Music was my first love. It helped me to anchor in a world that I felt lost in. I started playing the piano when I was five years old. I was trained in green music, a Japanese method in which the student plays back what they hear instead of reading music. This was an incredible gift as my parents and I did not know at the time that I had processing difficulties. I have sensory processing disorder. I hear all sounds at the same level because my brain does not know how to filter out background noise. Learning music at such a young age was literally how I coped from then on in the world with sensory issues. I started playing piano at five, trumpet at ten, guitar (self taught) at 13, drums at 21, bass at 22, and mellophonium at 23.
When I hear music I suspect that I am also hearing differently from a neuro-typical person. Because of my processing difficulties and learning issues I never learned properly how to understand the written notes of music. I am not dyslexic but my brain sort of fizzles out when I try and read music, process sound, and navigate playing music with other musicians. In band I was able to play not because I could read the music perfectly, but because my hearing helped me to know what was to be played. I would often play harmonies that were not written on the page. I would hear melody and play it where none was written, and although this is quite a gift, it caused me great impairment when I tried to go to college for music. Because I was not diagnosed with sensory issues or autism until 35, I learned strategies to continue in the music business that I didn’t quite fit into. I went to college for music right after high school and that is where the problems in getting a degree in music came in. I could not follow lecture as I cannot learn by hearing because of my anxiety and sensory issues. I dropped out in the first semester, confused and feeling incredibly down on myself. I am never down for long though and just decided to start my own band. I used my skill of hearing melody and playing and had a fairly successful underground girl band called Carrie Incognita. I struggled socially throughout the entirety of playing in this band. I loved band practice but my sensory issues kept me from enjoying any of the aspects of playing shows and I often did not show up to practice because of this. You can listen to some of our sounds here:
From there I went on to play many different instruments in many different types of music. The first after my stint as a riot grrl came with my debut solo album called Exigency. I taught myself how to record music and used cubase to create five small songs. The style was cabaret piano gypsy folk music. I am too embarrassed to ever show anyone these songs. During this time I became agoraphobic. I had moved to Boston on a whim and worked at an art store full time. I started riding the subway to work and after each ride I would have meltdowns and anxiety attacks. I quit riding the subway because I could not handle the sights, smells, and sounds of public transportation. I started riding my bike instead. I lived in Boston for three years and never took public transportation. I rode my bike year round, through blizzards, and snow storms to avoid the panic of public transportation. It soon moved over into anxiety that was so severe I had to go to the hospital. It was then that I was diagnosed with PTSD. I didn’t do much about the diagnosis, I just kept playing music. I got a job at the piano store that maintaned all the pianos for Berklee College of Music. It was a dream as I had the keys to the shop and closed up. I was an administrative employee and I got to play pianos until wee hours of the night. I managed to handle my anxiety with retreating into the song of the piano. I was told through friends how to get into the Conservatory college in Boston and when needed I also got to play pianos there. I social situations I would often disappear from my friends. Many people would have no idea where I went as I would become overwhelmed and run to the pianos. Hotels, colleges, work, where ever I could find them it was there I would go to play. Interestingly I was rarely ever asked to leave anywhere I played. I do not know the music of others except for Beethoven-Fur Elise which I taught myself to play by listening to the tape. No, in these hours I would play the sounds my fingers made, tracing each key with memory, lost in sound. Many of these songs are lost to time played away on pianos throughout the city of Boston.
Through all this I met Amanda Palmer from the Dresdon Dolls. I had heard their music and fell in love. This was before they were really truly famous anywhere but Boston. As I was extremely naive and inept socially I found a home within the misfits that followed the Dresdon Dolls. I even befriended at started dating one of their friends. He was an alcoholic and at the time I suppose I probably was too. Atleast I tried to keep up as it seemed the socially acceptable thing to do, with him anyway. Then I realized drinking was awful and just ran away from him. I did not realize it at the time but I sought refuge in the arms of men. I was alone, confused, lost, and full of anxiety and fear and I’m not sure anyone at the time realized it, I certainly didn’t, but PTSD was a real diagnosis for me and I was suffering deeply. All the while I was so enamored with this group of people I had found that lived life to the fullest in all of their splendid uniqueness, and from witnessing Amanda I learned how to shine myself. She asked me to work with some of her theater friends who were putting on a performance at one of the Dresdon Doll shows. I regret that I have no pictures of this as I made a full can can dress for one of the actors and have no idea what became of it. I loved dressing up as a doll and losing myself in a world that Amanda and Brian created for all of us misfits to shine in. I was even asked to open for a show that Amanda put together for women pianists. It was a very small show but I was amazed to be believed in and given such a chance. I cannot remember lyrics to my songs because of the nerves of performing live and sensory issues and had to carry lyric sheets with me. Amanda said I should learn my songs as It isn’t professional to carry lyrics papers. I was devastated. I had hoped that I could be a musician but saw that my issues again were keeping me from it. I stopped playing live for a time. I was ashamed. My anxiety was so severe. I tried to play music live anyway and just found it so difficult to navigate every aspect that comes with being overwhelmed by the world both from sensory processing and PTSD. In private or small settings I have no problem playing music. When I try to play live because I am navigating all sensations, sight, sound, and touch at the same time I have very little left over to be able to handle performing. It was then that I met my first boyfriend who also, I believe anyway, is on the spectrum. He was going to Berklee College of music. He was in love with sound the way I was and he saw the world the way I did. Neither of us had any awareness of being Autistic, but we found ourselves in each other. He played the drums for my piano music and I played the bass for his music. We were in love with each other and sound. We were together for six years.
During that time I only played music live for his band. I could not navigate playing my music live because of my aforementioned issues. I quietly began recording my music. Many of those songs you can find here: