I know how it feels to be a ghost. An uninvited guest. I felt like one for the better part of half a century.
One night soon after I turned 50, I had a dream. I was wearing a hoodie, shrouded in an encompassing, healing blue light. In this dream, I stepped past a piano onto a stage and behind me, the word GHOSTE hovered white and luminous against that blue glow while a voice announced, “Now, introducing GHOSTE.”
I woke up. Yes, in every sense of the word.
When you experience loss, all the clichés hit you in the face; foremost the one about life not being a dress rehearsal. I didn’t waste a minute in reaching out to gifted producer and friend, Matt Anthony. We met at a restaurant near his studio, and I nervously explained my vision for this new album which would be a massive departure musically from anything I had ever done and would require a great deal of work on his part. I wanted to create something bold, haunting, rhythmic, vulnerable, yet empowering and totally electronic. Music that would express all that I had experienced and, in fact, gained through personal loss. And like I was asking him for the time of day, Matt said, “Great, let’s do it.”
That dream woke me from a lifetime of feeling invisible that started where it so often does. School is tough and girls can be mean. Put an awkward, odd, shy little girl into a posh, Manhattan, all-girl school for 12 years; well, you do the math; it equals brutal. I was ruthlessly tormented by a glossy-haired pack of rich, cruel girls. With surgical precision, they ensured that my self-esteem was stripped away, layer by layer, year after year. They told me that I was ugly, a waste of space; reminding me that I didn’t belong. Frankly, as a half-Jewish, scholarship kid, they were right. I had no place in their elite, blue blood clubs and parties. But the mean stuff hit its mark, took root, and I became adept at assimilating. Zelig. Able to blend into the background. A perfectly lonely little ghost.
Thankfully, I came from a fanatically musical family, and I discovered early on that I could transform my feelings of loneliness, anger, and longing into song through the ivory keys of my family’s prize possession, a Mason & Hamlin Grand. A friend who didn’t judge and always gave back. An audience of one, Mom was always my biggest fan, weeping when I sang her a new ballad, beaming and applauding with pride, making me feel like I was ready to step on stage to collect my Grammy. As far as she was concerned, I was born a rockstar.
Alas, my mother’s own childhood scars ran jagged and deep, and as her youthful beauty faded, so did her fragile hold on her own self-esteem. She believed that, the moment she turned fifty, she became invisible and she told me this in hopes of protecting me from my own inexorable fall. Unfortunately, she didn’t live to see me turn fifty. Months after the birth of my first son, at sixty, she was felled by the silent killer, pancreatic cancer. My sun went out abruptly and things went dark and quiet.
I was left reeling from the loss of my best friend, confidante, and number-on-fan. Existing more than living for nearly a full decade before, forged by loss and finally acceptance, out poured the songs for “Firefly in a Jar,” a sparse, raw, and emotionally stripped-down EP, elegantly produced by Matt, and dedicated to my mother, released just before my fiftieth birthday. During the recording of this EP, which was so much about the ephemeral nature of life, Matt and I explored adding electronic textures to some of the songs. I loved it.
Working full-time, and a married mother of two boys, I had also entered the era of caring for my father, a man who had lived life to its fullest, now stealthily being swallowed up by Parkinson’s. It was heart-rending to watch this passionate, charismatic, brilliant, bigger-than-life human fading away, inch by inch. Becoming a ghost.
But, back to that dream, music was alive and back in my life and I was wide-awake. I became a woman possessed with purpose. After work, hour upon hour, night after night, and over a period of two years, Matt and I were at his studio, crafting sounds and beats, refining lyrics and melodies, consuming spirits of the drinkable kind until the album was completed. On my 53rd birthday, one year ago, Matt sent me the only gift I wanted, the masters for GHOSTE. And lest I ever take time for granted, two weeks later, my beloved father died.
GHOSTE became more of a mission than ever. A movement to honor this incredible life my parents gave me. The life we all are given. I am still mourning my father, and miss my mother every single day, but I also celebrate the flame that burned so brightly in both of them. The fire that is in me.
At 54, I do not feel invisible. More than ever I am committed to pursuing my passion for music, and life, and I won’t waste time worrying about what others think of me. Those mean girls have become the ghosts; the annoying but not frightening sort that sometimes put your house keys in the wrong place. What, in fact, made me feel invisible was trying to be someone, something I was not. In letting go, I became whole. Visible. Seen. Heard. It’s my party, and you’re all invited!
