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Tea Interview - Dina D'Alessandro 

 I recently received a sarcastic and amusing email from someone using the pseudonym "Mr. X."  Thanks to him/her, I had a good laugh about myself.  So I decided to use Mr. X's message as the new intro to the Tea Interviews.  Enjoy!


"Thank you for the Q&A interviews on your website. I haven't laughed so hard in years. Your ability to channel the spirit of Dieter from Sprockets on SNL is without peer. As for me, I think the tired old Pearl Buck quote you keep foisting on interviewees is a brilliant interviewing tactic, much like springing an Ali G persona on them.

You might also want to ask their reaction to this: Pull my finger? It's about as intellectually stimulating and relevant as your other
meanderings. Keep the the absurdist pretentiousness and I'll keep on smiling."




 Tea Interview with Dina D'Alessandro



D: Why your personal name instead of a band name? 


Clever names for bands seem scarce these days.  A band called Saliva?  Ugh!  Garbage?  Limp Bizkit?  (The deliberate misspelling gimmick is now cliche.  At least Led Zeppelin didn't want folks to pronounce lead "leed.")  Do you think trends in band names reflect cultural sickness or low self-esteem?


Hmmm.  Usually when one band becomes successful, record labels will heavily promote or sign bands with a similar kind of name because they are now perceived to be easier to market. Then other bands that haven't yet made it will adopt a similar name to the well-known bands in the hope of getting signed to a record label, and thus a trend is born.  Therefore, I think the real culprit is just plain ol' capitalism, which can often be blamed for both cultural sickness and low self-esteem!


Being a solo artist has been practical for me.  Since it's my name, I can always do what I do.  If the members of my rhythm section were to quit, I could keep going by myself and it would be ok (although I would miss them dearly, they rock! ;-).



D: What are some of your key musical influences/inspirations?  Why? 


I think a well-rounded orientation with rock/pop music needs the Ramones, Buzzocks, The Clash, Descendents, Minutemen, The Smiths, and The Cure - or at least some of them.  Specific thoughts on any of these seminal bands?


I'm a big Smiths and Cure fan, but the two bands that have had the most influence on me are lesser known; Catherine Wheel and Adorable.  They came out in the early 90's and were both criminally overlooked.  They made a big impression on me, though!  I probably wouldn't have become a musician if I had never heard them.  Listening to their music allowed me to escape in a way that no other band ever could.  It made me feel like I had a home somewhere.


Oh, and I've always loved Led Zeppelin, who I think were completely hated by some of the bands you listed.  Along with others like the New York Dolls, most of the bands on your list were rebelling against the old school of rock.  To them, what we now think of as classic rock had became lifeless, boring and all about drum solos and technical prowess.  Their sound was more about raw energy and freedom of expression.  I don't blame these guys for demanding change.  I appreciate what they did to help bring rock into a more modern era.  And I owe a lot to them because they inspired the artists I love.



D: Your latest album is called Is It Safe?  Why?  And who does most of the lovely guitar solos in your songs?


That would be me, thanks!  Yah, I got a little guitar solo - happy on this album. Sometimes the songs I write just feel like they need a solo, and that happened a lot while writing Is It Safe?


At first the title was just a cool phrase that I stole from the 1970's movie Marathon Man, but it kept becoming more meaningful to me as time went on. I thought it would be perfect for the album because it represents the risk-taking involved in life, since we're always asking ourselves this question, me included.  I had been asking it a lot.  Still do, in fact.







D: The great Stoic philosopher, Seneca, wrote in his essay, "On The Shortness Of Life": "It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much...Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the tail end of life and to allot to serious thought only such time as cannot be applied to business? How late an hour to begin to live when you must depart from life!"


Share some thoughts on life's brevity, if/how humans waste it, etc.


I think that for a lot of people, life is mainly about survival.  Many don't have a choice but to work hard for most of their life, and not always at something they enjoy.  As Americans it's easy for us to say things like "Follow your dreams!"  We forget how lucky we are to have choices, so that hopefully we can do something we love for a living.  People who do what they love probably don't think they are reserving only the tail end of their lives for themselves.  But the reality for most people in the world is that life is a struggle.  They are just trying to provide for themselves and their families the best way they know how.  Maybe someday humanity won't have to worry about survival anymore.  All of our physical needs will be taken care of and everyone can focus on things like love, happiness and feeling fulfilled.   Nobody likes to think that they are wasting their lives, but in this day and age people don't always have the luxury to worry about that.  They just do the best they can to stay alive, and hopefully find meaning along the way.





