You Make Me Shine

You Make Shine
Written by Clif Magness and Debby Holiday


Please bear with me, Clif. 🙂


Recording this song demo 17 years ago was a perspective changer for me. Clif Magness, who co-wrote the song and produced it, is a Grammy award winning, Oscar-nominated producer, singer, songwriter, and all around consummate musician. And not least of things, a great guy. We attended the same church for many years, and it was there we became friends. I sang regularly in service and he lent his considerable gifts from time to time as his schedule allowed.


One day, late in 2001, I think, he called out of the blue and asked if I could come in and record a country-ish vocal for a song he was pitching to Faith Hill. I said yes, for obvious reasons, but was nonetheless perplexed. Why me? Surely he’s got a Rolodex full of more highly seasoned and qualified studio vocalists. I’m a voice actor by trade, not a singer. I’d long ago given up any notions of being a recording artist.


Anyway, the day came. I was rested and ready to sing, but a bit nervous, because, you know… Clif Magness. I’d never worked with a genuine music producer before. Not like him. He taught me the song in-studio, and I gave it my best. He did nothing but encourage and praise what came out of my mouth, and then began to do what he does so well: Produce the vocal; not with fancy knobs and effects on mysterious machines, but by talking to me. That is to say, he guided me through the song, speaking a singer’s language, and it nudged out of me something new; a sound I’d not really heard before. It seemed full, strong, confident. Foreign. I grew up learning to sing by mimicking Karen Carpenter, and while my vocal chords are uniquely mine, there was a softness and a sweetness in hers that I fully embraced in my own and, in ways, I’d never really learned to move beyond.


After about an hour, Clif had gotten what he needed. I took off my headphones and stepped out of the booth. I asked for a copy when it was finished, and off I went to the rest of my day. A few days later he told me the demo was finished and that if I was around I could drop by and pick up a CD copy.


I’m not exactly sure how to impart what came next, as it’s possible to be interpreted as both self-pity and self-aggrandizement. It is neither, I assure you. So, let me add a little context. Yes, I have always been a singer. From aged 9, it was THE thing for which I was praised and encouraged. Everyone around me knew this was my “destiny” and spoke in such terms. It was “only a matter of time,” my father would say with confidence, well into my 30s, as if all one must do with “talent such as mine” is wait to be discovered like Lana Turner at Schwab’s. But what all of those dear, encouraging people in my youth didn’t know, the thing of which they are blissfully unaware is when it comes to carving out a career in the music business as a female recording artist, time is not your friend and talent is last in line. For fun, though, let’s assume the talent, okay? Then there are those two simultaneously Cruel and Magnanimous intertwined Creatures: TIMING and LUCK, or magic, the alignment of the stars, whatever you wanna call the pesky pair. I mean there are myriad other bits as well: trends, marketability, looks, charisma, all of that plays a part – especially for women. Then there is the stuff we’ve only begun to speak out loud. Only looking backward has it become obvious that my refusal to sleep with the music director (more than twice my age) on a solo project I was “lucky” to be working on at CBS Records in 1981( at the tender age of 19) brought the entirety of it to a screeching halt. Careers in any creative business require insane perseverance, too. Even a man as ridiculously talented and successful as Clif Magness can tell you, the work never ends. You never arrive. A Grammy and 4 bucks’ll get you a latte, a friend once told me. You keep at it, shoulder to the wheel. You continue to reinvent. But when it comes to female vocalists starting in the music business, age plays an undeniably big part. I’d like to say some of that is changing, but just like in the world of Acting, and even Voiceover, the changes are superficial. I’m not ungrateful for those small changes, by the way, but I am a realist. I knew from the time I hit 30 (um… 26 years ago) that EVEN IF everything else was perfectly aligned, my chances of being a successful recording artist in my own right, as it traditionally played out back then, were not even slim, they were none.


