1/31: It’s a Regular Life, for Carol(yne) Mas

Carol Patricia Mas of Pearce, Arizona — better known as singer, songwriter and rockonteur CAROLYNE MAS of New York, Nashville, Asbury Park and many other coordinates on the GPS — has some songs for sale, a smile for her faithful fans, and a slew of stories for the asking.

A few weeks ago we let slip in this space the fact that Carolyne Mas had floated the idea to her Facebook friendbase that she was “looking to sell my portion of my publishing for all of my songs…all of them.”

“I am ready to walk away from music for good and get on with my life at this point,” said the singer best remembered for the rollicking, sax-driven minor hit “Stillsane” and the eponymous 1979 album it hailed from. “Perhaps my music can provide me with one last parting gift.”

It was a bolt from the blue as regards the veteran singer-songwriter (and onetime Jersey Shore resident) — one that elicited a strong “don’t do it” response from a lot of her musical brethren and sistren, and a report that left her “appalled” that we would share her public-forum post in such a fashion.

While we hadn’t spoken personally to the diminutive rock diva since her original, largely strugglesome tenure in and around Asbury Park in the 1980s, we reckoned it warranted a conversation — a chance to reboot and catch up; a forum in which the singer (who prefers to be called Carol Mas these days) could update everyone back here on the upperWETside as to her current whereabouts and activities, as well as her reasons for putting the fruits of her creative labors up on the block.

This is a woman who’s been dealt more than her share of adversity in a public life of more than 30 years. It’s a run of lousy luck that’s ranged from the standard music biz chew-ups and spit-outs (misbehaving management, radio playlist politics, piss-poor promotion) to protracted financial/ legal woes, health issues, busted relationships, family illnesses, crazy stalkers and a 2009 controversy that landed her in the headlines in Florida’s Hernando County, where she and her husband then operated an animal rescue operation known as Our Animal Haus (the couple’s disputes with county Animal Control resulted in the seizure of most of the animals in their care; Mas lays out her side of the story in detail here on her blog).

Then there was the 1986 incident in which she was attacked and stabbed nearly to death inside her home (by an assailant who remains unidentified and uncaught to this day) — an event that served as a bad bookend to a Shore area tenure during which ongoing legal hassles with management kept her from performing as a professional musician, forcing her to make the nut by doing everything from waiting tables and stocking shelves, to dancing in some of the many lovely go-go bars that dotted the Monmouth County coastline in those days.

Now relocated to rural Arizona with her husband and son, 56 year old Carol Mas is nothing if not a consummate survivor — this is no hermit in exile or broken shell of her old self, but an outgoing, active parent and community member who’s worked hard to achieve what is anymore the only real promise of American life: the chance to reinvent oneself, in as many ways and as many times as you damn well please. She’s someone who has no problem reminiscing, discussing and laughing about her life as a next-big-thing pop star — while making it evident that she’s able to do all this because she’s succeeded in taking the pressure off herself.

In there somewhere, of course, there still resides the ambitious, stage-savvy performer who emerged out of the same NYC troubador scene that gave us Steve Forbert, Willie Nile, Garland Jeffreys and Cyndi Lauper’s Blue Angel; a songsmith who could pen a radio-ready original like “Quote Goodbye Quote” or deal an authoritative cover of Forbert’s “You Can Not Win if You Do Not Play.”

There was “mucho mas” to Mas of course than those early Mercury LPs (finally released to a double CD set just last year). There were several well-received live recordings, fueled by a strong following in Germany (apparently, one does not Hassel the Hoff OR the Mas). There were self-released, Europe-only studio albums in the late 1980s and early 1990s (one of which, Action Pact, teams her with the greatest garage/barband in the observable universe, the Missouri combo known primarily as The Skeletons). And there was her participation in the JAM (Jersey Artists for Mankind) project, joining the likes of Bruce, Clarence, Max, Southside and Glen Burtnik on the Band Aid-style single “We Got the Love” (catch her solo spot at 4:12 in the clip).

