Deena Kaye Rose is a Nashville songwriting legend. She has written songs for some of country’s most renowned stars like Johnny Cash, Jerry Reed, John Denver and wrote the theme song to the all-time American classic movie, Smokey and the Bandit. In Deena Kaye Rose’s new book, Some Days Are Diamonds, she chronicles the best and worst times of living the raucous and crazy musician life all the while knowing that she was suppressing her true feminine self.
In the mid-70s, she landed at the Chelsea Hotel. As she writes in her book, Some Days are Diamonds, “The manager had given me a “long-term artist's” rate: $60 a week. Of course, nothing in my room worked properly and I think I had housekeeping once a week, whether I needed it or not. As a hotel, possibly the worst. As an inspiration for a creative artist, probably the best. And I loved it dearly.” Download "Alive and Well at the Chelsea Hotel - Chapter 28" from Some Days are Diamonds.
How did you learn about the Chelsea Hotel?
I learned about the Chelsea Hotel from studying about creative artists who had spent time in New York City. The Chelsea has long been that citadel of the muse for so many.
How’d you rate your room at the Chelsea?
On a scale of one to ten, it was about a minus two! But as inspiration it was ten to the tenth power!
Can you describe the Vibe of the Hotel at the time (mid-70s)?
There were some full time residents at the Chelsea who were quite interesting characters; one old fella dressed like a cowboy all the time. Out on the streets of New York he looked a little out of place but at the Chelsea, he fit right in. There was one middle-aged guy who dressed like a pirate complete with silk pantaloons, a black sash, and a pirate doo-rag. I thought perhaps he was a doorman at a seafood restaurant, but no, he was a pirate!
Do you think the Chelsea has a special creative energy?
Absolutely! I always felt a physical tingle, a buzz of electrical energy from just walking through the entrance. The thought of so many great artists and creative souls who had walked these halls, trod upon these stairs, or occupied a bar stool in the first floor bar was thrilling for a romantic like myself. Sitting in my room and looking out on Twenty-Third would invariably lead me to muse about others who had gazed upon this same midnight, this same street scene, as they also awaited a visit from the muse.
Have you written any songs about the Chelsea Hotel or songs that were inspired by your experience staying at the Hotel?
I wrote the liner notes for my third album while living at the Chelsea on one nocturnal evening, gazing out through the ornate cast iron balcony.
Thumb-humped rhythms in the A.M. Quiet,Star-crossed words in a hot tea buzz...
To say how it is!
Not how it should be.
Or even how it was.
I bring a mirror,
Not a pulpit.
I wrote these songs for you!
These lines are included in my book, Some Days Are Diamonds, in the chapter about the Chelsea.
Has your song writing been influenced by any artists associated with the Chelsea Hotel?
My goal has always been to never try and emulate other songwriters. If I learn to write exactly like Steven Sondheim it wouldn’t mean a thing. We already have a Steven Sondheim. My focus has been with poets, novelists, film makers, artists that create in a genre entirely different from the one I am attempting. Dylan Thomas was certainly a poet whom I admired greatly. Thomas Wolf, yes, and I even have some leaves that I picked up along the sidewalk of his boyhood home in Ashville, North Carolina. But there is one songwriter/poet of the Class of Chelsea whom I love dearly—as a fan. That would be Leonard Cohen. Genius!
Are there any transgender role models who you admire who are/were also part of the Chelsea Hotel scene?
Holly Woodlawn! Yes, yes, YES. This courageous lady made her statement in a time when it was most difficult to express an alternative lifestyle. She definitely took a “Walk on the Wild Side.” Holly Woodlawn was one of the Godmothers to us all. The footprints of her high heels are always to be found on the pathway before me.
How did you get interested in Country music?
My childhood was spent in western Missouri, a mostly agrarian part of America. Our “popular” music was the folk music done by artists like Woody Guthrie, the Western Swing of Bob Wills and mixed with the Appalachian influences of European Americans. We didn’t have a symphony but we had a square dance every Saturday night where the local musicians played things like “Wildwood Flower” and “Under the Double Eagle,” songs from the nineteenth century.
Chet Atkins once said, “There are only two kinds of music; good and bad!” That has always been my feeling. It seemed to me that Rock and Roll was always so optimistic: “We’re gonna do this and it will be great!” Jazz was more like; “We’re Doin’ this and isn’t it great!” But Country Music was more like; “We did this and it wasn’t always that great!” I love real life emotions told with great lyrical lines.
What was it like working with the greats of country music?
