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Songwriters Monthly Presents:

Cindy Alexander

Photo: Shannon Treglia

Thanks For The Anthem!


You know that butterfly feeling that swirls about and tickles your stomach from the inside? I typically experience it when Im getting really close to doing something Ive been looking forward to, like finally being next in line to board the roller coaster . . . after waiting for about two hours! Thats how it felt driving out to meet singer/ songwriter Cindy Alexander for a late breakfast while she was on tour with The Bacon Brothers. Best as we could later figure, it had been roughly 13 years since her labels publicist had introduced me to Cindys artistry. Unfortunately, that was just about the time I decided I needed to walk away from journalism for a little bit. That walk ended up lasting nearly a decade. Although we stayed in touch through email, it just never worked out that we were in the same city at the same time. So after all those years, I was finally getting the chance to meet Cindy in person for the first time. Hence, the butterflies after 13 years, I wanted to make a spectacular first impression. I arrived at the restaurant, first. Cindy soon pulled up in a . . . well, in the car she had rented for the tour. Most guys probably would have known the make, model, and year just from the sound of the engine, but I couldnt even tell you what kind of car it was when I was staring at it from an arms length away. Yup, my vehicular knowledge was significantly less than impressive. Cindy hopped out with what I could best describe as enthusiasm for life. She was vibrant, charged with that something extra, a little more sizzle than the average person which was pretty inspiring

Cindy Alexander

considering she was on the other side of the country just a few hours prior. She walked around her rented vehicle and the first thing she asked me was, What do you know about cars? Ulp. *** In the restaurant, I fared a little better. We sat in a booth, I pulled out my trusty Zoom recorder, and we began talking about something I was actually knowledgable about: music! The restaurant wasnt located in Philadelphia or New York where the (jaded) establishments didnt look twice when a public figure walked in, we were in Bucks County. Not quite the rural part, but Bucks County nonetheless if you dont live here, that name possibly conjures up images of farmlands and long, lonely stretches of road a la the movie Signs (thanks, M. Night). It seemed the presence of someone so obviously west coast chic being recorded answering questions kind of threw our waiter a little. He appeared nervous, tentative, unwilling to interrupt the conversation to take our order. Thankfully, he eventually did. Cindy ordered egg whites. I got them too, only with the yellows mixed in. And cheese. Dont judge! At least I went for the whole wheat toast and refrained from chocolate milk altogether.

west coast chic

Photo: Shelly Bonoan

In a strange turn of events, Cindy started asking me questions. Admittedly, that was pretty cool because most of the time it never comes out that I studied music in college, not journalism. Shh, dont tell. I like performing, but I dont like the spotlight, I responded to one of Cindys inquiries. I dont really want that, I am very happy and much more comfortable being in the background. So, youre just a more, well-adjusted, better functioning human being, she concluded. I laughed. No you are, because anybody who gets on stage and expects people to look at them and watch them must have some desire deep within to be validated. I studied her for a moment, trying to decide if she was including herself and confessing her own desire to be validated with that last statement. She continued before I could confirm. I dont know where it comes from, youre born with this need to communicate. I like to think that I can change the mood of somebody who walks into a theater. Theres a certain power trip associated with being on stage. People looking at me makes me uncomfortable, I admitted. Im not like that all the time, Cindy pointed out. I think there are some people who are. They go out and they are in costume and they are wearing the freaky makeup all the time! I once worked with a producer who told me thats the way an artist should be, the way you are on stage is the way you are off it. But I am not like that. Its me, its 100% me on stage, but I dont demand or command that kind of

attention when Im in the market. She laughed. I think thats healthy! I pointed out. Healthier, she corrected. You must be getting what you need in other aspects of your life, I observed, because you can be normal when youre not on stage. Getting on stage is a release. I went to school for theater and thats what I put into my live performance. Speaking of, I cant wait to see you perform. I was going to keep it a secret and just show up tonight to surprise you, but

Getting on stage is a release.

Im glad that youre here. I dont know anybody and Im by myself, she expressed. Besides, who else am I gonna tell, My gas gauge doesnt work! *** Yeah, that was the automotive concern. Cindy had flown into Philadelphia, rented a car, driven all the way out to Bucks County (and then some), and her gas gauge was still reading beyond full. Were talking quite a bit of miles (by east coast standards, at least). My

