book reviews, celebrities, mental health, psychology

My review of River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope, by Naomi Judd

It’s hard to believe that a month ago, country music legend Naomi Judd, the maternal half of country music mother-daughter act, The Judds, was still among the living. I was in Italy at the time, enjoying an eagerly anticipated vacation. I was shocked, like so many others were, when I heard of her sudden death on April 30, 2022. Although they weren’t saying it at the time, it was pretty clear that she took her own life. It came out that Naomi Judd had suffered for many years with terrible, untreatable depression and anxiety. And, although she and her daughter, Wynonna, were to be honored for their musical achievements the very next day, Naomi simply couldn’t face life anymore.

Megyn Kelly interviews Naomi Judd about her depression, and her book, River of Time.

I was not a huge fan of The Judds, during their heyday. I do enjoy their music very much now, and I have a few of their greatest hits compilations. I read Naomi’s first book, Love Can Build A Bridge, which was published in the 90s, when Naomi was forced to temporarily retire due to her diagnosis of Hepatitis C. I also saw the made for TV movie based on that book. I also once saw Wynonna perform at a U.S. Army Birthday Ball. But, I am not a super fan of The Judds’ music, and wasn’t following news about them when Naomi died. I didn’t know about Naomi’s struggles with mental illness, and until my friend and fellow blogger, Alex, mentioned it in a comment, I also didn’t know that in 2016, Naomi published a book about her experiences with severe depression and anxiety. Although Naomi’s story clearly turned out to be less victorious than the book’s title, River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope suggests, I decided to delve into it.

I read Naomi Judd’s book for several reasons. First off, I too, have suffered from clinical depression and anxiety myself, and I understand why it seemed so hard to beat it, because I remember how it made me feel. I was fortunate, in that my depression was treatable with talk therapy and Wellbutrin SR. It does, on occasion, rear its head again, but for the most part, I am much better than I once was. Secondly, I am a musician. No, I am not a “star”, and at this point in my life, I will probably never be a star… and frankly, I probably would not WANT to be a star, anyway. But I do make music, and I admire Naomi’s talents as a singer and songwriter. Thirdly, I come from similar, salt-of-the-earth, family stock. I didn’t know it when I started reading River of Time, but I could really relate to a lot of Naomi Judd’s comments about her family, and how people in her family made her feel. I’ll get more into that as this review progresses.

River of Time reads as if it comes straight from Naomi, but in fact, it was ghost written by author, Marcia Wilkie. I appreciated that this book really seemed to come from Naomi Judd’s heart, and I never noticed an intrusion by a professional writer. Some people felt that the book “jumped around a lot” and was “repetitive”. Personally, I didn’t find that an issue, but again, it did seem to me that this was a book coming from Naomi, rather than Marcia Wilkie. I see that at this writing, the book is offered on Kindle for $1.99, probably because ultimately, Naomi succumbed to her depression and committed suicide. I still think it’s well worth reading, for MANY reasons. So here goes…

Naomi Judd’s early years never suggested the great heights she would eventually reach…

Naomi Judd was born Diana Ellen Judd in Ashland, Kentucky on January 11, 1946. Naomi describes Ashland as a “grey”, ugly, industrial city. Her parents were poor, and not at all loving or demonstrative. Naomi made excellent grades in school and was a talented pianist, but her parents barely noticed. However, whenever she got any negative feedback from school officials, her father was quick to get out his belt and “whip” her. Naomi writes that she used to “borrow” her mother’s stiff rubber girdle when her father wanted to use the belt. She’d go to the bathroom, put on the girdle, and let him go to town, while she “hollered” like she was in pain. Apparently, he never caught on to Naomi’s ruse.

In this book, Naomi never refers to her original first name, or Wynonna’s. Wynonna was born Christina Claire Ciminella, although Naomi’s husband at the time of Wy’s birth was not her biological father. Wynonna was conceived when Naomi was seventeen years old, during Naomi’s very first sexual experience. She had a one night stand with a football player, she’d known in high school, a man named Charles Jordan. Naomi explains that she and Jordan got together for their tryst, because Naomi’s brother, Brian, was dying of leukemia. Naomi was very close to Brian, and she was feeling alone and vulnerable. As a lot of young girls do during their teen years, Naomi must have felt that connecting with a young man would make her feel loved and valued. Unfortunately, Charles Jordan abandoned Naomi, as soon as he found out about the pregnancy. Naomi quickly married Michael Ciminella, Ashley’s biological father, because Naomi’s mother, Polly, kicked her out of the family home.

Michael Ciminella’s family was sort of well off, and they lived a more comfortable lifestyle than Naomi’s family did. But Mrs. Ciminella was extremely obsessive about cleanliness and order. Naomi writes that when Wynonna was a baby, her mother-in-law had totally sanitized the whole house, and insisted that everyone wear masks and gloves before handling the baby. Even Naomi was expected to comply.

