Mourning the Loss of my Music Community While Trying to Stay Hopeful

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Was it really two weeks ago that my band played a packed club — with barely enough room to move, let alone dance? On the night of February 29, which feels like years ago, my band Trashing Violet played its third show in a string of weekly gigs, and we felt unstoppable. Sure, we’d heard about the “novel coronavirus,” aka COVID-19, but it seemed like a distant thing. A potential threat, health authorities had said, but not a big one for us in Connecticut. We’d be fine. 

I wasn’t prepared for the current pandemic, and the economic fallout that would ensue. The cancellation of conferences. The closure of my kids’ school, which would force me into a homeschooling role I’d never wanted nor prepared for. Guitar lessons getting dropped, because of the need for “social distancing,” a term I’d never before utilized. Now it crosses my lips every day.

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Me (Marisa Mini) preparing for a solo acoustic gig on 3/25 that will now happen in a Facebook Livestream.

Throughout the world, the coronavirus started spreading. And spreading. People stopped shaking hands and hugging. Everything shut down. And we keep getting more and more isolated from each other. One week since “elbow rubbing” became the new handshake, the elbow rub seems like a distant memory.

In my personal life, the biggest casualty of this catastrophe is in my musical life: My band had momentum. But it’s no longer safe to rehearse. There won’t be any new gigs. 

So at the end of last week, two days after my birthday, I cried a lot. My husband had to console me. I had a lot to be thankful for — a nice house, kids who are healthy, work I can do from home and get paid to do. But the life I knew and loved — a perfect life, by all accounts — is now on hold. My new reality gives me only little slivers of time to pursue the things I love: fitness, music, and writing this blog. Forget the dystopian novel I’d been working on. All of the realities I’d imagined for 2200 now seem dated. The future has never been more uncertain. 

The loss of my music community has hit me the hardest. I love my bands — up here in the NYC tristate area and in Washington, D.C., I love my friends’ bands. I love the people I rehearse with, the musicians I open for, the drummers, bassists, singers, keyboardists, and guitarists galore I’m friends with — in real life and on social media channels. Many of these friends have supported me when I had little support from other channels. And now, many of them are struggling. 

Musicians who are super rich, like Gwen Stefani, will probably be fine. No gigging for a month is no big deal, financially. But if you’re a singer in a cover band who depends on bringing home $1,000 to $2,000 a month for club gigs — or you’re a deejay who runs karaoke nights — you’re hurting and/or super stressed right now. I’m sure those of us with “work at home” income will also feel the forthcoming recession soon, but to feel it now and not know where your next paycheck, let alone your next gig, will come from is an especially tough blow. qypxwibBSt21l%3mz81EuA

Yesterday I decided I’d use technology to play Facebook Live shows, and ask for donations via PayPal or Venmo, which I’d transfer to the musicians who are hurting the most. Mark your calendars for March 25, 2020. 🙂

I encouraged my musician friends in the NYC area to do the same. We need to try and spread the wealth we have so the entertainers we love and need don’t lose hope. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Balancing Band Life and Raising Boys: How Much is Too Much of a Good Thing?

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Five years ago, having a few moments to myself to strum my guitar — without getting interrupted by a toddler — was a bit of a miracle. 

Fast forward to 2020 and my two young sons are no longer toddlers. They’re 6- and 7-year-olds with their own interests who need me less and less. This is bittersweet: While I don’t want to repeat the baby years — the diapers! the sleepless nights! the 2-hour nursing sessions! — I miss our constant time together. I miss reading to them big chair, snuggling on the couch, pushing the double stroller to the park while clutching a mug of coffee. The whole bit.

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Baby Nathan, sometime in 2013, and my guitar.

One positive development that’s come out of their independence is my ability to nurture interests of my own again — namely music.

[SEE RELATED: New Year’s Goal #1: Making Time for More Joy and Spontaneous Jam Sessions]

After Nathan was born in 2012, I pretty much put #bandlife on a shelf, save for teaching guitar and the playing occasional solo gig or reunion show with my longtime D.C. pop-punk band Grandma’s Mini. But in 2018, I was ready to fire up the old Fender Stratocaster — and the new Gibson SG — and play out again. The only thing I was missing was bandmates. So I asked the universe to help me find them.

