About rockmommyct

I am a mother, writer, rock and roll musician, and guitar teacher.

Good Body’s Salves and Tonics = Homemade Goodness for and by Rocker Parents

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Like every mom, I’m multidimensional. I work hard as a writer, guitar teacher, and parent. And I like to stay up late and enjoy live music as much as I like to wake up at the crack of dawn to try a new fitness class.

One of my greatest loves outside of mothering and music is running competitively, which I am now enjoying again for the first time since recovering from back-to-back pregnancies. And as a long-distance runner, I experience a LOT of aches. More often than not, these aches are worse than the cramps in my arms and legs post-gig, after I’ve wielded a guitar for an hour onstage. But the smell of Bengay and desire to keep toxic chemicals off my body (so my young children don’t accidentally inhale or ingest them after a cuddle session), usually means I have to wait out the aches instead of treating them with a topical remedy.

Fellow rockmommy/drummer Trish Naudon Thomas and her husband Chris Thomas, parents of 6-year-old Myla Sol, must’ve felt the same way when they created Good Body Products. The family of three, who relocated to Southern Vermont shortly after Myla Sol was born, have channeled all their creative energy into a line of all-natural skin care salves, creams, and tonics that are ready-made for super-active types like me. Recently, I opted to try a bunch of Good Body Products’ therapies — selected as part of my “one of each” bundle (a huge value at $75) — shortly after I interviewed her on balancing motherhood, music (she and Chris’ band The NATCH! recently finished a string of gigs), and a new startup!

GoodTNTandCTandMST

The Thomas family, creators of Good Body Products

Three months later, having tried all five of the products in my hand-picked Good Body Products kit — pain salve, whipped body butter, home/body mist, sugar scrub, and solid perfume — I can definitely say I’ve become a huge fan of a few of the selections. Here, I’ll discuss my experience with each:

  1. Arnica & Comfrey Joint and Pain Salve ($15)

I’ve never used anything but Bengay on my muscles, so the idea that a natural pain “salve” could work raised suspicion. I’m happy to say that the salve — a thick skin cream that feels like a slightly granular version of an everyday ointment — ended up being the best of the bunch. I rubbed it generously on all of my muscles after a recent half marathon and felt like my old self (sans massage!) in about two days.

NewArnicaTub_IMG_0835_site__48992.1419791114.220.290

Good Body Products’ Arnica-infused pain salve

2. Arnica, St. John’s Wort, and Cedarwood Whipped Body Butter ($30)

I love body butters — they feel so luxe and indulgent. My ankles and elbows are super dry, so I was psyched to try Good Body’s version. The lavender-infused scent was nothing less than intoxicating, and the cream did a great job of softening my dead ankle and elbow skin. The only weird side effect is that every time I use it at night, I experience strange dreams (perhaps that’s a byproduct of St. John’s Wort’s depression-easing effects?).

 

3. Rosemary & Lavender Aromatic Mist ($14) 

I’ve never really used mists, so it was a shock that out of all of the Good Body loot I received, I ended up feeling most attached to the Rosemary & Lavender Aromatic Mist. I now spray it everywhere (my hair, my kids’ clothes, the toilet seat) and anytime I need a mood lift (lavender is, among other things, a well-known mood booster).

GBP_MST01_4_RosemaryMist_Front__15086.1429294564.1280.1280

Good Body Products’ Rosemary & Lavender Aromatic mist

4. Arnica and St. John’s Wort Sugar Body Scrub ($20)

I’m a huge fan of sugar scrubs because they’re softer on my skin than salt scrubs. This one comes with a light, sweet scent, and the oils left my skin feeling smooth (since I’m acne prone, I couldn’t apply as liberally as I’d like, however).

5. Lavender and Patchouli solid scent ($8)

Good Body’s perfectly packaged patchouli-lavender solid perfume immediately reminded me of the Grateful Dead-loving dude I dated in high school. Patchouli carries so many other memories for me, too — Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” cassette tape (yes, Madonna made a patchouli-scented record, for all those post-1989 kids who didn’t buy it), sneaking out with boyfriends who wore Doc Martens, and 1990s rock shows. Few things are grungier or more rock and roll than patchouli, and the solid scent is a nice way to show it off. Because I’m digging florals like jasmine these days, I didn’t wear this one much, but when I did, the scent lasted for several hours.