Naomi and Michael eventually moved to Los Angeles, California, where Ashley was born in April 1968. But the marriage didn’t last, and Naomi was soon raising her young girls by herself, with almost no help from Ciminella. After the divorce, Naomi reclaimed her maiden name and took the opportunity to change her first name, too. She enrolled in nursing school and eventually became a registered nurse. Unfortunately, when she was 22, Naomi was stalked by a violent, ex-con heroin addict, who beat and raped her. Still, somehow Naomi persevered and managed to launch her career in nursing. Meanwhile, she and Wynonna developed their musical chops, and eventually moved to Nashville, where they finally got their big break. Wynonna was eighteen years old when The Judds were on their way, but she and Ashley had still experienced a hardscrabble childhood, as their mother did everything she could to ensure their survival.

Naomi’s life heads south…

The Judds were wildly successful in the 1980s. They had fifteen #1 hit songs, and won dozens of music industry awards. Things seemed poised to continue in that direction, when Naomi started feeling ill. She went to a doctor, who told her that she had contracted Hepatitis C. She was told that her liver was “almost cirrhotic”, and that she had about three years to live. Fortunately, the medical establishment was wrong about her prognosis, but the diagnosis did force Naomi to retire in 1991. The Judds did a huge pay per view concert, which was a very successful event. Naomi eventually remarried in 1989, this time to Larry Strickland, a member of the Palmetto State Quartet, and former backup singer for Elvis Presley.

Although Naomi Judd had achieved great success in music, and also found the love of her life, she experienced extreme episodes of depression that left her feeling suicidal. So she did what wise people do when they feel sick. She saw a Nashville area psychiatrist. The psychiatrist did what a lot of psychiatrists do, when it comes to treating depression. He put her on antidepressants. She went through a huge list of them, and at times, she was never properly tapered off before the next drug was tried. Her doctor also prescribed the anti-anxiety medication, Klonopin. I took Klonopin myself at one time. Fortunately, it did nothing for me, and I quit taking it with ease. A lot of people get addicted to Klonopin, and other benzodiazepines. Naomi did, as did Stevie Nicks. Both women said that the drug destroys creativity and ambition.

The psychiatric drugs, and their lack of efficacy, along with the lack of talk therapy, made Naomi’s situation worse. She eventually landed in a psychiatric hospital at Vanderbilt University to be weaned off of the psychiatric drugs using IV phenobarbital. That was the first of several stays at mental health facilities, to include the psych ward at UCLA, as well as some posh rehab centers. She describes these experiences as if they were all horrifying– even the really plush, luxurious psych hospital was oppressive and terrifying. Eventually, she was able to get treatment from Dr. Jerrold Rosenbaum, a renowned psychiatrist at Mass General, in Boston. However, it was in Boston that she had electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which used shock waves to improve. A lasting side effect from that treatment was the destruction of her ability to enjoy the taste of food. While ruining her sense of taste helped her lose weight, it also made one of her passions, cooking, a lot less enjoyable. She couldn’t even eat the treats she would make for others, because it all tasted “putrid”.

Still, Naomi Judd did find help when she discovered dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which is a technique discovered by psychologist, Marsha Linehan. Naomi explains how the technique helped to center her and improved her mental health. DBT is a technique that is often suggested for people who aren’t helped by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a well-known method for treating depression. As of 2016, Naomi did seem to be very edified by DBT. Unfortunately, we now know that the help she received from DBT was temporary. She never lost her urge to end her life.

Naomi also writes a lot about her family of origin. There was a lot of tragedy in her personal history, some of which came before she was even born. Some of her blood relatives were legitimately severely mentally ill, and more than a couple of folks were real criminals. Indeed, Naomi’s granddaughter, Grace Pauline Kelley, has done time in prison for drug offenses. As I read about Naomi’s grandmother, Edie Mae, who allegedly killed her husband, Howard (who had almost been killed by his own dad, when he was a child), I could definitely see a pattern.

Other people’s reactions to this book…

I took a look at the reviews on Amazon, to see what others thought of Naomi’s story about her mental illness. A lot of people wrote that they found River of Time “depressing”, and they described Naomi as engaging in a “pity party”. Some people wrote that they felt this book was a plea for attention.

Having now read River of Time, I guess I can understand why some people didn’t like the book. The truth is, Naomi’s life was depressing. She came from a family where there was a lot of mental illness and abuse. Naomi was sexually abused when she was very young, and she was not treated with love, consideration, or kindness when she was growing up. And so, it stands to reason that her true story is sad, and it should not be surprising to anyone that there are many depressing elements to Naomi’s life story. She had severe DEPRESSION, for God’s sake. What were people expecting? I do think that anyone who reads this book should NOT be expecting a chirpy book about how beautiful life is. That would be very disingenuous.