The universe granted my wish. In November of that year, my guitarist pal Anna and I met with rock daddy bassist (and guitarist) Doug E. through Craigslist, scored rehearsal space in a studio, and soon after, brought my friend Jason’s brother Nick D. into the group to play drums. Several rehearsals after that, our band Trashing Violet became a living, breathing, gigging machine. 

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Me, rocking out with my band Trashing Violet at Cafe 9.

Yet amid the sheer joy of playing songs every week in our rehearsal space, never in my wildest dreams did I think we would actually play shows — not just occasionally, but ALL THE TIME. About a month ago, we were asked to play so often that I started getting that nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach when I’d have to ask my husband, yet again, if he minded that I got booked for yet another show. 

As I explain in this interview (below), filmed over the weekend at our gig at Sage Sound Studios, the fact that my bandmates and I found each other in a similar time in our lives was nothing short of pure serendipity. That I could find bandmates with intense day jobs and parental responsibilities who understood that I’m a #mommy first and a #rockmommy second was amazing. 

 

But of course, as we rehearse weekly and gig weekly, my sons are undoubtedly seeing less of me. I’m not there 2 nights a week to tuck them in. My older son, who is especially independent, is OK with this; my younger son gets a little clingy each time I leave (he’s been known to shout “band practice is dumb,” according to dada). It was a bit of a wakeup call when I realized this morning, while scanning photos on my phone, that I have taken more pics of my bandmates than Nathan in the last two months. As I gazed into his dark-chocolate brown eyes, my heart swelled, and I felt a tinge of guilt: Am I playing out too much, and missing out too much on the little things?

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

I realized then that achieving absolute perfect balance in every area of my life would be impossible. At the same time, there are limits. I need to make sure I’m considering the feelings all of the people who need me before I overcommit myself. Time is more precious than ever. Every minute I spend away from my loved ones better be worth it because it’s a minute I’m missing out on being with them.

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My younger son Logan, playing the keys at the local movie theater.

So, yes — I can play consecutive shows if the opportunity arises. I can practice once a week with my band because it makes me happy. I can go on tour for a weekend or even a few days … should the right opportunity arise. But I can’t rehearse every single night and play every Friday and Saturday — nor can (or should) I say “yes” to every opportunity that comes my way. 

When my kids are 14 and 15, I might find that I’m needed even less, and there’s more time to pursue music goals. Maybe I’ll go on a two-week tour. Maybe I’ll do a lot of things — travel to Greece, surf in Hawaii, learn how to play the drums.

But in the immediate future, I need to pause and reflect, and see things through the lens of motherhood: Is a gig I’m being asked to play good for me and my band? Is it worth taking time away from our families? Does it fill my heart with joy?

Putting my family’s needs first is important, even if it means saying “no” once in a while to creative endeavors. And it makes the stuff I say “yes” to all the more special. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy. 

New Year’s Goal #1: Making Time for More Joy and Spontaneous Jam Sessions

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

It’s been quite a year — from my oldest son’s learning to do flips (and learning to read) to my baby boy entering kindergarten, we’ve hit so many parenting milestones. And personal milestones too. My husband sold his company and stepped up his baseball coaching game, while I stepped up my musical endeavors: I played the longest springtime “mommy and me” show at my kid’s preschool, started a rock band with two other parents (and one cool cat mama), and made good on my commitment to play guitar ten minutes a day (except when I was traveling — haven’t figured out how to do that yet!).

[SEE RELATED: “New Year’s Guitar Goals: 10 Minutes Per Day”]

I learned to say “no” to having too many goals, and say “yes” to joy.

This is the most important thing I learned.

The world is a crazy place, and in many ways more terrifying than it was in my own childhood. Between the acceleration of global warming to the tensions in the Middle East exacerbated by our current Administration (sorry to get political, but it’s true), we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I find myself fraught with worry on many mornings like these, wondering if gun violence or terrorism will have a direct impact on those I love.

But while I can’t control tomorrow, I can try to make the most of today. Enjoying my sons and niece while they are young. Spending meaningful time with my husband. Enjoying my parents and in-laws. Appreciating my friendships.

