First of all, Lindsey made me do this. If you don’t know me you won’t get much out of this. If you do know me you may get less: Annual Holiday Letter

December 2018 (if you believe that you’re a chump)

Good Tidings fellow loved ones,

I haven’t written a Holiday Letter in about a decade. “So what’re you doing these days?” Superhero Lindsey Anderson describes me as a, “Glamazon and author.” I haven’t authored anything other than my blog debbiessong.com.  I posted a few stories about my life back when it moved faster than global warming. People “liked, loved, laughed” my stories.  Most meaningful is they asked for and more. Regina Joskow publicist extraordinaire as well as a friend from the late 80s, a time when most of my compatriots  were beginning our music business careers, sent debbiessong to a literary agent. “This woman has a book in her and I want to read it.” Regina claims she acted out of pure selfishness. She didn’t. This is the most generous act anyone has ever executed on my behalf.

I received an email from the literary agent asking if I’d be interested in writing a book. After I picked myself up off of the floor and thought this must be rhetorical, with all the humility I could muster,  I replied. “I very much like the idea of what—and how—you’re describing the book to be. It sounds exciting & fun, it sounds sexy, it sounds harrowing, it sounds eye-opening.” I am charged with writing an eye-opening book. Not too much pressure there David, but thank you for taking me on, thank you for those highly motivating words, and our “no question is stupid” phone calls. David was secondly most generous on my behalf.   Back to, “What’re ya’ doing these days?” Staring at a MacBook Air trying to conjure harrowing.

David Dunton is also Jeff Tweedy’s agent. The guy in Wilco. I signed Jeff’s first band Uncle Tupelo. Wilco is one of my very favorite bands. Jeff just released his autobiography Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back Again). You need to read it. Here’s an idea, go visit Amazon right now and I’ll wait. I own three copies the hardcover, Kindle version and Audible. Listening to Jeff tell his own story makes me eager to drive  Reading him makes me eager to write. He also makes me feel that being a recovering drug addict isn’t something to be ashamed of.  We only stay sober by sharing and he gave me permission to do that.  No surprise then that sharing an agent with Jeff Tweedy strikes a chord deep within me. Having been asked to write a book and sharing an agent with Jeff Tweedy made for a red-letter year. Understandably I can probably stop here. You’re allowed to I’ve already hit the climax. It’s all descending action from here.  #3

fullsizeoutput_1347
You can’t leave without knowing Brady turned 15!  (further down in case you bail here)
img_2978
And you should see the Annual (this is a ritual)  ‘DGen Beach Baby’ photo. Same beach, same tank top five years running now. Yes, every year “things” are a little different. whateves.

It has been four years since I returned to my roots. Now a bona fide Jersey Girl, I am the best type of girl. Just ask The Boss. I live with my mom who had femoral bypass surgery this year.  This was serious business. She underwent a six-hour operation during which her lipstick stayed perfect. My mother came home and went directly back to bossing me around, an orthodox six hours of CNN, card-carrying colorful statements about the orange guy, and nightly doses of Stephen Colbert. She’s square dancing again and faster than me with a grocery cart.

img_3246
Mom, grocery cart, Whole30 prep!  Go!!!

The renovation(s) started with a comfy sectional couch in the TV room. That and the mold behind my bathroom tiles led us to a complete bathroom renovation by a neighbor who convinced us he could renovate anything (I bet you can see where this is going-lawsuit). Our bathroom resembled a crooked house with tiles about to fall, a slate floor that wouldn’t stay put, and a paint job that…I can’t even talk about. I am describing the renovation. While the “You’ve got to be kidding me,” renovation took place I was enduring a high risk root canal procedure. There is a construction god up there who needs a good spanking. Second time around, obviously with new a new contractor, my bathroom is stunning. I have become a pink bath bomb addict. To boot, I finally ventured into my storage unit, and with a little help from my friends worked on feng shui-ing shabby chic. The 2nd floor is finally the perfect place to write a funny, sexy book and then walk across the hall to nap on a velvet rose chaise (quick stop to look at the Italian porcelain tiles). Home finally feels like home. Next year we keep going. Sore assed construction god better behave himself.