D: Pearl Buck wrote: "The basic discovery about any people is the discovery of the relationship between its men and its women." During a visit in 1831, Alexis De Tocqueville was quite impressed with the United States, and he named the top prosperous attribution to be "the superiority of their women."  The visit led to the composition of his masterwork, Democracy In America.  He also wrote: "Although the Americans are a very religious people, they do not rely on religion alone to defend the virtue of woman; they seek to arm her reason also." 


De Tocqueville's interest in women's status probably stems from this insight: "No free communities ever existed without morals; and...morals are the work of women.  Consequently, whatever affects the condition of women, their habits and opinions, had great importance in my eyes."  In an interview 18th-Century painter Rosa Bonheur said, "My father...many times reiterated to me that woman's mission was to elevate the human race..."


Early 19th Century activist and lecturer Frances  Wright makes a great point in an 1829 speech: "Are they [women] cultivated? - so is society polished and enlightened.  Are they ignorant? - so it is gross and insipid.  Are they wise? - so is the human condition prosperous.  Are they foolish? - so is it unstable and unpromising...[W]omen, wherever placed, however high or low in the scale of cultivation,  hold the destinies of mankind.  Men will ever rise or fall to the level  of the other sex." Mother Jones echoed this idea in 1915: "No nation can ever grow greater than its women...It is the women who decide the fate of a nation, and that has always been, as history proves."


In the film adaptation of E.M. Forster's Howards End, Ruth Wilcox (played by Vanessa Redgrave), says, "If we could bring the mothers of the various nations together then there would be no more war."  18th-Century painter Rosa Bonheur told an interviewer, "My father...many times reiterated to me that woman's mission was to elevate the human race..."


Shulamith Firestone, author of The Dialectic of Sex - The Case For Feminist Revolution, writes: "By convincing women that the usual female games and demands were despicable, unfair, prudish, old-fashioned, puritanical, and self-destructive, a new reservoir of available females was created to expand the tight supply of goods available for traditional sexual exploitation."  Firestone continues: "[M]ore and more women are sucked into the trap, only to find out too late, and bitterly, that the traditional female games had a point..."  


She honestly points to the illusory victories of the so-called Sexual  Revolution and says, "'Emancipated' women...found out that by imitating male sexual patterns, they were not only not achieving liberation, they were falling into something much worse than what they had given up.  They were imitating...they found their new 'cool' was shallow and meaningless, that their emotions were drying up behind it."


This reminds me of what Camille Paglia says: "On the one hand, as an exponent of pro-sex feminism, I applaud women's new liberation and freedom to choose. On the other hand, I'm concerned about it because I think that this collapse of romance and the stripping away of all of the - all of the kind of ceremonies of courtship, ultimately disadvantage women. I think, you know, guys are getting the best of this."


Consider the popular Vagina Monologues, for example.  This overrated production apparently presents women as the very things that so many have complained men treat them as: talking vaginas.  Years ago, the Monologues depicted a 24-year-old woman seducing a 13-year-young girl with alcohol.  It was called "the good rape," and shown as an enlightening experience for the little girl.  (This bit has since been modified.)  Would it be enlightening - and legal - with a 24-year-old man, I wonder?  (There are countless other examples, like the suicide celebration in Chopin's The Awakening and that horrible film, Thelma and Louise, promiscuity as power in Sex In the City, lashing out in Desperate Housewives, etc.)  I think a lot (not all) of the "patriarchy" complaints are now being expolited as political weapons instead of genuine empowerment rallies.  Many maturing young women are ignorant of fundamental, positive and negative notions of lauded activists - like Margaret Sanger's racist birth control/abortion motive or Susan B. Anthony's anti-abortion stance.  And many official "feminist" organizations (particularly N.O.W.) have become agendized to such a degree that they choose their battles according to party and opportunity.


I dump this all on you in order to stoke some insight into and opinions about womankind in our day, feminism (of genuine and charlatan types), cultural gender roles, and your own approach.  What do you think of the excerpts and quotes shown above?  Are women cultural barometers and engines, so to speak?  Are men stereotyped unfairly for the most part?  Thoughts on the Vagina Monologues and such? 


I agree with Pearl Buck.  I think that the more equal men and women are perceived to be in a culture, the more evolved the culture is.  However, many of the quotes above really bother me.  Replace the word "women" in them with the words "black people" or "white people" and you'll see why.  It's not right to assume anything about people or to make sweeping generalizations.  It's stereotyping.  Also, while the writers may have meant well, their quotes make me think they are putting women on a pedestal in order to avoid moral responsibility.  "Oh, aren't women so great!  They're just so moral!  It's ok if I'm a big jerk, because women are just so lovely!"  Basically, I don't like gender roles.  I don't like assumptions when you don't know a person.  I don't like any kind of dialogue that says, "These people are like this, and those people are like that." 