I am deeply proud of this album and grateful that I get to rattle my chains while still alive. Whisper in your ear. Remind you that, while you breathe, it’s not too late to speak up and be heard. Fight for your passion. Like the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, I summon you to step into the light, be you, and be heard.
And I am GHOSTE. The E is silent. I am not.
GHOSTE released her debut electro-pop album on October 30th as a way to remind herself and her listeners that life does not end at 50. Popwrapped describes the album as, “Considered and concise, but never laboured, betraying a tremendous lightness of touch this is the kind of collection that rewards the luxury of repeated listenings.” The record features 10 tracks that all display her passion for life and music.
As featured on Fifty and Fabulous!
This song... "Slow Motion" is a journey. Literal and figurative. There are moments in your life that feel more like a dream than reality. This was such a time.
In the summer of 2019, pre-COVID (remember that?), I drove up with Matt Anthony to join a small bunch of songwriter friends in Maine for a writing retreat.
Incessant, heavy rain battered the car for hours on the congested highway north from NYC. I tried to manage the playlist and conversation wanting to keep things mellow and stress-free for Matt who was doing all the driving (I am a pathetic native New Yorker who drives only if absolutely necessary - meaning all other possible drivers are unconscious!). If Matt was stressed, he never let it show. There were times when we could barely see the cars ahead of us through the punishing sheets of rain. Just glittering, blurry taillights. So, we talked and sang along with the radio, and talked and sang, and talked and sang...
The rain finally abated, hunger called and we pulled off in Portsmouth, NH for dinner. I had never been to Portsmouth and had no idea how gorgeous it is! After dinner, Matt and I decided to take a quick walk around this New England post-card perfect town.
Outside of the restaurant, I asked a patron where we could find the water. He told me to fallow the Northstar and pointed to the sky. I said, "thank you Peter Pan" and then laughed that I had actually uttered those words. Everything felt dreamlike. A massive paper-white full moon glowed magically over the Piscataqua River. Everything was so serene and unreal, I wondered out loud if we had actually died on the rainy road in this town was heaven. Just like some weird sci-fi story that I am going to write one day!
We paused to take it all in and then hit the road again with hours still ahead. More talking and singing.
At midnight, we arrived at the Maine house to learn that one of our songwriter friend's flight was held up because of the same awful weather we had encountered earlier. James, was trapped at Newark airport until 4 AM!!!! We decided to wait for him and built a fire. Sat by the lake drinking wine and singing and talking and singing and talking...
The full moon was brilliant behind us and didn't seem to move in the sky. At all. We became obsessed with the fact that it wasn't moving. And maybe we really had died on the road. Then there was some crazy animal screaming in the woods. It kept getting closer and then moving away. Sounded like a woman being murdered. We learned that answer to "What Does the Fox Say?" It isn't pretty! All very surreal.
Our hostess awoke to join us. We drank more wine as the moon continued to hover in place and the sun gently rose in the East. The whole sky lit up with an otherworldly glow (inadequately captured by the top photo). Had I not taken this photo I would think I dreamed it all. I swear the moon did not move.
James arrived only moments before the sunrise. Around when this photo was taken. We poured him a glass of wine and continued to talk and watch as the sky grew light and hit our beds at around 8 AM!
Wonderful weekend ensued. Not much sleep, but lots of music, wine and fun!
But the journey was not over. There was the drive home.
Barely two hours out of Maine, I asked Matt if we could stop to grab a lobster roll atBob's Clam Hut. Don't laugh. It's one of the best lobster rolls you can get! All good until we got back into the car. Mind you, it was about 100 F outside. A scorcher. The car wouldn't start. We looked at each other in disbelief. After many jump-start attempts by friendly Bob's Clam Hut employees and patrons, we figured out that we had a bigger problem.
Suffice it to say, I learned what an alternator is that day. After some frantic phone calls and getting towed, where did we end up?
Porstmouth, NH. Very weird. OK, so we definitely died on the road. I was now convinced. We're back in the outskirts of Portsmouth at a Ruby Tuesdays laughing about how we've died and are forever trapped in this time loop.
I don't think I've found myself in the position of needing to kill time in decades! With the car at the shop, Matt and I roamed the highway on foot weaving through the industrial zone of Portsmouth. We visited a pet store, a home goods store, and finally ended up at a Guitar Center where Matt could show off his metal chops before getting the call that the alternator had been replaced.