On New Year’s Eve, we had kids ages 1 to 14 hanging out all over my house. Our basement is full of musical instruments, as I always hoped it would be — my husband’s drum kit, a keyboard, lots of shakers and percussion and several of my guitars. Sometime around 9 or 10 (I wasn’t looking), a band of highly sugared-up little ones hit the basement and started jamming out on all the gear. The cacophony of their playing was so perfect — and so right. It made my heart melt a bit.

 

So while we can’t always predict the outcomes of any year, or any action we take, we can change our attitude. We can accept wonderful things when they enter our lives. We can be present for the spontaneous moments that offer so much joy.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

A Summer Playlist That’ll Work for (Almost) Any Kid Under 7

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Pop quiz: What’s the last thing you played in your car? If your answer is Kidz Bop, you’re definitely a parent who wants to make sure your kids aren’t listening profanity-laced tunes while you drive. And/or your name is Nick, and you’re a dad of four who plays the drums. 🙂

To be sure, Kidz Bop puts out some amazing renditions of songs like Cardi B’s “I like it.”

But I sense that what many parents really need more of is good playlists full of adult-friendly songs that you can listen to with the little ones in tow. 

Whether you’re embarking on a family road trip, or are simply tired of hearing “Baby Shark” on repeat, here’s a summer playlist full of seasonal, (mostly) grownup tunes that your kids will love. I can say this with confidence because it’s an actual summer playlist I use for my two sons, both under 7. 

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My son Logan, listening to something on my computer

“Three Little Birds” — Bob Marley

Everything about this song makes me happy. If you’re not burned out on “Legend” from your college years, also download “No Woman No Cry.” 

“Believer” — Imagine Dragons

My littlest one loves the thundering drums and been easily singing along with the chorus. 

“Rock Party” — Kids Imagine Nation

This fun song from the Orange California kind rock trio Kids Imagine Nation calls for some serious dancing. 

[RELATED: The Most Danceable Kiddie Record for Ska- and Punk-loving Parents is Coming in September] 

“Miserlou” — Dick Dale

This surf song is one of my all-time favorites, even without “Pulp Fiction.” Kids will totally dig it too. RIP, Dick Dale.

[SEE RELATED: “How Meeting Dick Dale, My Favorite Guitarist of All Time, Changed My Life”]

“We Will Rock You” — Queen

Stomp, stomp, clap! Stomp, stomp, clap! While some might be offended by this song’s lyrics, my kids love it (and they only remember the first verse anyway). 

“ME!” — Taylor Swift

T-swift’s new one is catchy and uplifting. If you haven’t over-played “Shake it Off” like me, add that one to the list too. 

“Message in a Bottle” — The Police

Who doesn’t love this song? I mean, really? 

“We Are The Dinosaurs” — Laurie Berkner

You might think that this is a children’s song, but trust me, you won’t get the refrain out of your head: “We are the dinosaurs, marching, marching!” 

“How I Love You Sun” — Jessa Campbell & The Saplings

If you like this song, the video is even better! 

“Pony Boy” — Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights

This isn’t a grown-up song, but it’s a super cute little country ditty. And that makes me happy. 

[SEE RELATED: Singer-Songwriter Joanie Leeds on Motherhood, Her Summer Tour & ‘Brooklyn Baby’]

“No Hablo Espanol” 

Backstreet Boys singer Howie D’s first children’s record navigates his unusual upbringing. My kids are obsessed with this song. 

“Firework” — Katy Perry

This song makes me think of the Fourth of July every time.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

From Backstreet Boy to Musical Dad: Howie D. on Love, Fatherhood and New Record ‘Which One Am I?

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

The Backstreet Boys are all dads in their 30s and 40s — which proves you’re never too old to be a pop star, and churn out hits infused with killer vocal harmonies and choreographed dance moves. 

And as the experience of founding member Howie D. proves, you’re never too old to try something completely different and unexpected. 

The vocalist’s first family album ‘Which One am I?’ — which draws on his sometimes-awkward adolescence as the son of a Puerto Rican mom and Irish-American Dad — drops July 12. Judging by the catchy first single, “No Hablo Español” — a Santana-meets-Sesame-Street tune — the record will show us a side of Howie we’ve only glimpsed in interviews and news stories.

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Backstreet Boys vocalist Howie D. will release first family album, Which One Am I?, on July 12.