I think the whole point of feminism, even the sexual revolution, is to make people aware that women are individuals.  You can't assume anything about a woman, just like you can't assume anything about a man.  Take the line from Howard's End:  "If we could bring the mothers of the various nations together then there would be no more war."  I wonder about this.  There are mothers who abandon their children and fathers who are very loving.  It may be well intentioned, but it's a generalization that weakens both men and women in the long run. 


While I've never seen the production, I think The Vagina Monologues is an attempt to take control of a hurtful stereotype.  By acting like talking vaginas, it's a way for women to own the label and take away its power.  "The Good Rape" is disturbing, so maybe the play goes too far, but I'm glad there are women out there who have the bravery to put on a production like this.  I think shows like Sex and the City are good for our culture as well, because they portray women being individuals.  Sometimes the materialism of that particular show bothers me, but at least the women on it are intelligent and not afraid of their sexuality.  Why should women always have to be the ones who are pursued?  


Actually, I think the most positive portrayals of women are sometimes found in science fiction.  I'm probably showing my geeky side here, but just watch an episode of the modern Star Treks or the new Battlestar Galactica.  The women in these shows do everything right alongside the men, including combat, politics, romantic pursuits, and it's not even an issue in these futuristic societies.  The writers of these shows have predicted a future in which there is equality for men and women, and that makes me happy.  I hope we get like this in real life someday.


It's sad when people use others for their own political agenda, like some feminists probably have, but men are guilty of this too.  This is why I don't think women are the only cultural barometers.  Both men and women are responsible for their culture's dignity, and therefore they are both reflections of it.



D: After all that, I must say that I don't find any hardcore, so-called "feminist" angles in your lyrics.  How refreshing after a solid decade of the Sheryl Crows, Fiona Apples, and Courtney Loves.  Meredith Brooks sings, "I'm a bitch, I'm a tease/I'm a goddess on my knees" - and she's "not ashamed."  (Folks think a total absence of shame is enlightenment for some reason.)  And that one-hit-blunder Joan Osbourne sang, "What if God was one of us/Just a slob like one of us."  (Are we slobs?  And would a slob God be a God?)  You get my point.


Aside from the dismal female bands/lyrics, we have groups like The Sundays or The Cranberries.  They aren't afraid to sing about romance, heartache, love of men, and non-political subjects.  This also goes for male bands like The Ocean Blue.  Why have you chosen to refrain from overdone political bitching, male-bashing, and the now typical sloshing about the pig sty that seem to dominate female popular music these days?   Do you think there might be a backlash to the bitter/slut trend?


Also, judging by your promotion photos, you don't avoid looking great, wearing makeup (not too much at all), celebrating your beauty.  Too many women get roped into the "if we look good then men will leer at us and we don't want to look good for men" grudge.  Back in 1968, women who protested the Miss America Pageant tossed bras and cosmetics into a "Freedom Trash Can" as a repudiation of adornment.  Feminist writer Janet Radcliffe Richards pointed out that looking pleasant for oneself and for men is not a sin.  She wrote: "If feminists make themselves deliberately unattractive, they are not only keeping off the men who would value their more important qualities too little, but are also lessening their chances of attracting [sic] men who care about such things at all."  Richards pointed to the basic bigotry of many feminists toward women (who might even share their philosophy and political opinions) who present themselves as pretty, as "girly."


Your thoughts on this?  How do you feel about your physical as well as artistic beauty?  What do you hope to communicate through your lyrics?


I just try to write songs that appeal to everyone, male, female or hermaphrodite.  I don't like excluding anyone from my songs, which is why I choose not to write about political subjects.  I want all humans to listen to my music and feel like they are having a conversation with a person who empathizes with them, not someone who is confronting them or making them feel like they don't belong.  I like to write about subjects we all have in common.  But that's just me.  Other artists thrive on shocking people, which can be a good thing too.  We all need to have someone's idea of the truth shoved in our face sometimes.  It's healthy for us.


I don't think there is a backlash to the bitter/slut trend.  Record labels just aren't pursuing artists like this right now.  I'm sure they're out there, but labels aren't into risk-taking these days, since sales are down overall.  But honestly, I'd rather hear independent- thinking female artists on the radio than manufactured ones who are just telling us what we want to hear.  I hope a female musician emerges soon who has divisive things to say and also sells tons of records.


To me, looking my best is a way for me to show that I take my music career seriously, that I care.  It's also another way for me to be creative, since it takes imagination and hard work to look good.  Well, it does for me anyway. It also helps me feel more confident no matter what I'm doing.  I think most feminists would be happy to hear this, because they know that it's a choice I'm making and not an obligation. 



