Shelly Peiken Spreads Mother’s Day Love With “Notebook” Video

You may not have heard of Shelly Peiken, but you’ve undoubtedly heard music she’s written. The songwriter has penned such hits as Christina Aguilera’s “What a Girl Wants” and “Come on Over,” Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch,” Mandy Moore’s “I Want to be With You,” Brandy’s “Almost Doesn’t Count,” and The Pretenders’ “Human.” In August, she’ll be fulfilling a lifelong dream by releasing her own album, 2.0 etc. and The third single off the album is “Notebook,” an ode to her daughter that’s arrived just in time for Mother’s Day.

The song is about a notebook that Peiken has kept since her daughter, Layla, was born, documenting all the special moments in her life. “I think that writing things down is important,” she says. “She loves the idea that that book is waiting for her and it’s hers for whenever she wants it.” In the video, Peiken shares photos of herself and her daughter, who is a supporter of her music.

Peiken started out her musical career as an artist herself, then began having more success writing songs for other people. The success didn’t come easy, though — she remembers being desperate for a big break while she was pregnant with Layla, unsure how she would support her and thinking she may have to go back to waiting tables. Thankfully, that was just when she began writing with Brooks for the singer’s 1997 breakout LP Blurring the Edges.

“It felt like we broke ground at that time,” she remembers. “There were male artists that sang songs with ‘bitch’ in them, but God forbid a woman does it. We had a lot of pushback from radio. We weren’t necessarily calling anyone a bitch; we called ourselves a word that represented a complicated woman. Now, I look back and think, it doesn’t have to be a woman. It could be a man, it could be a child. It’s just about how we are complicated beings.”

Even though she was one of few female songwriters in the business, Peiken didn’t second-guess herself. “I never thought of myself as a woman songwriter; I thought of myself as a songwriter,” she says. “If I had a remarkable song in my pocket, I was going out with it, and I was a gentle bull in a china shop, playing it for everyone who would listen until they heard it. I just walked right through with blinders on and said what I wanted to say.”

After a while, Peiken felt less and less like the songs she wanted to write lined up with what artists were looking for, so she took a break from songwriting and wrote a book, Confessions of a Serial Songwriter, whose audio version was nominated for a Grammy.

Since following her own creative pursuits had worked out for her, she decided to continue by creating an album. “This baby has been gestating inside me since the minute I wanted to make an album when I was a young girl, and now I’m giving birth to it,” she says.

“I’m not some new it girl on Spotify; that’s never going to happen,” she adds. “I don’t even check my following; I’m trying not to pay attention. But enough people email me or text me or DM me and say, ‘Gosh, I heard that song and it made me cry’ or ‘it brought me back to these wonderful memories,’ and I got these messages that make me feel like I am adding value to the lives of others. I don’t know what’s next, but that feels really right right now.”

ONLY NOISE: Punk Rock Mom

“Punk Rock Mom” was a distinction of honor my mother appointed to herself, and though the title mortified me on more than one occasion, she’d well earned it. She was the one helming the two-hour, round trip commute between my hometown of Arlington, Washington and Seattle, where any and all rock concerts worth two hours on the road took place. These gigs often occurred on school nights, no less, but my mom didn’t seem to mind. She’d just as soon climb behind the wheel of her late Subaru Forester (RIP) on a weeknight as she would let me go to school the next day reeking of bar smoke and brandishing the fresh hematomas I’d acquired in the pit the previous night. She didn’t need to prove anything to anyone.

It’s astonishing to think back on those nights and fully absorb how goddamn lucky I was to have parents who not only helped me dye my hair blue, but who were smart enough to run their separate households like meritocracies: get straight A’s, and you can look as funny as you like. Do your homework, and we’ll haul your ass to a seedy bar just under a freeway off ramp on a Tuesday so you can hear music we can’t stand. Except my mom did like the music, or at least pretended to for the sake of Punk Rock Mom point accumulation.

