Martin: "So how did you get your start?"
Me: "I arrived in a city and went around town introducing myself as a musician so people started asking me to play gigs. I said "yes" and then went and wrote some songs, formed a band and showed up to the venue."
Martin: "That is very punk rock."
That was the short answer. Whether you have followed your dreams or ignored what is in your heart, we have all at least lived life and you will probably see some of your story in here. Mx
You Should Write a Book
"You should write a book!" I hear this a lot. I can't argue that I don't have a lot of unusual stories although for me my "stories" are simply my life. But, because I get asked I decided to answer in my own words without much reservation.
My hope is that my story as it happened as it happens and will happen (and, no, I don't know what is going to happen next either so we will find out together!)serves to inspire you to face and overcome any and all obstacles you come across as you pursue your dreams because it can be done. And if you haven't take the first step of daring to dream, I am here to tell you that anything is possible but making the decision is your first step and the most vital. Trust me on this.
You are most welcome to read to your heart's content. Its on me. I am enjoying doing this But if you find that you really enjoy and appreciate these stories and the time put into not just writing them but living them, there are TIP JARS along the way. A kitten won't die if you don't tip. I like kittens. That would be terrible.
The Front Man is a Girl.
"The Front Man" was a title given to me by a guy in the audience at my first show in Nashville when I moved there in 2007, somewhat on a whim aka I had enough gas money to get to a city near to where I was at the time- a city in which I did not live per se but had unceremoniously found myself in.
More specifically this audience member had said The Front Man is a GIRL! explaining to me that I was “just like cool punk bands from the 70s" only I was female. ” The show I played was billed as a high-profile "Sexy Songwriter's Night." That meant I was not only expected to be "sexy" but I was also expected to be quiet behind the hush of an acoustic guitar. Nonsense! I brought out a whole band and put on a rock and roll show! I had only been in Nashville a few months and before I arrived I hopped on Craigslist, found a group of guys that needed some direction, and slapped a band together so that I didn't miss a beat. It only lasted so long and I moved on. One of the first lessons I learned in Nashville was that the attitude towards anyone introducing themselves as a musician was generally met with a yawn and a "so what?" We were everywhere and so I remained hopeful my live line ups would be easy to find within such a fruitful landscape. I was both right and wrong as I came to discover.
That night at my first Music City USA show I did indeed wake up the audience through a mix of welcome jolts and a bit of “who does she think she is?" Hence, my new "Front Man" title which I wear proudly. Chicago music press later agreed with that fan’s sentiments: "The front man is the center-piece, the attention getter, and the hook and Michele is all of those things and more (Gaper’s Block.)"
I stayed the course and didn't leave Nashville until 2012. Had I not left , had a series of seemingly innocuous events not taken place, I may never have found John Ashton of The Psychedelic Furs. What trials and tribulations ensued on my way to meet him! That didn't happen until 2015 and may never have happened had I not ended up homeless in NYC.
Who Does She Think She is?
It has been guessed. It has been presupposed, assumed and predicted. My whole life very few fully got the person, me, standing in front of them. An oddity to me as I think I am perfectly understandable and obvious. I'd even go so far as to say that I am simple. No, not simple minded, just simple and perhaps people like to add complexities instead of just looking and listening. Or add to me what they hope is. Usually it isn't but that's all right.
There are those too who insisted I was "this" or "that." They were the toughest. No arguing with those types. They are looking at something that only exists in their heads. Most certainly some have ideas about me and what I might be like. I can't really speak to that. I only know what I know and that is I know exactly who I am and therefore, I am qualified to answer the question.
I also get asked a lot of questions about my life, where I have come from and how a girl who thought she couldn't sing got as far as I have with my music. I have no easy answers for anyone though through practice I have come up with what appears to answer the question without giving it all away or taking too much time as we will do here. Those with any real interest will read and that is who this is for. I can't possibly include everything nor is it wise. There will be holes in the story. Some things may not add up. Rest assured there are answers. Whether or not I will ever fill in the holes remains to be seen. But I think you will get to know me and my story. I find that when I am honest those that connect with me will find me and then I will have the pleasure of getting to know you too. Yes, I have made enemies along the way-or shall I say they have found me like they like to do to all artists. But I have made many more friends. Through my music I have met "my people" and though I find great exhilaration in songwriting and singing, I have equally enjoyed those I have met along the way. Here on these "pages" you will come to meet some from both sides of the aisle.
Danger: Keep off the Rocks. Or Don't. Up to You, Really.
The Front Man did leave Nashville down the road for NYC. It was my second time living there. Don't stop reading. The first time living there was the pivotal point on which my musical journey begins.
The view to a kill. Brooklyn facing NYC.
You know you’ve made it when you are standing on a dark corner late at night in Bed Stuy with three cops, a Hasidic Jew named Herman the Rapist and your belongings in a black trash bag. Yes. This is everything I ever wanted in life- for everything to culminate in this, my shining moment of doom. I was promised glamour. This was not glamour.