I mentioned earlier in this review that I can relate to Naomi’s story. My early years weren’t nearly as traumatic as hers were, by any stretch. But I grew up with an alcoholic father, as she did, and my father’s method of discipline was usually the corporal punishment kind. While I think my mom was more loving that Naomi’s was, she was somewhat cold and uninterested in me, especially when my dad was still alive. Mom is very different now, but when I was a kid, she was rather neglectful. And so, I could relate to Naomi’s yearning to have some acknowledgement from her parents, and other people in her family. I think that “pity party”, “whiny”, and “attention seeking” aspect of her writing that some people don’t like, was actually a facet of her illness. Her parents were, in part, responsible for the condition was was in… and make no mistake about it, it WAS a very real, physical, and mental illness that she couldn’t help. But at least she did TRY to get better, which is more than a lot of people can say. And she was fortunate enough to be able to consult some of the biggest and most successful people in the business. She was even friends with Maya Angelou.

I think the negative comments she got in Amazon reviews came from people who, bless their hearts, just don’t have a clue! They have not experienced depression themselves, so they don’t understand why Naomi, with all she had going for her in life, simply couldn’t snap out of it and be happy. They see her as selfish and self-indulgent, and don’t understand that she experienced real torment. Obviously, that torment was what led her to kill herself at age 76, even as she and Wynonna were about to be honored again. And no, she wasn’t the better singer in The Judds, but she was clearly a big part of the duo’s success. Wynonna was probably destined to be a star, but there’s no denying that her mom helped her on her way. I can understand why Naomi felt that she was left behind, and why that would be one of the many causes of her depression. On the other hand, she also accomplished a lot on her own, and somehow, those accomplishments evidently didn’t raise her opinion of herself, or her life.

Overall…

I’m glad I read River of Time. It is a sad book, and it does have the capability of being depressing, but to me, Naomi’s story felt authentic. I could relate so much to a lot of what she wrote. My heart went out to her, on more than a couple of occasions, and I even felt a little verklempt at times when I read this. I really wish that she could have conquered her demons, and enjoyed her life until its natural end. As we all know, that wasn’t to be. Depression CAN be deadly, though, and her story is a stark reminder of that verifiable fact. It’s easy for people to look at someone else’s life and think they have no reason to be sad, or to complain about anything. I would urge people not to make those kinds of judgments. When it comes down to it, you never know what kind of hell someone might be experiencing privately. Life is tough for most people… even famous, beautiful, talented, and rich people, like Naomi Judd was. I hope wherever her soul is now, she’s finally at peace.

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homosexuality, music, psychology, YouTube

Phil Donahue inadvertently introduces me to a virtuoso…

Monday, after I had finished my usual chores, I was trying to decide what to do with the afternoon. Suddenly, I remembered the old talk show, Donahue, which aired the whole time I was growing up in the 80s. Hosted by the follicle blessed Phil Donahue, husband of actress, Marlo Thomas, this was a show I heard a lot about in those days, but never watched. It was a precursor to Maury Povich and Geraldo Rivera, and even Oprah Winfrey and her protege, Dr. Phil. But, as I was a child in the early 80s, I wasn’t interested in watching talk shows. I do remember the theme music, though, because I think my mom was a fan, even though Donahue was pretty liberal for those days.

Anyway, I went searching on YouTube, and sure enough, someone had posted episodes of Donahue that dated to the early 80s. The first episode I watched was particularly engrossing, as it aired on November 17, 1982. I was ten years old, and AIDS was becoming the latest public health terror. Prior to that year, AIDS existed, but rank and file Americans didn’t hear about it, because people mainly got it in Africa. On that November 1982 episode of Donahue, there were several fascinating guests. There was, Dr. Dan William, a doctor who was one of the pioneers in treating AIDS. Phillip Lanzaratta, man who had Kaposi’s sarcoma was there to talk about the then rare cancerous lesion he had because of AIDS. And there was also, Larry Kramer, a leader of a gay men’s crisis organization. All three of these guests are now dead, although Larry Kramer died fairly recently– in 2020, I believe.

If you have time and are interested, this is a fascinating episode.

