Changing Lives: Christy Merrell and Children’s Hospital’s Music Therapy Program

Christy Merrell, music therapist at St. Louis Children's Hospital
Christy Merrell, music therapist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital

[This week’s music features explores the music therapy program, headed by Christy Merrell, at St. Louis’ renowned Children’s Hospital. Writer Jaime Lees had more on the subject to discuss than our print wordcount constraints would allow.]

I wrote the music feature this week, and in the eight or so years that I’ve been writing for the Riverfront Times, I don’t recall ever being so concerned with doing a good job on a piece.

The story explores the music therapy department at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. It’s a topic that has been on my mind for a long time. And after I did some research and didn’t come across much information about the program, I decided to go find out about it for myself.

I have exactly one rule for the assignments that I accept: I only write them if I’d want to read them. And I’d definitely want to read this one.

Usually, my little rule expresses itself in fun ways– I’ll write something if I think I can make it entertaining or if I have a unique perspective to offer. But this feature was very serious. This was journalism. My dumb opinions or jokes wouldn’t be needed this time. In fact, they would only get in the way of the story.

On the day of the interview I put on my best music-writer-attempts-to-look-presentable outfit, tied back my wild lioness hair, packed up my micro cassette recorder and went to the hospital.

The woman at the heart of the story, Christy Merrell, does more than put her patients at ease; she put me at ease, too. She very obviously loves her work, but her self-deprecating humor while discussing such a serious topic was more than appreciated.

Because of space constraints, I wasn’t able to include many of Merrell’s spontaneously hilarious quotes. For example, when describing how she always seems to get along well with young boys, she said it’s because she lives by the policy that “farts are always funny.”

With her knowledge, experience and upbeat bedside manner, I got the feeling that this is exactly the kind of person you’d want around if your kid was sick. Kids seem to think highly of her, too. The boy mentioned at the end of the story, Joe, came up again and again in conversation.

When the interview was over, Merrell showed me a video collage on her laptop that she had made of Joe. In the collection of clips, Joe is seen in various stages of sickness– sometimes chubby and vibrant, sometimes thin and thoughtful.

A few different times during the course of the video, Merrell seemed lost in her own memories, temporarily forgetting that I was sitting beside her as she stared at the computer screen, hand covering her half-smiling mouth, eyes wet with emotion.

The end of the video features Joe, the Beatles fanatic, wearing round hologram John Lennon glasses while sitting on his hospital bed. He sang an animated a capella version of “I Am the Walrus,” making various beatbox noises and throwing his hands up during the “Woo!”

That little video clip kind of changed me forever. In addition to (once again) renewing my faith in the Beatles, I suddenly understood the depth of the work in this program and how deeply rewarding it must be to help out sick and injured kids.

So, you see, sometimes I get to write the stories and sometimes the stories end up writing all over me. I’ll never again hear that song without thinking of that video, good people like Christy Merrell and an awesome kid named Joe that I was never lucky enough to meet.

If you’d like to donate to the music therapy department at Children’s Hospital, call 314-454-6178 or mail donations here:
Child Life, Music Therapy
St. Louis Children’s Hospital
1 Children’s Place
St. Louis, MO 63110

link: Riverfront Times

Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore And The Four Biggest Rock And Roll Breakups

Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore And The Four Biggest Rock And Roll Breakups
By Jaime Lees
Wed., Oct. 19 2011 at 10:33 AM

​Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth have separated after 27 years of marriage and now the future of the band is unknown. Their record label released this statement last Friday:

Musicians Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, married in 1984, are announcing they have separated. Sonic Youth, with both Kim and Thurston involved, will proceed with its South American tour dates in November. Plans beyond that tour are uncertain. The couple has requested respect for their personal privacy and does not wish to issue further comment.

It feels kind of gross to discuss this news. (And not just because the couple requested privacy.) It’s weird to think about their separation because Gordon/Moore were not just the biggest couple of the alternative generation but because they were also the most respected. To the outside world, they had the perfect relationship. They were in love, married with a talented daughter, and together they were one half of the greatest indie rock band in history.

But they never flaunted their bond. They weren’t always holding hands in band photographs or anything like that. In fact, in the beginning of the band, they seemed to make a point to stand apart from one another. Because of the careful, private way they carried their love, they seemed untouchable. And strong. They were held up by admirers as the perfect rock and roll couple, an example of how cool love and marriage could be.