Back to the song… I got the CD from Clif’s mailbox where he’d placed it for me, got back in my car and popped it in the player. Now. How do I describe what proceeded to explode in my ears? The difference in production value was so stark (that is, so much BETTER) compared to my own self-made demos it sent a shudder through my bones. And the vocal. My vocal? Who the hell was that? Me? Really? Whoever it was, she was fantastic. I listened over and over, trying to figure out how that could have possibly come out of me, and more importantly, to figure out why I was so turned upside down, so… unsettled by it.


A few weeks later, Clif and his wife Carole invited us over for dinner, and during the course of conversation, I thanked Clif for making me sound so good on the demo. He just smiled at me quizzically and said, quite matter-of-factly, “That was all you. You know you’re every bit the singer Faith Hill is. It’s in you.”


Later that night I went home and listened again (this was a thing I was working out in my psyche, not self-indulgence, I swear) and it dawned on me that over the years, as I had slowly backed myself out of the music business, (for not unsound reasons, mind you) I’d told myself I just wasn’t good enough. This song, this little demo, recorded a few months before my 40th birthday, was Validation. With a capital V. I had the goods. I Could’a Been A Contender, too, Mr. Brando. More than a few tears were shed that night. Not out of regret, really, but out of a sense of gratitude for this crazy little gift I’d been given – confirmation of what I’d known since I was 9, but had forgotten: I am. A Singer.


I’m relieved my childhood dream was unrealized. God’s a funny guy that way. I think a career in the music business might’ve killed me – by drink and drugs or any number of forms of self-destruction. I did not, and do not, have the constitution for it. But over the course of 33 years, with my shoulder to another wheel, I have cultivated this marvelous, creative, under-the-radar-like-I-like-it career as a voice actor, which feeds me both literally and creatively. And I still get to sing – in church, as animated characters, in my car, in the kitchen as I cook, and occasionally live and on demos for creative friends who are still at it, too. Toby Petrie, Jefferson Denim, Steve Mackall, Taylor Mackall, Katheryne Levin and others – because they still know what I had forgotten. That it brings joy to people, no matter how small or eclectic the listenership, is icing on the tasty cake that is my life.


I know you were just doing what you do every day when you had me record that vocal, Clif, and it’s a little late to be saying this but, thank you for asking me. It rocked my world in a most meaningful way.


You Cannot Lose My Love

I had dinner with a friend a couple of weeks ago and the topic of parenting came up. He is single, never married, no children. Without mincing words, he told me he was glad he never married and that he had no desire for children whatsoever. His was a difficult childhood, complete with physical and sexual abuse. So for him, family was nothing short of awful and he’d no intention of creating one. My childhood was nothing like his, but I certainly understood his point of view. When I was younger I couldn’t have imagined myself as a parent and, unlike my siblings, it wasn’t really in my plans. My relationship with my mother was difficult at best, and I certainly didn’t want to recreate it. If that’s what parenting was destined to be for me, no thank you.


I first heard this song, You Cannot Lose My Love, by Sara Groves, at a women’s conference held at the beautiful retreat center Casa de Maria in Montecito, an event sponsored by Brentwood Presbyterian Church. I was 8 months pregnant with Esther. The speaker for the weekend was the Rev. Dr. Laura Robinson Harbert, an ordained Presbyterian minister, and Licensed Family Therapist. I’m not sure what the topic of the weekend was, but I’m certain Dr. Robinson was imparting as only she can the unceasing love God has for each of us. She played this song as a modern-day expression of that love: a song of assurance that this journey we’re on will surely be full of peaks and valleys, successes and failures, and yet, whatever we encounter, we cannot lose the love of our Creator.