What really struck me about the AIDS episode of Donahue is just how new and terrifying the disease was, and just how little we knew about it. I grew up in the time when kids who were unlucky enough to get HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, were not allowed to go to school. Ryan White was one of my contemporaries; he was six months older than me. Years later, I also read the heartbreaking story of Ariel Glaser, daughter of actor Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky and Hutch) and his late white, Elizabeth Glaser, who started hemorrhaging when she was giving birth in 1981. She was given a blood transfusion that, sadly, was contaminated with the virus. She breastfed Ariel, who contracted the virus that way. Elizabeth didn’t know she had the virus until 1985, when she and Ariel both mysteriously got sick. Ariel died in 1988, and her mother helped found the Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Elizabeth, who died in 1994, also had a son with Paul Michael Glaser, Jake. Jake was born with HIV, but has survived into adulthood. Before she died, Elizabeth wrote a book called In the Absence of Angels, which is a great read. I read the paperback version years ago. Maybe I should try to read it again.

Joshua Bell’s dad!

Since I had nothing better to do, I watched the next episode of Donahue that came up on YouTube. That episode, which aired October 14, 1981, had to do with homosexuality. The episode’s title was “Are Gays Born This Way?” I don’t think Lady Gaga was yet born when this show aired. 😉 The guests were Alan Bell, Ph.D. (author of “Sexual Preference”) and Lawrence Hatterer, M.D. (Professor of Psychiatry at Cornell University), each of whom came to their respective conclusions in different ways. I was particularly interested in Dr. Bell’s comments. He was very emphatic about his conclusions. He also reminded me of an old soap opera actor I used to enjoy on Guiding Light, Ron Raines, who played Alan Spaulding in the later years of the show. Interestingly enough, he took over a role that was played by the late Christopher Bernau, who was gay and died in 1988 of a heart attack that was brought on by AIDS. Bernau was only 49 years old when he passed– same age I am now.

Are Gays Born This Way? Yes… but it would take many years before Lady Gaga gave us the news.

I got caught up in the commercials, too, which were very different back then. They were longer, involved actual acting, and often starred people who went on to big fame. For instance, during the Donahue show, the actor Ian Ziering (of the original 90210 fame and a former Guiding Light alum) is in an ad for Scott paper towels. I’m pretty sure I saw Shelley Long, before her film and Cheers days, hawking furniture in another ad.

I looked up Alan Bell, and learned that his son, Joshua, is an incredibly gifted violinist. Much to my shame, I had no idea. He’s a few years older than I am, and very cute. Joshua Bell’s mother, Shirley Bell, worked as a therapist, and his father, Alan Bell, was a highly regarded psychologist at Indiana University. Shirley Bell’s mother was from Minsk, in Belarus, and her father was from Palestine; hence, she was Jewish. Bell was of Scottish descent. No wonder Joshua Bell had such great musical chops. 😉 The story goes that when Joshua was very young, he used rubber bands to make strings across the nine knobs on his dresser. His mother caught him plucking out music he’d heard her playing on the piano. Being a savvy sort of mom, Shirley Bell found her son a violin teacher. Now, Joshua Bell plays a Stradivarius and makes absolutely beautiful music. Seriously, I’m listening to him play as I write this… he really is extraordinary, and he doesn’t just play the classics.

The song I was just listening to… SIGH!!!!
And Joshua Bell playing “live”.

I also learned that Joshua Bell had a touch of his dad in him. Some years ago, he conducted an experiment for the Washington Post, donning a New York Yankees baseball cap and playing 45 minutes for free in the Washington, DC metro station. He earned $32.17 from passersby, not counting the $20 someone who recognized him gave him. Three days prior to his “free” concert in the metro station, Bell earned a whole lot more money playing for paying customers at a concert. Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for his article about the experiment.

Fascinating! You just never know who’s busking.

As an aside, I always make a point of giving money to buskers. I know how much goes into learning how to play music, and I appreciate the ambiance they contribute, especially in Europe. There have been a few occasions when I’ve even cried listening to some of the more talented street players. Like, for instance, a certain Polish guitarist Bill and I met last time we visited Florence (in 2013). We will be going back to Florence at the end of this month. I hope I run into Piotr again… and I’m so glad we bought his beautiful CD.

My friend Donna used to work at a classical radio station when she was a teenager. She said she had a huge crush on Joshua Bell back then. I’m ashamed to say that I simply hadn’t heard of him until two days ago, but last night, I bought several of his albums not having heard them before. I am listening to them now, and I’m not sorry I bought them. And to think I have Phil Donahue to thank for this! Who says you can’t learn from TV? Or from YouTube, for that matter?

Speaking of YouTube… about a month ago, some people on RfM who had endured some of my videos told me that I should try singing on camera. I don’t typically do that, because I get very self-conscious about my appearance. Also, I don’t put on makeup or regular clothes unless I’m going out in public, which I don’t do very often these days. But one poster was pretty adamant that I should try it. He also looks forward to seeing me play guitar and sing at the same time on video. I decided to buy a mic stand after that discussion, but only got around to making an on camera video yesterday. No, I’m not quite ready to play and sing at the same time, but yesterday I decided to record my version of an Alison Krauss cover of “Dreaming My Dreams With You”. I got notified by my favorite karaoke track vendor that the recording was available, so I downloaded it… and since yesterday, it was chilly and cloudy and I wanted to stall walking the dogs, I decided to try it on camera. I kind of cringe watching it, but the music turned out nicely, I think.

