. Her teaching work is done online, and includes students from across the country. Her arts writing and novel writing focus exclusively on the artist community in her adopted hometown of Utica, New York.
Novel excerpt: Current work in progress
By Jess Szabo
In the novel tentatively titled Baxtalo (a romany word meaning “happiness” or “luck”), fifty-something Utica artist Heather Toth has taken what she believes to be a writing job for a local businesswoman in the process of building a business themed podcast. At first, it feels like the perfect way to supplement her day job as an online tutor and earn some extra money to support her slowly emerging creative writing career. But soon, signs that something might not be right begin to emerge. Below is an excerpt from chapter four of the third draft of the novel:
Chapter 4: Not Suited
By the end of my first week at Baxtalo Business Seminars, I’ve only managed to write one article for the blog. Seeing my name up there, on an article somebody actually wanted again is a thrill. It really is. I feel like the actual writing part of my writing career is taking off again.
Michelle doesn’t seem to mind that I’m writing awfully slow. At least it feels like slow writing to me. I come in and do my writing, but Michelle and Courtney don’t sit out in the front. They both sit back here where I sit to write, and the two of them like to talk. And then there’s the phone. Answering the phone is not something I ever want to do again. I’m here as a freelance writer, not as their new receptionist. But every time it rings, Michelle goes, “Heather, get that,” and continues texting on her phone. I’m afraid to tell her “no.”
I can already tell I’m not going to get much done today, even though the phone is not ringing so far. Michelle and one of her podcast hosts are having a loud conversation in the room right when I need to add the final touches to this second assignment and go over it one last time for edits. I wish the two of them would at least go out in that empty lobby. Or go sit in the podcast room. Surely that thing is somewhat soundproofed.
“You want me to tell you something about who doesn’t make it here at Baxtalo?” Michelle suddenly yells. I jump. I can’t help it. She seems to get loud when she’s worked up about something, but this has just progressed to flat out screaming.
The podcast host, a tall skinny white guy in a suit, nods, as it is clearly a rhetorical question. She only wants him to acknowledge that he’s hearing her. He looks like half of him wants to get right up in her face, and half of him wants to take off running. I’d go for running if it were me. He selects to stand there and stare down at her.
“Lazy people who make excuses,” Michelle declares, still yelling. “The ones who say, ‘Oh, I can’t because I work too hard and I’m too tired to prepare’ but turn around and spend half an hour with their coffee at Starbucks every morning. Or the ones who claim they don’t have time to work after hours because they have kids, but they have all evening after the kids go to bed to binge watch Netflix.”
What Michelle is berating this man for sounds like relaxing before and after work to me. Of course I don’t know this man, but he sounds like he’s done nothing more than leave this job at this job. Plus, it’s podcasts. Surely he has something else he does to make a living.
The podcast host finally responds by explaining that he needs some time to relax, and some time to do his own thing, that he’s studying to be in sales, in college, and he needs time to do his studies and work his day job. There it is. I knew it. This only seems to irritate Michelle a little more.
“How are you going to be in business, in sales, if you have the opportunity to promote yourself by promoting us.. but you won’t take it? We’re launching careers here, lifting people up to do their best work, live their best lives, but I can’t lift you if you keep weighing us all down.” Michelle has backed down a bit physically, but her voice is still loud enough to make the guy step back until he nearly topples over the desk next to Courtney.
Glancing over at Courtney, she looks upset, but unsurprised. She’s wearing a black and white pinstripe suit and a red blouse today, and the only moves she makes are to slip the jacket off and adjust the cutouts in the shoulder of her blouse so her bra strap doesn’t show. I expect her to stand up, to intervene somehow. But she stays seated and watches Michelle and whoever this guy might be.
“I show up ready to go online” the guy finally raises his own voice to match Michelle’s tone. “You see me?” He holds out his tie. “Here and ready to go.”
“Yeah today,” Michelle snaps. “But what about the way you talked to our listeners? I’ve had two people request a topic, and twice now you’ve given them some line about how you couldn’t do it.” She’s not yelling anymore, but she’s not calm either. I half expect her to reach over and smack the guy. “Interacting with our audience is one thing that differentiates us from radio,” she’s lecturing. “If you want to do that, you might as well just go find a radio station and be a DJ or something.”
