Friday, 12 August 2011

Still sane... You may think you're crossing the line... Still sane... You may think you're losing your mind

Well Worth a Listen

“Still Sane”, by Carolyn Mas (1979)

In the same vein as “Hold Your Head Up” by Argent or “Don’t Let is Show” by the Alan Parsons Project, “Still Sane” is one of those ‘self-help’ songs. It, like the other songs on her debut album of the same name, has an undertone of defiance, yet vulnerability. It always puzzled me why Carolyn Mas did not have better commercial success.

Born in NY, Carolyn’s father invented the battery charger. I didn’t know that when her debut self-penned album “Carolyn Mas” came out in 1979, but that is a good enough reason for me to listen if I had not already. Classically trained in voice, piano and guitar, in her early years she listened to Cole Porter, the Beatles, Dylan, and all kinds of classical and folk music.

After her boyfriend declared that “my girlfriend doesn’t sing” her aunt gave her a copy of “The Feminine Mystic”. This 1963 book by Betty Friedan was like the feminist manifesto for the 1960’s. It talked about how seemingly happy housewives were unhappy in their role; men making all the decisions in politics, the media, and at home, and encouraged woman to become independent, educated, and even if they were ‘housewives” they should think of themselves as ‘professionals”. Essentially their role as housewife had denied them the opportunity to explore their own identity, which led to unhappiness.

There was an explosion of female artists very much entwined with the feminist movement in the mid to late 1960’s and into the ‘70’s - whether they consciously realized it or not, the door had been opened for women.  Acts like Wanda Jackson, Janis Martin, Brenda Lee and other ‘50s ‘girl groups’ had been suppressed and controlled. Society changed in the ‘60s and strong women like Grace Slick, Tina Turner, Mamma Cass Elliott, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Nico, and later Blondie, Pat Benatar and others would not only change, but leave their indelible mark on the face of rock and roll.

Almost in defiance Carolyn stands in a black hat and coat on her debut album with a completely black background. Besides the usual credits on the inside sleeve is a copy of Carolyn’s 1961 Kindergarten report card from her teacher Agnes Adams which reads “Carol is a capable student. She enjoys all types of activities. Her small muscular work is highly defined. She is artistic and has a sense of detail and proportion; her mind is imaginative. She enjoys rhythm and music. Carol dawdles at times. She needs to develop a more realistic sense of time. Carol sometimes needs to be reminded of class rules”.  

[My report card from my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Hagensen would have been more like “David is a capable student. He enjoys most activities and learns quickly. His is imaginative and creative. He enjoys rhythm and music. David gets along with the other students if and when he wants to. He likes ‘rest time’, milk and peak freans and has a good sense of humour. David needs to try to participate in all class activities and get along all the time. Because David learns quickly he can become bored and choose not to participate at times. He also needs to be reminded of class rules from time to time”.]

Probably her best song is the melancholy “Snow”, which my younger sister and I both enjoy to this day.
Also “Quote, Goodbye Quote”, “Sade Says”, “It’s No Secret”, and “Sittini’ In the Dark” are great songs. She also does a great rendition of “Sleepwalk” on her 2003 album “Beyond Mercury”.

Although she never achieved more than really a cult success in North America, many of her band members went on to great success:  Crispin Cioe (horns) went on to play with the Rolling Stones, Ivan Elias (bass) went on to play with Scandal, Bobby Chouinard (drummer) with Billy Squier, and Charlie Giordano (keyboards) with Bruce Springsteen.  

Her aunt (who gave her “The Feminine Mystique”) lived with her, her family and mom in Florida until her death in 2008. Carolyn’s “Our Animal Haus Inc” a non-profit animal rescue and sanctuary, continues to grow in size.

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