Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tonite


There's nothing, there's no one to stand in our way 
Get dressed up and messed up, throw all cares away -The Go-Go's

A few weeks ago, Julian and I were in Old Navy and this song came on. Julian had to endure the embarrassment of watching his mom sing and jump around the store while I explained that that was how we danced to this sort of music back when I was only slightly older than he is now. It probably had been a good quarter century since I heard this song as it isn't one of the "remember the eighties, remember the Go-Go's" sort of songs, but, of course, I still remembered all the words.

When I was in sixth grade, I listened to the Go-Go's all the time. They were the first band I obsessed over (if you don't count Shawn Cassidy and The Monkees). It was easy for my pre-pubescent self to identify with them for they represented girl power and exuberance and seemed to promise that being a grown up was just like being a kid except you got to play the guitar. I know now that this was all a cleverly packaged image designed to appeal to all us girls and reassure our parents, that the Go-Go's weren't just rocking as hard as the men, they were having just as much of the sex and drugs which went with the rock and roll as well. And when I think about the lyrics to the songs, yeah, I guess I can hear it, but it takes a bit of work. After all, I was so young when I first memorized these words, it is hard for me to fully see them in an adult context.

You may have noticed that I have mentioned the lyrics and my ability to summon them up a couple of times. You would be correct in wondering if this is an important piece of information. It is. Fred has commented many times that he is not a lyrics person, that he get overwhelmed by the entire sound and mood of a song and it takes him a long time to even try to listen to the words and, often, he can't entirely make them out. While I feel this describes me as well, it seems like I manage to pick the lyrics up as well and, before I know it, they are saved in my long term memory cells and I find myself thinking about them, analyzing the phrasing and how they compliment the music. I assumed everyone did this until Fred told me he didn't.

I am a word person and I have been for as long as I can remember.

I wasn't alone in my huge identification with The Go-Go's. In addition to being one of the first New Wave bands to make it big, they were huge at the school I attended for fourth and sixth grades. There was a group of older girls who would choreograph dances to the songs and would perform them at the talent shows, decked out in early eighties new wave fashion, and, in a way, a lot of us wanted to emulate them imitating the band as much as we wanted to emulate the band members themselves.

So when I got to sixth grade, there was a group of girls with whom I became friends. I was already a fan of the Go-Go's, as were they, and one of these girls had seen them in concert the previous summer, which, in addition to the strength of her personality, made her the unofficial leader of the group. Each of us had a favorite band member. While Belinda Carlisle had initially been my favorite, the other girls (led by our leader) convinced me I should really like Jane Wiedlin because she had dark hair, like me, and played keyboards (I played piano at the time) as well as guitar. I was impressionable enough that I went along with this and, after reading the liner notes of the records and a few magazine interviews the band did, I was firmly on Team Wiedlin. How could I not love the fact that she (along with Charlotte Caffey) wrote most of the band's songs and, even then, came across like a slightly deranged pixie? If I could be as cool and talented as she was when I grew up, I thought, that would be a million kinds of awesome and, besides, isn't it just so typical and cliche to like the lead singer of a band? (I am pretty sure I did not express this thought to myself in this way as I am almost 100% sure I did not know what the word cliche meant when I was ten, however, I think I did appreciate that liking a more obscure (again, word I did not then know) member of the band implied you were that much more of a fan).

I turned eleven and had a slumber party. There were five of us, so we spent the whole night wearing our Go-Go's t-shirts pretending we were the Go-Go's, each of us playing the instrument and singing along with the albums. The only problem was that the girl in the group whose favorite was Belinda Carlisle didn't know the words to most of the songs (see above observation re: favorite member revealing the depth of one's fandom) so I was Belinda for the night. I was fabulous (in my own mind at least) and I was positive we could have created our own, awesome talent show routine which would rival the older girls. If I had grown up to become a rock star, I would probably reference that moment as my first indication that I could totally command a stage with the sheer force of my personality and my exceptional ability at remembering all the words. However, we know that did not happen, and maybe the why of that is the real lesson to be learned from all this.

Soon after that party, these girls dropped me. This was probably to be expected as group of five cannot work in the long term, people break down into pairs and someone is bound to be the odd man out. Even at the time it made sense that it would be me as I was younger than they were and socially awkward and spazzy and a mess in so many stereotypically adolescent ways, not to mention a mess in so many ways which were completely individual to me. When I think back on those girls, I am not entirely sure why they were my friends in the first place and the most logical answer I can come up with is they needed a fifth person in order to mirror the Go-Go's and once it became clear no one was doing any talent shows, they cut me loose.