Courtney, the podcast host, and I all stare at her. Radios have had call-ins on their shows, and taken requests for decades now. Baxtalo Business Seminars Podcasts are literally only different from a radio station in that they’re on the internet instead of the airwaves, and the focus is narrower. The three of us exchange glances, checking to see if anyone dares to tell Michelle she’s not making any sense.
“When I started here…” the podcast guy says instead, backing out the door. “I made it clear that I am taking business classes online, and I need time for those. You knew about my other job. I believe I gave you my schedule.”
“Well, things are different now.” Michelle’s tone is almost worse than yelling. It’s condescending. “We’re starting some new things, some new growth, and we need you here to grow with us.”
“Well I can’t grow with you.” The presenter makes “grow” sound like the concept could not get more ridiculous. “I’m here to do the job I agreed to do.”
“That macho attitude doesn’t fly here with me, and you know that,” Courtney snaps. She’s loud again, loud enough that it’s giving me a headache. “I can’t believe you don’t want to do this,” she says, her voice in what would be a whine if it were not so loud, “You watch YouTube. You see how big some of those channels get. We could be bringing in millions of dollars in a year or two, but you don’t want to do the work needed. You don’t even appreciate that you have an advantage here. You have a whole team working with you.”
“You know what?” The podcaster maneuvers until he’s backing out the door.
The above content is property of the author, Jess Szabo
Utica is home to many talented and dedicated artists, and several of those artists can be found at Utica’s only local classic Hip Hop and more station, Phoenix Radio. The station features real DJs and program hosts, talk shows that discuss issues important to Utica, New York, and music that includes both classic favorites and local artists. Phoenix Radio is part of Phoenix Media, which includes The Utica Phoenix newspaper, available both in print and online.
Tune in today, and listen to some of their programming while unwrapping gifts, preparing your holiday meal, or just spending time with members of your household and making your holiday zoom calls.
You could even build your own Phoenix Radio themed Christmas playlist to enjoy today, through the end of the year, and next Christmas season.
This is by no means a complete list of Christmas songs in the genres heard on Phoenix Radio, and everyone will have their own favorites. But these six songs make a great starting point for putting together a unique Christmas playlist.
White Christmas: Diana Krall
This is the same Irving Berlin song we hear all the time, but Krall’s Jazz vocals make it sound like a completely different tune. The original, and most covers, have a bittersweet tone. The singer seems to be dreaming of a white Christmas, and pretty sure one is coming, but there’s usually that wistful quality that makes you think they might be singing the song while locked away alone in the desert for the holiday, writing cards to people they hope will send one back. Krall’s vocals make it sound like she can’t wait until yet another wonderful, white Christmas arrives.
Merry Christmas: Lightnin’ Hopkins
We associate the Blues with lyrics about life’s struggles, but any Blues fan knows that’s not always the case. Overcoming and powering through is also a common theme in the Blues, and Lightin’ Hopkins’ “Merry Christmas” is one of those songs. The narrator seems to have suffered a recent breakup or separation, but the song is about having a great Christmas this year, as the couple has reconciled. His woman is coming home on Christmas day.
Mary Did You Know: Mary J. Blige
Another Christmas classic, Mary Did You Know is always a beautiful song. It’s the vocals that make each version stand out. Mary J. Blige’s vocals on this 1999 recording of the Christmas classic are much softer than her usual style, but when she gets to portion of the lyrics where Jesus’ triumphs over illness and misfortune are detailed, her voice proclaims each one. The version ends with a softer than expected declaration that Jesus is the “Great I Am,” before fading out.
Classic Rap/Hip Hop
Christmas in Hollis: Run DMC
This song tells the story of a man who meets a scary guy and his dog in the dark on December 24th, only to realize it’s Santa and a reindeer. Once Santa flees, the narrator realizes he left his wallet behind, full of money. When the narrator gets home, planning to return Santa’s wallet, he finds a letter from Santa to him…an unexpected twist…and learns the wallet was meant for him. Of course, the rest of the song is about having a wonderful Christmas, but the focus switches to family traditions rather than going on about all the stuff that can be bought. The combination of Santa’s generosity, the narrator’s honesty, and the rest of the song being about Mom’s cooking and a world filled with cheer combine to create a heartwarming, clean Christmas rap.