People often ask “How did you meet John Ashton?” And I sigh. There is a short version and then there is the truth. I’ve never told the full truth but to a few. I am not sure anyone who hasn’t closely walked this path me would believe me.
Little did I know that night trying to get Herman the Rapist to give me back my money for a room I rented, when all hope was surely lost, that John, whom I had not yet met in 2012, was a mere one hundred miles away in upstate New York. He and I would not meet until three years later and from an added 2,900 miles away.
Herman the Rapist was a “landlord.” A biblical man so in my weariness of having been caught up in an apartment scam that left me homeless just prior to this fiasco, with my guard down and my ass handed to me more times than a deceptively good looking man in a mall kiosk has asked me “Can I ask you something?” wanting to sell me a hair iron or skin cream by condescendingly flirting with me in hopes I will buy, I trusted Herman the Rapist to rent me a decent room for one month without issue. But Herman the Rapist was a creep. .
I needed solutions and I needed them fast. I was homeless in NYC. I’ve heard Beck was homeless once in NYC too and right after Loser became a big hit. I don’t know what I did wrong but I guess there is a way to do homeless better.
Herman the Rapist had taken my money for the room. It was a dump but it was better than the streets. After I gave him my money I went to make a call. I thought I was getting things under control so went back to unload my trash bag. The rest of my things were staying in a nicer place in Manhattan. A friend, who has since passed away, had a swanky condo that overlooked the NYSE. I’d stay there when I would go to NYC to play shows while living in Nashville. But only my belongings could have an extended stay in her storage cage. I, however, was on my own.
Better times. Dawn's roof of the swanky condo while playing NYC via Nashville.
“HERMAN IS A RAPIST!!” was now scrawled on the bedroom wall when I went back after the call. It had not been there before I was sure of it! I might have been out of it but I’d have noticed that I might get thrown up against the jukebox if I rented from Herman. the Rapist There was now another girl in the apartment. “Who are you?” I asked the plump girl with bad acne drinking PBR in the middle of the day. Apparently Herman the Rapist thought I might like a roommate. No, I would not like that. But there she was and she was bat shit crazy.
It remains a mystery who put Herman’s job title on the wall but my new roommate told me Herman the Rapist had a mistress that he had kicked out to make some side cash renting to the new roommate and me, the sucker who was just tired and didn’t care anymore. Thing is, I always care. No matter how far I have been beaten down, there always seems to be this last reservoir of giving a shit to draw from. If not I would have died one hundred times or more just this lifetime. Sometimes it pisses me off I have this well to draw from. Be easier to quit! Or so it seems. That would be far worse and so I told Herman the Rapist to go fuck himself and give me my money back because I did not also want to be raped or live with Bat Shit Crazy Girl. That is when it hit me “I am about to get ripped off again” and with that I shot out the door, ran down the street and found some police. I am sure they could not have cared less. Crime is just free entertainment there. But I stood my ground with Herman the Rapist and the cops and, although it was clear the cops thought I was a joke, I got most of my money back. What the cops thought of me was unimportant. As far as I was concerned I had already lost everything. What’s a little more pride lost too?
In the end, Herman the Rapist only kept $50.00 for the one night I would stay because per the cops I could never get a room in NYC for fifty bucks. No, probably I could have but for now I had a place to sleep for a night. I slept with one eye open and one hand clutching my trash bag. By sun up I was gone without a clue as to where to go next. Having friends in NYC is only somewhat helpful since most don’t have “extra room.” They are lucky if their bathroom door doesn’t hit them in the head when they sleep.
How I got here was even more fucked up.
Not long before all of this I had stood at the door of the apartment I rented in Astoria from a guy named Paul. It wasn’t the Big Apple but the place was mine all mine! Apparently it was also the apartment of the cousin of the criminal who rented her place out to myself and a few others while he was house-sitting for her while she was out of town.
The key didn’t work. “It must be a mistake!” Texting, calling, texting, calling, texting, call…
No response. Then the ton of bricks came barreling down and the stars fell out of the sky all at once.
World: “You are now officially homeless in NY. Congratulations.”
Me: I want to die.
(Incidentally, his real name was not Paul. I don't know his real name but I picked out his face in a stack of photos at the detective's office. I don't know what became of "Paul" but I hoped it involved a semi and a lot of pain. )
I remember talking to my mom on the phone as I prepared to spend the night in the Zip Car I had rented to move my things from the last place “You could come home.” A natural response from a mom. Its even sane and logical but sane and logical don’t get you your dreams.
“I can’t. I am not giving up” I told her and that was not lip service. It was the truth.
A bit before everything fell apart, before I could add “Public vomiting late at night on a park bench in Chinatown while rats scurried in my vision” to my list of “Things you don’t talk about on a first date,” when things were coming together and life looked like I had it in the bag, I sat in an East Village bar with Leee Black Childers, a rare opportunity indeed! He held my hand in a corner booth and said “This was just like when Debbie (Harry) arrived” and gave me a big smile. He was clearly pleased and I was happy to oblige. I was as excited as I was ignorant about what was to come.
