The genesis for the name of the band, Housewives on Prozac, came more than a decade ago, when the leader of the group, Joy Rose, was living with her four children in Westchester County, New York. The name came to Rose in a dream. “I had just moved from Manhattan to the middle of the suburbs,” she says from her home office in Westchester. “My kids were all under the age of five. I noticed when I made the move that there were a lot of women my age with kids, and they were living these suburban lives, and so many of them seemed to be living lives with dreams deferred.”
So the wives in the suburbs did a lot of self-medicating. “There was a lot of alcohol use and abuse, and a lot of Prozac. People were trying to circumvent dreams that they had not pursued, things they did not think they should have been doing because they were moms, and I realized that I was using music as my Prozac.”
This impulse is what has been driving Rose ever since. She has two major jobs now, three if you include motherhood. She is the leader and driving force behind Housewives on Prozac, a six-member group of rockers who are juggling motherhood and music, and a related organization known as Mamapalooza. Mamapalooza, Rose says, puts together events for mothers who perform music and other arts. Mamapalooza’s mission statement (www.mamapalooza.com) says the organization “empowers women through cooperative performance and merchandising endeavors.”
Housewives on Prozac will perform Thursday, November 16, at Katmandu in Trenton, a benefit for Hadassah of Princeton’s efforts to raise funding for the Center for Emergency Medicine at Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center.
“We play all kinds of places, from synagogue fundraisers, family concerts, PTA meetings, or rock clubs,” Rose says.
Rose, now 49, has had a very interesting life. She was born in Ithaca, New York, but spent the first 12 years of her life in Akron, Ohio, the daughter of David Rose, and his wife, Joy. David Rose was an IBM executive but he came from a long line of religious leaders; his grandfather was a Presbyterian minister. “I had a pretty strict upbringing,” Joy Rose says. “I grew up with a good set of values.”
Joy Rose was named for her mother. “They were Wasps, Presbyterians. They never did very well with creativity, so that’s why everyone in my family has the same name,” she says.
The elder Joy Rose “was a typical ’50s housewife,” her daughter says. “No, she was not on Prozac, but she has admitted to having bouts of depression. But she set a good example for me. She was always reading and studying something, and getting involved in lots of new things. When I went off to college, she went off to join the Forest Service in Montana as a fire-watcher. In more ways than one, it was a pretty brave thing to do when you think about it.”
What did Rose’s dad think about that? “Well, she talked it over with him before she did it. She did it for five summers in a row. He would eat beans all summer and get really depressed.”
The family moved to Westport, Connecticut, when Rose was 12, which, she says, “was a really cool place in which to grow up. It was a very creative town that definitely gave me the courage to do the things I am doing now.”
After receiving a bachelors degree in fine arts and theater from Dennison College in 1979, Rose moved to New York and played guitar and sang in various groups. One post-punk group, Peter and the Girlfriends (“I was Peter, and the guys in the band were the Girlfriends”), actually made it to the dance charts in 1989.
Twelve years ago, Rose fell ill with systemic lupus erythematosus. She eventually had to get a kidney transplant in order to stay alive. “I was very, very sick. I was on chemotherapy for literally three years. It was almost a fatal illness,” Rose says.
She says the adage “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” was very appropriate in her case. “I came back with a lot of passion to live life jubilantly and creatively and fully. At a young age, I came to realize that life is short. You have to do things for your children, sure, but it is really important to find your creative existence as well.”
Soon after recovering from the illness she decided to form the band. Its first incarnation, which lasted relatively briefly, was in 1997. For the most part, the current lineup of the group has been together since 1999.
Rose’s cousin, Susan Graham, plays bass and sings; Kyle Ann Burtt, from Bucks County, is the band’s keyboardist. Donna “Boom Chick” Kelly, who also plays with many other bands in New York, is the drummer. She and guitarist Jane Getter are the only full-time musicians in the group. Getter, whose jazz chops are legit, has played with Richard Bona, Regina Carter, Jaimoe (of the Allman Brothers) and Urszula Dudziak.
Princeton native Gillian Crane is on hiatus, only because she is a teacher who is working as a recruiter for her private school in Westchester. “She has to work for the next couple weeks in Jamaica,” says Rose. “Imagine that.”
There were three major influences on Rose from a musical standpoint during her coming of age. The first was “The Sound of Music”; the second, the Rolling Stones; and the third was the rock musical. “Things like Jesus Christ Superstar, the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” she says.
The band is known for its campy lyrics and outfits; songs such as “Eat Your Damn Spaghetti” and platinum hairdos that require lots of hairspray are the way things usually go. “It’s just music, with lots of humor and storytelling, and lots of great costumes,” Rose says.
All of this is part of an overarching message Rose likes to convey to those who come see the band. “I am just a cheerleader for humanity and its creative force,” she says. “What we are doing is being live, going out, and witnessing, sharing creativity and music, and that goes out into the universe forever. A lot of what we do is tongue-in-cheek and ironic, and when I get out on stage in my outrageous hair and outrageous costumes, I like to be over the top and witty. Maybe what we do will inspire someone else to be liberated enough to go out there and do something out of the box.”
Housewives on Prozac, Thursday, November 16, 7 p.m. Katmandu, Waterfront Park, Trenton. Benefit evening sponsored by Hadassah Princeton Chapter for the Center for Emergency Medicine at Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center features concert by rock band comprised of working moms with a sense of humor. Appetizers, wine, and dessert. $50. 609-799-5999.