First Person: Lori Lieberman

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Ready For The Storm

by Lori Lieberman

Something my Romanian Grandfather said to me haunts me to this day.  “Get ready,” he said  looking at me squarely from across my grandmother’s kitchen table. “You’re in for a lot of sleepless nights.” I had just told him I wanted to be a singer and,  while I must have nodded my head, I’m pretty sure I had my doubts that he really knew what he was talking about. After all, he was a simple family man, a grocer who lived in a small town in the Midwest, far away from the music business of LA. But as the years have gone by, his words have come back to me more than a thousand times, and I know now that he was right.

Nights are the worst for me. In the dark quiet, with only my husband’s rhythmic breathing and the dogs twitching in their dreams, I struggle with my mind and its twists and turns, as morning looms closer. With morning comes the expectation of the day. Will I be up to it?  Without a good night’s rest, can I be at my best? I greet the day the way a painter might look at an untouched canvas, or a writer might sit in front of an empty page, and wonder if I can fill it. It’s exhausting to have so many self-doubts that lie deep within this mask of mine. “Act as if,” I say. “The rest will follow.”

What a career path I chose for myself, one that demands so much at any given time, or neglects and discards without notice. And yet, I love it so. I love the process of writing and singing, of telling my stories. As I get older, I feel like I have so much more to say, and it fills me in a way that I never anticipated.

Looking back now, forty-five years later, I wish that I’d told my younger self to take a breath and slow down. Eighteen years old and straight out of Switzerland where I’d spent the better part of my childhood, I came out to Los Angeles and quickly got signed by Capitol Records. I was as naive as it gets – shy, overwhelmed, grateful, and trusting beyond belief. I signed away, and gave away, so much, both professionally and personally, and soon felt like I was on some fast moving locomotive that never seemed to stop. There were managers (one who knew nothing about boundaries), and producers, agents, record execs, publishers—all directing and pulling me from all sides. What fell by the wayside in all of this, was the purity of music, the healing power of singing, and the quiet inspiration of writing and creating. And what took its place instead, was the machinery of the business—the endless touring, insomnia, stomachaches, the skin and bones of pressure and expectation. I had become my own cautionary tale.

It was, I see now, a welcome relief when, after the release of five LPS, the business changed from James Taylor to disco, and I stepped away from it (or it from me). I got out of the business, I thought for good, and focused on getting my life together. For the next ten years, nestled between the mountains in Malibu, I learned to sleep through the night, had two sons and a daughter, became a homeopath, led horses and ponies to their barns, and secretly wrote in my studio upstairs. I never thought I would return to the professional life of singing, but at a party I was hosting in the mid-nineties, a neighbor who was in the industry, Joseph Cali, recognized me and talked me into recording those songs I’d been hiding.

While I was initially apprehensive to return to a world that had fostered such instability within me, I found that I was able to shift my thinking. The more I wrote songs that came from my heart, the less fearful I became. In fact, I even began to, well, actually enjoy myself and at times, even lose myself. During one of my sessions, I remember walking alone outside on a fifteen-minute break. It was cloudy that day, a rare thing for LA, and soon it started to rain. My grandfather was correct when he warned me about the nights but maybe it’s there in the darkness that I claimed my wakeful dreams and pushed harder to make them come true. That day as I stood there outside the studio, I thought, this was where I was meant to be- doing what I loved, and that the greatest gift I could give to myself, was to be fully who I am.

I was so surprised (and moved), to find that my fan base was still there, supporting me, when I returned to touring and releasing CDs. For the first time, I connected with a part of me that began as a child when I sang from my heart and soul.

My life today is filled with music. My home studio, while small, has become a creative hub for myself and for musicians and writers from all over the world who have come to work with me. Just off the heels of a recent European tour, I’m in the process of preparing for my second concert at the Grammy Museum where I’ll play songs from my now (ahem), extensive catalogue. Joseph Cali and I have been married for sixteen years, and together we’ve raised a blended seven kids, now in their twenties. We divide our time between our home in Los Angeles, and our hideaway in Santa
Barbara.

With the wisdom of hindsight, (and a fair amount of therapy!) I have found compassion for that young girl, who struggled so, in a seemingly endless and complicated time. While there have been many twists and turns along the way, falling and stumbling in between the stepping stones, what has surfaced is the realization of my own free will, and my sheer joy of telling my stories, and singing my songs at concert halls like Carnegie Hall and the Grammy Museum. I’m looking forward to releasing my newest, 17th recording, which I’ve (aptly) titled, “Ready For The Storm.”

Bio

Lori Lieberman’s life-changing, defining career moment came one evening when her good friend, writer, Michele Willens, invited her to a Don McLean concert at the Troubadour. McLean’s moving performance inspired “Killing Me Softly,” one of the most beloved songs of a generation.

Born in Los Angeles but raised in Switzerland, Lieberman landed her first record deal with Capitol Records in the early 1970s. She went on to record five more albums for Capitol: Lori Lieberman, Becoming, A Piece of Time, Straw Colored Girl, and The Best of Lori Lieberman, featuring a young Larry Carlton, Joe Sample, Merry Clayton, and members of the LA Express, to name a few.

More recently, Ms.Lieberman has released five CDs on the record label, Drive On Records: Monterey, Gunmetal Sky, Bend Like Steel, Bricks Against The Glass (a limited edition Blu-ray, mixed by the Grammy Award– winning Darcy Proper and Ronald Prent of Wisseloord Studios in the Netherlands), and her five song EP, simply entitled, Lori Lieberman, featuring songs from her sold-out concert, “An Evening With Lori Lieberman,” at Carnegie Hall.

These recordings were co-produced with Joseph Cali and arranged and orchestrated by Lieberman. Her original compositions and unique versions of songs by Emmylou Harris, The Bee Gees, and Paul Simon, and others, have been featured on Sirius Radio’s The Loft. She’s performed, both solo and with a band, at the Royal Theatre Carré in Amsterdam, City Winery, The Grammy Museum, and most recently, a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall.

Categories: First Issue

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