Terrific! During the time when I was writing for Johnny Cash, I thought, Wow, I am writing for someone who actually was a great influence in shaping “how” I write now. I once played John a song and I said, “I stole this idea from you and one of your songs.” John listened and said, “I don’t hear any theft there.”
What is your favorite song that you wrote and why?
Songs are like children: a parent could never choose one over the others. Feels to me that at any given time I will always have two favorite songs: the last one and the next one!
Perhaps some of my works could be singled out as having some historical significance in regards to my career. “East Bound and Down” has played over a million times in broadcast play in North America alone, as has, “Some Days Are Diamonds.” And, yes, each of these compositions was a financial Pleasure! But there is another song that I wrote and that was recorded by The Kingston Trio entitled “Jock and the Trapeze Lady” that didn’t make nearly as much money but that I love just as dearly.
Can you tell us about your experience transitioning into a woman?
Well, I guess I first had the feeling that I should have been a girl rather late in life—I was three years old! But knowing that I was trans for the whole of my life and deciding to do something about it were two different things. The most surprising thing about my life after Transition was the soul-deep JOY that I have found. I was prepared for disappointments but I had not anticipated being so HAPPY. Since transitioning three years ago, the worst day I have had as a woman is better than the best day I had as a guy in the dozen years before that in Nashville.
Do you think it is easier now for people who transition?
Certainly there are more resources available and a little more understanding in the cisgender community. We have learned that there are others just like ourselves. Gender reassignment is not something that one can undertake on a whim. The decision is a lifelong commitment. It is not akin to walking through the pet store and suddenly deciding to buy an Angel Fish.
How was your transitioning received by your fellow artists in the country music industry?
Wonderful! The old friends who have reached out to me have been great. I have a dear friend in the onstage, performing area of the Entertainment Business who, as guy, I have known for over thirty years. Just a few months ago, I reached out to him and explained my “cha-cha-cha, Changes.” He was much more excited about him and his wife getting together with me to have dinner and talk about creativity and music, without having superficial conversations about Transsexuality! We have done just that several times.
I am still a creative artist; it is just that now I am a female creative artist.
What inspired you to write your book?
My first thought about a post-transition life was that I would live in “stealth,” a term used by transpeople to denote living in a new gender without referring or alluding to the previous life as the old gender. Hence, we call our birth name our “deadname.” But I noticed that a common misperception was that Trans folks are totally incapacitated by being transgender: that we have spent our pre-transition time hiding in dark places waiting for grs so that our lives could actually begin.
In recent years, many post-transition persons have made it a point to embrace achievements conducted in the previous gender, the gender assigned at birth. The Wachowski Sisters, genius film makers and transladies, Kristin Beck, former Navy Seal and Transgender woman. Chaz Bono, Jennifer Leitham, and, of course, Caitlyn Jenner, and many others have been effusive in acknowledging previous successes I felt it was my obligation to my trans family that I should make my statement: that even a male Country Music songwriter from Nashville, who wrote for Johnny Cash, wrote for macho, truck drivin’ Burt Reynolds film, Smokey and the Bandit, was not immune from being transgender. I did not choose Transgenderism—Transgenderism chose me.
Do you have any new creative projects coming up that we should look out for?
I am working on a book of poetry that will include all new, never before published works. I have a ton of new songs I wrote for and about the Trans community. Some pending speaking engagements are on the horizon. And, of course, there is the current autobiographical book, “Some Days Are Diamonds”, that is available on Amazon at this very moment. Believe me, it has a happy ending!
ABOUT DEENA KAYE ROSE
Deena Kaye Rose is a Nashville songwriting legend. She has written songs for some of country’s most renowned stars like Johnny Cash, Jerry Reed, John Denver and wrote the theme song to the all-time American classic movie, Smokey and the Bandit. In Deena Kaye Rose’s new book, Some Days Are Diamonds, she chronicles the best and worst times of living the raucous and crazy musician life all the while knowing that she was suppressing her true feminine self. Today Deena is a transgender woman and activist, sharing the history of her journey in performances and lectures around the country. She is letting trans persons know they are not alone. Deena’s hope is that her tale of growing up knowing she was a transgender woman in a time when those topics were considered either taboo or nonexistent in the Bible Belt of the United States, may add a positive note to the transgender conversation.
For more information about Deena visit her website at www.deenakayerose.com
Follow her on Twitter @DeenaKayeRose
Like her on Facebook www.facebook.com/DeenaKRose
Buy her book on Amazon