WHEN TRAGEDY & FEAR INSPIRE MAGICAL RESULTS
by Robert Charles
Author of, “The Theory of SWAG: A Young Woman’s Guide to Success & Wealth”
and “The Trillion-dollar Gal: The New Sisterhood of Power”
As we age, the beauty of life is looking back at the events that have occurred and coming to the realization that the adage, “someday it will all make sense” actually does apply. Before sharing this incredible story, let’s start by viewing this music video first. Take a look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahimng2Mqwk.
As a theorist, author, and marketing strategist, who has studied women’s consumer patterns for over twenty years, it never ceases to amaze me of the inner strength of women — women of all ages — who overcome adversity and take on life’s challenges no matter how difficult. Professor Camille Nelson, aside from her prowess as an educator, is also a songwriter, performer and accomplished musician as her latest album, Can’t Stop Thinking of You, proves.
1. Can you recall a turning point in your life, a specific incident, where you knew that life would push you to a reality of acceptance that would change your life forever?
I was in fifth grade at the spelling bee championships. I will never forget reciting the final spelling word when suddenly there was a commotion from the back of the auditorium where my mother and sisters were sitting. I finished the spelling the word and was compelled to leave the stage and rushed to the back. I had this horrific feeling something was wrong, my mother suffered a grand mal seizure.
My mother had several of these while growing up and it never got easier. It was difficult to witness someone you love and care for shake uncontrollably. After that spelling bee day at school, I remember classmates asking me, “what’s the matter with your mom?” I especially remember one boy imitating the convulsing. He started shaking and I was mortified. I was only twelve years old and the peer pressure had already gotten to me. On that day, I was sent home by the school and was left there to take care of my mom for the rest of the day. While my mother was resting in bed, I was so upset and depressed. I must admit that I recall being so angry that my mom wasn’t like any other mother and why I, as a daughter, had to take care of her. It was so unfair.
I was so full of emotion and wasn’t exactly at the mature age to call up a friend and invite them over to tea since I was having a hard time and needed to talk. Instead, I walked over to the piano and said to myself, “what if I just played the black keys?”. That was a turning point, I went on to compose my first song Red Letter Day which is primarily on the black keys — when I remember that day, I’ll never forget how wonderful it felt to express my emotion — a release. Not through words but through music. It came naturally — I just played. I was hooked. Addicted ever since. That is how I became a songwriter.
2. Despite your mother’s health, she was quite inspirational in your life — in fact to this day you speak of her often — and you pay tribute to your father’s contribution. It appears genetics played a role.
My mother and father both contributed greatly to my music. They each had somewhat different roles. My father is a wonderful violist and my mom was an opera singer. My Dad was also a physician and was great at sticking to a schedule and setting goals.
Since my mother was so ill while growing up, she couldn’t help me with practicing or going to music lessons but she definitely instilled that love and passion for music in me. My father instilled a love and passion for hard work and the satisfaction of fulfilling goals and seeing results. I believe some talent can be genetic but hard work has a lot to do with it for sure. I learned the discipline of “Practice makes perfect” at an early age.
3. Can’t Stop Thinking of You is an instrumental masterpiece and artistic performance. In the creative process, how does the musical beat equate to the emotional sensation “Can’t stop thinking of you”?
The song was originally a vocal song that I turned into an instrumental piece. When I went to add in the vocals on the chorus, it didn’t feel quite right and so I added some more instrumentals/ambient vocals on the chorus. The song is about thinking of that significant other in your life – whether you have found your significant other or not. I haven’t quite found mine yet so for me the song symbolizes the feeling of when you do finally meet that special someone.
4. The casual ambience of the video is quite simple, minimalist, yet powerful — Intended?
I wanted more of a home, casual atmosphere to convey the feeling of the song.
5. You are consistent with a musical skill that is revealed quickly in your music, how do you find the inspirational points to create this type of melody — a contagious feeling?
I usually wake up with melodies in my head and I record them on a quick voice memo on my phone and come back to them later. I usually go to the piano to plunk out the melody and sing it as well and sometimes I end up mumbling words as I sing and those “mumbles” usually become the title and subject for the song. With Can’t Stop Thinking of You, I had a vocal melody I sung on the chorus and
out of nowhere, I began mumbling “I can’t stop thinking of you.” I feel like the music fits with the title as well in that it has somewhat of a pensive, cyclical melody in the beginning verse that resembles any specific thoughts. In songwriting, when the music fits the title or words, they call it “prosody.” I try to achieve that in songwriting and sometimes it just magically works.
6. As an educator, your students must be fascinated by the other side of Professor Nelson…yes?
When I was a student, it was fun to see the “other side” of professors and what they like to do outside of class since it can sometimes be hard to imagine what they do elsewhere. I remember when I saw my communications professor pull up in his Harley motorcycle, it kind of caught me off-guard but it helped me to understand him and his teaching style a little better. When my first album came out, there was an article in the local newspaper as well as the school newspaper. Students and fellow colleagues were somewhat shocked at the “Professor releases first album” title on the front – page article. I feel it helped build stronger relationships with students and it helped them see a little part of my world outside of the classroom. As an educator, you hope to have an impact on students of following their heart and to pay attention to the evolution of interests, passions, and skills.
I teach both undergraduate and graduate students and if they only get one thing out of the courses I teach, I hope it wouldn’t be some statistic or interesting fact or tidbit about data or leadership theory. I hope they would come to know how they can discover more about who they truly are and their “why” in life.
I truly believe we have various interests, desires, and passions placed in our hearts at different times of our lives and they are all a part of our evolving story. When I look back at who I was in high school and who I am now, I am astounded at the various peaks and valleys in my life and how my “Plan A” has evolved. I truly believe I am living the “plan A” I have been chasing all along. I want to communicate that to students and hope they can integrate that into the various aspects of their lives, that to me is as rewarding as music.
