Freelance Writer
Talking on ‘Soap Box’ About Worcester Mag. and Pet Rock
07.08.14 | No Comments
Category: A&E |Animal Activism

soapbox

soapbox2

soapbox3Charlene Arsenault discusses Pet Rock Fest, and Worcester Magazine, on WCCA’s Soapbox in 2008.

View the show here.

Crystal Bowersox at Mechanics Hall
03.19.14 | No Comments
Category: A&E |Music Columns

Crystal Bowersox image 2 (hi-res)Nine-year-old Crystal Bowersox busted out of the fairgrounds in her Ohio hometown and headed to the backroads, trying to escape with a pig named Charlotte. She had fallen in love with Charlotte and didn’t realize while in the “swine program” of the local 4H Club that raising and caring for a pig meant eventually “sending it to market.” Even though she grew up on a farm, the reality of what some animals become was jarring to the young mind.

“I just didn’t realize he’d be made into bacon,” said Bowersox. “I fell in love with this pig. My mom had come looking for me in the swine barn, and we weren’t there. The pig followed me, and we were walking away from the barn. I was 9 and I don’t know where I thought we were going. My mom just drove alongside of me and said, ‘Crystal, you have to go back.’ I heard the auctioneer calling out numbers, and I was sobbing. It made me want to save animals.”

And if she didn’t learn to play the piano, Bowersox likely would have been a veterinarian.

“You can change the world in so many different ways,” said Bowersox.

Bowersox’s warm spirit, knockdown pitch-perfect singing voice and dreadlocks made the singer a favorite on ‘American Idol,’ and she ran away with the runner-up title on Season 10.

But Bowersox said she would have kept playing music with or without a reality show to hoist her along. It was her dream, and she never worked up a backup plan.

Unlike many who land on singing reality shows, Bowersox has always written her own music. Inspired by Jewel (the first 10 songs Bowersox ever learned to play were on the “Piece of You” record), she blended soul, blues and pop influences that also called upon a foundation of the genre paved by the likes of Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones.

“I always thought growing up that people just wrote their own stuff,” she said. “I mean, I love a good cover song, but there is no better way to connect than with my own material.”

Growing up in an eclectic, sometimes tumultuous, blended family with five kids, she developed a resilience and grew wise beyond her years. While folksy pop inspired her songwriting style, she still loved bands such as Metallica, Megadeth and Pantera.

“My dad is a Harley guy, and he loves the blues, but our family vacations were Ozzfest,” said Ms. Bowersox, who had a band with her teen brothers called Oldinuph, in which she’d sing Metallica. “I have been surrounded by all kinds of music. I’m also a product of the ’90s pop thing, too. The kind of music I create is a folky, blues, soulful thing, but I could do some screaming.”

She describes her family as half-hillbilly midwestern middle class, and says she didn’t know what an avocado was until she was 17 years old. Her parents and stepparents knew what she liked to call “gray-haired rock stars” in the area; these musicians made a living at their craft, but didn’t tour. Bowersox’s parents would tote the 10-year-old to biker bars so she could play her tunes.

“The bar owners said I could stay if I played,” said Ms. Bowersox.

As an older teen, she moved to Chicago, supporting herself by busking and booking shows.

“Yeah, there was a time where my parents said, ‘Well, what are you going to do?'” she said. “I’d tell them I’m almost there, that I was doing it. I told my dad he’d eat his words.”

She takes pride in the fact that she was able to tell him to eat his words.

Bowersox, a single mom, tours the country much of the year with her band. She’s 28 and has two albums and an EP under her belt, and another EP and album on the launching pad. She’s also rehearsing for Broadway’s “Always … Patsy Cline.”

But she never envisioned getting there this way.

“I didn’t know it would come down to a reality show,” said Bowersox.

In fact, she had never even seen ‘American Idol’ when friends urged her to try out. She had heard of names such as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, but had no concept of the show that had made them famous.

Her experience was a whirlwind, but mostly positive. Still, Bowersox said she wasn’t able to enjoy it as much because she worried about her 5-month-old son, who she had to leave behind during the filming.

“My perception has changed a lot in the last four or five years,” said Bowersox. “When I was first on the show, it was something I was doing out of desperation as a single mom living on my dad’s living room floor. But everything works out, and I’m 100 percent positive on everything. I have my own brand, and I do what I do for a living. People come to Crystal Bowersox shows; it’s not an ‘American Idol’ show.”

Near the end of 2013, Bowersox fans not only jumped on Tweets about her chopping her famous dreads, but her confirmation that she was bisexual. It had ceased to become a “big deal” to her, but she chose to make a grand announcement to help others who may be struggling. Bowersox complemented the announcement by releasing a tune called “Coming Out for Christmas,” which started out tongue-and-cheek, but evolved into a sentimental, emotional piece of reality.

“It is a big deal for kids who are not taught to love themselves for who they are,” she said. “And the more people who make this known are setting an example. People knew about me. I’ve had girlfriends and boyfriends. My mother struggled with it a lot in high school. She didn’t make me feel like it was OK, and that was rough. I had feelings of self-loathing, or that I wasn’t good enough. And that’s why I can relate. I’m 28 now, and still dealing with it.”