Carol/ Carolyne isn’t at all shy about hooking old and new fans up with her recorded works (in a variety of formats, including flash stick) on her official website — and as we found out when we rang her up at her Grand Canyon State getaway, she’s got a story or two to tell. Read on…

Like some manner of jumpin’ Justice League, an elite corps of Jersey Artists united for Mankind with a 1986 benefit-single JAM. That’s Carolyne at front and far left, clutching the very large, very yellow shirt of Mr. Glen Burtnik.

upperWETside: I guess the first thing we need to sort out would be your name…do you prefer to go by Carol nowadays?

It’s Carol now, and has been for some time. Carolyne Mas is a name that belongs to another place and time…I’m not running away from who I am; I just don’t make a big deal of it and most people don’t know me as Carolyne Mas.

Well…my postman here knows who I am! I can’t wait ‘till I’m 80 years old and nobody bugs me, asking me if I am ever going to play again.

I became Carol in my life as a caregiver. I’ve been working with mentally handicapped people. I took care of my aunt, who had Alzheimer’s, for six years, and then I took care of my mother when she developed the same disease in 2007.

I’ve found caregiving much more rewarding. I really did want to get out of the music business entirely. I played as recently as 2006, in Italy, but since then my life has taken many different directions. I loved music; I was passionate about the business, but the music business was not so kind to me in return.

It’s not really what I value anymore. The things that I went through took away a lot of the joy that I had for music. I just want to have a regular life.

So tell me about the life you’re leading these days…I understand you’re living out in some remote little town that’s barely on the map…

I’m living in this small, remote, unincorporated town close to Mexico — Pearce, Arizona. Myself, my husband and my son, who’s been one of the first really rewarding things in my life.

Pearce has a small school with about 35 kids; a post office, a dollar store, an Asian/Mexican restaurant, a falafel truck, and a tiny store called The Produce Wagon — no supermarket. The closest place of any interest is Bisbee, about an hour away. It’s an eclectic old copper mining town where the hippies came and settled in the 60’s…there’s a bit of a gay and lesbian community; a main street that’s sort of East Villagey, like Cookman Avenue. Tombstone, which you know for the shootout at the OK Corral, is also about an hour away.

Pearce, and the surrounding area, is made up of mostly farmers, and a fairly large pocket of seniors — plus a little country club that time forgot, with a small golf course that’s almost like mini-golf!

There’s a woman here who make these soaps, creams and lotions from goat’s milk. They’re expensive, but there’s an audience for it, and she is quite legendary. She’s married to the postman.

I live a quiet life — I do a lot of reading, and I don’t watch TV, although I do spend time online. I have satellite, and when it goes out, it’s like you’re living in a hole. But really, there’s no such thing as ‘remote,’ when you’re aggressively seeking what you want out of life. I think of myself as a spiritual seeker.

We moved into a solar home on 40 acres, in a place with intense southern exposure —  we get 350 sunny days a year here. It can be very comfortable even when it’s a hundred degrees outside.

Of course four of my solar batteries just quit on me. They cost about a thousand bucks apiece, so we’ve also got a wood stove and propane heaters. I make do with just a few lights and my computer.

Thanks to the internet, looking for a new home was like opening up a map and pointing. My first instinct was to run away from Florida after all the things we went through there…I took everybody out here. It was a terrible gamble, but I thought it best to just move rather than stay and sue. I rented an RV for the people and the birds, and used transport companies to move the horse, dogs and cats.

The stuff that went down in Florida a couple of years ago, with the shuttering of your animal rescue operation, put you back in the public eye in a way that you never intended. When you contacted me recently, you referred to that whole chapter in terms of your having been the victim of a “scam” as you put it. Wondering if you could elaborate on that for us…

The thing that I was horrified to see when you wrote about me recently was that old article from the Tampa newspaper, and that courtroom photo from what was a very unhappy and devastating time. It was a kangaroo court…I wasn’t given the time to get an attorney for myself and still the whole thing continues to live online thanks to that reporter and the paper. With the internet, everything stays up there, whether it’s true or false.

