Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday Treats: Carrie Grossman

Sunday Morning I had the immense pleasure to talk with the very loving and very lovable artist, Carrie Grossman. I am careful to label Carrie as a "musician" because one of the great messages I took away from our conversation was on the importance of surrender, the importance of letting go of the stories we tell ourselves, the many labels we confuse as definitions for what or who we are. What was most refreshing in talking with Carrie was to hear an artist say, "I feel so grateful that I have no clue who I am." She went on to say, " I feel like such a mystery to myself and that mystery is bottomless."

When first listening to Carrie's first album, Soma-Bandhu: Friend of the Moon, I felt almost intimidated to write about the music. I am not familiar with the world of Kirtan Chanting nor am I familiar with Vedic Chanting or really any music outside of rock and roll (especially from the 90s), but especially not devotional music. As a writer, my first instinct is to listen for the words, to find the poetry or the story, but when I heard Carrie's angelic, sometimes haunting ( in a very good way), voice carry these chants into my bedroom, I felt like I could take a giant deep breath, like the song was telling me, you don't have to do any work here. 
As someone who has difficulty just relaxing, or just sitting, I not only found sitting and listening to Carrie's album very moving but also very relaxing, somewhat healing. The chanting was soothing and the composition of violin, cello, piano, and so many other instruments I cannot name, all came together in this incredibly powerful and strange and wonderful composition, with dips an echoes and swells, much like feeling ANY emotion, especially (for me) in the songs Jai Mai and Sarve Bhavantu. I listened to the album twice in a row without a break. When Carrie and I talked about this album and what chanting is for her, she stressed the importance of relaxation not just for mind and body but to let the light inside you break through. How can any light enter or exit a body tied in knots? This of course brought us back to the idea of surrender, not just in art, but in life, and how she believes "surrender is not something we can do consciously." That in a way relaxing, surrendering, is a form of giving up, giving up on the stories we make up about ourselves, the lives we think we should be leading, (the book deals we think we should have already achieved!) Surrendering is a way of opening to the infinite mysteries that lie within ourselves and within this world.

At the time Carrie first found these songs pouring through her, she was in a very dark place. She had "given up," retreated to a cabin in the Berkshires, and was recuperating from a mysterious and prolonged illness. As she so eloquently stated in her interview with Tom McCarroll, "I think there are times when you hit the bottom and the bottom opens up into a sky."

 She doesn't know where the songs came from and to this day when a song comes, she sort of looks around like where is this coming from? "It really is like magic."

Before Carrie made the album, if there was any art form she identified most with, it was writing (which she is fantastic at! I could not stop reading her articles). She, in fact, had a sort of awakening while writing a memoir. She applied for a writing fellowship, and much to her surprise was accepted to a month long residency. When I asked Carrie, who is not formally trained in music nor does she hold an MFA degree, how she had the courage in this MFA-saturated world to rise above the pressures to get a formalized degree in art and simply own her art, she admitted that during the writing residency, part of the reason she could not  write while there was that she kept listening to these stories she had made up about herself- how she didn't belong there, how she was not as good a writer because everyone else there had an MFA, you know that whole nasty comparison game so many of us play? Carrie cited that experience as a time when she got caught up in these stories, these fears, also adding "comparison kills creativity." But by the point in her life in which the inspiration for Soma-Bandhu came, Carrie simply said, "With music, there was no more room for me to have any more stories. There was no opportunity for me to create my own persona about being a musician." Later in the conversation she went on to say how she used to live her life very "compartmentalized" i.e. the spiritual life, the artistic life, the persona life, but how now, everything is one in the same. There is no longer a separation between art and life, life and the divine. She described the music as something that was coming from outside of her, it was coming from the universe, that in truth it actually has nothing to do with her and likewise that is also what helped her conquer her fear of sharing her songs and turning what started as an artistic expression into an album, "giving and sharing that music is also not about me."
Carrie is currently trying to reach a pledge goal of $7,000 through the awesome organization Kickstarter.com  in order to fund her next creation, Touch The Sky.  And with a little more help from fellow artists and fellow lovers of life, she will reach this goal! Since Carrie's first album was sort of "birthed" from a very dark and yet surrendering place, Carrie and I discussed the idea of the age-old adage of art having to be created from pain. "I don't think that art has to come from pain." She explained that inherit in our duality as human beings is the dark and the light, the anguish and the gratitude, the sorrow and the amazement, the awe and the wonder. But for her next album, Carrie believes it is definitely coming from a different place. For now, her songs are focused on more of an upbeat Kirtan chanting. "It's a lighter spirit, a different energy."

In closing, I'd like to add an anecdote Carrie shared that I felt like not only represented her life (as she claimed) but I think will resonate with a lot of people whether you are an artist or not. But for her first album she was intent on having it start with the sound of a conch shell (which has a spiritual significance in Hinduism-but for the record, Carrie does not consider herself "of any religion," more spiritual than anything). When she could not find the right sound through that, she was convinced she needed to start the album with a powerful church bell, like a call to prayer. But after testing several bells of all shapes and sizes, no bell was right. Then one day in the middle of January, at a church somewhere in Massachusetts, Carrie and a friend helping her record, decided she needed to ring this particular church bell on this particular frigid morning. This was the one...but there was nothing to hit the bell with. Her friend scrounged up a plunger from inside and then ran inside to record the sound. Carrie, whose hair was still fresh and wet from a shower, now had a hair full of icicles with no hat as she stood with plunger in hand facing the bell in the freezing cold. She burst into laughter as she began to strike the bell with the plunger, thinking, "I mean this is my life, the shit meeting the holy." How true for all of us on this crazy journey we call life.

Carrie, thank you for a truly enlightening and thought-provoking talk and for putting such a beautiful sound into the world. Looking forward to more of you!

Oh, and no, she did not end up using "the plunger hitting the bell" sound, either! You can check out Carrie's website at www.thelightinside.org, click here for her Kickstarter project or check out her Facebook page. Also, you can email her at info@thelightinside.org. Enjoy...

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