Paula Cole moves forward on her own terms
Grammy winner Paula Cole believes she was born to create and perform music. That birthright recently inspired her return from a self-imposed exile during which she only indulged herself and her audiences with occasional live appearances and virtually no new original music.
These days, Cole describes her spotty schedule of live gigs as "vacations from my life." During these scant hours on stage--behind the piano or standing soul exposed at the microphone----Cole more than ever finds herself retreating to her deepest, darkest reservoirs in one moment, and in the next soaring towards the light and promise of future joy hidden from sight just beyond the next rise.
While she acknowledges and accepts her current state of affairs--a tight rope act involving caring for her daughter, plodding through protracted divorce proceedings, and trying to promote a new album--Cole is clearly at an uncomfortable time in her life. But her eternal hopefulness cannot be denied.
During a conversation in late August, shortly after the release of latest offering, the appropriately titled, "Courage," Cole sounded tired but confident. And now, just a few weeks later, she validates those perceptions on her blog.
"When I am on the other side of this mountain of a challenge, I think I will feel overcome by the amount of energy I possess for the positive," she writes. "It may be so glorious I will spontaneously combust."
Apparently even in an occasional blog entry, Cole can manage the most deeply personal and poetic clarity. And based on raves from recent sold-out shows supporting "Courage," when she is ready to combust, Cole will undoubtedly find herself surrounded by supporters happily dancing around the fire in celebration.
Fans may get that chance sooner than later, as Cole is planning a few more musical vacations in the coming days, with shows scheduled for Wednesday (11/7) at the Rams Head in Annapolis, MD; and on Saturday (11/10) at Huntington, NY's IMAC Inter-Media Art Center. She is also looking forward to a Nov. 30 appearance at New York City's Rubin Museum of Art, backed only by the accomplished talents of percussionist Ben Wittman.
The recent conversation with Cole started oddly, with the artist asking "How old are you?" She started laughing out loud in relief when she learned I was well into my fourth decade, at least chronologically.
She briefly lamented facing younger interviewers who only Google her name, if that, or whose passing familiarity with Cole came thanks to a certain theme song of a certain teen drama that aired on television when most of these writers were teens or preteens.
We chatted about how, having first seen Cole stealing the show from icons like Sheryl Crow, Chrissie Hynde and Sara McLaughlin during a Lillith Fair set, I observed a deep connection to both her audience, and her sense of self.
"The music is not from me, it's moving through me," she said. "I don't know why I do it, but I know in my soul it's my life purpose, and somehow it's something I do well and it heals me. I don't do it for reviews, and I've had plenty of negative reviews. I got fired from my first label. But, I really just try really hard to let the negative reviews roll off me like rain and give 100 percent every time I walk on stage."
Cole admitted she could never rely on critical praise to sustain the trajectory of her destiny.
"Those moments disintegrate pretty quickly for me. I know when artists historically let those moments mean too much, and they start living for their ego, it's only a matter of time before the music quickly deteriorates."
Ultimately, Cole remains grateful, even grounded by those moments, but she always finds herself pulling up stakes and moving on.
"It's a confirmation that I'm doing my job well ... but it's my responsibility," Cole said.
She suspects that sense of responsibility began forming during her childhood, recalling a moment standing in the living room of her Connecticut home belting out "Delta Dawn" along with Helen Reddy on the stereo.
"I was five, but it was eerily mature. This proclivity has always been there," she said.
It was at that young age that Cole began developing her commitment to self-preservation, vowing to live cleanly, taking care of her health, rejecting harmful temptations like smoking and other activities that would compromise her voice, her spirituality and her artistic soul.
But the winds of change disrupted the course of her life, with the monstrous challenges and fickle nature of the music business causing more than a few unexpected detours.
"Believe me, I'm frustrated, too. In some ways, I had a hard time dealing with the business, and in some ways I never got the kind of career I very much wanted. It caused me heartache to the point where I wanted to walk away from it all, I wanted to be more valued as a mid-life Caucasian woman."
But she could never turn her back on her gift.
"It wasn't all roses; I'm rehabilitating a career that was poorly managed. I had hits, but so
what? A lot of times, most people know my two hit songs, and here it is 10 years later. I don't feel at all that I can rest on my laurels. There's too much work to be done."
She is moving forward, aspiring to write "meaningful, honest, unique, modern music," with plans to perform her music in "nicely sold theaters."
"I'm still a live artist," Cole said. "I just don't really want to be playing rock clubs with graffiti in the dressing room. I want to be where the audience can have a nice place to pee," she said laughing.
Having such a limited catalog of releases, the singer also derives a measure of frustration over a body of work delivered to her former record company that was never released. Fans received just a few morsels on a greatest-hits package that included the luminescent "Tomorrow I will Be Yours."
"That whole period in my life, what a heart break. That song was a high-water mark for me-- I knew it was something beautiful when I wrote it," Cole said. "You know, I made that album for Warner Brothers, and when I left, there were about 18 songs from that period, full of emotion, and we had a great band.
"I would love to release it. It would be great if they just came around and offered me a budget to let me mix them," Cole said. "I'd hate to think those songs are going to be lost in the cracks of time."