No makeup, no bra, and in fact, that is one of my nightgowns I am wearing… But it was well-received, anyway. I shocked a few people who knew me in high school, when I didn’t sing.

I don’t know what today will hold. Wednesday isn’t a big household chore day for me, so I’ll probably watch more Donahue. He does seem to be pretty interested in homosexuality… or at least he was in the 80s. But what really blows me away are some of the comments from the audience members. Listening to some of these folks is a reminder of how different society was in the early 80s. It’s a poignant look at what people who weren’t (or aren’t) straight had to deal with in the days before many people started to accept that not everyone is cisgendered. I generally have a lot of compassion for people who are different, but I am especially compassionate towards people who grew up at a time when it was especially difficult to be who they really are without risking huge consequences. And listening to some of the callers and audience members talk about homosexuality really just drives home what a challenge that must have been for so many people. My heart goes out to them.

Well, so ends another blog post. I’m going to practice guitar and maybe walk the dogs… and then I might look for another rabbit hole to fall into. Later, y’all!

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celebrities, disasters, music, obits, YouTube

Hana Horka bets and loses on deliberately catching COVID-19…

Yesterday, I wrote that I’m really tired of reading and hearing about COVID-19, and all of the preaching related to the virus. That’s still a true statement. However, this morning I read a very sad news story about Hana Horka, a woman from the Czech Republic who deliberately exposed herself to COVID-19. Why? Because like Germany, the Czech Republic is making life harder for the unvaccinated by denying them entry to restaurants, theaters, saunas, and the like. Unfortunately, her decision cost her dearly. Instead of heading for the nearest spa, newly recovered from COVID-19, this woman– only 57 years old when she died– is headed to the Great Beyond– whatever that is.

The story goes that Hana Horka, who was a member of famed Czech band Asonance, was against being vaccinated. Her son, Jan Rek, said that it wasn’t because she believed in any ridiculous conspiracy theories. She didn’t think, for instance, that anyone getting a vaccine was going to be implanted with microchips or have their DNA changed in some way. Rather, Rek says that his mother simply preferred to get COVID and have “natural immunity” to the virus instead of getting a vaccine.

According to Rek, over the Christmas holidays, he and his father, who are both fully vaccinated, both tested positive for COVID-19. Horka determined that this would be her chance to finally contract COVID-19 and qualify for a health pass. So, instead of isolating herself and avoiding her sick family members, Hana Horka deliberately exposed herself to COVID. She looked forward to getting the virus and eventually recovering, which would allow her the ability to, once again, access fun venues that are denied to unvaccinated people in many parts of Europe. Having recovered from the virus, Horka would also have been allowed to perform with Asonance without having to be vaccinated.

At first, it looked like her plan had worked. Two days before she died, Horka posted on social media, “I survived… It was intense. Now there will be theatre, sauna, a concert… and an urgent trip to the sea”. Unfortunately, that was not to be.

On the morning of her untimely death, Horka was feeling better. She got dressed to take a walk. But then her back started to hurt, so she went to her bedroom for a rest. Ten minutes later, she was dead, having choked to death.

I obviously don’t know what happened to cause Horka’s sudden demise, but I have read that COVID can cause blood clots. Perhaps she had a pulmonary embolism, which I know can and does kill people very suddenly. But her son mentions choking, which doesn’t sound like the same thing. Anyway, it’s a very sad loss, especially for her family members and friends, but also for anyone who enjoyed her talents. Asonance is the oldest folk band in the Czech Republic. I have no doubt that Horka’s music was beloved by many of her fellow Czechs as well as others around the world.

Hana Horka at work with her band. The music is over for her, now. I have tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat listening to this.

Horka’s son, Jan Rek, says that he blames the many “anti-vax” groups across Europe who have been protesting vaccine mandates. Approximately 63 percent of the population in the Czech Republic are fully vaccinated. Many of those who aren’t vaccinated have been protesting and rebelling against the government’s new restrictions. There are also reports of anti-vax groups holding “COVID parties”, in much the same way people in the 1970s deliberately exposed children to chicken pox. People who can prove that they have recovered from COVID-19 don’t have to be vaccinated, and they aren’t subjected to the restrictions that punish those who refuse to comply with vaccine mandates.