Now it's almost 5 PM with a LONG drive back to NYC ahead.
Once again, I was very conscious of the fact that Matt was still driving. Not much sleep over the weekend. Super hot outside, and it's late in the day and he's $700 poorer than when we started out. Poor Matt...
We hit the road, cranked up the tunes and laughed, and sang, and talked and sang as the world blurred by us.
Lost in slow motion.
Wrote the song together a few days later.
Or is it?
For as long as I can remember I've always been the last one to bed. Might have a little something to do with the fact that I am a confirmed insomniac. Or am I an insomniac because I don't want to go to sleep? Here I am, at 12:30 AM writing this post while my family is tucked under the covers, fast asleep. It's just always been that way for me.
My song "Stay up with me Tonight" was inspired by Dylan Thomas' poem "Do not go gentle into that good night." Perhaps I have taken it a bit farther to say "do not go gentle into that good light!" While many people think of the over 50 crowd to be early-to-bed-early-to-rise types, I have seen my fair share of sunrises and called them bedtime. Sometimes it's just me on my own, I feel most creative at night! But it's so much more fun when I'm not alone - hence, the song. Stay up with me tonight!
So I rage on unwilling to quietly give in to the night/light. In "Stay Up" I sing "we'll rage against the light" and by that I meaning morning. Although, there was that time, years ago in Barcelona... we danced all night until 8 AM well past sunrise when the young folk were just arriving! Ah, I have lived. And live I will continue to do until...
In my father's last days, I read this poem to him before I would leave him. Don't get me wrong, my dad could sleep through an earthquake. But he also lived his life to its fullest. He could rage like the best of 'em. I suppose I inherited a scary combo. My mother's insomnia, and my father's ability to party and tolerate Scotch. I miss them both terrible. Sun, Moon, & Stars, Mom. Gus am bris an là, Dad. This poem is always for you.
Do not go gentle into that good night, by Dylan Thomas
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
P.S. The ghost of Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, is reported to haunt the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village.
Taking the artist name GHOSTE and making this album was more about revealing my truest musical, misfit, weird-ass-self than about assuming a new identity. For so much of my life I tried really damn hard to fit in. As an artist. As a human. It never worked. Trying to fit in only made me feel lost. Like a pitiful creature struggling in quicksand. The more I fought to belong, the more I disappeared. Became invisible.
“When you turn 50, you become invisible like a ghost." That’s what my beautiful, late mom told me. If she were here today, I would lovingly tell her that it does not have to be that way. Aging certainly isn’t always a graceful process, but past the half-century mark, I’ve never felt more alive. Aging doesn’t make you invisible.
Trying to be something you are not, does.
So I created GHOSTE. My own space. My own rules. More about that later.
My unsolicited advice? Stop trying to fit in! Don’t obsess over what you see in the mirror. Look in, look out, look up, and look around. One of the reasons I love taking photos (check out my instagram @ghostenyc) is that it focuses my attention on the world around me. There is beauty everywhere. So much beauty in you.
See, and you will be seen.👻
When my father died almost a year ago it was a massive letting go. Of the man I loved and cared for, but also saying goodbye to my childhood home and the many *things* it contained all steeped in memories.
My sister and I managed pretty well, but I couldn’t part with the badly damaged rug in Dad’s bedroom. This rug (the larger darker rug in this photo) was in my parents’ bedroom from the time I was born. As a child, whenever I had nightmares, I would sneak into my parents’ bedroom with my blanket and curl up on this rug next to where my mom slept.
Now, the borders were badly torn and frayed, and there were gaping holes dug by chairs, the hospital bed, and years of neglect.
It would need magical, and expensive repairs. Bashir, a specialist, identified the rug as an antique Kashan (circa 1900). And in an impulsive, and emotional move, I sent the rug off with Bashir to be repaired. Wondering if I had made a huge and costly mistake.
Here it is, almost a year later, several feet shorter than it was in its original form. A beautiful Frankenstein‘s monster of a rug.
I’m still paying it off. 😂
Yes, it’s just a thing. An inanimate object. It is not my childhood. Or my mother or father. And we must be forward looking and not live in the past. But this rug brings me joy. And I will treasure it for as long as I am able. 🖤🖤🖤🙏🏼
So much gratitude to all of you for listening, reading, and supporting this year. There are no words to adequately express my appreciation. It means everything to me.