In the video for “No Hablo Español” Howie’s real-life, 10-year-old son James plays a young boy trying to explain to kids and grown-ups in his community that he doesn’t speak Spanish, isn’t accustomed to spicy foods, and has had few cultural experiences that exemplify his presumed upbringing. It’s a powerful song that encapsulates the struggle experienced by many kids from mixed family backgrounds — especially today.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t taught Spanish at a young age,” Howie D. — whose full name is Howie Dorough — tells Rockmommy. “My response was always ‘No Hablo Español.’”

The album is also inspired by Howie’s perspective as a father of two, who — just like the rest of us — works hard to balance creative career endeavors with the demands of parenting, like shuttling kids to and from school every day (raise your hand if you can relate!). 

So how does he do it all? 

We caught up with Howie D., who is currently on the Backstreet Boys DNA World Tour, to find out more. 

Rockmommy: I just finished watching the video for “No Hablo Español” — it’s like Sesame Street meets a Broadway musical! How did the song (and the album Which One Am I?) come about?

Howie D: Thank you, that’s such a compliment and exactly what I was looking to achieve. The idea for the song “No Hablo Español” came from my experiences as a child and people assuming I spoke Spanish by the way I look. Unfortunately, I wasn’t taught Spanish at a young age. My response was always: “No Hablo Español.” The album is based off different childhood experiences and challenges I faced.

Rockmommy: When did it occur to you that you wanted to create a family album? Was there a moment? Or did the idea sort of percolate over time?

Howie D: This idea started when my eldest was about 5 years old. I wanted to find a way to connect with him on a musical level. I had a hard time relating to music that was out there at the time. It made me wonder why there wasn’t more music that kids and parents could enjoy together. Also, as I looked into the audience at a Backstreet Boys show one day, I noticed a lot of kids coming to the shows with their BSB fan parents. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back… and I began working on what is now Which One Am I?

Rockmommy: You became a husband and then a dad after decades of musical success with the Backstreet Boys. How has parenthood changed you, personally?

Howie D.: Parenthood has taught me to be selfless. Having a family has really balanced me out in life. Now, I am able to truly understand the meaning of working hard, but also the meaning of being a family man too.

Rockmommy: How has parenthood influenced your music (or even your tour schedule)?

Howie D.: Parenthood has influenced my music by making me think about different subjects. I am inspired by different things nowadays. All 5 of us in the Backstreet Boys are now parents. We try to work together on a schedule that allows us to work hard and put in quality time with our families, even if it is on the road.

Rockmommy: Do your boys enjoy playing music or sing with you?

Howie D.: My kids LOVE singing with me. On the way to school — I am the bus driver when I am home — we are always singing along and rewriting songs we hear on the radio. James definitely has the entertainer bug! He loves singing and dancing. He even takes voice lessons from my sister, Pollyanna [Dorough].

Rockmommy: Do you go to “daddy and me” toddler music classes or anything like that? Or just jam at home?

Howie D.: When my kids were younger, I would go to Gymboree with them. This also inspired me to want to make something more entertaining for families!

Rockmommy: Having a busy work life and kids can be hard on marriage. How do you make it work?

Howie D.: I try to put in quality time for both. When me and my wife are back home, we have a date night once a week. It brings us back to a time when it was just the two of us! Marriage is something you always work on. As I mentioned, I am the bus driver when I’m at home. I love that quality time with the kids in the morning and afternoons.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor of Rockmommy. 

Sukey Molloy Discusses ‘Five Little Oysters’ and Using Music to Engage Children

By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Children’s music artist Sukey Molloy brings joy and music into children’s lives on a regular basis, but when she got her start in 1985, she was more focused on leveraging the power of movement. More than 30 years later, Molloy can’t imagine her life or career without music (or movement), and has written dozens of engaging songs for the littlest listeners.

Here, she catches up with Rockmommy about her latest project, Five Little Oysters.

Rockmommy: You began working with children in 1985. How did it occur to you to bring music into the picture?SukeyMolloy07-72+photo credit Dyana Van Campen

Sukey Molloy: My work with young children began with an interest in exploring movement activities to nourish the developing brain. As the program developed, it was a natural step to include music and singing as part of the overall ‘learning through play’ emphasis. I first adapted and created new lyrics for familiar traditional tunes, and then began writing my own songs to accompany the movement activities I was exploring with children. It became clear early on that music and movement together create an atmosphere of play and learning that complement one another in a very natural way — and serve as a remarkable invitation for children to learn while having fun!

