Heather Horton lied to me. Well, maybe half a little white lie. She told me, and I quote, that her new album Don’t Mess With Mrs Murphy “is a very heavy and patient listen but I’m pretty sure you will ‘get it’.” ‘Get it’, I did. But heavy and patient it was not; it flew out of the speakers and punched me right in the heart and ever since then, has been flowing through my veins and into my brain and seeping onto the pages of the crime fiction novel I am writing. This is how inspiration works. However this is not about me, but about Heather Lynne Horton and the jewel of an album she has created.
You might not have heard of Ms Horton, even though she’s been working as a musician for the past twenty years. As someone who is usually late to a party, I first heard her sweet musical stylings when she formed the band The Westies with her husband, Michael McDermott. Now, as she put it herself, “I’m over forty and the holding the pen to sign my first legit record deal.” The nerves she felt after fans and supporters backed her Kickstarter campaign to finance the album were due to “self-imposed self-doubts”, with others believing that only the sky was her limit. Now, she told me: “The ‘self-doubt’ is more an evolution and less to do with this album than most anything actually. It takes a lifetime to cultivate a pattern of self-imposed anything. I think we’ve all done a proper job on that for ourselves. The notion of ‘letting people down’ is more about a two decade span of making and performing music without the locked in material goals. Loving people and being loved- knowing that their societal fix would be for me to have fame and fortune to brand the success of my work or efforts. Knowing now, truly, that this has less to do with me than mere luck, has freed me from the guilt of thinking I’ve ‘let down’ people. But also realizing that my aspirations were only clouded by the very act of the art. Making music was my survival but more from a coping mechanism perspective.
“I really believe that people’s acceptance and appreciation for this record comes from them either knowing me or themselves completely. So I feel great about the feedback thus far – it is either silence…or ecstatic bewilderment.”
Don’t Mess With Mrs Murphy is a piece of Heather Horton, body and soul. Perhaps it’s as close as you can get to her without actually knowing her. Gentle and poetic and full of tender, beautiful almost heartbreaking sweetness. There are swift just-passing reflections of Neko Case, Rilo Kiley and Nanci Griffith, but for all this album’s beauty and empathy, there is an undercurrent of strength and grittiness. “Jolene ain’t got nothing on you,” in FU is a clear and precise warning shot; Wheelchair Man is a step inside someone else’s painful world that only an empathetic artist can do with lyrics that conspire to yank your heart out of its cage. There’s the flirtatious joy of Did You Feel That, the pure soaring lullaby Save the Rain and I Wanna Die In My Sleep, perhaps the most poignant love song you’ll ever hear. If the exquisite purity of Heather’s voice doesn’t move you to deep emotional levels, you have no soul. Then there’s the stunning bonus on the download version, a cover duet with Michael McDermott that turns the cheesy Travolta/Newton John hit into something seductive and tense: You’re The One That I Want
If the lyrics on this album seem intensely personal and a slice of the artist’s life, then maybe they are. Heather says: “There are many smaller messages throughout the record, of course. And even those are intended to be taken in and translated/related to the listener, directly and personally. But the overall message of the record is actually an invitation for an open conversation. Permission for myself and from myself ‘to enter’ – enter with ‘truth’ into the space between my heart and brain and the interpreter. As a woman who seeks and craves for others, ‘empowerment’ – also completely relative- here I am trying to practice what I preach…to become completely vulnerable and say the details of what I really see, what I’m asking others to see, and that they feel safer to do the same.”
If empowerment is the end game, for herself and for others, then this album is a clear million selling gold star winner. It deserves to be. Heather Horton deserves to be a Grammy winning superstar, but artistic genius will probably suffice. For now, this writer continues to play this album for the women in her novel and she bathes in inspiration from the deep, empowering wellspring of Don’t Mess With Mrs Murphy.
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Photos of Heather Horton in concert by Terri Murphy.
