By Lyn Schrader January 5, 2018
From the first image and first poem, I was entranced. I am a jaded reader, so when I verbalize the words "Oh Sh*t" at the end of Last Sirena, it's a big deal. Here is this peaceful image, filled with serenity, juxtaposed with a Sig-alert. Whoa.
The night on the Strand took me there. I, too, have been warmed by the beach fire and the random, late-night song. I appreciate the memory from a pre-Facebook world.
On the Nevada road: we have all grabbed that dusty bag of Doritos, but not many have experienced the blood, sound, and sex of performance. Grajeda-Urmston gives us this experience in terms we can understand.
There are moments here when I feel like Gabriel Mistral's "Fear" and Hunter S.Thompsons' Fear and Loathing are being reinvented. Then I realize that I am hearing a unique voice with a new sound. Coyote is not tricking me. The words are not in a box, being played by a Hen. I am having a real literary moment. The moments build and twine with the pictures. Then something happens in Set 4: Adams paintings jump out at me. They no longer accompany the words, but take on an individuality which imparts a theme for the entire journey:
EFF(revised to fit Amazon sensibilities) IT;
I am HERE.
Look into ME!
Soundcheck: Elisa Urmston’s Musical Story of Life on the Road
Many decades ago, John Fogarty wrote about the perils and pleasures of life playing and singing in a “travelin’ band.” But Fogarty’s tune only scratches the surface of what it means to make your living on the road playing music. Rowdy, drunk audiences along with often surly club owners and managers combine to challenge musicians in a variety of ways, but if you’re the girl singer on center stage, well, there is much more to face.
Making a living as a musician is not easy, but that is what Elisa Urmston did for more than thirty years. In her new book, Soundcheck, Urmston tells stories of what it is to be the “girl singer” in multiple bands playing everything from country-western to Top-40 dance tunes. Music lovers in the H.D. and SoCal know Urmston very well as her band Caliente (and the smaller version Caliente Duo with husband Chris Urmston) has enticed audiences onto the dance floor with pop and Latin-infused music as well as romantic standards at many bars and clubs over the years.
Soundcheck is not just a book of poems, however; it is an autobiography, the journey of a girl guitar player struggling to be taken seriously by her family, her male counterparts, and the audiences she faces. It tells tales of avoiding lecherous men on and off stage, of what it takes to create courage when dealing with insecurity, and of the joys of following a dream.
The illustrations by Tamara Adams make Soundcheck a beautiful feast for the eyes and soul.
No less a rock & roll legend than Pamela DesBarres has written a blurb for Urmston’s collection, so that is a recommendation worth its weight in gold records.
The book is available online at amazon.com and jamiipublishing.com.
Susan Nylander, HD Living, Local Lit, Winter 2017
Neglecting the Noise: A Review of Elisa Grajeda-Urmston and Tamara Adams’ “Soundcheck: A Musician’s Journey in Song and Verse”
Posted by AGAPEEDITIONS on JUNE 18, 2018
Elisa Grajeda-Urmston’s Soundcheck: A Musician’s Journey in Song and Verse (Jamii Books, 2018, with artwork by Tamara Adams) is written “for every girl who ever played a guitar.” The chapbook is comprised of a “set list” of pieces that fluctuate between rhythmic poems and lyrics. Prints of paintings by Tamara Adams are sprinkled between each set list, depicting the symbiotic relationship between women, music, and nature. The paintings show an emotional range from melancholic to empowered that guides readers from one chapter to the next, iconizing themes of freedom, melancholy, and self-image that appear within the poems of the chapbook.
The poems immerse readers into the life of a talented musician. They show that social issues such as misogyny, objectification, and discrimination form part of the noise that women are expected to endure as part of life on the road. From the poem “What Happens in Vegas,” Grajeda-Urmston speaks for those who objectify:
what to do with that chick
that thing with the guitar She
don’t look like much, Wow but
Man, she sure can play”
Soundcheck consistently makes reference to noises that are heard but disregarded—like the feedback of a guitar or the rattling of objects on the floor of a flatbed truck. Noise is a device used by Grajeda-Urmston to portray passiveness of issues that are not spoken about but are always there. This passiveness is shown clearly in the poem “Drowned Out By Road Noise”:
“The hurtful word, things said but unheard
buzzing like a hummingbird wing or
a worn guitar string that, upon unraveling
leaves the whole instrument out of tune”
This chapbook shows that noise is a distraction from the voice that should be heard. We live in a time when noise is abused by leaders and the media; Soundcheck warns us against this noise in the poem “Glimmer”:
“Brimming with masculine malevolence
Confection or confession
Is a charge
That sets off an arrhythmia
In a sea of willing victims”
However, it is important to note that these noises should not distract us from the personal values we believe to be true. The best thing to do is to share an authentic voice that matters—a voice that can change and can’t be changed. The poem “Songbird’s Jungle” is about moving forward—ascending over the dark ambience below:
“at her high heels
wires coil & writhe
and snap venomous
at her ankles she flies
over mic-line vines
black tendrils coil & snare
She knows to keep moving
the jungle reclaims every still thing eventually.”
Sometimes, ignoring the noise is not enough. It is necessary to face that negative ambience below in order to evoke change. In the last piece in this chapbook, Grajeda-Urmston includes a note written in prose form to her bandmates titled “Notes From the Chick Singer/The Memo Amended 5/31.” In this note, the author directly addresses acts of negligence demonstrated by bandmates, such as leaning on a wall during a set: “Next time you want to lean, look at my [4-6 inch heels]. Then look at yours. Uh-huh.”
These small acts of disrespect may seem easily dismissed, but they point to a bigger issue. This note takes that necessary extra step to nullify the noise that oppresses us. It shows that this book is not about being strong enough to rise above the noise, it is also about being strong enough to look down and face it.
Blog intern Will Flaherty is currently pursuing a major in creative writing and literature at Binghamton University in his senior year. He has enjoyed writing creatively for as long as he can remember. His passion for the written, musical, and performing arts is reflected through his extracurricular involvement on campus: his writing is published in student literary magazines, he performs at poetry readings, stars in student production plays, and can be heard through the airwaves as a college radio disc jockey. In his spare time, he enjoys playing and listening to music, hiking and camping in the Adirondacks, and playing pickup soccer.
Email Will at Agape Editions
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