Sometimes things happen that throw us off course in life. If you’ve read my blog, you may know about my struggle with bulimia and how that illness kept me in sort of a professional limbo for a number of years. Other times, though, we choose our detours. And in the case of American women, the most common detour off the career highway is taking a break to raise kids. (Some men take that route too, of course, but less frequently.) There are hundreds—maybe thousands—of articles written about the challenges women face after being out of the workforce for a while.
But when we think about the workforce, we tend to think of people who spend at least some time in office buildings; people who are paid a salary or hourly wage; people who seek out promotions, bonuses, maybe stock options. We don’t often think of women attempting to re-enter the art, literary, or music worlds after a hiatus, although their challenges can be just as great, if not greater.
My novel, Living by Ear—which is being re-launched on September 16th by Seattle publisher Booktrope—is about a Boston musician named Christine Daley who takes a sixteen-year career break to marry and raise kids, only to discover that getting back on the music scene as a forty-six-year-old is much more difficult than she’d anticipated. (Chris is also in the process of divorcing her husband and starting to date again, so she’s dealing with other issues as well.)
Therefore, when I went out this past Friday night to see the Boston band The Vivs, I was almost overcome with emotion, partially because I realized how much my character, Chris Daley, could learn from them. The Vivs, you see, have a few things in common with Chris. But while Chris struggles and flounders, The Vivs don’t seem to be doing very much of that at all.
This is probably a good time to take a tiny step back into Boston music history. Because if you lived in Boston during the late 80s/early 90s and paid even the slightest bit of attention to the local music scene, you remember Tribe. Tribe was a powerhouse alternative rock band with a huge following and a major label record deal. Known for their dark sound, haunting vocals, and hooky songs, Tribe got tons of radio play and were darlings on the local club scene. And central to Tribe’s success was uber talented and all-around beautiful woman, Terri (Barous) Brosius, who played keyboards, sang backup vocals, and wrote and co-wrote many of the band’s best songs.
Similarly, if you followed indie music in Boston during the early 2000s, you were probably a fan of the band Edith, which was often dubbed “the best undiscovered act in town.” Led by the stunningly gifted Karen Harris—who’s a rock star in every aspect of her life—Edith packed nightclubs largely because of Karen’s distinctive low voice, literary songwriting skills, and magnetic stage presence.
So when the universe did its thing and brought Terri and Karen together as friends, the two women often discussed writing songs and performing together. But by that time, both were also thinking about starting families, and, in fact, both gave birth to daughters in 2001. Two years later, Karen had a son as well. And, like all parents, their lives were complicated. After all, they were busy with husbands, homes, jobs (Karen is a high school teacher, while Terri runs an independent music school), laundry, parents of their own, medical issues, pets, school, playdates, and dinner. Music got back-burnered for a while.
But for Karen and Terri, back-burnered didn’t mean forgotten, and in 2009, they decided to form a band. And not a “mommy band” either, but a real band, with other serious musicians and original songs. A band that would play out in clubs frequented by Boston’s rabid music fans—young and old—and make albums at top-notch recording studios. In other words, they were jumping back in, all the way.
And I’m ecstatic to say that they’ve done just that, on their own terms. Their lives are extremely busy and family always comes first for them, but The Vivs have written a plethora of new songs, keep up a moderate playing schedule, and pack the room every time they play. They sound a little like Patti Smith, a little like Throwing Muses, a little like the Kinks, but they’ve got their own distinct sound as well. And they’ve recorded several albums produced by Dave Minehan (The Neighborhoods, The Replacements) and Eric Brosius (Tribe, Eddie Japan, etc.)
Therefore, as I watched The Vivs rock the house at Store 54 the other night—one of Boston’s newest and funkiest music venues—I couldn’t help feeling hope for all women attempting to reclaim their creativity. Terri and Karen, you’re an inspiration to us all.