Rek says the anti-vax groups have “blood on their hands.” According to the Daily Beast, Rek also added:

“I know exactly who influenced her… It makes me sad that she believed strangers more than her proper family… It wasn’t just total disinformation but also views on natural immunity and antibodies acquired through infection.”

Rek said that it was pointless to discuss the merits of getting the vaccine with his mom because the discussion would very quickly become “emotional”. I heard similar comments about one of my unvaccinated sisters from my own mom, who had expressed concern to me that she refused the shots. Mom told me that she couldn’t talk to my sister about her worries, because my sister would very quickly get upset with her. Rek says that now he’s telling his mother’s story, hoping that might persuade some people to get vaccinated. It occurs to me that my sister, who has spent too much time in North Carolina, has a habit of saying “Holy Hannah!” as an exclamation. I can’t help but realize the next time I hear her say that, I’ll probably think of “Holy Hana…” in honor of this singer, who may very well literally be holy now.

I know that yesterday, I complained about the pandemic preaching and lectures on social media. I still do find that an annoying practice. However, I think sharing stories like this one is a valuable practice. The main difference is, like anyone else who has had direct experience with COVID, Hana Horka was a living, breathing, singing person who made real and measurable differences in people’s lives. In Hana’s case, it was obviously with her music, but I know there were other gifts she had that other people enjoyed. She made an unfortunate choice, that ultimately led to her destruction. Her story isn’t a “stale” meme, and it’s not been passed around social media like a plate of microwaved hors d’oeuvres at a party. This is real news, and unfortunately, Hana Horka is just one more face to add to the tragic tapestry of COVID-19 deaths.

Look at how much Hana Horka loved to perform. I wish I had discovered this band in a different way… not because a member died of COVID, but because they make beautiful music.
I think it’s profoundly sad that Hana can no longer sing with her band, all because of a tiny, destructive, deadly virus.

So, as much as I am sick and tired of face mask preaching social media posts, COVID-19 lectures, and arguments among friends and family, I do appreciate stories about real people who made choices, and how those choices worked out for them in the end. I do pay attention to their stories and I don’t laud their deaths. Listening to the videos above, I know that Hana Horka’s death is a real loss to many people. I wish she had chosen differently, and I hope her story informs those who need to know about it. But obviously, people are going to do what they’re going to do, and they’re going to believe what they’re going to believe.

My heart goes out to Horka’s family… especially her son, who obviously grieves for her. I’m sure it’s especially heartbreaking for him to know that his mother got the virus from him and his father. He probably lives with an especially hellish form of survivor’s guilt over that. I wish peace and comfort for them all.

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law, mental health, music, narcissists, psychology

Repost: The clarinetist who dodged a bullet…

This is a repost from June 2018. I am working on finishing reading a book that I want to review. Maybe I’ll be able to do it today. Maybe not. Anyway, I thought this was an interesting story. It appears here mostly as/is, with a couple of new videos added.

I just read an infuriating story on the New York Times.  Eric Ambramovitz, a gifted clarinet player from Canada, was just awarded $375,000 Canadian dollars from a lawsuit he filed against his ex-girlfriend, Jennifer Lee.  Why?  Because she crushed his dream and cost him two years of a promising music career.

In 2013, Ambramovitz and Lee were dating.  Both were music students and Abramovitz had dreams of studying under Yehuda Gilad at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles, California.  But the manipulative and sneaky Ms. Lee did not want her beau of a few months to leave Canada.  So when Abramovitz received the rare, all expenses paid, highly prestigious acceptance to study under Gilad, who only takes on one or two new students per year, Lee intercepted the email, impersonated her ex boyfriend, and turned down the offer.  Then, she sent a fake email to Ambrovitz, indicating that he had not been accepted to study under Gilad at the conservatory.  Instead, he could attend the University of Southern California with a $5000 scholarship, which Lee knew would not be enough.  Abramovitz could not come up with the rest of the $50,000+ tuition charged at USC. 

Lee and Ambramovitz eventually broke up and Ambramovitz finished his bachelor’s degree in music at McGill University in Montreal.  Then in 2016, he traveled to Los Angeles to re-audition for Professor Gilad.  But Gilad was confused, because he remembered that Ambramovitz had already auditioned and turned down the chance to study with him.

It was at that point when Eric Ambramovitz came to the sickening realization that his ex girlfriend had committed some major league relationship fuckery.  He asked Mr. Gilad about the email he had received from “giladyehuda09”.  Gilad said that was not his email address.  At that point, Ambramovitz filed a police report.  Just an aside here, I’m not sure it would have occurred to me to file a police report if I had been victimized in this way, but now that I think about it, it makes perfect sense.  What Ms. Lee did was akin to identity theft.

This man has some serious musical chops! He is definitely no Squidward.