Photo: Don Adkins

expert advice? After the interview, stop and put in some more gas. Spoiler alert: that did not go very well. *** As musicians, as writers, we are creating something out of nothing, Cindy paused to reflect. Out of nothing. The power of the imagination and the power of inspiration and all the stuff thats just channeled through, it all comes out and becomes art. Whether its music or painting or whatever, its a gift. I believe everybody is given gifts and your challenge is to figure out how to give them back. In (hopefully) every interview, theres that moment between the jokes, the instant when the comfort, trust and passion all converge and the artist is ready to talk shop. In that moment, you can see the inner flame that truly drives an artist flickering intensely in her eyes. This was Cindys moment. Thats the spiritual side of what I do. Im not religious, but I do believe in God, she continued. Im just trying to write the truth, the feelings and experiences that I have or someone else has that they are too afraid to verbalize, they cant verbalize, or they are ashamed to verbalize. But when you put those feelings out there, it helps. Sometimes, its really painful stuff! When I wrote Every Rise and Fall [Cindys latest album], I was crying through that whole thing. It was purging me of a lot of issues that had been suppressed while I was giving birth and raising kids. A lot of songwriters compare writing a song to giving birth, I noted, now that you have actually given birth and are raising your own kids, is it the same thing? Songwriting is giving birth to ideas, she answered. Its this encapsulation of experience and emotion of a certain part of your life. When someone asks which is your favorite song, a lot of times a songwriter will say, Dont make me pick, they are all my children. You

couldnt get to point D without writing A, B, and C. And you cant negate any of them because they are all important. Cindy leaned in and lowered her voice. However, I do actually have more favorite songs than others. And those others will all be in therapy as they get older, I commented. You know, now that Ive had children . . . yeah, theres a huge difference! she realized. Some one gave me a book before I gave birth and in it Having children is like having was a line that said having your heart forever walk outside children is like having your your body. heart forever walk outside your body. Cindy hesitated, her voice wavering just the slightest bit which led me to think that she was fighting back tears. Its true. I dont know if Ive quoted it exactly right, she proceeded, but, my children are an extension of me: good and bad. The innocence is breathtaking. They havent learned to lie and they dont have inhibitions; they are only honest . . . whether you want to hear it or not. The way they view the world, seeing things for the first time, it allows me to re-experience and relive some of my own childhood experiences and look at the world in a new way. The impact that my children have had on me and the impact of giving birth supersedes any birth in songwriting because they are my most beautiful song, they are the best thing Ive ever done. It makes me cry.

Photo: Shannon Treglia

Cindy was doing a remarkable job of holding herself together, but her eyes were definitely moistening. They came from nothing, they were created out of nothing. They are miracles. Its creation. All of my energy and my life went into creating them, she expressed. After wiping away a tear that was ready to spill, she added, I created them with Chip . . my co-writer. Then she smiled warmly. *** There was much more to the interview, but you dont really care about lemon seeds, orange marmalade, broken dishes or Kevin Bacon, right? To make sure Cindy didnt end up stranded in some remote location of Bucks County (like the cornfield from Signs), unable to make it to her gig because she had run out of fuel, I followed her to the nearest gas station. Admittedly, there was a touch of chivalry involved, but it was a whole bunch more guilt that was driving my actions what if I showed up at the concert and found she hadnt made it?! See, guilt! After Cindy demonstrated how to open the lid to her gas tank (yes, I really couldnt figure it out . . . and this was the person she was trusting with car advice?), we proceeded to force-feed her vehicle some petrol. Interesting fact: Did you know that when you override the automatic shut off on a gasoline pump and the tank is full, fuel rockets out of the nozzle in a spectacular geyser? *** Okay, okay, heres the Kevin Bacon part . . . I met The Bacon Brothers in 1998 at the Troubadour. We hit it off. They were going on tour in northern California a few months later and

invited me to go with them. Weve been touring together on and off since then, Cindy informed. It will be 14 years this weekend. It was May 5th. The reason I remember is because it was Cinco de Mayo and everyone was drinking margaritas. Kevin asked me if I wanted to sing Footloose with him and I was very nervous. I knew the movie and I knew There are the song . . . sort of. But I didnt know pictures in my it well enough. Kevin told me to go mind . . . have another margarita while he wrote down the lyrics. He said, Im going to tape them up next to the microphone on the stage and you are going to be just fine. My manager was like, Cindy, you have to do this! You have to get on stage and sing Footloose with Kevin Bacon! So I have my margarita, I get on stage, the song starts and I look down to see that he wrote: Fruit loops, fruit loops, everybody eat fruit loops! I think thats one thing that helps create a good performance. ***
Photo: Shannon Treglia

That night, Cindy and The Bacon Brothers would be playing at The Keswick Theatre in Glenside, PA [http://www.keswicktheatre.com]. No disrespect for other area venues, and not that I have anything against the city, but theres just something about not needing to take a highway and face traffic and parking challenges when I simply want to see a show. Not only is this theater nestled in a vibrant little two block section of a quaint community, but there is honestly not a bad seat in the house and they regularly draw top-notch talent. Plus, it has been said that