D: Your favorite book(s) and films(s).  Why?


I tend to prefer the tried and true classics when it comes to books.  My favorite of all time is the Hunchback of Notre Dame.  I also love The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Anna Karenina (way before Oprah told everyone to) and Don Quixote.  I can relate to many of the characters in these books, especially Don Quixote as I journey through the music industry.  Most people I know think I'm crazy and delusional for wanting to be a successful musician.  But you have to be pretty delusional if you want to make it in this business! 


My friends and family often tease me because I'm such a big fan of romance movies.  My brother-in-law always says that I won't like a movie unless it has a cottage and/or a meadow in it!  My favorite is probably Roman Holiday, mostly because of the chemistry between the two stars; Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn.  They are wonderful together, and the ending makes me cry every time (in a good way).  



D:  If you could have one superhero power, what would it be?


The power to be invisible.  I would spy on politicians and find out what they're really up to.



D: Dietrich Von Hildebrand, a writer/philosopher who the Nazis wanted dead for his opposition, wrote: "Moral good and evil are such elementary realities that even when some philosopher or psychologist tries to deny them, he is faced with them again as soon as he quits his desk and comes again into an existential contact with reality." Appeal to higher standards allowed one of my favorite Black Power activists, Stokely Carmichael, to say: "There is a higher law than the law of government. That's the law of conscience."


Many folks seem to reject the idea of real good and evil - while judging certain situations or people BY such concepts.  Or, as C.S. Lewis put it: "The rebellion...against [The Way] is a rebellion of the branches against the tree."


Also, insisting that we are all just unintended, accidental formations seems to present a problem about the worth and stability of morality as well as metaphysical identification.  Dr. Francis Schaeffer wrote: "No one has presented an explain how the impersonal beginning, plus time, plus chance, can give personality."


Thoughts on this?


I think there are actions and thoughts that fall under the category of good or evil, but I don't think that any one person is actually all evil or all good.  We all have our bright and dark sides, so I don't think we should call someone a good person or an evil person.  It's dismissive.  I especially don't think it's right to judge a person by saying he or she is evil, because then we ignore the underlying problems that may have contributed to their negative behavior.  If we say that someone is evil, then we're saying that we are better than that person, and what positive outcome can come from that?  But I do believe there are ignorant, evil actions.  One of the ways these actions come about is when people stop seeing others as human. They see a person or a group of people as less-than-human and bad for the world in some way.  This attitude can lead to everything from prejudiced behavior to genocide.  If we could stop people from thinking this way about others, it would really make a positive difference in the world. 


To me, good behavior is loving behavior.  Maybe if everyone felt loved and cared for, no one would ever want to think potentially evil thoughts in the first place?  That's what I like to believe.  Like the Beatles said, "All you need is love."


Not to get too idealistic here, but I think it's possible that the world could be a peaceful place, even if we find out for sure that it is just a big accident, with a completely impersonal beginning.  We just have to learn to be loving for the sake of being loving, and that's it.  The golden rule.  Like that lyric from John Lennon's Imagine, "Imagine all the people, living for today."   



D: Do you prefer studio recording or live performance?  Any amusing or interesting anecdotes about recording or performing live?


I played a gig recently in deep Texas at a bar that caters to a college crowd.  While I was setting up my gear before the show, a dude in the audience shouted out, "Hey, are you the singer?"  I nodded.  Then he noticed my guitar case and yelled, "Are you the guitar player too?"  I nodded again and smiled at his shocked expression.  He then exclaimed, "You're the singer and the guitar player?  And you're a girl?  Well hell, I gotta see this!" 


What century are we living in again?!  It's moments like these that make playing live such an adventure and my favorite of the two.  And there's nothing like the feeling you get when someone comes up to you after a show and tells you how much they love your songs.  Pure bliss.  That never gets old.



D: Dina, I'm pleased to have discovered your work.  You seem to be fulfilling your artistic dream.  I wish you blessings on your path.  Any closing words for readers/fans?


Thanks David!  I wish you blessings as well.  I'd like to take this time to mention my rhythm section:  my bass player, Daniel Todd Ramsey, and my drummer, Andrew Nicholls. They're terrific and I don't know what I would do without them!  


I'd also like to close with some advice that I've learned for anyone out there who is trying to follow their dream:  Remember - it is your dream and yours alone.  This may sound harsh, but don't expect anyone to do anything for you, even people you hire.  If you want to make your dream a reality, you need to have a clear vision and then make it happen - with you in the driver's seat!















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