Please Come Home for Christmas: James Brown
Christmas is not a joyous, peaceful time for many people, and the pressure to be happy and relaxed coupled with cultural pressure to spend money we may not have, can make things even worse. If Christmas is not a happy time for you, this is the Christmas song you want. Unlike Lightin’ Hopkins in Merry Christmas, the person the narrator is singing to in this song is most definitely not coming home. Not only is their love gone, the character in the song has no friends to celebrate the holidays with either.
God Speaking: Mandisa
Mandisa will forever be an example of true Christian treatment of others due to her start on American Idol. At the time of her appearance on the show, Mandisa was a beautiful, glamorous thick young woman. Judge Simon Cowell apparently does not find thick women attractive, because his mic picked up him muttering “Did we get a bigger stage?” in a snarky tone. Mandisa’s response was to treat Cowell with forgiveness and kindness.
This song beautifully reflects Mandisa’s character, with lyrics about God speaking to us through the unexpected or surprising in life, both good and bad. While the song does not directly mention Christmas, it is included on Gospel Christmas playlists, including this one, for so beautifully illustrating the true meaning of the season…the eternal and bottomless love of our creator.
The Little Drummer Boy: The Temptations
There are more versions of The Little Drummer Boy than most of us can keep track of, and while it is a timeless song about giving your talents and skills back to the Lord rather than focusing on material possessions, many versions of it can be a bit depressing. The tempo is slow, and the vocals sound more depressed that the little drummer boy has no expensive gift to bring than overjoyed at the opportunity to play for the Lord. The Temptations performed the song with upbeat vocals and a soft but catchy tempo that makes the little drummer boy and his drum sound triumphant and full of joy.
Be sure to tune in to 95.5 FM: The Heat: Phoenix Radio today for Christmas and throughout the season. To listen online, visit www.955theheat.com. You may hear one of these songs, or another favorite holiday tune. And don’t forget to keep tuning in during the upcoming year for the best in classic Hip-Hop, Rap, Gospel, Soul, R&B, Jazz, and Blues.
After the holidays, considering helping out Phoenix Media’s sister organization “For the Good, Inc,” a Utica non-profit organization.
Artist Cafe Utica would like to wish the staff, volunteers, and contractors of Phoenix Media/For the Good Inc, a very Merry Christmas. And Merry Christmas to all of our readers, and everyone in the Utica artist community.
This is not a sponsored post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Phoenix Media is a client of Artist Cafe Utica, publishing the monthly music column “The Heat Beat” and various features written by the owner of the Artist Cafe Utica website.
Whether we realize it or not, independent artists are freelance workers. We offer our music, novels, arts articles, poems, paintings, or other works to people for a fee or a price. Some of us also teach on a freelance basis, giving lessons or tutorials out of our home. Many also operate side gigs on a freelance basis, such as tutoring in a non-arts subject, working as a driver for Uber, Lyft, or Instacart, or doing maintenance or cleaning independently. As people increasingly work from home, we may even find our salaried work feels like freelancing, as we are responsible for setting up work spaces and scheduling work tasks from our dens and kitchens.
As most of us continue to spend large chunks of time at home, we are often looking for projects to keep us occupied. Devoting some of that time and energy to organizing the work of your career or side gig will not only provide something productive to do now, it will make things run much smoother when everything does normalize again.
Write out a short but detailed business or career description and plan.
Many people balk at the idea of writing out a career or business plan for their art work. At first, I was one of them.The thought of doing this makes me feel like a fool. What business? It’s me.I’m an artist. I teach writing skills to adults. I write fiction. I can sing well enough to join in an open mic, but not well enough to get paid. I can write for and about artists and the arts. Go ahead and feel foolish. Writing about exactly what you’re about, what services you plan to offer, and why will help bring everything else into focus. Consider the following statements:
“I write modern, place based, realistic novels, and blog articles for and about Utica artists, in addition to teaching writing skills to adults online in a salaried position. I am available to write sponsored posts about your business or service, features about music or musicians for your magazine or newspaper, and press releases for your music or other art career. My hobbies are singing and languages.”