GBP_SS01_P2_LavenderScent_Front__84928.1429293854.1280.1280

Good Body Products’ Patchouli-Lavender solid scent

Overall, I’m convinced that many natural body products are just as good as their synthetic counterparts. As I write this, I am almost out of the spray tonic and joint pain salve (so I’ll have to order more soon, especially if I run another half marathon this fall). And the sugar scrub is long gone.

It just goes to show that creative mamas (and papas) can make more than great music in their quest to help (and heal) the world.

— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy. 

After-School Rockstars: Music Mama Wendy Mitchell’s Best Advice on Finding the Right Lessons for Your Kids

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Rocker moms and dads who want to start their budding Taylor Swift, Bob Dylan, or Ludwig van Beethoven on music lessons — but have no clue on what to do first — should meet Wendy Mitchell of Ridgefield, Conn.

In addition to playing bass and singing in various original and cover bands with her longtime husband Chris, she’s simultaneously raised three (3!) music-minded kids and held down multiple theater-teacher roles (she’s also battled a rare form of breast cancer, while barely missing a beat).

Recently, Wendy was tapped as the director for national music school Bach to Rock’s newest Ridgefield, Conn., location. In this role, she oversees the music program for the school, which, like its name, offers guided instruction and performance opportunities for most major instruments — guitar, keys, violin, bass, drums, etc.

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 11.54.02 AM

Wendy Mitchell at the mixing board

With the back-to-school activity sign-up insanity is in full swing, Wendy sat down with Rockmommy to talk about encouraging music-minded kids to thrive, what to look for in a teacher, and how to make practice fun.

Rockmommy: As a musician and mother of 3 — two of whom are talented musicians in their own right — how did you encourage your children in the arts at a young age?

Wendy Mitchell: Immersion— they were surrounded by music from the womb (I used to listen to classical and jazz when I was pregnant and put headphones on my belly to soothe them) so it was only natural for them to love it from the beginning. When my son was two he used to climb into the cabinet to play the pots and pans with the wooden spoon so we got him a small drum set when he was about 4 or 5 and he hasn’t stopped playing since.

Rockmommy: There are so many options for kids today, in terms of music and activities. What factors should you consider when trying to figure out the best option for your child (e.g., age, their attention span and whether it warrants private lessons, etc.)?

Wendy Mitchell: Each child’s personality and learning style is different so there is no cookie cutter formula for all kids. The best program to is one that enables your child to thrive, to feel comfortable, safe and valued, and of course one that’s fun. Music lessons shouldn’t be a chore or something they dread— music education should be a place where kids can come to express themselves creatively. As far as attention span goes, for little ones (toddlers), a program that engages their mind and body is one that will capture their interest and help them to learn the basics of music.

Rockmommy: What are some of the “signs” that your preschooler or young child might benefit from an after-school music program? And how do you decide which one (e.g., guitar, piano, voice/chorus, etc.)?

Wendy Mitchell: If your child is always tapping, moving, fidgeting and humming, chances are they would benefit from getting all that rhythm inside out. To figure out which instrument works best, keep in mind the size and shape of their hands and what they’re able to manipulate. For example, a five-year-old’s hands aren’t big enough to fit around the neck of a standard size guitar. Start him/her off on a 3/4-size guitar from your local music store and see how they like it. For kids age 5 to 6 we generally recommend our Kids & Keys program which allows children to reach the piano on their level (literally — it’s a shorter height). This teaches them the notes of the piano, scales and chords and basic rhythm patterns in a fun and interactive way that reaches them on their level. Kids are given a head set for part of the lessons and learn to match pitches and notes by playing a fun computer game..

Rockmommy: It’s been said that children need instructors who possess similar personalities, or enthusiasm. When hiring instructors, what qualities do you look for?

Wendy Mitchell: MUST love kids. PERIOD. Kids (and parents) can sense when a teacher is amazingly talented but hates their job. It’s hard to fake having fun when teaching kids music. We only hire teachers who are not only qualified but truly have a love and a passion for teaching and helping kids express themselves creatively through music.

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 11.53.20 AM

Wendy Mitchell, playing bass with one of her bands.

Rockmommy: Sometimes finances can be a challenge for parents — and the cost of activities can add up. How do you know if a music program or activity is worth the investment (e.g., it has to have great teachers with experience and references, etc.)?

Wendy Mitchell: You get what you pay for. If another music school’s prices are much cheaper than the “going rate” there”s probably a reason why. All of our teachers are not only qualified and come from the top music colleges form around the country but they’re also background checked across a national registry. Parents will know when a music program is worth the investment after they’ve seen progress and excitement in their child in that they want to go to their lessons and look forward to it.