Rockmommy: How did you create ‘Five Little Oysters’?

Sukey Molloy: The album ‘Five Little Oysters’ was created with my co-producer, Larry Alexander, and is intended to feature favorite, traditional tunes, along with original tunes, poem, and story. And of course, I adapted many new lyrics for the traditional songs, but the melodies remain as known, along with lots of special nuances and fun sound effects with surprising twists and turns. We are very proud that the album won the NAPPA Award! As for the Five Little Oysters audio picture book and animation, I created those images in my felt art studio, and once the book was completed, I worked with my animation friend Mark Marshall to create the “Five Little Oysters” animation video for YouTube.


Rockmommy: What do you love best about what you do?

Sukey Molloy: There’s a special look that appears on a child’s face when an activity calls the attention, and the child becomes fully engaged. That particular quality of participation, when the child attends completely voluntarily, is the most rewarding moment for me. And particularly when it happens to a whole room of parents and young children at the same time! There is a deep resonance for me when what I am bringing attracts the attention in the room, and allows a group of children and families to feel the joy of learning through movement, music, and play. I believe that this experience helps them to feel acknowledged and respected, and to feel the encouragement and permission to relax and enjoy the moment.

Rockmommy: From where do you draw your inspiration?

Sukey Molloy: I feel we all have a little child within who remains there from our birth, and it is that small child in myself who I call upon to help me locate the melodies, lyrics, felt art images, and movement vocabulary I bring to my work. Also, along with that childlike ambiance, I have studied developmentally based music and movement education, and I make sure to include that understanding when I am creating songs, stories, books, videos, and movement programs. But most importantly, I draw inspiration from the children and families I have had the privilege to work with over the years who are my greatest teachers!

Rockmommy: What do the best circle times for children have in common?

Sukey Molloy: Learning through doing, hands-on materials and activities, full engagement and participation, fun and laughter and a feeling of ‘I can.’ And so much more!

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

On Taking Chances and Embarking on New Adventures Post-Kids

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

From the moment I set foot on my first airplane at age 4, I’ve always loved traveling — from exploring Disney World as a little girl to setting foot in Amsterdam, Rome, London, Paris, Belize and countless other places as an adult.img_3850

I’ve slept on floors of friends’ ramshackle houses, exhausted from playing back-to-back rock shows. I’ve enjoyed plush hotel beds in foreign cities and quaint countrysides with my family — especially my grandmother Mary, who would take me wherever she wanted to go, regardless of my age. One of my fondest memories is of the time she took me to a casino on Paradise Island (the Bahamas) and insisted that I was 18 (I was 12, maybe 13 at the time).

These days, I spend more time envying my friends’ travel pics on Instagram — especially my parent friends — than I do actually traveling. I’m not a touring musician by any stretch of the word, and taking kids anywhere is expensive. As a result, I’m grounded most of the time. I have a bucket list, of course — it includes Greece, Hawaii, Croatia, among other destinations — but it’s not something I’m actively checking off.

So when my husband surprised me on our anniversary with a trip to Jamaica, I was ecstatic — but a little less enthusiastic than I would have been 10 years ago. My adventure “muscle” is out of shape. Could I really bring myself to go to another country for a few days? Sure, we’d gone to Nashville for two nights in 2015, and a honeymoon in 2010 in Belize, but times have changed. We’re in the middle of a government shutdown and the current political climate is anxiety-inducing.

I need only look at photos from my youth to realize that I miss my old, whimsical self. The one who wasn’t afraid of plane flights or long security lines. The one who favored grit, not glamour. The one who could be wowed by a flock of dirty pigeons in Venice, Italy, or muscled Gods in Venice, California. This girl is still inside me, I just need to dig her out. Yeah, the one who tried Haggis in Scotland while her distressed parents looked on. I want that girl back! img_3851

I guess my message is this: Try not to let life and parenthood make you forget who you are. Sure, you’re older and wiser (and likely more considerate and careful), but you don’t need to forget how to be curious, and embrace the unknown. I write this to myself as much as anyone else, hoping the words will sink in if I push hard enough on the computer keys. Maybe they will.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.