“I’m a writer who likes singing and languages and I’m looking for work. I used to be a reporter and feature writer for the newspaper. I have also worked in an office.”
Both of those are me, but the first one is clear about what type of work I’m able and available to do, and offers insight into my skill level. The second one focuses too much on past work I want to leave behind, and is vague about my skill level. “I like singing and languages” could mean I’ve been compared to Diana Krall and am fluent in five languages (I wish), or it could mean I’m that annoying person who belts out off key phrases from songs every time someone says a word that reminds me of one, and spends five hours in front of the tv watching foreign films every night. Mentioning that I used to be a reporter and have worked in an office would only be relevant if I were looking to do that type of work again.
Set up a dedicated online presence
Using Weebly to set up this webpage was easy. I never learned to code, and have no depth perception, meaning I can’t line things up on a screen. I can still used Weebly to run this page. Wordpress is another popular hosting site that most people find easy to use. Other options for an online home for your art practice and/or freelance business include bandcamp, Facebook, and Instagram.
At minimum, your online space should have a business or career description, clear photos, links, or descriptions of the items or services you offer, and a price list.
Here is Lou Santacroce’s bandcamp page: https://lousantacroce.bandcamp.com/releases
Looking at that page, we learn that he’s a Utica based singer-songwriter, arts writer, and novelist, and get a glimpse of the type of music he writes and performs. The prices are clear, and there are samples available. This is a strong online presence for a professional musician.
Gather all of the supplies you need to run your business.
Use free software to create a professional looking invoice. Even if you are in a situation where you speak or perform for cash, your client might want something for their records, or you might want to make one to keep track of what you’ve done. Order business cards. Vista Print, www.vistaprint.com offers professional cards for as low as fifteen dollars for a box of 500. Hit Dollar Tree to stock up on pens, notepads, and other basic office supplies you might need.
This step will vary depending on what you plan to do for work. Writing for and about artists in Utica takes my laptop, notepads, and pens and pencils. People whose second career is teaching children may want to look for work teaching English as a Second Language online for companies like VIPKid. These companies typically won’t work with you unless you have a mini virtual classroom set up in your home. You will need an entire corner you can devote to items such as maps, color charts, alphabet charts, and other traditional school room educational decor.
Publicize your business or career.
We all know about posting things on social media, but consider paper fliers (posted with respect for the owner of the place you post them and others who have fliers up of course) and buying advertising in the local news media. For print ads, visit https://www.uticaphoenix.net/contact-us/ and speak to someone about buying ad space in The Utica Phoenix. You might also want to purchase local radio advertising on Phoenix Radio, 95.5 The Heat. Listen in at www.955theheat.com then get in touch at https://www.955theheat.com/advertise-with-us.html to buy some advertising for your business.
This article is not sponsored. All endorsements and recommendations are my own.
Sponsors Needed for Christmas TV Musical Special; Be a Part of a New Community Christmas Tradition and Support the Arts for Christmas 2020
Christmas is going to be a bit different this year, and that includes Christmas music. Christmas concerts, holiday themed open mics, and pageants are being cancelled, or at least strictly limited. But For the Good, Inc. and Phoenix Media have found a way to bring both the music and the spirit of giving to the community despite the challenges we will continue to face through the 2020 holiday season. A Christmas musical TV special is in the works, and is scheduled to air Tuesday, December 22 from 7-8 p.m. on WKTV CBS-Utica.”
“As we approach the holiday season, it occurred to me that because of the Covid-19 pandemic there will be no high school Christmas concerts, no college Christmas concerts, no music recitals, no Christmas plays or Christmas pageants. And rightly so, but, with the great success of For The Good’s benefit, Juneteenth: A Time for Love musical, that we, WKTV and our many sponsors provided for our community, I thought we should pursue a major holiday concert to air during these coming cold, dark winter months,” said For the Good, Inc. and Phoenix Media CEO and multi-disciplinary artist, Cassandra Harris-Lockwood. “I have heard from many people how good it was to have that musical on the air while in the midst of the lockdown back in June when days were bright and sunny. Imagine the impact we could have if New York has to lockdown again.”