Fortunately, Ambramovitz won acceptance to the University of Southern California, where Mr. Gilad also teaches.  He completed a two year certificate, not on scholarship, and studied under the professor part time.  Professor Gilad testified in court that Ambramovitz made excellent progress studying under him.  However, Ms. Lee’s dishonest hijinks cost the gifted clarinetist two years of his career, as well as missed professional opportunities.  According to the article, 80 percent of clarinetists in North American orchestras consist of Gilad’s former students.

But he survived… and it didn’t crush his spirit.

Ms. Lee did not respond to the lawsuit and had no lawyer listed in the suit.  It’s doubtful that Ambramovitz will ever see any of the money he was awarded.  He has, however, found success as a professional clarinetist.  He just got a job working for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra after having previously worked with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. 

A few things come to mind after having read about this case.  First off, I’m amazed that Ms. Lee had access to her ex boyfriend’s email account.  I wonder why Ambramovitz wasn’t able to log into some kind of school account to see what his admittance status was.  Seems like when I applied to graduate school at USC, I had an account that showed what documents I still needed to submit.  That was in 1999.  I guess that’s not how they do things at all schools.  I see from another article (a much more complete one) that Ms. Lee also did the same thing with Mr. Abramovitz’s successful application to Julliard.

Not only is he insanely talented, but he’s also quite generous with sharing his gifts. I’m so glad he got out of that toxic relationship. He also seems like a really nice person.

I guess it just goes to show you that you can’t trust anyone.  According to another article about this case, Ms. Lee moved fast.  Within a month of their first date, Ambramovitz was staying at her apartment almost full time.  He let her use his laptop and she obviously had access to his passwords.  Actually, if she’s got cluster B tendencies, this makes perfect sense.  They tend to overwhelm their victims with whirlwind romances.  Then, once the poor victim is hooked, cluster B, high conflict types turn into horrible people.   

I’m glad Ambramovitz broke up with that miserable woman.  What an awful thing she did to him!  I hope karma kicks her ass.  But… at least he didn’t marry her.  This kind of sabotaging behavior is what Bill experienced firsthand when he was married to his ex wife.  I liken being in a relationship with someone like that to being chained to a dead tree.  A dead tree might eventually rot enough so a victim can escape, but it could take years of soul crushing before that happens.

Bill suffered damage to his career, his relations with his family, and his finances before he was finally able to break away from his psycho cluster B ex.  While Ambramovitz’s situation is heartbreaking on many levels, at least his story has a happy ending…  as does Bill’s.  Not everyone is so lucky.

ETA: September 2021… I may have to write some about Gabby Petito later. Unfortunately, her story didn’t have a happy ending. Also… fun fact– many years ago, I played clarinet myself. But I did not have a gift for it.

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book reviews, celebrities, music

Repost: Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart write their life stories in Kicking & Dreaming…

I am reposting this May 2014 review I wrote of Ann and Nancy Wilson’s, book Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll. For some reason, I never shared it on my blogs, so technically it’s not a repost from them. It was originally published on PopRockNation, and appears here as/is.

I have admired Ann and Nancy Wilson, talented sisters from Seattle, for as long as I can remember. These two women are among the most respected women in rock & roll. They have enjoyed a career that has spanned over four decades and are longstanding members of a band that has had chart topping songs since the 1970s. Heart is one of a very few bands that has enjoyed that kind of success and Ann and Nancy Wilson were integral to making that success a reality.

Since I am myself a singer and I do love my rock & roll, it seemed natural that I’d want to read Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll. The book was published in 2012, but I just got around to reading it. This book was a lot of fun to read and made me like the Wilson sisters even more than I did before. Ghostwriter Charles R. Cross did a masterful job in making this book sound as if it came straight from the Wilson sisters. When I finished reading, I felt like I’d love to know them as friends.

Back in 2008, Ann Wilson released an album called Hope & Glory. It consisted of duets she did with a number of different famous singers like Elton John, Alison Krauss, Gretchen Wilson, and Wynonna. I remember thinking at the time that the album was very left wing and political, since the songs were mostly covers of anti-war songs. I am married to a man who is about to retire from the Army, so the subject of war is a personal one for me. I bought this album when it first came out and listened to it fairly regularly for a time. At the time, I had no knowledge of the Wilson sisters’ own history with the military. I didn’t know they were Marine brats.

Ann Wilson covers Neil Young’s “War of Man” with help from Alison Krauss.

Ann, Nancy, and Lynn Wilson were the three daughters of John (Dotes) and Lois Wilson, a Marine and his wife. As kids, they had the typical military brat upbringing, with constant moves stateside and abroad. They spent time in Asia, with a couple of years in Taiwan, then came back to California, where Ann had been born in 1950. Eventually, their father left the Marines and became a teacher. The family made a permanent home in Bellevue, Washington, where Ann and Nancy Wilson blossomed into talented musicians who would one day be world famous rock stars.