Rockmommy: If your child becomes disinterested after one or two lessons, how can you encourage them to stick it out for at least a few more weeks?

Wendy Mitchell: Learning to finish what they started is a valuable lesson to learn in any aspect in life, especially when they’re young. If we allow our children to quit after things don’t go their way they will want to quit everything— from sports, to jobs, to good habits.

Rockmommy: Often times, parents expect teachers to work miracles — but if a kid doesn’t practice on his/her own, that can affect results. Given this, what advice would you offer parents?

Wendy Mitchell: I’d say that a parent has to be on board and follow what the music teacher suggests in order to get the most our of the program. All parties must be on the same page.

Rockmommy: How do you encourage children to excel at music, while not putting too much pressure on them?

Wendy Mitchell: Practice, practice, practice! Michael Jordan, Arianna Grande, Gabby Douglas or any star athlete or performer didn’t get to where they are without hard work, dedication, and practice at their craft.

— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

5 Exercises to Strengthen Those Toddler-Carrying, Guitar-Carrying Arms

Rockmommies know all about arms, and the importance of keeping them strong. But even if you’re used to carrying one or two 30-pound tots at the same time (haha!), back pains and strains can come when you least expect them.

To help you improve strength and muscle tone while reducing risk of pain and injury, our resident rock mama and personal trainer Sharissa Reichert, who sings and plays washboard for Milf & Dilf, has created a five-minute video you can do anytime (like when your kid naps) and pretty much anywhere.

Disclaimer: These exercises are not intended to replace the guidance of your physician or healthcare provider. If you’re starting a new exercise program, be sure to consult your doctor first.

Happy workout, mamas!

Book of Love’s Susan Ottaviano on Motherhood, Music, and Moving Forward

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Before we became moms and memorized the lyrics to nursery rhymes, many of us had other musical ambitions. But only a handful of us enjoyed rockstar-like experiences and a bit of commercial success.

Book of Love’s lead singer Susan Ottaviano is one of the lucky ones.

Susan2

Susan Ottaviano of Book of Love

In 1986, the year that brought the world “Top Gun,” “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and the sexy-fun Robert Palmer hit “Addicted to Love,” Book of Love emerged from the underground NYC club scene with its self-titled album.

The band, which, in addition to Susan Ottaviano, includes co-founder Ted Ottaviano (songwriter/keyboards/vocals), Lauren Roselli (keyboards/vocals), and Jade Lee (keyboards/vocals), quickly gained a cult following in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

But for Susan Ottaviano, another type of creative endeavor eventually took center stage, when, in 2003, after nearly two decades of steadily making albums, and accumulating a string of hits like “Boy” and “I Touch Roses,” she became a mom to her own little boy. The period after that was, in many ways, a creative blur, as Susan tried to find balance between raising her son, engaging in her artistic and musical endeavors, and working as a freelance food stylist.

This summer, Book of Love embarked on its 30th Anniversary Tour — in celebration of its 1986 album — with all of the original lineup. (If you haven’t, check out the 30th Anniversary Collection on Soundcloud).

In early August, Susan took a break between sold-out Book of Love gigs to chat with Rockmommy about music, creativity, and motherhood. I found her to be warm, personable, and filled with an immense amount of wisdom — see for yourself, in the exchange that follows:

Rockmommy: You’ve been performing on and off with Book of Love for 30 years! How are things going?

Susan Ottaviano: “We’ve gotten back together a bit over the years. We did an album back together in 2000 … and different comebacks felt differently. Sometimes it felt like, ‘do we need to keep doing this?’ or ‘Is this what the world wants?’ or ‘Is this really moving forward?’ You always want your life to be going forward, whatever that means. During some of the ’80s revivals it didn’t feel as good for us. We might have just been lumped together with some of the bands from the time period and that didn’t feel good for us, so we had some stops and starts. This time around we were much more focused about what we wanted to do, and it’s the fans who really inspired us to get back and do this.

Rockmommy: Is it new material and old that you’re playing?

Susan Ottaviano: “We’re doing our classic songs and we’re updating them in the show, and doing a lot of songs we hadn’t performed for many years. In this new album that we have out, it’s a ‘Best of,’ but we have two new songs in it. And we have a new single called ‘All Girl Band,’ which is inspired by our roots and how we got started making music 30 years ago.”

Susan_Son1

Susan Ottaviano and her son.