I was basically framed by a corrupt county government. I don’t know if you’ve ever been down there, but it’s a real Deliverance area. I never did really make many friends there, not for lack of trying. Florida’s a cesspool.

But I like the people here in Pearce; it’s a beautiful place.

The whole thing in Florida started when they seized a horse that we were taking care of. They insisted that this old horse, who was 30, was really 18 and was being abused and neglected by us, even though I had vet records with his birth date. He was thin because of his age; anyone who knows horses will tell you the same.

They used the horse to build a case against us that we were neglecting all the animals in our care; not feeding them properly. The whole issue was driven by a very unscrupulous journalist who was trying to make a name for himself after he saw an article about me written by Holly Cara Price that had appeared in the Huffington Post.

Animal Control took me to court and never let me have the time to get a lawyer; it all happened inside of a week. There was a court hearing that was not even recorded, where they said whatever they wanted to say, and made up a case against me where there had been none. They said I owed them $6000 for an investigation that never happened, so they took it upon themselves to seize and sell my horses and parrots, of which there were 50, to pay this fictitious debt. Whatever they couldn’t profit from, they killed…all 80 cats and several elderly dogs.

They took all my cages, and kennels. They auctioned my animals online for thousands of dollars. I got an attorney afterwards, but what good could it do? I couldn’t file much of an appeal because the whole hearing was never recorded, so there was no way of proving what had happened at all. I didn’t have the money to sue, so I had to learn to put it behind me.

John Stossel did a report on this sort of thing for 20/20 in 2005, where he uncovered these animal rights driven, thug-like groups that don’t want to see anyone own animals. Animal Control is about people control, and about generating revenue; it is not about animal welfare. They would rather euthanize animals than help them.

Anyway, you could look at the complete story about what happened to me at http://www.ouranimalhaus.org, along with photos of many of the animals that were taken the night before they came and seized them from us. You can see what a beautiful facility we had.

That was another dark chapter for you…anyone who lived on the Jersey Shore when you were here back in the 80s remembers that rough time you were going through, topped off of course by very nearly getting killed in your home. Even though I didn’t really know you personally I remember feeling poorly about the whole thing, like this place where we live couldn’t possibly be THAT cruel to someone, could it?

I’m aware of maybe a half dozen other places that you’ve moved to over the years…Florida aside, where have you felt comfortable within the past 20 years or so? Where have you felt that things might be swinging your way?

I lived in Germany for about four years; I had a huge hit song in Germany called “Sittin’ in the Dark”, from a live record that came out there in 1981, so people wanted to hear my music there — but they wanted THAT music, and I wanted to write new stuff, more acoustic, more roots, less sax. It was still a very good time for me, I played a lot, even went to Russia, and I definitely felt as if things could be swinging my way for a while. Eventually, though, I came back to the states because I was getting frustrated not being able to evolve musically. I did leave behind some fine albums — some of my best studio work, I think.

I’m from Long Island, but I’ve lived lots of places. In 1982, I moved from Brooklyn to Long Branch, to a blue house on the corner of Atlantic and Ocean Avenue. It’s gone now.

I also lived in West Long Branch — right after I broke up with Michael Scialfa, who I was engaged to in 1985. I lived not far from the little health food store that was on the main street. I also worked at the NHN vitamin store in the Seaview Square Mall around that time.

I have lived in Bradley Beach; I have lived in Hoboken — and in the Village, where I started a songwriter night at The Cornelia Street Café not long before I was signed to Mercury. I have lived in California, Germany, Springfield Missouri, and Nashville.

While I was living in Florida caring for my aunt, I came back to Asbury Park and bought a house on Berg Street in 2006, but I didn’t move there; my old boyfriend Larry Blasco lived there til he passed away in 2008.

Getting back to your original stay in and around Asbury, this was a time that was just a year or so removed from your tenure as a major label recording artist…someone who didn’t know anybody in the actual music biz might have thought that an artist with three albums out would have been comfortably well off. Instead you found yourself in the middle of this busy scene full of musicians; unable to get gigs together with all these legal hangups and having to be a working stiff just to survive.