Kicking & Dreaming is a very engaging book. Each chapter starts with an amusing rundown of what the chapter is about… kind of like a synopsis one might read in a TV Guide. Each sister’s voice is identified before she spins an old story of growing up in the Pacific Northwest, then growing into a music career. The Wilson sisters were fortunate enough to attend schools that promoted the arts, and that helped lead them to learning their craft.

At the age of 12, Nancy Wilson was a good enough guitar player that she was teaching others how to play. Ann was becoming a notable singer, with a big voice that seemed custom made for singing rock & roll. She and Nancy cut their teeth on songs by Led Zeppelin and Elton John. In Heart’s early days, the band’s bread and butter was capably covering songs made famous by other people. They would sneak their original material into their set lists at high school proms and in clubs. Many of the earliest shows were in Canada, because one of Heart’s original members had been a Vietnam draft dodger and couldn’t be in the United States. Consequently, Heart was originally more of a Canadian act… and they even got to play Michael J. Fox’s prom!

Heart sings Magic Man, a song they explain in their book.

The Wilsons are both big fans of rock music, too. There are some charming stories in Kicking & Dreaming about Ann and Nancy growing up, going to concerts, and going on quests to see certain rock worthies in concert. In one chapter, Nancy relates the story of how she borrowed money to buy a ticket from a scalper to see Elton John in concert. The ticket turned out to be fake and she almost got arrested when she tried to use it. Undaunted, she scaled a fence and snuck into the venue to see Elton anyway… and many years later, he became a friend and was the very first person to hear their 2012 album, Fanatic, as they were producing it in a hotel room! Another anecdote is about how Nancy and a friend went on a fruitless quest to find Joni Mitchell’s farm in Canada. Ann and Nancy eventually did meet Joni years later. What struck me about the Wilsons is how grounded and normal they seem; here they are big stars themselves, yet they write of being starstruck when in the presence of people like Paul McCartney.

Kicking & Dreaming doesn’t shy away from the more painful topics, either. Ann and Nancy Wilson had to deal with sexism from music business executives and fellow rock stars alike. In one anecdote, the Wilson sisters write about touring with Lynyrd Skynyrd and, because they were women, being tasked to watch the young son of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s drummer, Artimus Pyle. Pyle basically dropped his kid off with Ann and Nancy and expected them to babysit while he went out on an “errand”. The boy ended up spending the night with the Wilson sisters. Artimus Pyle was later in the 1977 plane crash that killed several members of Lynyrd Skynyrd; he was seriously injured, but ultimately survived.

I also read about Ann Wilson’s struggles with obesity and alcoholism and the health problems that came from those issues. I read about both sisters’ quests for motherhood, which they both achieved, though not through giving birth themselves. They share details about their love affairs and friendships, some of which were with fellow famous people. It made for fascinating reading. I have a lot of empathy for both of them, even as I realize how lucky they are to be so talented and successful. Of course, being talented and successful is no barrier to personal demons and psychic pain; they have both dealt with their fair share. Fortunately, they are close to each other and their older sister, Lynn. They also have many lifelong friends, including Sue Ennis, a songwriter they met when they were just girls. Sue Ennis is a member of the Lovemongers, a band the Wilson sisters formed in the 1990s. She also teaches songwriting and music business classes at Shoreline Community College in Seattle, Washington.

An energetic Heart performance of “Straight On”.

I got a big kick out of the chapter in which Nancy Wilson writes about Sarah Palin’s political campaign ripping off Heart’s big hit, “Barracuda”. When Sarah Palin was a teenager, she played high school basketball and was so aggressive on the court that she was called “Sarah Barracuda”. Naturally, Heart’s big song seemed perfect for her campaign, except Heart never gave permission for her to use the song. No one in the band agreed with Palin’s Republican ideals. Moreover, the song, which was written in the 70s, is about the sleaziness of the music business. Nancy notes that it was kind of ironic that Sarah Palin’s camp would want to use it to promote Palin as a potential Vice President of the United States. In the long run, it turned out Palin’s use of “Barracuda” was lucky, since it got new people listening to it and wanting to know what the song meant.

“Barracuda” in 1977.

Kicking & Dreaming is a fantastic read for Heart fans or for anyone who just likes a rock & roll memoir. Ann and Nancy Wilson have dealt with all kinds of adversity throughout their long careers, yet they still seem like really cool women from Seattle who just want to rock and roll and are lucky enough to get paid to do it for millions of people. I highly recommend their book.

According to Nancy Wilson, Ann and Nancy got paid a lot of money to make this ad!

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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