Anyone who has that special album or playlist that brings back their best memories, or helps get them through these days of increased isolation and uncertainty knows that music does indeed have a strong impact on our emotional health and well-being, as does keeping family and community traditions alive, or starting new ones.
Even if we do not return to lockdown, increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases have caused New Yorkers to put anticipated plans for holiday concerts on pause, leaving a void in many families’ traditions. This musical tv special will be an important part of filling that void for Utica residents.
“For The Good, Inc. and Phoenix Media are in a unique position to bring love and light to the people at this seriously difficult time,” added Harris-Lockwood. “We have the ability to reach into the community to pull together a diverse and talented group of musicians and we have mastered the use of the medium to bring that comfort and joy to our friends and neighbors through the magic of modern technology.”
Shifting holiday plans, and missing out on holiday music are tough on everyone, but the battle against Covid-19 has resulted in decreased performance opportunities and income for Utica’s artist community throughout the year particularly those in the performing arts. Sponsoring this upcoming production is one way you can be a part of both providing free Christmas music, and supporting the arts in your community.
“Production costs are considerable and musicians must be paid so, your generous sponsorship is needed to make the concert a reality,” Harris-Lockwood further explained.
Because the Christmas musical event was inspired by the success of the Juneteenth concert, many of the singers from the Juneteenth performance are scheduled to perform, including Grammy Award-winning Oneida Wolf Clan member Joanne Shenandoah, T.K. Howard, and Astena Smith. Cassandra Harris-Lockwood will be taking the stage in addition to organizing the event, singing “Away in a Manger,” Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and more. Utica Singer Theresa Mancuso will be following up her amazing Juneteenth rendition of “I Believe” with “The First Noel,” “Ave Maria,” and for the children, “I Want a Hippoponamous for Christmas.”
Anyone who would like to sponsor the upcoming musical may choose their sponsorship level. Sponsorships range from a $500 Copper level to a $5,000 Platinum level, with each level bringing promotion for the sponsor. Regardless of the sponsorship level you may select, anyone who sponsors this important event will be bringing much needed Christmas cheer to all who watch the broadcast, and showing their support for Utica artists and independent media.
“Please join with us by taking on a Christmas musical TV special sponsorship to support the unique work of For The Good, Inc. to make this most special of Christmas concerts possible and available for our community free of charge,” said Harris-Lockwood.
Detailed information about sponsorship levels can be found below. Arrange your sponsorship today by contacting For the Good, Inc./Phoenix Media at 315-797-2417 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For The Good Christmas Musical Special 2020
This article is a special collaboration between Artist Cafe Utica and Phoenix Media. All content is property of Phoenix Media. This content of this article is also published in the December 2020 edition of “The Heat Beat” by Jess Szabo, in the Utica Phoenix, a For the Good/Phoenix Media publication.
Tune in to 95.5 The Heat Phoenix Radio from 8 pm to 10 pm tonight and every Wednesday evening from 8 until 10 for “Blues Power” hosted by Lou Santacroce. Find “Blues Power” on your radio at 95.5 fm locally, or streaming live at www.955theheat.com. It’s your time to enjoy two hours of the best in Blues!
by Lou Santacroce
(written in commemoration of multi-instrumentalist Milo Fine’s 40 years in music)
Chapter One of “Musicage,” a book consisting of conversations between John Cage and Joan Retallack is titled after one of his sayings: “Art is either a complaint or do something else” (which, admittedly, is his mesostic of something said/written by Jasper Johns). It strikes me that this is what every real artist has done thruought history, and what all true artists are doing today: registering a complaint. The art of the past survives because it represented a complaint about and against the prevailing and accepted art/trends/trendiness of that era’s status quo. That they are accepted as part of the artistic status quo in the present age is irrelevant to how they were perceived in their own day.