My brother, Steve and I
7. We discussed your parents, and yet another family member, equally talented — you and your brother Steven will soon be producing together …. yes?
I will be in the studio these next couple of months recording a duet with my brother, Steven Sharp Nelson, who is a cellist in a group named the Piano Guys. It’s an original fingerstyle guitar/fingerstyle
cello tune I wrote called “Theo,” inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s brother, Theo was a cheerleader and support to Vincent.
Stevie has been my Theo throughout my life and we are going to eventually film a video of the song as well. I will also be recording two covers this next month (Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and Adele’s “Send My Lover,”) which will both incorporate singing, beatboxing, fingerstyle guitar, and more. I can’t wait! And I couldn’t be more grateful for the support so far from family, friends, and people throughout the world. Thank You!!
Camille’s Organic Sense of Being
Camille is one of those interviews I’ve conducted over the past two decades that has an organic sense of her true being. Security and independence, two things I’ve always admired in women perhaps why I write about them so often. I’ve interviewed women that were heads of state, best-selling authors, inventors, actresses, surgeons and others. I get a sense of their confidence, knowing their true north and what I love most is their commitment to not to settle for less and to always know there is more down the road to learn and capture for your soul.
What musical experience can you recall that was a pivotal point in better understanding your own fingerstyle?
It was horrific. I spent eight tireless months working on a second album only to come into the studio to record final vocals and learn the computer hard drive had failed and we had lost everything. I had just received my PhD in Leadership and Communication. My colleagues were headed all over to teach in London, California, Florida. I went to Nashville, not to teach but to learn. I was determined to reconnect to my music, to write and record again.
Meeting and working with Andy Mckee
I was distraught and needed a life reset and for me it happened to be in Nashville. I learned and did all I could to soak up all Nashville had to offer. I met fellow songwriters. I collaborated with people. I attended conferences and songwriting seminars. I learned A LOT! It was there that I found out more
of who I am as a musician. I had played fingerstyle guitar for years and kept coming back to it. I also attended a fingerstyle camp in New York led by fingerstyle legend, Andy McKee. I met so many incredible people and learned so much about myself and the various techniques of fingerstyle playing. That was a year ago and I have pursued fingerstyle guitar ever since. So as my colleagues headed in very specific planned destinations, mine was a spontaneous gut feeling that turned out to be fate.
There is a theory that fate, where by definition is happenstance, some believe that the subconscious actually has it planned. Point being that if Camille Nelson’s contagious smile and commitment to writing beautiful music came from an inner emotion, perhaps all the things that have happened in her life were intentional, to find this point in her life to touch the world. And just maybe, the significant “you” in her Can’t Stop Thinking of You is not just one person, but all of us — a mission to teach us about love.This beautiful artist can attribute her talent to father, mother, Nashville, and other artists, it all must resonate in her before she can be influenced. Point being that without Camille’s inner caring to appreciate life and to give and share love with those around her, the creative force would have limits. Case in point is the significance of the number 17 to Camille.
One month before I was born, my mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to undergo immediate surgery and post radiation. Doctors advised her to abort in fear of both my life and my mothers’. If not, the doctor said there was a high chance that I would be affected by the radiation resulting in severe birth defects. My mother insisted for me to be born and just had a sense that we would both be alright. Miraculously, both of us survived the brain surgery and radiation and I was born normal and healthy. My mom went on to struggle and endure through 17 years of chemotherapy, radiation treatments, and more brain surgeries. When I started the guitar at the age of 15, my mom was particularly ill and I spent a lot of time at home with her. Even though she wasn’t able to talk, we would enjoy listening to music together and I would often play guitar for her. Seeing someone you love so dearly deteriorate and struggle can be quite difficult and music was a pivotal role in helping me cope during those trying times. I started writing and singing songs on the guitar and appreciated how very cathartic and healing music could be. It was my savior.
My mother passed away when I was 17. Ironically, she has never left my side. I have felt her closeness, here, next to me – especially when I play music. To this day, I sense her through my guitar and I recognize that this instrument is one of my best friends. So important, so significant.
My father remarried three months after my mother passed. He married a woman who had been my mom’s best friend in Iowa. Her ex-husband and my dad were in medical school together. While still mourning my mother’s death, it was incredibly difficult for me to welcome another mother role in my life. I was only 17. I was still a teenager, somewhere between girl and woman. I wasn’t as understanding as I could have been. We struggled, the natural order for new blended families I supposed. We both said things that we both later regretted and later apologized for. The beauty of it all, is that we built a great relationship with one other and continued to love and forgive each other throughout the years. Five years after my dad and stepmother were married, my stepmom, Mary Ann was diagnosed with breast cancer. She endured over 11 years of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries as her breast cancer metastasized into her liver, brain, back, bones, and blood. It was another heartfelt loss for me.
There is something in the experience of being with someone you love as their body endures such strains. Then, I was inspired to write a song about her entitled To Me which really articulated her importance in my life. I was so worried about my father when my mom passed away and was comforted by Mary Ann’s companionship and her relationship and comfort that she provided my dad. She came to play a wonderful role in our family. Even though we had both said our “sorrys” and “I forgive yous,” the song served as an extra layer to our relationship and love for each other.
As I share this part of my life, my stepmom passed away just three weeks ago. She was in my life for the same amount of years as my mother, yes, 17 years. I am so blessed to have been inspired by
two wonderful women in my life – my stepmother and my sweet mother. And where we all hold wonderful memories of those we loved who passed on, I’m blessed to have music that keeps their memory so vivid each time I play a song. And for me, as I look and touch my guitar, I can feel a heartbeat each time — these incredible women are near.