Fans and journalists alike were respectful of their relationship. I’ve interviewed both of them, and I never had the balls to ask either of them about the other. In our conversation a couple of summers ago, Gordon brought up Moore and was very complimentary about him. She also spoke about her daughter, but it still felt inappropriate to ask her too much about her home life. It felt like prying — like if I got her to talk about it that I would be tricking her into doing something that I knew she didn’t want to do.

And, really, there was no reason to ask about her home life. Both Gordon and Moore are prolific musicians, writers, poets and artists. There’s plenty of interesting ground to cover. Together and separately, they are both workaholics, releasing a staggering amount of art in various formats. One of their accomplishments together is the release of seventeen studio albums in the bands 30-year career.

And any fan who has listened to the last few albums could have made predictions of this breakup. It would be a mistake for any outsider to claim that that these songs are autobiographical, but there is a definite story arc from “I Love You, Golden Blue” through to “Turquoise Boy” then “Antenna” and “Massage the History” on the bands last release, The Eternal. The last few albums seemed more somber, more contemplative.

Combine that with the fact that the other Sonic Youth band members, Steve Shelley and Lee Ranaldo, seemed to be actively building other lives for themselves outside of the band, and the potential demise of Sonic Youth doesn’t seem too shocking. Shelley is all set up as the drummer for Chicago-based band Disappears, and he’s been touring with them for a while. It would be easy to change the category on the Disappears from “other” band to “primary” band. And Ranaldo is suddenly everywhere. He’s started an official Facebook page, he’s making music and his website has become increasingly active- most notably with his photojournalistic endeavors. Ranaldo’s posts his photos on his website and it has become one of the best sources for his on-the-street documentation of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Gordon has been absent lately. Laying low, one would suppose. Moore had a personal blog where he would post his writings, photos of his daughter, tributes to poets he admired, etc, but the blog was deleted over the weekend. Moore is still active publicly, even conducting a thoughtful, funny interview with Henry Rollins about his new book on the day of the announcement.

Yes, the separation is hard on the fans, too. And that’s unfair to Gordon and Moore, but it’s the truth. It’s a lot of weight to put on one couple. Before, fans would think to themselves: Maybe my parents got divorced, maybe I just got dumped, maybe my marriage is a disaster, but Kim and Thurston were still together- so true love exists! Now admirers must accept that Gordon and Moore are just like us. Not an infallible supercouple, but two people who also have to deal with the consequences of unraveling love. (And if you think your ex won’t go away, try being together for 30 years, being known world-wide and having to deal with nosy journalists and fans.)

But perhaps Gordon and Moore can still be our role models. But instead of being part of the relationship that we most glorify, they can be an example to show us how to handle even the biggest, messiest, most heart-breaking of breakups with dignity.

And while they are unique in their place in fans’ hearts, but there have been quite a few other separations between couples who made music together. Below we explore some other famous inter-band rock and roll relationships with breakups and the outcome of each.

4. Jack White and Meg White of the White Stripes

These peppermint-colored cuties hit the scene in the late ’90s as a catchy throw-back garage duo. Back then they claimed that they were brother and sister, which was believable enough given their shared look — alabaster skin and black hair. As it turns out, they were husband and wife. They’d been married for a few years and actually divorced in early 2000, just as the White Stripes were getting super-popular. Jack later said that he invented the sibling story (and a few other fake back-stories) so that the press would focus on their music rather than their relationship. It was the opposite of Fleetwood Mac. Instead of exploiting their relationship, they denied it altogether. This, of course, just made fans all the more curious and throughout their career their exact relationship was the source of much speculation. The White Stripes officially disbanded early this year, but the Whites seem to have an okay relationship. Both had remarried and Meg even had her wedding ceremony in Jack’s backyard. Just this summer Jack announced his divorce from his second wife, model Karen Elson, but relationship downers don’t seem to put a dent his productivity. Jack’s latest band is alt-rock supergroup the Dead Weather and he continues to play with the jaw-droppingly talented Brendan Benson in the Raconteurs.

3. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac

This is easily the most famous rock and roll breakup in classic rock. Fleetwood Mac, as a band, built its whole career on relationship turmoil. The classic album Rumours is a product of that turmoil, and in this case the lyrics were certainly autobiographical. In the band, there were two couples breaking up — not just Nicks and Buckingham, but also Christine McVie and John McVie. This charged atmosphere created some of the best SoCal tunes of the decade. It also resonated with listeners: Rumours has sold 40 million units worldwide. Back in the day, those songs really held a lot of meaning — both sadness and contempt. Buckingham’s “Go Your Own Way” was particularly harsh on his former lover — it basically called her a slut (Which is debatable, honestly, since she slept with drummer Mick Fleetwood after the breakup with Buckingham). In any case, it was a scathing song that accused her of being a heartless skank. But it was a hit, so Nicks had to sing it on stage with Buckingham every night. Still, once the bitterness blew over, this is the one case where a serious breakup actually aided the longevity of the band. Now, whenever they’ve come together as Fleetwood Mac, they take every opportunity to play-up their former relationship, knowing that their old lady fans just love the sexual tension. Just watch the second half of the video for “Silver Springs” from 1997’s The Dance. The on-stage theatrics are out of control. And the fans love it. Since their heyday, all parties have had varying degrees of success in their solo careers. And if it’s broken down into a competition between Nicks and Buckingham, it’s hard to say who would win. Nicks is more well known but Buckingham is still mighty handsome and talented.

2. Ike and Tina Turner of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue

Ike Turner is credited as one of the inventors of rock and roll. In fact, he’s included in the short list as one of the dudes who (possibly) released the first rock and roll record. Yes, he was also a major jerkburger, but his musical pedigree cannot be stepped to. Ike met and hired a teenage Anna Mae Bullock as a background singer in the late 1950s. He gave her the stage name of Tina and the two began both a very successful career and a shit-tastic marriage. Ike was widely reported to be a controlling, easily angered woman-beater. Tina finally left him in 1976 and the divorce was finalized two years later. Ike got to keep all of the money, and Tina famously asked the court for one thing only: her name. They didn’t make music together again. Following their separation, Ike didn’t really exercise his talent. He spent some time in prison as a result of his drug addictions, and died in 2007 of a cocaine overdose. Tina, however, went on to build an impressive solo career on the merit of her distinctive voice, sexy legs and survivor status.

1. John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Even though everyone always hated on Ono, she was Lennon’s main musical partner in his life after the Beatles. She was also his partner in life. Like it or not, the two of them had one of the biggest, most well-documented romances in rock and roll history. She was an artist before she was even with Lennon, and she brought her vision to what they produced together. Against all odds, their partnership and love flourished. They lived as two halves of one whole, and Lennon wouldn’t do much without her by his side. What people forget, though, is that they separated for a while in late 1973. The couple had been under a lot of stress. Lennon was being skewered in the press for abandoning his nice, blonde, white wife and child for his weird, yelping Japanese artist. He was also facing deportation from a McCarthyist American government, who despised him for having a voice. When he spoke out against injustices or war, people listened, and he was considered a threat to national security. Also, Lennon had fidelity issues.

Faced with all of this pressure, the couple needed a break and Ono requested a separation. Lennon historians call this time period “The Lost Weekend,” but the separation really lasted for nearly a year and a half. During this time Lennon spent some months living in Los Angeles, hanging out with scenesters at the Troubadour and drinking far too much. When he was in LA, he was, by all accounts, a hot mess. Eventually Ono took him back, after which he seemed slightly broken, but happy in his relief. He had shed some of that famous Lennon ego and become a more humble, sensitive man. They were older, calmer, and they finally settled down together. And just when it seemed as though Lennon and Ono would live happily forever together in the Dakota, their time together was ended forever by Mark David Chapman and four bullets. The legacy of this relationship will live on in perpetuum as the rock and roll Romeo and Juliet. Ono has continued her own music career, and was recording an album with Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore just earlier this year.

Frances Bean Cobain And The Other Nine Hottest Offspring Of Musicians

Frances Bean Cobain And The Other Nine Hottest Offspring Of Musicians
By Jaime Lees
Thu., Aug. 18 2011

​Today is Frances Bean Cobain’s 19th birthday. Time flies, right? In celebration of Miss Frannie, we’ve compiled a list of hot rock ‘n’ roll spawn. These people have at least one rock star parent and their moms are frequently models. (Figures.) They are all totally bangable, and many of them have their own interesting careers. Who do you think should be added to the list?