The amazing thing is that these rebels and revolutionaries of yore -- so revered today that they are presented to us as models which we must copy if we are to be considered artists by the blessing-bestowing, grant-granting establishment -- were never wholly accepted as artists in their own time. Rembrandt received a commission from a group of guild members who wanted to see themselves memorialized on canvas; they refused to pay him when he returned with a life-sized work depicting them in animated conversation, standing on the street after a meeting – i.e., as real people – rather than in the accepted portraiture mode: seated, expressionless and immobile as statues. Manet’s paintings – though they were routinely allowed into exhibitions -- were also routinely hung so high that people had difficulty seeing them. Cezanne’s early canvases were attacked by gallery patrons wielding umbrellas. Joyce’s publishers sold out the entire first printing of “Dubliners;” every copy was bought by a self-appointed guardian of literary morality who then burned the lot. “Ulysses” was banned in the US for 30 years. Early critics of bop accused Charlie Parker of playing out of tune and people are still shaking their fists at Cecil Taylor. These, of course, are old stories.
What is it about these artists’ refusal to knuckle under to the status quo that so angered those critics of bygone days, and continues to make the critics of today flush crimson? What is it about those who refused to crank out the “business art” that I’m forced to look at while waiting in my doctor’s office, or the music I’m forced to listen to while working out at the local gym, or the eye candy disguised as literature that I see workers devouring on their lunch breaks…what is it about those mavericks, those real artists, that causes critics temperatures to rise? Several things; for one, people get testy not because they are being deprived of their Thomas Kinkade, Winton Marsalis or Daniele Steele fixes – since those charlatans, and others like them, will always be there to sooth the delicate sensibilities of the people whom H.L. Menken dubbed “the herd” – but because every time the sound of a Charlie Parker or a John Coltrane or a Cecil Taylor or a Milo Fine reaches their ears, every time a Samuel Beckett or a Patricia Highsmith dances across their eyes, every time their point of view is disturbed by a Worhol or Lichtenstein, what comes with it is the haunting and irrational fear that that these sounds, words and images will drive the business art, the muzak and the eye candy lit from the marketplace. And irrational is, indeed, the word; as if, suddenly, Barnes and Noble were going to stock nothing but Beckett and Musil; Amazon were going only going to carry CD’s by Evan Parker and Morton Feldman ; Van Vliet (yes, I like his canvases, and not just because he used to be Captain Beefheart) reproductions were going to elbow big-eyed street waifs out of existence at the local arts & crafts store, and the consumers who, above all else, must have something simplistic to consume will have nothing at which to throw their money or bury their heads in so as to forget the banality of their miserable lives.
The critical herd panics even more, since most of them make their living by explaining the easily explained to people who desperately need permission to like or dislike something. How, after all, will they make their living trying to explain what they cannot comprehend? So, they write and speak the language of hysteria, as in (to use a ridiculous example) the wailing and gnashing of critical teeth over the advent of the Sex Pistols and the punk movement of the late 1970’s, as if John Lydon were truly the antichrist (remember how well that comparison worked when they tried it on Mick Jagger during the 1960’s?) who would bring all of music crashing down around us.
Second, the herd bears a seething and lingering resentment toward the above-mentioned artists and others like them, not because they merely bucked an existing system, but because – in many cases – they risked virtually everything to do so. Charlie Parker could have made a decent living wailing away in Jay McShann’s band (or Ellington’s; Duke made the offer) and Coltrane could have done the same by sticking with the early, “Favorite Things” version of his “sheets of sound” innovations (or, again, by joining Ellington). If Cecil Taylor had gone no further than his early work (say, the “Jumpin’ Punkins” period), he would have had a reputation similar to Lennie Tristano’s and would have lived a lot more comfortably through his middle years. And Milo Fine could have ended up as the mid-west's go-to drummer and spent a lot less time cleaning offices.
So, why didn’t they? Because there’s something more important than being comfortable. Art is more important than being comfortable; real art is, in itself, a form of discomfort; discomfort with the present tense, with the notion that this is the way it is and the way it shall, should and always be; and these beliefs, combined with the knowledge that it really IS worth sacrificing everything in order to take the next step, to register the complaint and to keep registering the complaint until SOMETHING begins to move, angers “the heard” like nothing you can imagine; the fact that SOMEONE had the guts to take that fateful, sometimes fatal step and THEY did not! You see, deep down, the herd knows and feels its collective cowardliness. They feel it every hour of every day as they perform mind-numbing tasks at soul-stealing jobs. It gnaws at them as they trudge from home, to work, to the bar, and back home to their oldies radio stations and Nostalgia TV channels (re-living the days when things were better HOW?); the knowledge that there is something better and the knowledge that they do not have the courage to reach out and try for it. Do they ever complain? Sure; they complain to their friends in the bar (complaints that always end in , “Ahhh, whaddaya gonna do?”), they complain to a TV set that runs the same piece of footage over and over (hey, it’s a 24 hour “news and information” channel; gotta fill that time SOME way) while disembodied commentators (always the same voices) make the same disembodied comments just before the commercial break. But, pass the bar? Dump the TV? Change the station? That’s not the type of complaining they’re made for. Too much risk, not enough guarantee of return. Hey: in the end, even Cage liked his apartment in New York City and his cottage in the country too much to complain too loudly.