I shouldn’t write when I am emotional but I always do, so what the hell. Have you ever found yourself living in someone else’s body? That when you talk to them, you can see yourself through their eyes and you actually like what you see. That you can talk to them about everything and be who you are without a single note of artifice, which, actually, is the most difficult thing to do. That you burned your security blanket and allowed yourself to be who you are just as you are at that exact moment. And they do the same. Mirror people.
For once you don’t feel as if you have to run to the rescue. Their demons, you have met them. Perhaps they are scratching on the door of someplace you may have entertained. One day the door will open and you won’t know what to do or where to go or who could possibly comfort you. But at the same time, you’re not afraid. You could never be afraid again. Because of this person who lives in your body and looks out of your eyes. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, it’s ok.
You are me as a boy.
Perhaps it’s just as well we found one another at this time and not at any other time. The world wouldn’t have been able to cope with the combination. We would have burned so bright, people would have been lured to their deaths. As it is, the fire still burns, sometimes its beauty makes me look away, at all the light that is us.
I’m on the ledge with you.
If I could, I would be right there in person. But this will have to do. I hate that it will have to do. But this is the way it is. Perhaps you don’t know this, but life is a kiss when you show up. It’s not a party without you. Even if the party is somewhat muted these days. We’re still there in spirit and glitter and glimmer, like Santa Barbara and the Star of the Sea.
This is way too emotional but I make no apologies. The funny thing is, you might not even read this. And if you do, you might not even know that it’s you. That would be so you. But baby, it’s you.
This is an article on a subject I wrote some years ago following a long period of trying desperately to find the right words to do it justice. After many years of struggling, and failing, inspiration came in a most peculiar and unexpected way, as it often does. I was propelled into action by a piece of throwaway hate I read online. The article was seen by award-winning author Maggie Anton who said it was one of the most powerful pieces she had ever read.
This story contains a cliche. Cliches, while being annoying, tired and often trite are rooted in the truth, which is probably why humankind simultaneously uses and sneers at them because, unpalatable truths are, well, unpalatable.
So, here’s the bones of it. I once read a piece of improbable hate in a Youtube comment. As heinous and cowardly as it was, I will get it out of the way now. It read: You fucking piece of Jew scum. You oven-dodger.
At this point I would like to add that this is not a story about irrational hate, but rather about turning that hate into a love story.
I once saw this shoe. In a museum. It lay nestled amongst a lot of other pairs of shoes, a little brown suede, wedge-heeled shoe with a pale green trim. And I fell in love with it. I imagined its owner to have been a stylish young woman who loved life; she had an infectious laugh that made everyone who heard it at least break out in an involuntary smile as she skipped through life in her beautiful brown suede wedge heeled shoes, dashing from cafe to cafe, chatting with friends. The shoe looked to have been my size, so I’m guessing she was a petite woman, prone to mischief and flirting. She could have been me.
This shoe that I fell in love with lay in a pile of hundreds of thousands of other shoes. But amidst a pile of decaying, broken shoes – black shoes, brown shoes, grey shoes; red, white and blue shoes – I saw just this one shoe. And her. Yet I know nothing about the owner of this shoe, everything I have said about her comes from my own imagination.
It’s been years since I was at Auschwitz, but she’s still there. You don’t have to go too far to walk in someone else’s shoes, as most human experiences are shared. But oven-dodging is not one of them. And for some reason, it hurts me to know that she didn’t.
I can’t write without music. Well, I can, it’s just more inspirational to do it with music. Depending which character is in the scene, what they’re doing, where they are, all of this has an effect on what I listen to. I created a Karen Yellowtail OST on Spotify where it’s easy to jump from track to track. Are we in the casino? Let’s put on Lightningcloud’s Casino Money, even if they do misuse the term clip when they meant magazine (thanks for that Ben Sobieck). Finding music for antagonists and the bad shit they do is easy, as they say, the devil has all the good tunes. The well is always full to overflowing with Mark Lanegan, Betty X, Nick Cave, Wolf Alice, Mas Ysa, Mourning Ritual and Blues Saraceno to name but a few.
