Lee Aaron: Reconciling Rock ‘N’ Roll and Motherhood
Lee Aaron has seen a lot of artists, record labels and managers come and go over a professional career that continues into its fourth decade. The Belleville, ON-born Karen Lynn Greening has almost miraculously managed to navigate a headlining career in a notoriously male dominated genre, is now happily married with children, and juggles her twin careers as mother and singer with hard won experience. Part of her independence has come in eliminating as many intermediaries as is possible in her ongoing quest to reach loyal fans in Canada, Europe and the UK. On July 23, Aaron is set to release Radio On–her 15th studio album, self-produced, mixed by Mike Fraser and available through Germany’s Metalville Records/Rough Trade in Europe and AMPED in North America. Advancing its release are three singles that punch home the fact that this lady hasn’t lost her R&R soul.
A few years ago, I found myself backstage - well, a picnic table at the centre of a bunch of festival RVs - talking to one of my childhood heroes. Heart was one of the main reasons I decided to become a girl rocker, and there I was, having an actual face to face conversation with Nancy Wilson.
And what were we talking about?
Guitar tunings? Analogue versus digital? Comfortable stage footwear?
No. We were riffing on motherhood - the only thing more terrifying than walking onstage in front of 50,000 people.
Her twins with Cameron Crowe were in elementary school, while my hubby (and drummer) John and I were navigating life with a toddler and new baby. I had wondered things like: could coffee be taken intravenously, and would I ever have enough mental power to write a grocery list again, let alone an entire album? I had toured right up to seven months pregnant, and had the misinformed notion that my baby would fit neatly into my music life - just pack her up with my in-ear monitors and take her along. But our baby screamed all the way from Vancouver to Toronto on the red-eye.
By the time we landed, she was snoozing peacefully, and I was a sleep-deprived train wreck.
"How on earth do you do it?" I asked her. Was it possible to have it all - a family and a music career? A baby on one hip, and a guitar in the other? Nancy offered some straight talk on balance, letting go, and the power of becoming a "weekend warrior". That way, your kids won't end up in therapy when they're 30, she posited. Fair enough.
In my brain, Martha Stewart and Marianne Faithfull were beating the crap out of each other. I felt like I was failing miserably at both mom and rock star. Postpartum depression, I learned, often hits the most ambitious women the hardest. My support group consisted of a cancer research scientist, a senior executive at Telus, a Vancouver symphony player, and the owner of - no kidding - a children's clothing line. At least we had some interesting things to cry about.
No one tells you there will be days when you will barely make it out of your housecoat, and how much of your creative energy gets tapped cleaning Jell-O off the dog, searching for sea shells, fishing toothbrushes out of the toilet and reading the same Dr Seuss book over and over again. That dude's got some subversive and serious rhyming mojo going on. I digress.
Once, while away for "one sleep" on a New Year's Eve gig, we got a panicked call from the babysitter. Our son had shoved a Mastermind playing piece so far up his nose an emergency room trip was in order. Said babysitter had further jammed it up his nostril with a pair of tweezers and was freaking out. Pepper and a big sneeze thankfully resolved the crisis, but talk about mom guilt…
I needed to rethink my whole approach. No more multi-week tours. No more late-night sessions. No more self-indulgent hours of creative time. Now, when inspiration hit, I had to lock myself in the bathroom for three uninterrupted minutes - if I was lucky - to record into my iPhone. Packing up tour merch, guitars, stage wear, set lists and wireless packs is one thing. Pull-ups, blankies, crayons, plastic superheroes and arranging on-site babysitters was another. Walking out the door to leave our kids for a few days to perform, or conversely, take them with us, needed to be well worth it. Everything going forward became very intentional. Not so surprisingly, having children made me treat my music career with a lot more respect.
I stopped beating myself up for not pumping out an album every two years, rolled up my sleeves and dug in. I ran literacy groups at the school and tutored children with challenges during the week, and flew out of town for concerts on alternate weekends. In the summertime, we hit festivals and could often take the kids with us. Suddenly, I was demanding M&Ms (and Cheezies) on my rider, but for a very different reason than Van Halen. The kids hated our 'loud' music - little insubordinates - but I found a groove that worked.
Normal looks a bit different for our kids. They've been exposed to music their whole life and are used to musician types coming and going, rehearsals and pre-production sessions and a beautiful racket that is welcome in our home anytime. They have always been encouraged to be their most creative selves. Well… turns out you can be very creative with gaff tape and sharpies, so there's a prohibition on those, but that's a whole other story.
Journalists ask, "Has motherhood mellowed you? Do you still have things to write about?" I tell them I now have so much more to write about. Your entire world view shifts with parenthood, as it should, and I have a lot of opinions about this planet my kids will call home for the next 80 years.
As they've gotten older, time has freed up, and I've started recording again, putting out five albums in the last five years, writing, producing and running my own boutique label. Yes, I saved every single one of those precious bathroom ideas! I think the greatest gift I can model to our kids is that you can have a fulfilling creative life, follow your passion and be a loving mom too.
"Do your kids think you're cool?" I just laugh. I was once recognized by the hipster manager of the local LEGO store, who fanboy-ed out and gave our son some free LEGO at the checkout. That day, I was super cool.
These days, our daughter loves Broadway musicals and our son loves punk rock. If they loved our music, it would just be weird. We want them to rebel and find their own creative path. That's healthy.
Do I still have days when I wish folding laundry counted as exercise or that ketchup could officially be declared a vegetable? Sure... but that's my new rock 'n' roll and I like it, like it; yes, I do.