Rockmommy: How has the crowd changed — or has it? — since the 1980s/1990s? Are you pretty much playing to fans in their 40s and 50s, or their kids?

Susan Ottaviano: “We have a very devoted cult following, and they’ve really come back. The fans are mostly over 40 — a lot of them are getting a babysitter and coming to a show. People are coming out and making a night of it. Clubs are interested in selling food and liquor — so it’s a little bit of a different concert than one a 19-year-old will go to. When we were young and didn’t have any money, the idea that I’d buy more than one drink was just impossible! A lot of these places are looking to turn the tables over.

Rockmommy: I read an interview with your bandmate Ted Ottaviano on writing new material. He said, ‘we ended up not really over-thinking it, we just went and flew our own freak flag.’ Would you agree?

Susan Ottaviano: “We basically just wanted to do the music that we wanted to make. As an artist, that’s what you have to contribute anyway. Do what you love, and hopefully others will love it as well. Just do the best that you can — your personal voice is what you have to offer.”

Rockmommy: When you had your son [in 2003], where you were in your music career?

Susan Ottaviano: “You can’t help but miss a beat during that time period. That’s what it’s for. Every working mother feels like they’re doing everything a little wrong. It’s very difficult to juggle a lot of things. Sometimes you have to lie and say, ‘yes, I’m on that’ when really, the baby’s crying or something’s going on. It’s kind of tough that way to compete. But what I think is that it continues to get easier. At the beginning I was sort of sucking up every bit of information about being a parent, about being a mom. Now, it seems as he’s getting older, I move away from that a little bit. I’m more interested in other things as well, now — I’m interested in adult conversation, or interested in people doing more interesting things. In the beginning, having a child really dominates your life.

Rockmommy: When you had your son, did you have to put music or other work on the back burner?

Susan Ottaviano: When my son was first born, I barely felt that I would be able to return to work. I remember crying on the phone to my sister saying, ‘Is it ok if I don’t want to be a rock star or a stylist, anymore?’ I just felt, right then, that I couldn’t handle it. I was so tired and it was all so new to me. But, things change very quickly, and it’s very important for new moms to know that they just need to hang in there. It gets better! You eventually get the life you used to have back. But, you also get so much more than you can possibly imagine!

Rockmommy: Do you relate to your bandmates who don’t have children?

Susan Ottaviano: “It’s impossible for people [without kids] to relate or really understand. Even in the beginning days, I would say to Ted, ‘I’m going to listen to something, but it’s going to take two days!’ It takes all of your in-the-moment brain power.”

Rockmommy: So there was an adjustment period for your band?

Susan Ottaviano: “Yes. I am also a part of another group that gets together to discuss these very issues. We are all musicians and performers and we are all-moms! We got together a few years back and are still going strong. We talk about our art and our kids and we help each other to facilitate our goals. It’s been a major support!

Rockmommy: How are things going for you and your son these days? Is he a musician? Artist? 

Susan Ottaviano: “He loves sports — he’s into basketball, he’s into rap music. He came to our first show about a month ago, when we played in New York City in the Highline ballroom. He’s a great kid. He sat with his cousins and didn’t say much. I said, ‘a few people might come up to you and say, ‘are you Henry?’ and he goes ‘why would they do that?’ He’s just funny!”

Rockmommy: Did you ever feel like when he was growing up you wanted him to sing too?

Susan Ottaviano: “Maybe I was pushed to do things a little bit more, and take on the music my parents liked. I believe your kid’s job is to rebel against you. What we learned so much in Book of Love in the first ten years we were performing is that each generation, they want their own music. It’s part of their identity. I’m more fascinated with what he can teach me, as opposed to me saying, ‘you need to listen to this kind of music,’ or ‘that is bad music.’ It’s like fashion. I’m more interested in what he’s listening to and what he has to say. He is very creative … I thought I’d have a kid just like me, going to The Met, but it’s not like that. He likes Minecraft.”

Rockmommy: What advice would you give to musician parents — most of whom haven’t achieved as much commercial success as you, and have time management challenges when it comes to balancing everything?

Susan Ottaviano: “I think that it’s a question of figuring out a way to carve your time — try to have some separation, and some time you can spend with [your child]. It’s a difficult thing, thinking about ‘how do I get a babysitter?’ But the kids get older and it happens real fast. My life is completely different then it was six, seven years ago when I was trying to make the doughnuts, and running from work to homework and all of that. If you can try to find people to help you and carve out a little time — try to take on small goals — that helps. Try to do just one thing today. Don’t try to take on the world.Try to just do one thing, such as spending an hour on music.”