img_3220
This is a terrible photo of art bathroom

For the most part I am happy here (I miss the subway, and the 360 style-I am so not a mall girl). The dogs have a yard. BTW-Brady turned 15 this year! He’s got arthritis but so does everyone I know. His brain is a little “off” but again such is the case with most everyone I know. He’s on medication…ad infinitum. Sadie the shih tzu speaks. She throws shade. I’m tempted to record her giving the furniture a good talking to, but I don’t want her to think I’m taking the piss out of her, and I am as much of a GIF person as I am a mall rat. I have gardens that yield bushels of veggies. I started a strawberry field, blueberry thicket and the butterfly bushes and moonflowers keep us in awe.  On a rainy afternoon a few weeks ago I collected and dumped mammoth bags of horse manure into my compost heap. I realize this is a difficult image for you to conjure. My boots have walked into many an interesting environment I can now add mountains of horse poo onto the list.

img_3038
Moonflower

About 18 months ago I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. I couldn’t understand why taking a nap meant blocking out four hours of my day. I woke up like Dorothy’s Tin Man. Completely hinged and hours of joint pain before I could truly kick start a day. You guys know me. Debbie is a gumby yoga person not a piece of rusty steel. I was always asleep so why did my muscles feel overworked? My blood tests were right something was wrong. It took a grumpy rheumatologist to put the puzzle together.  Grumpy rheumatologist prescribed Otezla. My magical chiropractor has been begging me to stop eating sugar and starch (may sound like dreaming the impossible dream-but no says the Whole30 which I start on 1/1/19-please regale me with your own Whole30 tales). The biggest bummer has been the two-year cessation of my yoga practice.  Daily meditation became my exercise medium.  I highly suggest it. I am feeling 75% back to normal and have nothing to complain about.  2019 is the year I will downward dog almost as often as I walk the dog.

A  group of women in Ridgewood, NJ saved my life. They continue to a day at a time. Many of you, have for too long, watched me suffer from destructive and oppressive habits, or you have suffered from them (I haven’t reached that step yet). Russell Brand says, “Addiction is an invisible prison.” I choose to live in a prison? And a prison I built for myself? Really? That is fucked up. “We” is the first word of the 12 Steps. I suppose this is why it took a community of women to give me hope. When I am stressed and overwhelmed they direct me to the solution. Living a solution-based life is how I find serenity (something I wish for everyone). I work hard. Anything worth having is worth working for.  The prize, I stay sober, I get to hold onto hope, and help someone else who needs some. My new life is my best life. Shared hope. WOW! Being that my sobriety is the most important piece of my life I do everything I am told to keep it. May seem almost as odd as standing in a pile of horseshit.  They both create something beautiful. As Michael Alago says, “Giiirrrl! It just ain’t pretty any more.” I like being pretty.

fullsizeoutput_11be
April is not from Ridgewood she’s from Ste. 303 on Bond St. An old friend who keeps me on my toes, keeps me honest, and keeps allowing me to grow my hair.  I love her.

In 2018 I lost my great friend Gary Harris. He was too unique and far too special for me to find the words that rightfully describe the impact his friendship had on me. A couple times a month I think, “I gotta talk to Gary about this.” All I can do is look up and know he’s listening.  Gary left me gifts, this blog is one and this man is another.  Gary was not stingy.  Q-Tip is a lightning bolt who jumps around like a kid, makes music like a master, spits wisdom and really I wish he weren’t so damn wise-not fair.  We got some plans, maybe next year’s letter.  Maybe not.  Art is a journey.

img_2729
Just another toy in the playground.

I also lost a new friend Elizabeth Ortiz who suffered for most of her young life and is now free of pain and disappointment. Selfishly I miss her big brain and bigger imagination. We could laugh over abscesses and feeding tubes. Yeah, she used the hard life god handed to her brilliantly. I have two new angels watching out for me. I spent New Year’s Eve 2017 in the hospital with Elizabeth. I spent the NE Patriots final playoff game 2018 with Gary. They’ll be with me this year too. Always remember THIS last time may damn well be THE last time.  And I am not talking about the Patriots and the Super Bowl.