So, to all of those REAL artists who still hold their hand to the flame: keep complaining. Complain stridently or complain softly, but keep registering those complaints.
Lou Santacroce is a singer-songwriter, music program host, novelist, and arts writer from Utica, New York. For more of his writing about the arts, visit the "Nonfiction Books About the Arts" section of this site. His music and novels are also available here at Artist Cafe Utica. Lou's current music program is "Masters of Jazz," heard exclusively on Phoenix Radio, 95.5 FM or streaming at www.955theheat.com every Sunday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Mindy’s journey into the new age begins innocently enough, with a relaxation ritual at a work meeting. But curiosity about meditation soon takes her down a path into putting the law of attraction and a belief in the ability to manifest things by her own will into practice.
Practices and beliefs known as “new age” are so much a part of our culture these days, we often dabble in them without even realizing what we are doing. Many of us check our horoscope in the local paper or online, or attribute personality traits to our astrological sign. We watch ghost story reality shows on tv. Some of us even visit mediums or psychics, or have tarot cards read “just for fun.”
Resources on guided meditations, practicing the law of attraction, and manifesting things in our lives are mixed in with books, videos, and web pages about maintaining a healthy diet and sleep schedule and setting goals.
New age thought has even crept into our everyday speech, with the words “positive” and “negative” replacing pretty much everything else. We proudly proclaim ourselves to be “ridding our lives of negativity” or “spreading positivity” without realizing using those words in that way stems from the belief that we can create or generate different types of energy on our own from a neutral universe.
But what are we really connecting ourselves to when we delve into new age practices?
Come along with Mindy as she follows the new age path all the way to….the end in Attracting Virtual Reality the fourth installment in a series of stories of forty to sixty something Utica artists.
Click the link above to go directly to the purchase page, or visit www.artistcafeutica.com and click on “Novels” to purchase this novel along with other titles by Utica artists.
We may not be able to get out and around Utica as much as we like these days, but we can always explore our community through the work of our local artists. Utica Hip Hop artist Melz takes us along to the neighborhood he grew up in, Corn Hill, on his latest album “Forlorn.”
Much of “Forlorn” deals with the struggles of working as an artist here in Utica.
“I always write about Utica,” said Melz, whose legal name is Malcom McGill. “And to be honest, it makes my work that much more relateable and transcendent.” He names the late Will Smith, Deandre Preaster, and Josh Wright among his local heroes.
In the albums opening track, Co-exist,” Melz raps, “I drop a track when y’all get sick of all them party songs,” and writes about the difficulties of working hard on your art, but getting less attention paid to it than you would like.
In “Everybody Got a Story,” he reminds his listeners than everyone has struggles, no matter how easy it may look to those on the outside.The track speaks of difficulties many people can relate to, including paying our regular bills as we work on our art.
“The cable bill due, aint even got it. I be on TV, can’t even watch it,” says the stand out line in this song.
Other songs speak out on much deeper themes while still keeping the story in the song focused on his hometown of Utica.
“Glass House” warns of the danger of judging other people, when everyone is flawed, and everyone has made mistakes in their life, while still reflecting on the impact these mistakes have on his hometown with lines such as “You hear somebody died and pray it ain’t a name you know.”
In “Voice of the Ghetto,” Melz speaks of the recent wave of murders of young Black men in our country as a whole, pointing out that white police officers have gotten away with these murders, while noting that a young Black man could never get away with behaving in a similarly violent manner.
