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Rock N Roll Mamas

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Rockabye Baby

The boy—running through the kitchen and sliding in his stocking feet, shouting and laughing in a fit of 4-year-old exuberance, dark hair dancing like a halo around his head – he is at the heart of all this.

Everything changed the day he was born, the day they said his name, too: “Lyle,” his mother says softly, and he stops running, long enough to flash her a smile.Before Lyle, Jackie Weissman had worked as a documentary filmmaker but was laid off not long after he was born. “And so I said, “I’ll raise my son,” Weissman recalls.

But still she missed her work, missed that creative outlet in her life. She longed to start a new documentary but struggled to find the time even to form a coherent idea in her head. “I just felt so bogged down in my day-to-day life.”

She wondered: Was there anyone she could look to for inspiration, for a little guidance—and unvarnished honesty—about trying to blend kids and a creative life?

And then one day, she stumbled across an article in Salon.com about rock-star mothers and their struggles to balance careers and children. Something clicked.

A two-week residence at Yaddo, a prestigious artists colony in New York, gave her the time and space to think. And when Weissman came back, she had a plan for her next documentary.

She decided to call it “Rock ‘n’ Roll Mamas,” and she set about finding women who were living out the tension between the freedom and power that rock ‘n’ roll embodies, and the reality of dirty diapers, sleepless nights and a little voice moaning in the back seat that five hours in the car (nevermind that you have a gig to get to) is too, too long.

“It was like sparks were flying,” says Weissman’s husband Andrew Altschul.

Weissman filmed whenever she could, around Lyle’s preschool schedule and her husband’s job as an attorney. Her mother came and stayed with Lyle for a time. Friends pitched in, too.

She interviewed hip-hop performers, rock-a-billy singers and punk rock, spoken-word practioners. She followed them to gigs, listened as they lamented having only an hour to spend with their children between the end of their work day and the next sound check.

“My plans are just never to sleep,” one of Weissman’s subjects, a performance artist named Fern Capella says at one point, as she rattles off her proposed schedule of school, work, child care and spoken word gigs.

Weissman was there as the women spoke frankly about the changes to their bodies, their changing sense of sexuality, (“I had a lot of potential at 20,” says Capella, “I had a body that was unmarred by childbirth”); and their changing careers, (“If I was just stepping it up more, I could be doing more,” says hip-hop performer Su’ad Abdurafi. “I just don’t have time”), their changing sense of themselves. I totally felt like I wasn’t sure what my identity was when I became a parent,” Lisa Miller, a rockabilly singer and guitar player with the local band Lisa and Her Kin tells Weissman at one point. “I wasn’t sure I could be the parent I wanted to be and also play music, because I knew what that life was like.”

But after she finally went out and played again? “I said, ‘I should have been doing that all along.’ It felt great.” Even though she didn’t play in a band, so much of what Weissman was hearing and seeing reasoned with her.

“Its really my story, too.” She says.

And when she tells people about what she is working on, she has been surprised at their enthusiasm for the project, even when they have no connection to rock ‘n’ roll, or are childless.

It’s made her realize that it is also “a universal story,” says Weissman, who for a time had considered going into anthropology before deciding it wasn’t as accessible as film making.

It’s the universal issue of balance,” she says. “Right now in our society, balance is everyone’s issue. Everything is out of balance: work, partnership, love, family… but it’s especially true for mothers who are trying to do a bunch of stuff.”

Weissman is really only just beginning her work on the documentary. There is so much more she hopes to capture.

She has a list of other rock stars she hopes to approach. She’s scheduled to interview Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney next month, and in May she plans to head to Rhode Island to hit the road with Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses fame, who home schools her four children and loads them onto the tour bus with her wherever she goes.

Thursday night there will be a benefit at the Hollywood Theatre to help her raise money to finish the project. She’s had T-shirts made up with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Mamas” emblazoned across the chest, along with a logo of a woman holding a guitar in one hand and baby in the other.

When she unveiled them for some friends who were over at her house helping to plan the benefit, on a recent Thursday night, they applauded. “This has brought back her spirit and life,” her husband has said. “Even magnified it.”

Meanwhile, in a back room, fellow filmmaker Sarah Marcus who’s working as editor on the project, put the finishing touches on a 10 minutes trailer that Weissman had put together from her footage so far.

“It looks so good, Jackie,” Marcus said. “You have such great subjects. This is really top notch.”

Behind her, Lyle whooped and danced and slid in a whir of little boy joy, and all Weissman could say – as her film, her story told through other women’s lips, screamed across the computer screen – was “Thank you,” again and again.

Inara Verzemnieksmailto:Inarav@news.oregonian.com