2018: No exotic trips.  I didn’t go much farther away than East Hampton.  I had a very normal some days are fab and some are shite year.  However, I got to see an intimate Patti Smith show at the teeny Minetta Lane theatre, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Breeders, Kendrick Lamar, Nick Cave, Queens of the Stone Age, Jack White, Lucinda Williams, jeez that’s some fab music in one year and there are probably more, but the age/memory equation…well you probably know. I was taken to the theatre a couple of times. Joined a Book Club. Attended a few book, record releases/art openings. I wrote-see David, if I didn’t lose you at the #3 mark I am writing.

I made a point to connect with friends who I had lost touch with and whose company I always enjoyed.  People who make my life juicy. (Shout out to Jeff P., Mitchell C., Regina J., Danny S., Greg G., Rachel, Tip, Miguel, to name a few…).  I stayed close to my friends who forgive me everything and vice versa. (Lindsey and Juli you lead the way).  I made new friends who are so wise and spirited it’s off the hook. (Far too numerous to shout out).  Thanks to all of you for helping me navigate a year of life on life’s terms. You know who you are and you are solid gold. You make the world a better place and me a better person cow poo and all.  Happy 2019.

fullsizeoutput_134d
Solid gold.

If you made it this far, don’t say I didn’t warn you.  The pinnacle was in the third paragraph, but I’m glad you’re here blessed reader.

****If you are a friend or acquaintance of Diane Gentile (The Bowery Electric, Diane Gentile and the Gentlemen, Jesse Malin’s former manager,  Radio Promotion goddess- MCA/A&M Records)…please donate to her Go Fund Me page.  Her spirit is positive but she’s on a long road to recovery.  Start out 2019 with karma in your piggy bank.

https://www.gofundme.com/dianegentile?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=fb_dn_postdonate_r&fbclid=IwAR3bG_gtsV6F68ltJFabKL3YHfr5jyBUotxpwEe-mGWgwCFyCLErzx-6SlY

 

 

 

Drug Farm

“Got a knife in my back got a hole in my arm when I’m driving the tractor on the drug farm” Lyrics Dave Wyndorf/ Photo: Michael Alago

 

Once again Gary Harris schooled me, “Debbie stop the bullshit! Get over it. I have never known an A&R person who had hits that didn’t get high. Debbie I have never known an A&R person who had hits that didn’t get high. I have NEVER known an A&R person who had hits that didn’t get high.” This A&R executive had mad crazy skills at both. *An aside-Before this roller coaster takes off, I must confess two important factors: I lived a life where timelines didn’t exist, and I spent many years picking up and putting down alcohol. 1989 through 2004 was a fast lane. Please be tolerant.

The late 80s came with Uncle Tupelo. East St. Louis may be the most depressing place in America. I think in order to live there, which they did, you were compelled to drink. “Whiskey bottle over Jesus.” Plus the beer at Cicero’s cost about fifty cents. Eventually I could outdrink Jeff Tweedy. Although chaotic and potentially disastrous the whole gig was fun. Teenage Fanclub and Uncle Tupelo played CBGBs. My red shoes ended up on the wrong side of the bar. Tony Margherita and I spent a good part of the night shouting for more beer, trying to retrieve my shoes and more often knocking each other over. Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression started a movement, and a magazine. CMJ ruled the 80s and an indie-hit record was still a hit.

While pounding down beers at Don Hills he spoke and I slurred about the Wilco masterpiece Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Also, I may have fallen off my seat. Jesse Malin was so upset he thought the logical thing would be to tell everyone how worried he was. New York City rock & roll rumors do one thing, they get back to you. “I could think of only one person I would want to take to this show.” Jesse was offering to take me to see The Stones. “You’re telling people I’m on pills??? How dare you! I wouldn’t see The Stones with you if you were the last person alive.” I was too high and too arrogant to see my favorite band with one of my favorite people. I never had a hit record with DGeneration, but I did sign them to a major label and in turn they put me on the map below 14th St. the equivalent of a hit.