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

Rew’s Last Stand: A Beloved NYC Rocker Mom Bids Farewell to Her Internet Show

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

When I first met Rew, at a Girls Rock & Girls Rule 2007 pre-tour meeting, I didn’t know what to make of her.

Here was this woman with the biggest smile I’d ever seen, donned in a black-on-black mishmash of punk-rock and glittery, childlike attire. She was funny and strange, but totally down to earth at the same time.

Soon after that initial meeting, I learned that she had two grade-school-age daughters, which shattered my ideas of what it meant to be a mother — weren’t women supposed to quit playing rock and roll when they became moms? Unless you’re famous and rich, isn’t there some unwritten rule that you spend your limited free time cooking and reading “Good Housekeeping?”

Apparently not.

It’s been about 10 years, and today, I’m also a mom and a rocker, like Rew. And still, she remains one of the coolest, if not the coolest, New York City musician mamas I’ve ever met.

So no one was more pleased than me when, soon after our second tour in 2008, Rew launched the first iteration of what would become “Rew & Who,” her weekly Internet show that gives every musical performer their “15 minutes of fame” and calls on them to confess their deepest, darkest “skeleton” in the closet.  The show is absolutely unlike any “behind-the-scenes” style music profile you’ve ever seen!

When I found out Rew & Who would soon bid adieu to the world of music, I felt a little sad. But I understood. Rew’s a busy musician, mom, and more. Juggling all these things is near impossible and something has to give.

The final “Rew & Who” show will air live on August 17, 2016, 4-6 p.m. at Otto’s Shrunken Head in NYC. (For more on Rew’s other ambitions, check out her April 2015 interview with Rockmommy.

Rew3

Rew of “Rew & Who?”

Here, she answers some of Rockmommy’s burning questions:

Rockmommy: So, August 17, 2016 — is this really the last Rew & Who?

Rew: I hope so!!!

Rockmommy: Or are you continuing the show in another medium?

Rew: I want to start editing all the archives to make a series that can be timeless… we have so much footage of all the years of the show and I really want to WATCH it!!! We have been blessed with so many guests passing thru from NYC and the world and I would rather get it out there than have it rot sitting on YouTube.So editing it into a late-night show that can utilize all the precious moments is my dream for now.

Rockmommy: Why are you ending the show?

Rew: I am ending the show because I have timelessly put my heart and sole into it for so many years. I started as ReWBee’s World at Arizzma studios in Feb 2009 and then August of 2009 it turned into ReW & WhO? overnight. Then on May 19, 2010, Joey Ramone’s birthday, I moved the show to Otto’s Shrunken Head and it became my entire responsibility 100000000000000%. I have been so lucky with so many people who helped each week, Swami was the first to get me going, then Kate Perotti helped for long while, then Caroleen Stewart stuck it out till the very end. I have had some amazing interns as well, my wonderful daughter Harlee, Karen Monteiro, Zoe Davidson, Jonathan Locilento, Caroline Kaplan, Juan and the Fabulous  HooP. There were more too… and I thank them ALL from the bottom of my heart…They helped keep it going while they were there so much and I am eternally grateful.

RewWho1

Rew, hosting her show “Rew & Who” with some musical guests. 

Back to why I am ending… I am tapped out. I have also started acting and right now I got two lead parts in two films and I have so much work memorizing lines, rehearsing and shooting, that I cannot devote all my time to the show at this point. The show takes up ALL of my time — booking, confirming, organizing each week, and so much more. ReW & WhO? is a full-time job and … we still haven’t nailed our fairy god sponsor. So with that said, we appreciate all the donations we got along the way, just it hasn’t been enough to pay the rent so the time has come to close the door for now. THANK YOU OTTO’S SHRUNKEN HEAD, the Branded Saloon, Bungas Den, The Trinity in London and everywhere else we have done the show.

 

Rockmommy: When you look back at the last several years, what are you most proud of accomplishing, in terms of the show?

Rew: My most proud accomplishments are truly being so passionate about the show and barely ever missing a week. The show was so wonderful to me in the ability to meet so many people and I was able to really observe so much passion and talent that exists in this world.  I really am a believer that this world has so much good in it and ReW & WhO is a perfect example of that. I really feel so lucky making so many friends worldwide and really get inspired by everyone who passes through. I love the show’s ability to even disagree peacefully amongst each other no matter what the topic being said was at the moment.  The guests are my biggest accomplishment . The fact that they even wanted to be on the show and then there were so many who consistently want to return, that is just so overwhelmingly huge to me. I thank everyone who passed through and feel so lucky to be apart of this experience.