I sat in the back row, near bursting with child, my heart filling with fear and unspeakable sorrow for the child I would soon deliver. I remember listening to the lyrics and thinking “No no no. I DID lose my mother’s love. It does not last. This is all a lie. My relationship with my daughter is destined for the same pain and sorrow. I have no idea how to do anything differently. I can’t do it. And I can’t go back now.” My silent tears turned into loud and embarrassing convulsions and I became inconsolable as the session ended. Like a sharply focused laser, Dr. Robinson came to me and wrapped her arms around me while I continued to sob and convulse. She asked me what was wrong, and after a minute or two I was only partially able to get words to this effect out of my mouth: “I’m afraid for my daughter. I’m afraid to be her mother. I’m not equipped to do this. I can’t do it. I don’t want to ruin her.” I’m not sure what she said to soothe me, but after a while, I calmed down. I can’t remember any other detail of that weekend from nearly 16 years ago. Only that Dr. Robinson threw her arms around me in love until I could see straight again.


Needless to say, the song stuck with me. Esther was born 3 weeks later, and everything changed. The truth of the message that weekend became crystal clear. There was no way on Earth or in Heaven that my daughter could lose my love. Not. A. Chance. It wasn’t even a decision I had to make. It was as true as the morning sunrise. Having Esther gave me a new perspective on my Creator’s love for me as well, and it is this that has been ultimately transformational. I am loved. Period.


A few years later, my mother developed dementia and in 2012 died of its complications. I was there with her on several occasions leading up to her death and was present when she died. I remember a significant visit with her in hospital. When I first came into the room, I sat down and held her hand. I asked if she knew who I was. She looked at me with the most pained and honest eyes and said “no.” I smiled at her and told her she was my mother and I was her daughter, Kay, her youngest. I then squeezed her hand and told her I loved her. She squeezed my hand even harder, and with a conviction I’d not experienced in her before said: “I love you, too.” The truth is, I think she always did. I think our hurts and our expectations and our human fallibility got in the way of our being able to live into that love here on earth, but my heart rests more easily these days believing I had never lost her love, just as Esther cannot lose mine.


Thinking back on the conversation with my friend, I can’t recall what my response was, except just to listen. Sometimes that’s all a friend needs. But I do wish I would’ve told him that having a child has been, for me, an opportunity to recreate a loving and psychologically healthy parent/child relationship, only this time I’m the parent, and by way of a lot of self-examination and mental health work, I created the capacity to do things differently – with love and respect for who my child is. There has been remarkable healing for the child still residing inside me; a refashioning of the parent/child milieu buried in my psyche. And as God has a fantastic sense of irony, my daughter has been the most remarkable conduit of healing for me. I had no idea parenting came with such a magnificent bonus.


I recorded You Cannot Lose My Love for Esther for her 13th birthday. She liked it. I think she’ll like it even more as she ages and if, perhaps, she becomes a mother herself.


You Cannot Lose My Love
By Sara Groves


You will lose your baby teeth.
At times, you’ll lose your faith in me.
You will lose a lot of things,
But you cannot lose my love.


You may lose your appetite,
Your guiding sense of wrong and right.
You may lose your will to fight,
But you cannot lose my love.


You will lose your confidence.
In times of trial, your common sense.
You may lose your innocence,
But you cannot lose my love.


Many things can be misplaced;
Your very memories be erased.
No matter what the time or space,
You cannot lose my love.


You cannot lose,
You cannot lose,
You cannot lose my love.


True Beauty

I got a request from one of my dearest and most faithful friends, Carol Maddon, to post this song. So, here is True Beauty.


Toby Petrie and I were in the height of our songwriting productivity and I remember this one came fairly quickly and easily to us. Toby, of course, wrote the music, and I, the lyrics.


I’ve come a long way in my understanding of what it means to be beautiful since writing this song, and have gained a pretty strong sense of confidence in who I am, but as I listen to the lyrics in 2018, I am mindful that while we are more enlightened about our sense of what makes for a woman’s worth, there are still far too many young women and girls doing drugs and starving themselves to be thin, and far too many of my generation going under the knife in the ever futile attempt to recapture our lost youth. We are still being judged by appearance alone, and we fear we just don’t measure up to the magazine covers.


I put this video together several years ago and watching it today, I am astonished once again at the passing of time. Two women in the video are no longer living, including my mother. Some of the young girls are off to college, some are married with daughters of their own. This life really is ephemeral, but true beauty, that unmistakable light shining in each us, lives on.