This is a mere fraction of the story. Its taken me six years to sit down and write just one portion out in any detail. Typically my answer to how I met John is “Oh, its a long story” or other broad , easier to swallow terms I hope will satisfy someone enough to be done with the line of questioning ( Its almost as daunting as asking me where I am from.) I will at least mention how, on the surface we met. But it is a long story and it is a story of persistence and finding the strength, even when I had to kid myself it existed, to carry on no matter what. No matter what.
Six years later, in October of 2017, I found myself grocery shopping in upstate NY with one of the most legendary guitarists on the planet so as to be sure I was well fed in the studio as though this was a totally normal thing to be doing. Grocery shopping is, yes, normal. I am just used to doing it alone and without someone who has gold records. Who'da thunk it?
Luck or hard work? You can decide. Meanwhile, we are inching closer to releasing the first single. The others playing on it are super special to me. You will meet them soon.
Uncharted Territory, my 2012 release, was a record I wish more had heard as I think its my best work so far. I gotta say releasing a record and being homeless and moving across country after said homelessness is not easy. There are probably better times to do so but I was committed to not letting criminals and deadbeats stop me so I released the title track while I was in NY immediately after getting conned. And I did so as I sat in what was essentially a crack house- a place I reluctantly went to before I landed with Herman the Rapist. I worked away at getting the song out while atop an air mattress, alongside a mangy cat I hoped wouldn’t pierce all I had to sleep on, months of trash piled high in the courtyard as my view and a nasty respiratory infection.
And, to think, I ended up there because the housing situation before The Crack Den (but after the con) was mind-blowingly horrific. But, hey! I had not (yet) given up on NYC at this point. I was still there if by kicking and screaming to do so. In the end the city changed to "This Looks Far Enough Away From NYC While Still Being on the Mainland, Portland, Oregon" but the dream never changed.
The dream, as it were, began earlier. Let's head there now.
* Note: This was moved from another section and as comments cannot also be moved, thank you to those who took the time to say a word or two.
Great storytelling. You really should write a book! Annie W., UK
Wow what a story! I am shaking. Thanks for sharing that. Write that book! Laurie, Georgia
This just in, you are not alone and yes, you are a good storyteller. Waiting for the next chapter. ❤️? Wade, Connecticut
What a great story. Michelle your a wonderful writer , story teller who paints a picture I can see as I read this . Nobody loves the rain in Portland ..
can't wait for the next chapter! Gary. R., Seattle
Becoming "Michele Ari"
My first show was early 2003 in Tampa Bay. It was a mix of covers and barely completed originals but I had formed a fine band of top Tampa Bay rock/punk/hillbilly musicians in my line-up with little more than a wink and a smile. We were called The March Issue named after, well, the March Issue of Guitar Magazine. Quite frankly, we weren't great but we didn't empty out the bar. This was positive to me and all the encouragement I needed not to mention it was a gas.
I walked away with two important things: First, I found out "I can do this and want to do it more than anything!" and second that even my half-assed songs got people dancing and smiling. Oh, and I learned that sometimes musicians don't show up to a gig and keep their promises, a lesson to be learned over and over again. My first gig I was already replacing the drummer last minute.
The March Issue lasted for two gigs. We are friends to this day.
It was another musician however, my neighbor, who said "Michele, you are going to write all of the songs, book all of the shows and do all of the work. Why not put your name on it? I will help you get started." And so "Michele Ari" it was and has been and has been so for no other reason than my friend was right.
I was suddenly Natalie Merchant without too many maniacs to show for it and no hit songs. My "solo career" began before I could "break out" of some other musical path riding the success of my very famous band. While I bear the weight of all responsibilities it was a smart thing to do.
To date I have been playing and performing across the US in high-profile venues and tucked away dive bars alike billing under my own name and inviting other musicians across the country to do the same. I've played to full rooms and at times to only a few. I have been supported beyond my wildest dreams and I have been vilified and left on the side of the road in the cold with a flat tire by my own band while on a tour. I once read the Henry Rollins would sit in a locked U-Haul trailer on tours instead of with the band. I can appreciate this. We can't all be Fleetwood Mac.
Come what may, I have released three independent EPs that seemed to reach across the world much to my excitement and thanks to the internet becoming a "thing" and certainly, much credit for that is due to MySpace- the one that was great and invaluable. My first reviews shocked even myself, so much so that I printed them off and showed people as if to ask "Is this for real?" It seems little dorky now but I was awfully excited. I did get one bad review. The website was called something like "Smother You to Death" or some horrible thing. They hated my music, me and the ground I walked on. Its OK. You know who did like me more than a decade later and thought my music was pretty good?: John Ashton.
Not my first gig but certainly an early one.