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Rock and Roll Mommy

Rock and Roll Mommy
by Shannon McNally

I didn’t recognize the first signs of being pregnant. I mistook them for extreme road weariness. I was in the studio in Lafayette making a record with Mac Rebennack, (also known as Dr. John) and Bobby Charles. It was a record that I had looked forward to making for many years. This crazy dream come true. I’d just come off the the longest and most unparalleled sexist stretch of highway I’d ever faced in fourteen years of being a professional musician, so at first I thought ‘good God I’m beat - this shit’s got to change. I can’t keep touring like this’.

I’d done nearly one hundred shows in a row as a guest or as an acoustic duo. In all those shows I never once had my own rhythm section nor any of the comradery that boueys the other 90% of the touring male world. No one had had my back for so long that I I’d stopped realizing just how hard it was to exist as a woman but it was starting to dawn on me. I had refused to acknowledge what I was up against for so long that it came as kind of a shock “you’re a woman and rock and roll IS a man’s world”. I felt so bad that I thought ‘I’ve got to go to the doctor I hope I don’t have rare and fatal maladie’. As ever I just worked through it. We got a lot of work done quickly and fairly effortlessly. Bobby’s songs were simple, elegant and as if they had been written for me. Through the fatigue and the sadness these songs just slipped off my tongue like water from a petal - just the easiest thing in the world.

Being fully aware that I wanted to get pregnant I was still surpised at how quickly it happened-like something from a teen horror story it didn’t take long for my body to acquiese to the higher authority that I had relinquished control to, once I did so. When the fatigue didn’t wear off by Christmas, several weeks later and it hit me, I was very happy. One I was happy that I didn’t have a terminal disease and two I was happy to be pregnant. This highly satifsying feeling of power and love just comes out of nowhere. Better than the best hash in the world. My very next thoughts were ‘do I have to keep this a secret?’ I thought, surely no, every rock star and movie star in the world is pregnant, having babies and then spotted in a bikini 3 months later- this is the 21st Century, mothers work. I’m married, I have health insurance - this will be a breeze. Eh...not so fast Bugs - My team fell nearly silent and quickly disintegrated. My manager who had two children and a beautiful wife in a very blasse tone, informed me that the magnificient record that I’d just made with some of rock and roll’s most elusive luminaries (who combined had at least 15 children) was dead in the water because no one wanted a pregnant artist - maybe in a couple years IF you get your figure back. They assume you’ll get fat and quit.” If i get my figure back? Oh you mean like B.B. King?

It was hard not to be angry of course and people tried to cajole me with ‘what did you think would happen?’. Really all it did was reinforce every principal I’d ever held and sharpen my sense of purpose. I can admit though that it was pretty depressing when they stepped away from me after all the good work, the hard work I’d done for so long. The question ‘what are you going to do now?’ made my skin crawl. The way I looked at it, I’d won the universal lottery not the NY lottery- I didn’t have the luxury of not working again nor would I look at not working as a luxury - I love what I do. When I later saw M.I.A. at the Grammy Awards I felt a deep sense of comraderie with her and a gratefullness that she was out there in her leotard boogieing down 9.5 months pregnant. Considering how I felt those last weeks I will forever be impressed with her vigor. On the road and off it’s drilled into your head that being a woman is a liability but the primeval action of giving birth makes you realize that you’re just ahead of your time and for me just renewed my sense of drive and urgency for what I do. M.I.A. seemed to understand the same thing.

I’ll save you the gorey details of the birth but it was righteous. Yes there’s a lot of blood yelling but there is also bliss. The birth was by far the best part of being pregnant and though it’s not something I’d want to do on a regular basis I’ll always kind of crave the way my heart felt at the pinnacle of it, screaming along with some desert-by-way-of-Mississippi-blues.

Obviously motherhood wasn’t the end of my career though things are very different. The day to day of having a baby on the road, and she goes everywhere with me, is challenging from a logistic point of view but one that really makes it possible for me to keep going. It’s more organized around being a human being and it involves more people. I can’t be out there alone anymore, a very welcomed change. Mostly the the cycle of transportation, hotel, club, bar, hotel is broken. Now it’s up early so that baby has enough kid time to eat well, watch some cartoons, go for a walk or to the park or a zoo and then we get to where we’re going. I have to insist on shorter drives and grocery stores. Having her on the road has made everything much more focused. Babies change so rapidly that your sense of time under goes an instant modification. I do miss the sleep but somehow I don’t get as tired with baby around. She makes everything fun and takes the top level of stress off the shows so I end up looser and more confident. Who knew?

I’m somewhere between having everyone on salary and everyone being freelance. Money of course makes everything easier and these days money is tough to find but we manage with help from friends and family. I see some of my friends out there doing it as well but for the most part in my immeadiate friend circle, with the exception of Susan Tedeski, they are men and have wives so it’s not the same amount of double tasking. So I do and I don’t identify with them. My husband is in the band, as my drummer/tour manager so we both have to double task. We take a nanny with us. Sometimes when we can’t get her for a run we rely on the friends and family that we’ve built up in the region over the years. I’m not particularly excited about doing the latter because it’s hard to get a flow going - though baby does well with others, it’s more on my nerves and it’s a lot more planning ahead, it’s also more expensive. Still I wouldn’t change taking her with us. She’s almost two and knows a fair amount of her ABC’s, she demands to see the moon every night and she knows my voice immeadiately when she hears me sing. She has distinctive tastes when it comes to music and claps at the end of every song wether it’s happening live or if it’s a recording and she’s incredibly cute in her noise reducing head phones. I look forward to the day when she can stay on stage with me during the show - which I hope will be soon! 

Mac Rebennack, her musical God Father, recently implored me not to let her get into the business unless she really had too. I think about that a lot especially when she’s napping in her car seat in the van on those rediculously long drives. When she get’s old enough to tell me how she feels we’ll figure that out, school too. She gets a very unique education out on the road - which I’m comfortable with since there are no shananagans or questionable characters around her or me for that matter anymore....At 21 months old she’s seen more than half the country including Hawaii and is a joy in a restaurant! I can’t say how things will go in the long term but I suspect it will be more of the same and I just take it one day at a time.

(All Photos Courtesy of Shannon McNally)


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