True Beauty
@ Kay Bess and Toby Petrie


I aspire for acceptance
in an artificial world
I search in stacks of magazines
And wish I was the cover girl


As if somehow my happiness
lies in what I wear
In the perfect shade of shadow
In straight or waving hair


True Beauty
True Beauty
Waiting here inside of me
True Beauty
True Beauty
Waiting to be free


I’m the judge of my own body
My sentence is so cruel
I set myself against myself
A never-ending duel


Every day another struggle
As the mirror stares at me
How do I look beyond the image?
When will I see?


True Beauty
True Beauty
Waiting here inside of me
True Beauty
True Beauty
Waiting to be free


All that glitters, All that’s gold
Leaves me lifeless, Leaves me cold
Holy wisdom, Touch my eyes
One day I will realize


True Beauty
True Beauty
Waiting here inside of me
True Beauty
True Beauty
Finally free


A Cloudless Day In Dublin

Here’s another one I rarely play for anyone. Go figure.


I traveled with my then boyfriend to Dublin, Ireland in 1999, and it was on this trip the imagery for A Cloudless Day in Dublin first entered my psyche. I walked in light rain and lit candles in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I stood on a bridge over the River Liffey. I sat in a pub in Temple Bar and was rattled by a newscast about a bombing up north in Belfast, all the while wondering if this relationship I was in would ever amount to anything. I was unsettled. I also drank a lot of Guinness. That part never made it into the song.


The genius who is Ed Moy Maria Moy wrote the music to this song, and the puzzle of the lyrics came together on my Big Blue bus rides from Santa Monica to UCLA. At the time, we Americans knew little of terrorism. It was something that happened across the pond and in distant places that had no effect on our daily lives. But on that visit to Ireland, the war between the Catholics and the Protestants became real to me. And given my relationship status, I felt an urgency to bring these ideas together. I was in search of some kind of resolution. Any kind would do. Would Ireland’s warring religious factions ever find peace? Would my boyfriend and I ever see eye to eye for a future together? This felt at the time like one of the most profound songs I’d ever written. There was no happy ending, no nice and tidy bow on the package. Can peace ever last? Can love?


9 months after Tim Klassen, Ed Moy, and I released this song on our debut album – Juliet – The twin towers were decimated by terrorists on 9/11 and thousands of Americans lost there lives. The war was here, and we were changed forever. The imagery of this song paled in contrast to what my friends were experiencing in their own city, and what the rest of us were loathed to watch on screens in our living rooms. I had been so so far from grasping the true depth of despair and depravity in the world.


There’s a melancholy I continue to love in this song, a plaintive wail as it closes. And of course, the question remains: Can a cloudless day in Dublin ever last? As much as I hate it, I think I know the answer.


As a point of interest for all you Pinky and the Brain and Animaniacs fans, Robert Paulsen lent an Irish lilt to this song – just after both those shows first went off the air and he was at the height of his fame. He was generous even then. ❤


A Cloudless Day in Dublin
Music by Ed Maria Moy
Lyrics by Kay Bess
newscast voice: Robert Paulsen


It’s a cloudless day in Dublin
Maybe it’s a sign from above
Round the tower of St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Flies a dove
Flies a dove


By a bridge on the River Liffey
I was thinking how lucky we are
Look at us, just like the Irish
Aren’t we charmed?


Well it comes and goes
You say everything’s temporary
And love is a burden you cannot carry
or hold so close


We are not too far from Temple Bar
There’s news from the North on TV
Can’t anybody, anywhere
Find some peace?


When it comes and goes
I see everything’s temporary
And love is a burden we cannot carry
Or hold so close


Can a cloudless day in Dublin ever last?