Frances Bean Cobain
Daughter of musicians Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and Courtney Love of Hole
Frances was on the “countdown to legal” list for many grunge fans. Now, at age 19 FBC has just posed for a collection of photographs that show that she’s all grown up. Eyes! Lips! Midriff! Décolletage! Tattoos! It’s all there, in this frequently topless but never outright scandalous set of photographs. Captured in dramatic black and white, “The Bean” looks absolutely smokin’. She’s sultry, she’s sassy and she looks like she’s either going to scream at you or make out with you or both. HOT.

Liv Tyler
Daughter of musician Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and scenester / groupie Bebe Buell
The quintessential foxy rock ‘n’ roll daughter, Liv first came to attention starring in Aerosmith’s video for “Crazy.” In the video, she played a pouty-lipped Catholic school girl who skipped school do naughty pseudo-sapphic stuff with co-star Alicia Silverstone. She’s since put her big lips on the big screen, with major roles in films like Empire Records, Armageddon and Lord of the Rings.

Sean Lennon
Son of Beatle John Lennon and artist / musician Yoko Ono
Sean is probably the most famous son of rock. Lookin’ like exactly half of each of his parents, the bespectacled musician doesn’t have to push his pedigree, it is already obvious in his pretty eyes and cute little mouth. Bonus: Sean seems nice, his music is good and he doesn’t disrespect his father’s legacy (unlike Lennon’s other son, jerk-ass Julian). And like a proper second generation famous kid, he has dated Mick Jagger’s daughter Elizabeth and also…

Bijou Phillips
Daughter of John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas and model Geneviève Waïte
Young Bijou is a looker, but not really in a classic way. Her teeth are kinda weird and her vibe is kinda dirty, but these things somehow just make her damn sexy. She famously lost her virginity to Evan Dando and the hot little hippie has been banging famous dudes ever since. She was with Elijah Wood, then she dated Sean Lennon for years and now she’s engaged to Danny Masterson (aka “Hyde” from That ’70s show).

Zoë Kravitz
Daughter of musician Lenny Kravitz and actress Lisa Bonet
It’s absolutely shocking that Zoë Kravitz is good looking. Both of her parents are so. damn. hot. that it only makes sense that their individual hot qualities would get canceled out in war for gene dominance, leaving just a sad little unremarkable, unhot blob baby. Instead, the biology lottery resulted in Zoë becoming mega hot broad with a tight little body, her dad’s sense of style and her mom’s creamy skin. Yowza.

​Jackson Smith
Son of musicians Patti Smith and Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5
Jackson looks sweetly disheveled in that slightly scruffy post-hipster way. He plays guitar for his mom on tour and his good looks are a little distracting on stage- he has bright eyes and the same kind of quiet intensity that both of his parents pulled off in photographs. Also, he was cool enough to score Meg White of the White Stripes as his wife, which means the world might get a third generation of Detroit hotties.

Nicole Richie
Daughter of musician Lionel Richie and Brenda Harvey
Nicole was adopted, so she can’t claim her good looks from Lionel or Brenda. But she was adopted from the famous musical Escovedo family, and can count Sheila E. and Alejandro Escovedo as some of her close biological relatives. The doe-eyed former party girl has had public struggles with her weight and the law, but nothing obscures her natural good looks and funny personality. In the grand tradition of celeb spawn, Nicole dated DJ AM (Adam Goldstein) and is now married to Good Charlotte’s Joel Madden.

​Dweezil Zappa
Son of musician Frank Zappa and Adelaide Gail Sloatman
Just like his father, Dweezil is an acquired taste. His bright eyes are intense and surely one of the features that won over former girlfriend (and librarian glasses enthusiast) Lisa Loeb. Yeah, he seems like he can be kind of a douche, but that doesn’t cancel out his dark, almost John Stamos-y sexiness. Fun facts: Dweezil was an MTV VJ for a minute and has many musical credits to his name (including playing lead guitar on the the Fat Boys’ “Wipe Out”). He also had a bit part in Pretty in Pink as Andie’s friend Simon- this lil’ cameo automatically puts him in the Forever Hot Club.

Nicholas Des Barres
Son of musician Michael Des Barres and original groupie Pamela Des Barres
Best known as Murdoc on MacGuyver and the dude who replaced Robert Palmer in Power Station, Michael Des Barres has an interesting career as both an actor and a rock singer. His former wife, the beautiful Pamela Des Barres, is an author, a ginger and legendary groupie. Together they made Nick, who is tall and handsome with a striking blend of features from both of his parents. He’s also probably the most talented person on this list, finding success an actor, a writer and a designer.