Ran in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, March 18, 2014

Wake Me Up Before You Yo-Yo
10.19.06 | No Comments

In Worcester Magazine, March, 2005

If you can manage “The Sleeper,” that will ultimately lead to bigger and better tricks. Beginners master that, along with stuff called the “UFO,” “Rock The Baby,” “The Jamaican Flag” and “Creeper.” If you’ve got those down, it’s time for dazzlers like the “Ripcord,” “Drop in the Bucket” and “Atomic Bomb.” The advanced can handle the “Plastic Whip” or the “Leg Wrap Trap,” but an expert can show him up with “Seasick.”

It’s all part of the climb to greatness in the world of yo-yoing.

And there is a growing segment of people, especially kids, intent on climbing this ladder. Read more..

Raise a Glass. Make a Toast. Just Make Sure You Don’t Sound Like an Idiot
10.19.06 | No Comments

In Worcester Magazine, September 2004

Public speaking scares the bejeebies out of most people. To a certain degree, the idea of standing in front of a group of people, their eyes piercing what feels like their very soul, is enough to make a stomach do a triple flip.

Toastmasters was established to erase that fear. A national group, the Central Massachusetts branch is based in Worcester and holds its meetings Wednesdays at the Regency Suites Condos.

“I heard about it on a commercial,” says Omar Williams, who joined in 2003 and does PR for the group, “and I wanted to work on my public speaking and learn to deal with people one on one.” Read more..

The Essential List for Deejays (to poop on)
03.28.06 | No Comments
Category: A&E

Originally ran in Worcester Magazine, 2003

Musical beauty is in the ear of the listener, and I certainly don’t mean to belie that notion.

But as a fairly consistent complainer about certain songs (many of which don’t qualify for this article), the editor of this section asked me to spin my whines into words – and create a little roundup of tunes that are begging to hit “out of print” status. Unfortunately, these are not songs that are going to go away any time soon, as they are some of the most popular cover tunes and wedding reception songs out there.

I’m in a cover band (let’s get that out of the way), and I occasionally argue that we teeter on the fence between doing good songs and just songs that people think

they need to hear. I write this article, yet some might protest that because my band includes “Play That Funky Music,” “Bad Case of Loving You,” “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Brick House,” it disqualifies me from being an authority. So be it. It’s still fun to complain.

And we all cave sometimes.

Below please find, in no particular order, the ultimate bad wedding reception and cover songs list – a group of numbers that should be stuffed into a flimsy piñata and bashed to a pulp. It is a compilation that must be photocopied and faxed to every deejay in the country, so they can promptly weed it from their collection.

“Wonderful Tonight” – This song is hardly wonderful tonight, or any night – even the eve of your high school prom (80 percent of you can claim this one). Clapton’s droning, flat voice only mucks up further this dull melody. One really bad song on an otherwise great album.

“Crocodile Rock” – Too goofy. And what the hell is “Crocodile Rock” anyway? This one was in close running with “Only the Good Die Young.”

“Some Kind of Wonderful” – The bass line is some kind of awful. Like that nauseating “Black Velvet” (or even “I’m The Only One” by Melissa Etheridge), the bass tedium just hangs out nakedly to annoy and assault the listener for a good three and a half minutes. Grand Funk stunk.

“Paradise by the Dashboard Light” – Picturing all the feathered-hair cheesies and mullet-heads pointing at one another yelling “stop right there!” is hysterical. But when the entire song is dramatized in front of us – from Meat Loaf swearing he’d love that girl ‘til the end of time to sleeping on it to praying for the end of time, we’re praying for the song to end.

“Mustang Sally” – Does this one really require an explanation as to why it ought to be recalled? Does not everyone hate this song?

“Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll” – Just take this old record off the shelf, and throw it in the garbage. Usually the “party starter” at most weddings, the opening piano riff is meant to bring us to our feet, but instead sends us to the bar for another shot.

“Brown Eyed Girl” – I feel bad sometimes about damning this song to death. Van Morrison is a monster songwriter, and one of the most soulful white singers on the planet. However, this tune has entered a stage where if I hear one more band break into those easy chords, I’ll – well, I’ll stay and play pool, but I won’t like it.

“Celebration” – End this song some time, come on! There is so much better out there in the disco/dance category that we shouldn’t have to bear this weak entry by Kool and his Gang. “Ladies Night” would be much more welcomed.

“Mony Mony” – Hey you? Hey what? … get Raid… this sucks! Let’s spray this drunken bug of a song-chant along with the “So good, so good!” in “Sweet Caroline.”

“Love Shack” – If we had some separation for awhile, this one might not be so bad. But as with the “stop right there!” during “Dashboard,” it’s just hard to deal with the “tin roof … rusted!” theatrics on the dance floor.

“YMCA” – We’ve all proven we can form those letters (though everyone makes the “M” a little differently). Let’s shelve this baby for awhile.

That “Shout/Twist” medley – Now waiiiiit a minute. This pesky mix does makes us want to shout, at the deejay, to turn it off and put on something superior like “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” or “Best of My Love.”

And lastly, we line ‘em up: Bring back the “Alley Cat!” Thoroughly revive “The Hustle!” “The Electric Slide,” the “Chicken Dance” and the “Macarena” have become sad attempts to pluck wedding guests from their assigned seating. Usually, however, three or four women and a guy or two fumble through the steps enough to annoy that one person who knows the dance by heart – their “Achey Breaky Heart,” a song we’d welcome back over many on this list.

And a few suggestions from the staff: “Lady in Red,” “I Will Always Love You,” “Always and Forever,” “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)” and “Wind Beneath My Wings.”