While my dad and stepmom would typically find a nice restaurant to abscond to, or a nearby watering hole to imbibe craft cocktails in as I palled around with drunks n’ punks,  my mom would stay glued to a barstool in the venue. I appreciate why my dad didn’t want to stick around these grimey shows; he would make the long drive just like my mom, but he’s always been more of a fan of melodic music, and I never blamed him for not wanting to stew in a smoky dive while listening to the sonic stylings of Clit 45 or Toxic Narcotic. Ma, on the other hand, was in hog heaven. A woman who coughs up more smoke than a coal refinery and could drink Hemingway under the table (and probably outwit him just as easily), my mom basked in the grit and glory of the go-to punk venue at the time, The Graceland. It was dark, cheap, socked-in with cigarette smoke (these were the glorious, pre-smoking ban days, circa 2003-2005). The Graceland answered with a resounding “yes!” to one of my mom’s most crucial questions: “Is there a bar?”

It never occured to me at the time, but I now suspect that my mom had a much more interesting time in the Graceland bar than I ever did watching the bands. She actually met people, and spoke with them, while I tended to collect more bruises than friends over by the stage. Her bar buddies were often members of the bands I was there to see, and I would simmer with jealousy when I learned she’d gotten quality time with my punk rock heroes. She chatted with Matt from the Hollowpoints, my favorite local band at the time. She had a couple of beers with Mark Stern of Youth Brigade, and learned that he had a three-year-old daughter at the time who was also named Madison. She unveiled this detail with a measure of pride, and told Mark Stern all about her own Madison. I recoiled in horror at the thought of the conversation she must have had with Stern, no doubt assuring him that I was Youth Brigade’s biggest fan (not true) and that she was my “Punk Rock Mom” (pretty true), a title that also graced one of the band’s later singles.

Most kids grow up worrying that at some stage, their parents will embarrass them in front of their friends. I grew up in the unique, opposite position: I was in constant fear that I would never be as cool as my mom. I have been assured by my friends that I never will be. All of the best items in my wardrobe have come from her. The knee-high leather boots, threadbare t-shirts from Muscle Beach, Germany, and Spain, and a pair of Levi’s I can barely squeeze into. I have a train chest overflowing with costume jewelry she no longer wears, and though a small cobalt box nestled inside of it holds her wedding and engagement rings from my parents’ nine-year marriage, it is a single earring in all that metal that most reminds me of her. A brass ear cuff in the shape of a little lizard – well, half of a little lizard. Only the butt and tail of the metal critter was cast, and when you affix the piece to your ear, it looks as though the front of his body is crawling into your ear canal. I feel like this small bauble is a pretty good summation of my mom: small, charming, and pretty; witty, dark and strange. An all-around gem, and a little fucker in the best way.

It is perhaps because I already took all of my mom’s cool clothing and accessories that I haven’t robbed her of her records (yet). Then again, I don’t remember her ever offering them up like she so readily did with her collection of clothes. Because of her humble collection I discovered Wire, the Pretenders, the Specials, the Rolling Stones, General Public, and of course David Bowie. She didn’t have anything by GBH or the Subhumans, but I realize now that my mom was so punk rock, she had every record that influenced my favorite bands as a teenager. Maybe “Proto-Punk Rock Mom” would have been a more apt title.

I look back at pictures of my mom from the ‘70s and ‘80s and wonder if we would have been friends if we grew up across the street from one another, if I could simply bask in her coolness instead of reject it, like I did as a teen. I’d like to think we’d be friends, because if there’s one thing those photos tell me it’s that she had a blast, and considering how good she looked, I suspect few people ever told her “no.” There’s one photo in particular from the mid to late ‘80s that I love. She’s standing in the driveway of my grandma’s house in Huntington Beach, California, with my toddler sister perched on one hip. She’s wearing a straight black sleeveless dress that stops above the knee, and she has a short mop of hair that I have copied three times in my adult life so far. She has a customary cigarette poised between her free fingers, and dark shades, and a long, thin braid of hair stemming from the base of her neck. She looks badass, and yes, even a little punk rock. Recalling that photo today, I decide, yes, we would have been friends. But I like it better this way, with her as my Punk Rock Mom.