Around the time Andy Gould arrived, strip bars, the Cigar Club 666, The Ivy, The Palm, chic hotel bars, anywhere fun and everywhere we could drink became the norm. Andy was a combination of Arthur, and Austin Powers (and possibly any role Dudley Moore ever played). We worked ourselves to exhaustion. We drank and joked and danced. Andy even danced like Austin Powers, I had Axle Rose perfected. Andy helped me settle into L.A. The one where you drank Bloody Mary’s at Barneys for breakfast tablehopping to kiss-kiss. Drank Pina Coladas for breakfast while Andy Gould and Bob Chiphardi cheered on that nefarious Gene Simmons make out session. Martinis were as commonplace as naked pool jumping. I was scrupulous about keeping my clothes on, even though most of them were sheer and stained with red wine, they never got wet, and they always stayed on. L.A. is manifest for voyeurism. Andy ensured us a front seat. He was a genius, and I loved being Andy’s wingman. A cheeky twosome who shot for the stars, and every album, single and video we worked on together went big. Went larger than our collective malfeasance.

fullsizeoutput_1130
Me and Andy Gould at The Four Seasons Hotel. Last call. Good thing my leg was there…

On “Black Thursday” I landed safely and securely at Interscope Records. Eventually Andy left me for Jordan Shure, and I filled the void with Queens of the Stone Age. I was signing the most important band of my career. I was also heart broken. That’s a story for another day, but involved vomiting a great deal of tequila on one of the cutest boys on the L.E.S. One bona fide fuck up. In absolution I gave up drinking alcohol and eating food. Instead I ate pills. When I walked my purse rattled. Still good fortune shone down on me. Black Thursday + a job = major hit.

Dave Wyndorf cornered me in a hallway at The Chelsea Hotel. “Are you on pills? You look terrible!!! You think you look junkie chic? You look fucking hideous!!!” (P.s.-I’m worried about you) Of course I was doing pills. I was eating pills all the time. My jumping off point were the sleeping pills I discovered that would get me through all the sleepless nights that finally gave birth to Power Trip. Having just been pierced from tongue to toe I did what any pilled, pained, pummeled waif would do ran down the stairs. Space Lord Motherfucker getting you through Power Trip almost killed me! By the way, once we had that hit record the drug farm seemed a very nice place to hang my cowboy hat with matching boa.

Another tour bus, another OzzFest, boys jerking off to another Pantera set, Ozzy performing night after night in those awful sweat pants with that stupid hose. It clicked, “What would Nick do?” WWND? “It must be five o’ clock somewhere.” That’s exactly what Nick Oliveri would do. I was still living in absolution for the tequila incident. So when that first beer got gulped guided by a handful of klonopin my body had a party. Rated R was rearing towards Gold. I was high.

Debbie Nick
WWND? Obviously I’d done the thing Nick would do. Photo: Lindsey Anderson

Those days felt magical. Josh and Nick showing up unannounced at my NYC office, “Let’s go do stuff.” Stuff got done. Me showing up at The Academy in London, while a still fully clothed Nick palmed off a handful of Percodan. “Want these?” Josh, his brother and Brody called from Niagara. “Okay, I’ll meet you for ONE drink.” Sitting down at the booth, Josh locked eyes, “I’m gonna get you so fucked up.” Next thing I knew it was 5:00 a.m. and I was barefoot hailing a cab. The February barefoot walk of shame is not pretty. We already had one hit and apparently I was dancing barefoot to another.

Somewhere in the midst of all this self-imposed chaos Asif Ahmed showed up dangling The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Some people black out and end up in Vegas. I ended up in Copenhagen. Asif and I wrestled on the floor of the Soho Hotel (an evil place). He broke bottles of red wine and drank from them. I drew a line. It was white. “If Jimmy doesn’t come to the L.A. show we won’t sign with you.” It takes a lot of sedatives and liquid fortitude to talk Jimmy Iovine into a rock club. “If you don’t come to the UK we won’t sign with you.” We shoved half eaten lobster shells into the Polygram executives’ man bags. Asif and I never walked into a meeting with anyone, not Jimmy Iovine, not David Joseph, not Lyor Cohen, without bringing bottles of red wine and demanding sandwiches. By this point I could lick my wardrobe and get drunk. However, somewhere between New York, Los Angeles, Lost Vegas and a whole lotta UK, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs signed with us. They delivered not just a hit album, but “Maps.” Fever to Tell made everything I did excusable (even though most of it was Asif’s fault).