Rockmommy: Could you tell us about two or three of your favorite guests or moments?

Rew: Truthfully every guest had something to offer. Paul Zest Radio from Canada was a standout guest because he has been one of my biggest supporters of all time. The constant encouragement and kindness that he showed even before meeting us was overwhelming. And then when he visited NYC he was the WhO cohost twice that week (once at Otto’s and then the Brooklyn edition). He even brought us Elvis’ daughter [Elainee Presley] to both episodes, so there are two birds in one stone.

Alan Merrill has become a brother to me throughout the years and Jurgen & Marlowe have become family too as cohosts and non-blood family…my intern Zoe made this as her going away present..

Rockmommy: Who had the best “skeleton” in the closet?

Rew: Hmmm … another hard one to pinpoint. There have been so many amazing ones… some have gotten truly deep and some have even asked to edit them out!! Haha! The one that always was a stand out one my memory, at 14 minutes in from Keith of BITE.

Rockmommy: So with the show off your plate, what’s next for Rew?

Rew: Well as I said the acting is happening, I also will be releasing a single soon with Manta Ray Records, a label out of Baltimore I am working with. We began the song that was inspired from the documentary “AMY” —  I never in a million years knew I would see that film and come home and channel a song right after seeing it. Manta Ray wanted me to release a brand new track with them and that was the one they picked… so stay tuned for “Miss House of Wine” in the near future.

Rockmommy: How are your daughters doing? Are they following in your path as a musician?

Rew: My daughters are incredible and they are following their own paths!!! Eva Lin is actually performing her music and writing the most incredible songs. She has a residency performing every Wednesday in July at Rockwood Music Hall this summer and I am blown way by her. Harlee is pursuing film and she has been writing as she always has her entire life. She has a few screen plays on her hard drive just waiting to turn into masterpieces.

— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy

Ragnar Kjartansson’s Tinseled Female-Guitarist Art Piece ‘Woman in E’ Bothers Me: But is That the Point?

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Let’s start off with this: I am a mom, musician, and feminist. I am not — and have never been — an art critic.

I don’t write brilliant, cerebral dissertations about art exhibits and their overt and subliminal messages. I just like to consume.

woman-in-e

Ragnar Kjartansson’s “Woman in E” (photo credit: Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit)

So when I first heard that The Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., was seeking female guitar players to participate in Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s performance-art piece — and that they would get paid to play an electric guitar — I was ecstatic! I had never heard of a performance-art installation that featured female electric guitarists, letting one after another showcase their dexterity on an axe. So I broadcasted the news on my blog Rockmommy’s Facebook page, hoping that my guitar-wielding pals in the D.C. area (which happens to be my hometown) would jump on this opportunity.

“Applicants will be selected based upon their availability, stage presence, and ability to tune, re-string, and play basic chords on an electric guitar,” the announcement said. The performance-art piece, entitled “Woman in E,” is part of a larger “survey exhibition” dedicated to the artist, which will run October 13, 2016, through January 8, 2017, at The Hirshhorn. Auditions were held in early July for the first 80 applicants (since so many qualified female guitarists were expected to apply).

So far, so good, I told myself. Finally, female guitarists were getting much-deserved recognition on a major scale.

However, when I inquired with The Hirshhorn Museum about the piece, in an effort to learn more so I could relay information to Rockmommy readers, many of whom are women who play the electric guitar exceptionally well, one of the press reps sent me a video that would end up leaving me unexpectedly angry and confused. As it turns out, “Woman in E” consists of a rotating cast of women, standing on a spinning pedestal and strumming the easiest guitar chord in the universe for two-hour clips!

“It’s just a lady on a pedestal playing melancholy chords,” Kjartansson explained in a video interview following the debut of the piece at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. “And it plays a little bit into A-minor and then goes into E-minor again.”

To be fair, Kjartansson admitted the exhibit “is a comment on feminism and objectification.”

Still, after watching the video, I felt put off: Who does this man think he is, showcasing  talented female guitarists —who are an underrepresented, objectified minority among musicians already — in such a limited capacity? Does Kjartansson actually know how to play guitar? (As I would learn later, he was, in fact, the lead guitarist for his band in high school.) Still, the negative judgments loomed large, and I found myself thinking: of course an exhibit like this would be created by a man!