The Keswick Theatre is nationally-recognized as the most acousticallyperfect listening room in the region. Sold on it yet? If not, the staff is superb! Ive never been thrown out, had my camera confiscated, or had any troubles there whatsoever. Yup, over the years, all that stuff has happened to me. To paraphrase Bette Davis, This journalism thing aint for sissies. *** Our seats werent all that far from the sound guy, so I was confident wed be getting an optimal mix. Cindy quietly walked out on stage and sat behind her keyboard. And thats when the magic began. Her lush voice filled the theater, blanketing the audience with an embracing warmth. She sang a number of intimate, revealing songs about love and hurt, growing older, and her awe for lifes miracles. Theaters are my favorite venues, she had told me that morning at the restaurant. The sound is usually better and the audience is more attentive than at a club. Especially when youre solo and its just you sitting down behind a piano or a keyboard. Id much rather be in a theater than a club setting. At one point, as Cindy was finishing up a breath-catchingly beautiful performance of One Part Love, my wife dabbed her eyes dry, leaned close to me and whispered an emotional, That one song could make her a million dollars. There are pictures in my mind, Cindy had explained that morning. I think thats one thing that helps create a good performance: youre not only saying the words, youre experiencing what it is that you are talking about. I remember seeing Rod Stewart as a kid. We had seats that were pretty close to the stage, so I was watching his face and, as he was singing, I felt him just telling the story and really reliving everything. Sometimes, its not about the voice and its not about

perfect pitch and intonation, its actually about the delivery. There are other artists who do that. James Taylor does it. Carole King . . . And after seeing her perform live and being enthralled by her powerful delivery, there is no doubt in my mind that Cindy Alexander deserves to be listed among those other great storytelling artists. *** A couple of days later, I was working on an audio project. For this particular job, I needed to drive out to the coast so I could capture the sound of the ocean its times like these when I might be inclined to agree with my wifes sentiments that Ive never actually worked a day in my life! Little did I realize that the beach I had picked was still closed due to last years Superstorm Sandy. The entire access to the ocean was

Photo: Shannon Treglia

I like to think that I can change the mood of somebody who walks into a theater.

secured by what looked like crime scene tape. It wasnt dark yet and the police were patrolling up and down the oceanfront drive with a frequency that made it clear to me that there was no way I could duck under the tape, run across the sand, crouch in the surf for thirty seconds to get a quick recording, and get back before being spotted. This job wasnt paying enough to cover bail, so I got as close as I legally could, aimed the mic, jacked the sensitivity up as high as it could go, and hoped it would be good enough. To say I was crestfallen on the drive home would have been an understatement. Miserable melting into cranky might have painted a better portrait of my mood. I turned on my radio to see if I could find something to lift my spirits. A voice that was iron-willed in its passion, but bare and vulnerable in its honesty filled the air. I immediately felt the flesh-tingling rush of adrenalin and grinned as I realized I still had Cindys CD in my player. You know that thing where you take the general meaning of a line in a song and twist it a little to make it your own personal anthem [e.g. Born in the U.S.A.]? Well, when the chorus came up, If you dont want it I wont sweat it/I got people I can call who tell me Im wonderful, [From Cindys song Wonderful] somehow I knew that I shouldnt second guess myself and Id make the recording work. Absently, I recalled something Cindy had said during our interview the other day: I like to think that I can change the mood of somebody who walks into a theater. Well, I was in my car at the moment, not a theater, but Im here to tell you that, yes, indeed, she can! And hallelujah for that because for the rest of the ride home, I had Every Rise and Fall playing on repeat. And life was good. ***

Epilogue: Oh, yeah. That high-tech problem with Cindys rental car? As it turns out, The car was fine. It ended up just having REALLY good gas mileage! Thats her story, at least. Me, Im still convinced that fixing the problem had something to do with what happened at the gas pump on that fine day. Dont agree? Thats okay, I got people I can call who tell me Im wonderful. Thanks for the anthem! *** For more information on Cindy Alexander, visit: http://www.cindyalexander.com www.facebook.com/cindyalexander.music https://twitter.com/pnutsings
Photo: Shannon Treglia

The impact that my children have had on me and the impact of giving birth supersedes any birth in songwriting because they are my most beautiful song, they are the best thing Ive ever done. It makes me cry.

The innocence is breathtaking. They havent learned to lie and they dont have inhibitions; they are only honest.

They came from nothing, they were created out of nothing. They are miracles. Its creation. All of my energy and my life went into creating them.

Photo: Shannon Treglia