Ride of Our Lives

I imagine even those who are familiar with this song don’t know that Ride of Our Lives was commissioned by the Board of Elders at Brentwood Presbyterian Church for an event celebrating the ministry of then Associate Pastor, Rev. Bill Barnes. It was a complex and uncertain time for the congregation, as the beloved Senior Pastor, Rev. Charles Shields was dying of cancer. No one was sure of the future or what would happen with the loss of our dear mentor, confidante, and friend, and there was palpable anxiety among the congregants. But we also had this unflappable sense of mirth, which was a gospel truth Pastor Shields had instilled in us: We (all of us) are The Beloved, he affirmed each week from the pulpit, and our Creator has plans for us: “plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future.”


This was a daunting task for me, as I’d never written something by commission. As a songwriter, I always waited for inspiration, until my Muse spoke to me from the depths of untraceable mystery. How was I supposed to do this? I almost turned it down, but Jefferson Denim, the friend and artist who wrote the music to the song, nudged me. Well… nagged me is more like it. He has always been a firm believer in my gifts, and I imagine he was frustrated with my insecurities and lack of belief in myself. And so, finally, I surrendered to his belief.


I started with the knowledge of and desire to affirm that Bill was an avid surfer and a lover of the ocean. I wanted the imagery to feel like home to him, and so set the piece on water. I wanted to honor the tumult going on in the congregation and to acknowledge that we were in for a rough ride with the uncertainty of Charles’ health. I also wanted to bring a sense of hope to the song, a recognition that we were in this together, that we’d weathered storms before, and that we’d make it through this one, too.


Recording the song was a mixture of flying by the seat of our pants and surrendering to the magic of collaboration. It was also a reunion of sorts as my singing soul-sister Betsy Buenzow Petrie flew in from the midwest to do background vocals. We recorded in Sherman Oaks, at the home studio of Stephen Teller, who played drums on this track and whose production skills saved the entirety of the project at large (8 songs total) from the depths of mediocrity. I am eternally grateful to him. Is it not here, Stephen, that the imaginary Austrian band “Air Tambourine” was born? God, we laughed, and our only intoxicant was music. Well, perhaps a little tequila, but that was utterly secondary. It does warm the throat for singing, by the way.


I remember one period of panic in doing the background vocals: What were we going to do with this musical bridge? It needed something, but “oohs” and “ahs” alone were not gonna do it. Tracking along with the lead vocal on the word “Fly” wasn’t working either. It needed movement, we needed to propel the song toward the final chorus. We were fried from recording all night, and we didn’t have the luxury of sleeping on it and seeing what we could come up with tomorrow. Betsy’s flight was leaving in the morning and this was it. I think Betsy would concur that in a 30 minute period of time something magical happened, and neither of us could say from whom the idea came. It seemed to be a melding of creative minds, and as silly as it reads on paper, “ooh, nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh, ooh nuh nuh nuh nuh” under the lead vocal emerged. And it worked. Perfectly. It stands as my favorite part of the song along with the chorus that follows, complete with rich, descant-like phrases, lifting the song up and over, like a surfer catching the wave of a lifetime.


I hope I did Bill Barnes justice. I hope I caught Charles Shields’ irrepressible spirit of hope. I hope I gave at least a moment of encouragement to the congregation at the time. We were, indeed, on the ride of our lives and among the very best of friends.


The Ride of Our Lives
lyric by Kay Bess
music by Jefferson Denim & Kay Bess


Riding on the crest of a wave we know we never want to end
We look out on the sea and see we are among the very best of friends
And with nothing added, nothing taken, we will be restored
We have all we need to make it,
you and I together to the shore


High on the water we rise
We are setting our sights on the sky
We’re on the ride of our lives
What a way to fly


We are standing on the edge of a time we’re trying hard to understand
But in reaching to each other we experience the healing hand to hand
And with every test and tidal wave, we’re riding out the storm
We have all we need to brave it,
here we go together for one more


High on the water we’ll rise
We are setting our sights on the sky
We’re on the ride of our lives
What a way to fly
Fly. Fly. Fly….


Can you look out on the sea and see we are among the very best of friends?