Writing for the protagonist is a different ball game. She’s complicated with a whole mess of problems in her life and all she wants is peace and quiet. But working with her has allowed me to delve deep into the abundant overflowing wellspring of Native and First Nations talent. It all kicked off with Tyler Peyron’s haunting urban poetry of Melodic Soul featuring In The Woods, and A Tribe Called Red’s blow your head off remix of Northern Cree’s Redskin Girl which lead me down an incredible road of creativity to Frank Waln, Leonard Sumner, Fawn Wood, Tanya Tagaq, Blue Flamez, Black Lodge Singers, Kevin Yazzie & Cheevers Toppah, IsKwé and Four Nations. If you’re on Spotify or Soundcloud, look them all up. There is also a special place for Robbie Robertson and his Skinwalker, a track that allows me to go into deserts with protagonists, antagonists, victims and a certain amount of creative inspiration.
There is only room, currently, on my soundtrack playlist for one U2 track (Hawkmoon 269) although another of their tracks, One Step Closer, hit me up with some inspiration – U2 lyrics: “I’m on an island at a busy intersection, can’t go forward, I can’t turn back; can’t see the future it’s getting away from me. I just watch the tail lights glowing.”
Here’s what it gave me: “But as you know, when the big moments come, the ones that hit you hard and rip your feet out from under you, you’re still gonna get T-boned at that intersection, island or no island. Grief comes in little pieces, jagged chips of bloody pain. Karen had begged the universe for more time, even just a few more months, but the appeal was returned stamped application denied.”
The truth. Everybody demands it, nobody knows what it is. It’s just perception. There are truths that grasp you by the nape of the neck and shake you up hard until you think your brain will explode with the pressure. And it won’t let go of its hold on you, no matter how much you struggle. These are truths that you won’t – you cannot – admit to anyone and least of all to yourself. And then there are the lies, the lies you tell yourself to hold the truth in check, to stop it from spilling out of the prison in which you’ve held it captive. If the truth escapes, the whole carefully constructed charade you’ve built up and called a life, will crumble to dust.
Leyton J Cougar, aka The Wolf Daddy, is a person who has devoted his life to the care of animals – domestic ones and wild ones. Perhaps you may have heard of him through the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, or through his love of wolves, as he tours the country rescuing hybrids, wild animals and educating the public with his team of Arctic wolves, who are loved by the Game of Thrones author, George RR Martin. Whichever way you know him, you know he deserves the very best success with his latest venture, a book all about the right stuff to feed the direwolf in your own home.
If, on the other hand, you haven’t heard of Leyton J Cougar, or seen his pack of amazing animals which includes foxes, coyotes, timber wolves, arctic wolves, hybrids and of course, domesticated dogs, get ready to be inspired:
Over the last 20 years, Leyton has rescued over 400 wolves and exotic canids and has raised over 20 rescued wolf pups from birth. He is passionate, selfless and driven in his life’s work, to protect these amazing animals and to educate people like us. One of the ways we can play our own small part and the canines in our world, is to ensure we feed them correctly.
Hungry Like A Wolf comes from all those years of love and care. It is full of sound nutritional advice in astonishingly easy recipes you can create to keep your pet (and yourself) in tip top healthy shine.
If you think cooking dinner for your dog is going to be a challenge, it’s not. How about some gluten free cornbread muffins stuffed with greens, cheddar and bacon? You’d eat those yourself. Or fancy some cornbread and sausage? Sweet potato fries (not deep fried in that canola gunk, that’s not good for you either), healthy meat loaf, a meaty stew with bacon and veggies? Well, that’s good enough for your dog too.
The Wolf Daddy’s book, Hungry Like A Wolf, is available from his website: https://wolfdaddy.dog/