QOTSA opened for the RHCP at MSG. It was Josh’s birthday. I drank magnums of champagne with Karen O and during the bacchanalia lost a couple of my hair extensions. One became the centerpiece of the big man’s b-day table. Asif notified me of the sad, sad, loss. Brody and I spent as much time in the Ladies Room as we did dancing and hugging. I was outlandishly skinny, I was highly successful and did not care that I was outlandishly high. Here’s the catch, other people did. Care.

fullsizeoutput_1133
Me and Brody. If you’re lucky, and I am, you find out there’s a life filled with love outside of the Ladies Room. Photo: Lindsey Anderson

I fell down. A lot. I wrecked romantic relationships with my head in a toilet, a drunk- dial, or a temper tantrum. I threw money around like a member of G-Unit. I was always bruised. I wrecked thousands of dollars of Marc Jacobs clothing. Everything was excessive: dancing, sex, working, the number of people a bathroom could hold, shopping, exercising, apologizing, money, lack of money, travel, dinners, outfits, embarrassing myself…everything. But hey, I had hit records, Grammy nominations, charisma…Suddenly something stalled. I got tired. I got lonely. I’d had it with hits. I stopped getting high.

Sex, drugs and rock & roll compose a contract I signed with no legal representation. I made the mistake of believing the holy trinity must be grossly indulged. I would like to say the “Tractor” stopped there. Now and then there was a drought, or a break down. Finally the day came when the farm sold, and the tractor rotted.

Recently backstage at MSG, one of the most badass women to ever walk the earth whispered, “Debbie, sober is better.” Truth told not all A&R executives who have hits get high; it’s more like 85%. Gary knew I had something most don’t. Stories. When he demanded, “Debbie, stop the bullshit,” he was giving me permission to tell them.

-Dedicated to every person who came to my aid circa 1989-2004. Dave W, Phil C, Nicole H, Matt H, Jesse M, Danny S, Diane G, Steve K, Kristin H, Lisa B, Ellen M-P, Michael A, Thom E, Cid S, Asif A, Liz B, Julie F, Dana M, Mark W, David C, Jimmy I…more than I can list (or remember-oy the mind). I’m sorry if I’ve left you out, you are all my angels. Mom and Daryl you have the biggest wings, by far.

The original “Debbie’s Song” published June 2010

The Original Debbie’s Songhttps://insideplaya.org/2010/06/19/debbies-song-3/

Debbie’s Song

The playa has worked with many artists, many executives, and many labels. One of the most interesting periods of a long and creative experience was the time I spent as a young A&R executive on the staff of the EMI Records Group. It was a time immediately after I’d experienced creative success on a world wide basis, when I’d led Giant/Warner Brothers Records into the Urban Music market by playing a significant role in compiling the soundtrack for the crack opera, “New Jack City.” For my efforts, I was rewarded by being shown the door. A former label mate provided an opportunity for me to continue practicing my craft, and I joined the EMI staff in early ’92.

Debbie Southwood-Smith was another young A&R executive at the label with taste, wit and style. We have been friends ever since we worked together. Please find below her brief first person account of her time spent in records, and her most recent career developments. Even though I know the story, I found it to be riveting. I hope that you’ll agree.

insideplaya

I was an A&R executive for about twenty years. I started directly after graduating from Emerson College in Boston, when I landed a starter-kit job with MCA’s regional branch in Woburn, MA. I worked as a promotional assistant, gathering data on radio adds, drops and specialty show plays. I could also be found packing up vinyl to be shipped out to Oedipus’ WBCN or Sunny Jo White’s KISS 108 as well as occasionally driving out to Amherst or Providence to deliver a record personally. After watching REM climb the top 40 charts with “Losing My Religion, I recalled that just a few years earlier I had watched them perform T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” at The Rathskellar. Michael Stipe’s back was to the audience – which had been scant at best -almost the entire set. I decided I wanted to help bands journey the path from almost complete obscurity to crossover and mainstream acceptance.