​Ione Skye
Daughter of musician Donovan and model Enid Karl
Best known as Diane Court from Say Anything, the object of Lloyd Dobler’s affection won over teen audiences with her fresh face, crooked smile and quirky mannerisms. Basically, all straight men of a certain generation will always think that Ione Skye is just the hottest shit ever. She could have pretty much any dude she wants, but Ione keeps up the tradition of inter-industry dating: she dated Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, she was married to Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys for a few years and she’s now married to musician Ben Lee.

Honorable mentions:

Daisy Lowe – Daughter of Gavin Rossdale of Bush and Pearl Lowe
Sally Taylor – Daughter of musicians / songwriters James Taylor and Carly Simon
Amber Le Bon – Daughter of Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran and model Yasmin Le Bon
Elizabeth Jagger – Daughter of musician Mick Jagger and model Jerry Hall, dated Sean Lennon
Riley Keough – Granddaughter of Elvis Presley, Daughter of Lisa Marie Presley
Rufus and Martha Wainwright – Musician children of Loudon Wainwright III, songwriter / singer
Peaches Geldof – Daughter of Bob Geldof, musician, and Paula Yates, Brit television presenter
Alexa Ray Joel – Daughter of musician Billy Joel and model Christie Brinkley
Elijah Blue Allman – Son of musicians Cher and Gregg Allmann
Stella McCartney – Daughter of Beatle Paul McCartney and photographer Linda McCartney

  • Riverfront Times – link
  • FBC photo shoot #1 link
  • FBC photo shoot #2 link

Concert Review: The Breeders in St. Louis

Concert Review: The Breeders in St. Louis
Saturday, May 10, 2008 – Pop’s

(setlist by RØB Severson, review by Jaime Lees)

It used to take a lot for me to drag my ass to the East Side. But after last weekend, good ol’ Sauget, Illinois, might be one of my favorite places to hang out or see a show. Saturday the Breeders played Pop’s, and the whole experience was just so damn pleasant. One would never know they were mere yards from the terrifying, toothless tranny hookers that congregate just on the other side of Route 3.

Before the show I was disappointed to hear that Pop’s was going to close off half of the venue (something the venue does at certain shows), but when everyone made it inside, it was clear that this was the right decision. Floor space was tight, but not smashed and the balcony was cozy.

Sure, drinks are always more expensive on that side of the Big Muddy, but the staff was helpful and laid back, showing no signs of the aggro tendencies I’ve witnessed there during other shows. The staff seemed to recognize that this was a show for sleepy indie folks and acted accordingly. I asked a bartender if he caught the sound check and he said, “I didn’t. And you know, I don’t know anything about the band. But I’ll tell you what: those sure are some nice people. Great smiles, too.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Watching the band is like catching up with old friends. Older songs (“I Just Wanna Get Along,” “Divine Hammer”) induced much heart-swelling and the newer songs from latest album Mountain Battles (“German Studies,” “It’s The Love”) blended perfectly into these live sets. On stage, Jose Medeles and Mando Lopez, also of pumped-up punkers Fear, kept the rhythm section bumpin’ and thumpin’ while remaining mostly heard and not seen. New kid Cheryl Lindsay hopped in where needed with extra vocals and instrumentation, and mostly stood calm and still on the side of the stage.

Predictably, Kim and Kelley Deal (and their mega-watt smiles) took center-stage. Both seemed at ease, happy and comfortable with the audience, sharing jokes and answering questions. In addition to Breeders jams, the Deals sang quite a few songs by the Amps (including “Empty Glasses,” a rarity), Kim’s other band. Kelley graciously stepped into the wings when she wasn’t needed during Amps songs, but could still be seen through a rip in the stage curtain rocking out and enthusiastically singing along as if she was a mega-fan.

1. Tipp City (Amps song)
2. Huffer
3. Bang On
4. Shocker in Gloomtown (Guided By Voices cover)
5. Divine Hammer
6. Night Of Joy
7. No Aloha
8. Pacer (Amps song)
9. We’re Gonna Rise
10. It’s The Love
11. Walk It Off
12. New Year
13. Cannonball
14. I Just Wanna Get Along
15. Happiness Is A Warm Gun (Beatles cover)
16. Iris
17. Safari
18. German Studies
19. Empty Glasses (Amps song)

ENCORE:
20. Overglazed
21. Fortunately Gone
22. Here No More
23. Saints