After I’d cooled off, it occurred to me that sometimes one can’t always see the broader landscape, or the bigger vision, that drives an artist to create. You don’t get written up by lofty, high-brow media outlets like The New Yorker if you aren’t stirring debates or furthering conversations or moving people, right? Kjartansson is an impactful artist who does all of these things.

So I decided to take a closer look at some of the press materials associated with this piece and watch the video again.

I learned that “Woman in E” was conceived after the artist learned that an exhibit space he wanted to use had once served as a show room for cars. After learning this, he supposedly got the idea for using a gaudy, gold pedestal to “showcase” a performer like merchandise.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Kjartansson sought to hire a diverse cast of female guitarists.

“The performers are these super-cool Detroit ladies,” he said in the post-MOCA Detroit video interview. “They’re kind of like these Statues of Liberty or something.”

Third, Kjartansson’s art education, upbringing, and surroundings have all contributed to his worldview and artistic expression. Feminist art courses have inspired him to think a lot about issues such as how “violent” it can be to objectify a woman in art; his fascination with America, which can come across as disgust, comes from his being raised “in a socialist anti-American home.”

In one writeup for “Woman in E,” it as explained that “the protagonist powerfully embodies multiple tropes of femininity at once — she is a goddess, conqueror, and siren — but eludes a single narrative.”

This statement pretty much reiterates the message dispatched in the “official” write-up, which I was sent by Hirshhorn’s press rep:

“Kjartansson carries the key of E-minor to immersive hyperbole with Woman in E, an installation that walks a characteristic line of earnestness and caricature. An E-minor chord rings out in endless repetition from within a dazzling tinseled environment, its performer rotating slowly like an idol upon her pedestal … But the female performer here is ultimately powerful, as her audience is allowed to indulge in the melodrama of her evocative performance.”

It’s that last sentence I’m still not sure I agree with, even after sitting with my feelings for a few days.”Woman in E” certainly stirs discussions and inspires thoughts around feminism, femininity, and musicianship. But is the woman really “ultimately powerful” because she is strumming a melancholy minor chord, on display in a Miss America-style gown? I can’t imagine people walking away from this exhibit thinking of these women as “powerful” (though the melancholy expressions on some of the Detroit women’s faces as they strummed the E-minor chord definitely make an impression!).

Wouldn’t the subject be more “ultimately powerful” if she were playing something more complex, like the Pentatonic scale or some other minor scale, suited to her skill set?

Female guitarists are no longer novelties, so I’d love for art involving them to elevate consumers. I wish Kjartansson had given his troupe of dazzling guitar-wielding ladies some leeway to demonstrate their skills. That way, the piece could have still served its purpose as a “comment on female objectification,” but without leaving the art consumer with a limited impression of a woman’s musical potential.

— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

‘I Started a Band with my Toddler’: The Nap Skippers’ Julie Rustad on Life and Gigging with a Wee One

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Lots of musician parents dream of their offspring rocking the stage one day, perhaps after their kid finishes high school. But for drummer mom Julie Rustad and her guitarist husband Jon, their son Syver hadn’t even hit kindergarten before he started showing an interest in the big stage!

Today, the Tucson, Ariz.-based Rustads — Julie, Jon, and 5-year-old son Syver — rock out, family style, at all-ages events across the country with their band The Nap Skippers.

And for moms like me, who play guitar and sing, it’s pretty inspirational to watch.

Recently, mama Julie Rustad chatted with Rockmommy about what it’s like to start a band with your musically inclined toddler — from practicing to playing a gig in front of lots of other families and little ones. While creating a family band might not make sense for every rocker mom — especially if your child, like mine, hates performing — it’s pretty neat to see how the Rustads make it work.

(And if you want to listen while you read, check out their new single “I’m a Desert Dweller” on iTunes or Spotify). Or, check out our video page to catch a glimpse of the three-piece family band!

Rockmommy: How did you get started as a musician? 

Julie Rustad: When I lived in Philly I would play [drums] on cardboard boxes, and took one basic drumming class at Drexel. My first kit was a digital Yamaha kit because I lived in an apartment.

napskippers favorite

The Nap Skippers with Syver Rustad on guitar and lead vocals, and Julie Rusted on drums. Photo credit: SpryTime (Tucson Festival of Books)

My first band started when I moved to Tucson about 13 years ago and it was an all-girl rock band. It got started because the band, a three-piece, they needed a drummer. We called it Sara Bellum. I was out one night, and mentioned I was a self-taught drummer, and this guy I knew mentioned the band, and said, ‘these girls I know are looking for a female drummer. You should hook up with them.’ When I got in the band, I got an acoustic kit.