Even for a GHOSTE, this has been a metaphysical and an existential year of self-affirmation, coming to terms with mortality, letting go and stepping up. For over a decade I have been a caregiver to my father as he became physically and mentally crippled by Parkinson's. It seemed he would survive anything. He held on for so long with so little. However, on the morning of November 22 he stopped breathing.
It has been a time to pack up, give away and say goodbye. And because my father rented his apartment, quickly.
It's heart-wrenching. But it's also an opportunity.
We take nothing with us. Any of us. So, HOHOHO and Marie Kondo all the way. If it doesn't bring you joy, out it goes. And when you live in an NYC apartment, that selection process is draconian. I've been so busy, I've hardly grieved, and I'm afraid that when it's all done I may fall to pieces.
Music is on hold. That hurts too.
But I want to take a moment to say that I love you. And I wish you all the LOVE and LIGHT your heart can hold in whatever form of celebration that takes. Life is beautiful and brief. Look up. Look at the person next to you. Pay attention. There is beauty everywhere. Reach out. Be kind. It matters. You matter.
Looking forward to 2020. May there be music! There will be.
Happy New Year!!!!!!
JB the GHOSTE
Photos of lovely strangers helping to clear out Dad's stuff
A few days before I’m a full deck of cards. Aside from wondering how this could possibly be, each year around my birthday I take inventory of my life. My days are full, challenging, and I'm always learning. Check. But the ledger has ample entries in both columns. The lines on my forehead and between my brows tell the story of the debit column. It’s been a stressful year.
Beyond the love of family and friends, what keeps me afloat is music.
I struggle, however, with tree-in-the-forest syndrome. Why do I create music? Does anybody hear me? Am I terrible? Why on earth do I care? Couldn’t I just continue with the rest of my very full, busy life and leave music well enough to the millions of other musical souls out there?
Nope. Can’t do it.
For as long as I can remember, music has been a part of me. Giving it up would feel like voluntarily surrendering a limb. It’s hard-wired. Music is my chlorophyll. It draws in sunlight, nourishes and energizes me.
I have a new music project called Ghoste. I realize it’s raised some eyebrows amongst my more Cartesian friends who think I’ve gone off the crystal, Ouija Board, deep-end. No more so than usual, kids. It’s still just me.
Instead of sulking, feeling invisible and voiceless, I found a new fun place to play. Where I can create outside of the constraints of “Jenny Bruce” singer-songwriter. Proud of the work I’ve done as such but needed a change.
Look… it was that or a nose ring and tattoo. Not ruling those out just yet.
Bring on the light. My aging leaves are evergreen.
Who hasn’t felt invisible at some point? Even though you know you have so much to offer, you feel unseen? Unheard? Like you're behind a veil.
I remember my mother telling me that when she turned 50, she became invisible.
My mother moved to New York City from Denver, drawn to the big city's glamour and lights, dreaming of becoming a model. As a young woman, she certainly was an alluring beauty, always done-up and elegantly dressed. My dashing father, eleven years her senior, swept her off her feet. She married at 21 and became a mother (to me) at 22, abandoning her dream of modeling, although she never stopped dressing the part. Frequently praised for her good looks well into her forties, her appearance was an integral and important part of her identity.
My mother was only echoing something I had heard time and again, that middle-aged women just fade into the background. That is presupposing that all women have to offer is their appearance! For that matter, I can think of some pretty gorgeous women over 50! Sadly, Mom only lived to see 60, but I believe if she were still here today, I could convince her that she didn’t have to feel invisible. Of course she aged, but she was still so beautiful. Her smile lit up a room and people were drawn to her wherever she went.
Of course, I like to feel beautiful. I'd be lying to say that aging is easy. For now, I try to not spend too much time looking in the mirror. There are far more interesting things to look at.
Certainly, I will not be picking up my knitting needles and shuffling into a rocking chair (not that both of those things don't sound cosy and lovely!). If that's what you want to do, enjoy. I've got other plans.
At this point in my life, I have my voice. I speak up. The layers of youthful inhibition that dogged me are slipping away. And while the past decade has been exceedingly challenging, I have discovered that I am stronger than I ever could have imagined.
I am not invisible.
The first definition of "Ghost" in the Miriam Webster dictionary is:
Definition of ghost
1: the seat of life or intelligence : soul
The seat of life or intelligence. The soul. Isn't that what this is all about? This life thing?
So hear me. Read me. See me.
I am GHOSTE.
You decide what the E is for. I'll never tell.