One of the things I need to correct about what you wrote was the restaurant in Asbury Park where I worked. It wasn’t the Adriatic, it was Net Lane’s Fisherman! Tell me you remember Net Lane’s.

When I signed to Warner Chappell Music in 1979, it was the sort of thing that many young artists have done…get themselves involved with people, with management who didn’t have their best interests at heart. I was having my royalty checks stolen while I was having to work at the Fisherman. I even worked as a go-go dancer in some dive on Ocean Avenue.

I did eventually have a song end up on Monster Garage. But I never saw a dime from it, of course.

The wand’ring troubador, as she appeared in the early Nineties and last summer, when it was ninety in the shade.

And of course Mercury Records wasn’t very much help either…something that Graham Parker addressed quite eloquently.

I got some press early on, some good airplay, although I had my troubles with that also…and after that you were kind of on your own; not getting distribution, not getting the music out to radio people; not having your record in the stores when you came to town to play a show.

As far as I’m concerned the only reason I have any kind of a fanbase is the fact that I played live. I worked it as hard as I could, and I did it at great personal sacrifice. My (first) marriage at that time was a joke…I don’t know how you could possibly stay married and live the life of a touring musician.

It’s a very seductive thing, the music business. They don’t see you as a human being; someone who’s tying to develop a career. Young people in that situation, living in the here and now, can really be taken advantage of. And you get spit out when they’re finished with you.

So in my case, you know, I had my shot as far as they were concerned. You can’t get ‘discovered’ again, and I was never famous enough to make a ‘comeback’ really. I believe that I would have been a happier person if I had never made a record; if I had just kept playing music locally.

I don’t mean to make this just a litany of bad breaks and personal tragedies, but you’ve also alluded to some health issues that have more or less made it difficult to continue on as a working musician…

One of the consequences of the bulimia that I had for many years was that I was misdiagnosed with a thyroid condition that I didn’t have. I’ve managed to turn my health around in recent years…although I have some arthritis in my hands. I’m stooped a little bit.

I look different than I did in 1979, but after all these years I’m comfortable with how I look. I put it out there for all to see.

For a while there was this woman named Caryn MacFayden going around claiming to be me…as if there’s fame and fortune in it! She would introduce herself to people she met as Carolyne Mas, impersonate me online, and it got so bad I had to put a warning about her up on my website — I had to put up a current picture of ME because she was trying to pass herself off as me when I had blonde hair, like on the cover of Modern Dreams. She fooled some people, too!

Well, you’ve got your reasons for wanting to close that whole chapter of your life, but when you put out the call for someone to purchase the publishing rights to your songs, it seems a lot of musicians came out of the woodwork saying no, don’t do it; never give up the ship. The ship being, you know, the control of your music.

I’ve found myself, at this point in my life, sitting on a catalogue of songs that I haven’t been doing anything with. The only way to breathe life into these songs is to find them a good home with someone who’s passionate and interested in them.

It’s like the songs are in jail…nobody’s going to help you if they can’t make any money off them.

Even so, as we’ve been talking it’s evident that you still have a lot of good memories of your music career; a genuine affection for a lot of the people you’ve worked with…I can’t help but think that you’ll never close that door completely no matter how much you say you want to walk away from it. And when I see some contemporary of yours around town like Willie Nile or Steve Forbert, both of whom have performed in Asbury Park recently, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine you being talked into sharing a stage with them at least one more time…

Willie I knew when he was just playing piano in a bar. And Steve and I were lovers on and off many years ago…I wrote half of those old songs for him.

Well, we’ve gotta wrap this up on a positive note. I wasn’t sure what I’d find at the other end of the line when I called, but I must say you’re sounding good and focused and together and all that groovy stuff. It’s been a pleasure!

I’m in a good position. Maybe I had to go through all the things I went through because destiny had something else in mind for me…maybe it’s not what we think we want. Life will show us what we need. That justifies it to me!