Although the album was released on January 1, 2020, the line “Go and kill a cop and they gonna throw the chair at ya…but they kill you, it’s self-defense, they’ll swear it was,” instantly brings to mind the case of Ahmaud Arbery, a young Black man from Georgia who was shot and killed on February 23, 2020 while out for a jog. Two white men, a father and son, decided the jogger was a burglar who had been targeting their neighborhood, and chased him down. Arbery tried to fight his assailants off by grabbing one of the men’s weapons. He was shot and killed. The DA claimed the two were within their rights to chase the unarmed man with a gun. Despite the distance between the setting for Melz’s song and the real murder victim, and the slight difference in the details of the case, one cannot help but think that Melz was reflecting on the lives of local men he fears may wind up in a situation similar to Ahmaud Arbery.
In “Late Bloomers,” Melz returns to encouragement to work hard and focus on your art, as he raps about doing what he loves to make money he can use to help those he loves and lift up the community that launched and sustains his career.
But Utica, New York is not just a setting for the stories in his songs to Melz. Everything about the project supports and encourages artists in upstate New York.
“’Forlorn,” is mixed, produced, and mastered by all upstate New York creatives,” he explained. “That is what I take the most pride in about this project. A bunch of upstate New Yorkers came together to cultivate this sound and feel.”
Melz added that he hopes his music inspires others in his community to follow their dreams.
“I hope my music inspires my fans to follow their dreams, no matter where they are in life or how impossible it may seem at first,” he said.
As a further gesture of support and love for his hometown, Melz offers his music for free on both YouTube and Sound Cloud. Those who wish to support him financially may connect with him on Instagram to inquire about purchasing his merchandise.
“I just want to say ‘shout out’ to everyone in Utica doing their thing!” Melz said. “I see y’all and I support y’all. We are all we got. Let’s show the world what we’re about!”
To enjoy “Forlorn,” and all of Melz’ previous work, visit https://soundcloud.com/melz33 or https://www.youtube.com/user/malcolm1ish/videos
Connect with him at https://www.instagram.com/flyboiidotcom/
Writer’s note: I am aware that the two killers mentioned in the above article have in fact been charged with murder. This does not change the fact that the young jogger is dead, or that the initial response from their community was “They must have been protecting their neighborhood.”
(Photo courtesy of Melz)
Going out isn’t really my thing. I’m more a “stay at home with a good book and some good music” type. But I do like to hang out at a favorite coffeehouse when I can. Cait Devin’s new accoustic album, “Unplugged,” suits both moods. It’s one of those albums that makes great background music for a quiet night in, but also makes the listener look forward to seeing Devin perform the songs onstage.
Fans who do listen to the album at home first, then see Devin perform these songs live may be in for a bit of shock when she first takes the stage, as they will be expecting someone much older to walk out. Cait Devin is only around eighteen years old, but both her guitar playing and vocals sound like she’s been a professional musician for at least twenty years.
“ When I Call You Mine,” brings to mind the strong female singers of the 1990’s. This song could easily fit into a collection of songs by women like Jewel or Shirley Manson of Garbage.
“Cold Blooded” has a 1990’s grunge band feel, making Devin seem a bit like a female Dave Grohl on this track.
While Devin is clearly influenced by 1990’s artists on this album, her own unique style remains apparent. “Falling Down” and “From the Ground Up” bring a more contemplative and contemporary tone to the album overall.
The general mood of the album places it in firmly in the coffeehouse/folk rock genre, but “Ladder” and “Your Sin” both stand out as examples of Devin’s harder edge. It is not difficult to picture her singing and playing guitar in a metal band during either of these songs.
On most albums, there are one or two songs that beg to be played over and over again. The two standouts on Cait Devin’s “Unplugged” are “New York” and “She Got a Call.”
In “New York,” Devin offers the lyric …”all the broken pieces of my mind that you left behind,” guaranteeing this song a spot on everyone’s heartbreak playlist…and a few writing prompt assignments.
“She Got a Call” tells the most compelling story of all the songs on this album. Listening to this song, you cannot help but picture a hopeful woman on a journey after receiving a life changing phone call, and wondering what happens to the character after the song ends.
Fans will of course have to wait until the Covid-19 crisis is over to hear these songs live and in person again….but it’s the perfect album for those already missing the days when we gathered at our favorite coffeehouse to hear great local musical talent.