Michael Alago Little Steven Van Zandt Debbie Southwood-Smith

MICHAEL ALAGO LITTLE STEVEN VAN ZANDT & DEBBIE SOUTHWOOD-SMITH (THE AUTHOR)

I’m a Jersey Girl, having moved from Queens to Hackensack where I spent most of my formative years. In 1989, I went back to Queens and got an apartment that I shared with three boys, all of whom were upstarts in the music business. I got a job working for an independent label called Rockville Records. I signed a band called Uncle Tupelo, now considered pioneers of the alterna/ country movement. They later split up and Wilco was born from one of their branches. I caught the attention of Brian Koppelman and Fred Davis. (“Who is this girl who is everywhere, every night?”) Brian took me to see The Black Crowes right before Shake Your Money Maker was released, gave me Fred’s number and told me to call him directly. Fred was hiring for the newly consolidated EMI/ Chrysalis/ SBK label group and needed a street kid. My lucky number had been pulled. I did some stuff. I signed a crazy rock band from New York City named DGeneration, who were destined for greatness, but shit happens – and that’s another story for another blog. I signed Blessid Union Of Souls who had the #2 song in the country. I was 29 years old. That was cool. I left EMI and went to A&M Records. Fred said, “People in the business like you, but now you need to have some success,” so I made a gold record with Monster Magnet who tore up rock’s airwaves and created mayhem on every tour stop. A&M was my family until it was kinda torn apart, and the remains absorbed by Interscope Records. Many reading this will remember it as Black Thursday- my ass landed at Interscope. Dazed and confused, I got up off the deck, ignoring the horrible things people were saying about “girls being kept on because we were paid less” – a fact, yes, a reasonable one, no.

I got busy. It was 1999 and I had places to go, things to do and bands to sign. I signed Queens of the Stone Age who had gold records followed by a platinum record. I signed The Yeah Yeah Yeahs who had a gold record and a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. I got a new boss. We didn’t see eye-to-eye and things got tough. But I still remember Interscope marketing overlord, Steve Berman referring to me as their golden girl. (“What are you going to do next? Everything you touch turns to gold.”)

Debbie's Back

THE AUTHOR

photo_feverto2_300rgb

THE YEAH YEAH YEAHS

Eventually Interscope cut my position in 2005. I had a deal on the table for TV on the Radio, but I couldn’t get anyone to pay attention to me. I had gone from golden girl to lost and confused girl. An antiquated business model that had everyone running on fear threatened all the record companies. There were a whole lot of people out in LA trying to decapitate each other; the whole situation had changed into some sick joke that had something to do with Machiavellian laws, which frankly, I don’t play by. I couldn’t survive in that environment. I did yoga everyday, for crying out loud, I was like all “Om” and shit. In 2005 I was unemployed and completely lost. My identity as “Debbie from Interscope” gone. I did some totally dumb things like giving up my Greenwich Village apartment on Christopher Street, where I had lived for 16 years and moving to the Massachusetts countryside and trying to work at Long View Studios, thinking about many possibilities, none of which worked out. I ended up in Jersey City contemplating my next move while the music business, as I had known it from 1986-2005 was laid to rest. I believe in survival of the fittest, yet even so, I can’t help but feel a tad bitter about being dismissed from a life that I poured my heart and soul into. There will always be a part of me that cries out, “Why me?”

Here, the story takes a turn. I decided to teach. I’d taught a class on A&R for Baruch College on and off for five years. During that experience I had learned that no matter what subject you are teaching, what you are really doing is trying to help people make sense out of life, and in turn those people helped me understand my life, little by little. It was the only time in my life, since I had started working in the music business that I was doing something selflessly, because believe me honey – no matter what your federal or state government is telling you – teaching is never about the money.

I enrolled in Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Master of Education program. I graduated (with a 3.89- ahem) in 2009 and was hired by the school in which I completed my student teaching internship. The high school where I am currently employed as an English teacher is James J. Ferris High School in Jersey City. It is located under the NJ Turnpike overpass in the center of the Montgomery Projects. It is truly what in PC terms is referred to as “an inner city school.” These are the schools placed in minority districts. No matter what your property tax is, I can guarantee that these schools are not receiving your tax dollars in any significant way. These are the buildings in which our black, Dominican, Pakistani, Filipino, Puerto Rican, Haitian and any other economically challenged minorities are placed. Why am I there? Because you go where you are needed.