Rockmommy: How did things change when you became a mom?

JR: My son will be six in September, so he’s over five and a half and he’s my only child. Before I had him, I was in a band called Mozart Sister, and the HypnoGogs with my husband, Jon, and up until 8 months pregnant I was playing shows. Once I had my son, I realized it’s really hard to have an adult band with your spouse — you’ve got to get a sitter, because you’re going to be out, and practice is really hard because of the baby. The family band came as a natural way to do music. So things really shifted from “rock and roll” to family friendly music.

Rockmommy: How did that make you feel? 

JR: It’s really fun because our son’s a natural, to see him thrive is really fun. As for me, I do miss rocking out and that kind of thing. So it’s a balance of feelings.

napskippers second fave

The Rustads (with Jon on guitar and Syver on vocals) play Tucson Festival of Books. Photo by SpryTime

Rockmommy: How old was he when you got started? 

JR: He was 2 or 3. He’s the lead singer, and so … I think it was his second birthday we had a party at the Children’s Museum, and we said, ‘hey, let’s just play some music, some kids’ songs.’ Everyone loved it and that’s how our band was formed. If you go on napskippers.com, you’ll see live videos — he’s the lead and he sings all the songs, and plays different instruments — none obviously, he’s super proficient in — but he’ll strum guitar, or play harmonica. And the first song he wrote was when he was about 3 was called, “Cowboy Kitty.”

Rockmommy: How do you sit down and write a song with a three year old?

JR: I credit Jon, who would kind of sit with Syver, and make a tune while Syver would talk about the words, [like] about this cowboy kitty who’s riding a horse. Jon would come up with the melody and they would come up with it together. It’s almost like normal band practice when you’re writing music when you’re older and doing it too. He’s really humorous!

Rockmommy: Can you tell us about the name ‘Nap Skippers’?

JR: The funny part is he took naps up until the beginning of summer because he started camp, so he had been an awesome napper until he was five, so it’s kind of a joke. But the play on the name is that it sounds a little rebellious [like rock and roll].

Rockmommy: How often do you practice, and play gigs? 

JR: We practice maybe every two weeks. When we have a show, we’ll practice more. We play shows, and we’ve played for our county fairs. Why it took off is that there’s all these family-friendly venues that love having entertainment but family-friendly entertainment. Kids can relate to Syver because he’s a kid! And because he’s a kid, no two shows are ever the same. Sometimes he’ll come up with a weird joke, or do some new move.

Rockmommy: Does he have stage fright?

JR: He does not have any stage fright. We once played for 500 people in North Dakota. The more the better for him. That’s what I mean about him being a natural. I’d be such a shitty parent if I forced him to ‘do it’ or ‘go out there.’ But he loves it!

napskippers 3

The Nap Skippers. Photo credit: Trish Winter

Rockmommy: Don’t you have to have structure at shows? 

JR: He reads the order of the songs we play on paper. We’ve really kept the set kind of the same for a long time. He does like knowing the order of stuff, and we keep it pretty consistent, so if I try to switch the order he knows.

Practice is disjointed, but when there are people there, he feels like it’s a performance [and takes it seriously]. That’s what does it for him — having an audience. Once, when were going to audition for “America’s Got Talent,” one of the talent guys said, ‘send us a good video,’ so we kept recording us playing songs. But when I saw the videos I realized something was missing. Syver seemed kind of ‘blah’ so I asked one of his classmates and her family to come to our studio …  and that’s the video I ended up sending to “America’s Got Talent” — it was better when he had someone to play to. That’s what does it for him. He loves having an audience.

Rockmommy: Does he want to play any instruments?

JR: He says he wants to learn guitar. He’s five and a half, so now we think he’s ready to learn some of the chords.

Rockmommy: If someone wants to play music with their kids, what advice do you have? 

JR: Jon always has a guitar in the living room. I would say, definitely, keep your instruments out and allow for jamming and being spontaneous. Keep them accessible. And make it fun. Band practice is so random, it’s short and he’s all over the place. He’ll jump from the banjo to the ukulele — and Jon and I will hold down the guitar and drum parts — but, you know, he’s a kid. You’ve got to treat it loosely.

— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.