Connie Deming is like a warm smile personified. It's a smile that lingers just this side of laughter. And although Deming is on a press junket for her beautiful new CD, "Fly," she doesn't stay focused on herself, her music, or her life. She'd rather talk about her son, David, who is autistic. Deming credits him for the wisdom and heart she exudes on and off stage.
"He's a brilliant, intuitive person who has lost the ability to speak," she says. "He's taught me more than any teacher I've ever had. You can't fake a smile. You can't lie. He is completely the truth. He's perfect and nobody knows it but me."
It's with this inspired, uncompromising truth that Deming emerges with "Fly," an exquisite yet occasionally sparse 11-track offering featuring the singer's rich contralto ensconced in the luxury of guest talent like guitarists Phil Marshall and Gerry O'Beirne, bassist and engineer Gary Holt, and percussionist Cheri France. It's a storied affair on two levels: you can listen to the tales as they are, or listeners may tap into the underlying flood of emotions and testimony. She intones like Joni Mitchell or Janis Ian on tunes like "Pedal Boat," but sounds perfectly at home on a gutsy shuffle like "In Your Hands." Deming then rages gently defiant over a lone hand drum's pitter-bop on the album's title track.
Dedicated fans dig Deming's stories. Her 2004 album, "Flights of Fancy," was written with an accompanying book after people demanded it, to maximize the album's experience, which frequently references flight.
"I've got this thing for flying," she says. "All of the songs fly somewhere. This one flies to my son. This one flies to Ireland. This one flies into the trees through all of the seasons."
Deming grew up a somewhat timid musician in Plymouth, Massachusetts. She didn't necessarily want to be heard and would wait until everybody was out of the house before she'd start singing.
"I didn't want my father looming over me teaching me to sing like he did with my older sister," she says. "I would sing in secret. Then I found out I liked singing a lot. But I didn't dare go to music school. I got accepted to Lowell State College near Boston for music. I got scared to go there because I didn't want to kill my love for music by studying it. That was a stupid move because now I wish I had. I don't have a grasp on theory, I play by ear. Having said that, I love self-taught people, they are more interesting and colorful to me."
She got a teaching job right out of college in Canandaigua in 1975. Things didn't exactly work out.
"I found out after two years that I couldn't stand teaching," she says. "I didn't have any behavior modification skills, any crowd control skills. So one day I tearfully quit and drove away in the snow and got a flat tire."
A guy picked her up and drove her to a garage, she says. On the way, the man asked, "What do you do?"
"'Well I don't teach anymore, maybe I'll sing,'" Deming says she replied. "It just came out of my mouth. 'It beats the hell out of teaching."'
And yet there's plenty to learn from Connie Deming. She's a different kind of teacher; a teacher that's also still learning.
"I find the things that inspire me the most these days ... I don't want to get stuck in a rut, but I'm constantly frustrated that the world can't hear the brilliance and the wisdom that my son has," she says. "When he was 12, he typed out, 'Just give me love, just give me hope, just give me jokes, and treat me bold.' I showed it to his teacher and I just got this blank stare back. Even though they were his own words and it took him 45 minutes.
"I think what he's taught me the most was listen to your gut, that's where the truth is. If you don't know what someone else wants, tell them to get quiet and listen to the inner whispers and figure it out."