THE AUTHOR

My students love music. They all have mp3 players of some make or model. They have sneakers and most have cell phones. What they do not have is a future unless they are the few who are determined against all odds to create one. My students are mostly 16-18 year olds who are in their sophomore year. In the record industry we had a term for the second record “the sophomore slump.” This applies to high school as well. The students read and write on a grade level ranging from third to sixth grade. Rare are the kids who are “on track.” Even my honors levels classes are filled with young people who have never been taught how to properly conjugate a verb, capitalize a proper noun, or insert a paragraph. They do not understand the definition of simple words, such as refute, contagious or sinister. They don’t know that Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden are related. They are completely unaware that there is an enormous oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico that will somehow affect their lives in years to come. What they know is the ghetto in Jersey City.

Many of my students don’t live with their parents, or perhaps they live with one parent. They have been handed off to guardians because their parents are still in the DR or Haiti or wherever, or their parents are on the streets, or dead. There might be a myriad of other reasons for the lack of adult guidance in their lives. Every kid has a story and most of them are very sad. Many of my students are gang members, or their blocks are under the control of a gang. An enormous majority of the girls will not graduate before becoming mothers. The kids who make it to college usually attend the community college, an extension of the “inner city schools” they are a product of, and drop out after a year or maybe two. My students live with very little hope for a future that doesn’t involve government assistance.

THE AUTHOR SURROUNDED BY THE STUDENTS OF FERRIS HIGH SCHOOL

When I worked in the music business I always had a bag packed in my living room. I had frequent flyer points on almost every airline. I traveled to and did business in almost every state in the union. I spent time in the UK, and considered myself “bi-coastal.” I wasn’t a girl from Hackensack, NJ anymore. I was exposed to so much, and my life in the Big Apple was filled with art, adventure and people from every walk of life. I knew arty hipsters like The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I knew important, wealthy men like Rick Wake, Jimmy Iovine and David Anderle. I rubbed up against artists who were nuts and fun and forever creating – such as Josh Homme, Michael Alago, and Ryan Adams. I had friends who were traveling, working, and on the cutting edge of everything, like Marilyn Manson, Natasha Schneider (RIP), Jesse Malin, Ken Friedman…and the list goes on and on. The point that I am making is that many of you, who are reading this, have had experiences very similar to mine and the call I am making to you is to please, go where you are needed and share what you have been blessed with.

I bring to my students, a BIG, juicy life. I bring color, personality, the lesson behind every fire I have walked through and all that has brought me joy in life. In turn they give me love. These children from our ghettos are not to be feared. They live in fear and vulnerability and seclusion. Our at risk kids, living in shelters, living in public housing, living with their uncle the block’s crack dealer, or a tragically addicted mother, or grandparents who are tired, and they need to see us. If they don’t know that people outside the Montgomery Housing Projects exist, they will have nothing in their lives to aspire to. The messages of Albee Al and Joe Buddens are all they will know and it is not enough. I certainly am not asking all of you to drop what you are doing and become teachers in the ghetto. I am asking you to find a place where you are needed, a place where there are children, and do one thing every year to help them. Come speak to the kids in my school. Donate books, technology, or money to a community center, but more importantly donate your time. Spend one hour a year sharing your experience, strength and hope.

I miss the music business. I miss the rewards of hearing a record I worked on being played on the radio; I miss the constant travel and the shimmer of the offices, the free tickets and glamorous parties. Of course, I do, I’m human. However, teaching at James J. Ferris High School is the most fulfilling job I have ever held. Much like the rock & roll that I grew up on, it is filled with chaos, drama, and stresses that I never imagined, but mostly it is filled with love. These children, are our future, and they need us. What we get in return is almost more then my heart can hold. Please share it with me. It’s an hour out of your life. They need you.

Debbie Southwood-Smith

insideplaya RIP