I left that school and lost touch with all the girls save one. She and I ended up going to the same schools with one another for the next six years, oftentimes being in the same class with one another. In eighth grade I brought a picture of us from that birthday party to school and everyone expressed surprise at how "young" we looked (two years makes a huge difference when you're thirteen) and she told me that the reason they made me pick Jane Wiedlin as my favorite was because they didn't want me to "be" Belinda Carlisle. Which she didn't have to say as I had already figured that out.

With nearly three decades of hindsight, it is almost laughable how apt a choice it was for me to choose (or have thrust upon me) the person who wrote most of the group's songs, but was not allowed to sing any of them (because if Jane is singing the song, what would Belinda do?) as my favorite. As an actress I may have dreamt of playing Juliet, but I soon learned I would always be relegated to being the best friend, the character, the smart one, maybe the one who got away because the guy only remembered how awesome she was in retrospect, and there were a number of roles I didn't get because I was deemed to be "too pretty" and, yet, I was obviously too dark, too short, too quirky, too much of a spaz to be the lead as written in most scripts. This didn't stop me from acting, but it did effect the way I viewed my career and my fellow actors. If I had ever joined a band, I am pretty sure I would somehow have been relegated to standing behind the keyboards, mouthing all the words I wrote while someone blonder, cooler, taller, inexplicably more worthy and acceptable sang them. Though this didn't stop me from writing songs, I just wrote and sung them to myself, avoiding the potential for embarrassment of rejection and, even worse, the sting of being told that while the work itself is good enough, I somehow am not.

But there comes a point when one has to just decide to ignore the scars and cut loose the memories which tie one down. Just as Jane wrote and Belinda sang on their first record, there isn't anything or anyone standing in the way and it is high time to throw those cares away. Or to quote another song Jane penned, "I've got no more time for feeling low."

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Achin' To Be


Well she's kind of like an artist, sitting on the floor, never finishes, she abandons, never shows a soul-The Replacements

Something which struck both Tracy and I when we read the Patti Smith book was how it sounded so much like us when we were just kids ourselves, but unlike Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, we didn't become critically acclaimed and famous artists when we grew up, we just grew older. I think that is an important part of the book, something which I think Patti Smith understands, that there are a lot of brilliant people in the world whose names we will never know, whose art will remain obscure. In our discussion, I pointed out that we weren't in the center of the universe artistically, we were in Portland and Tracy brought up grunge and I said, "yeah, but it isn't like there was a place for artists like us in the grunge scene, we would have been groupies or girlfriends." Not to mention, we were worshipping at the feet of the great god Academia at the time, everything else was considered secondary, shallow, less significant and insubstantial. But more importantly, what I don't think either of us really had was that one person who believed in us more than we believed in ourselves, who prodded us to work when we didn't feel up to it, and who had the marketing and self-promoting skills that we both so sorely lack. Almost all the other actors, writers, choreographers with whom I have collaborated are cursed with the same ambivalence with regards to self-promotion (it feels so arrogant and cheesy) and the same crippling lack of confidence in the work we contribute. Just as the world is filled with artists toiling away in obscurity, there are probably even more who resemble the she of whom Paul Westerberg sings. Twenty years ago, I wouldn't have seen a resemblance between me and the she of the song, in fact, I would have said this would never be me (just as I have said I will not be Kevin Spacey's father with boxes of unread, unpublished stories for my son to stumble upon after my death), but now, I am ashamed because despite all my youthful ambition and all the love and privileges with which I have been blessed, the words ring a little too true. For, I have spent years telling myself I am not any good, telling myself that I am a cliche, just another girl with a journal who wants to be a writer. I have mocked myself for writing poetry, in particular rhyming and metered verse, and self-revelatory essays (though songs never go out of style and memoirs just grow ever more popular), in part because of the aforementioned stereotype. I have indulged in the belief that all the poems, performance pieces, essays, plays I have written do not count, that only fiction writing has value and I will only be worthy when I get a novel published. I have a bunch of stories in my head, but the actual act of writing fiction always seems wrong for me, and I have been telling myself that it is this feeling of wrongness, the hardness of it, which makes it valid, makes it so worthy of pursuit. And it isn't just with words, it is also with visual art. Even as I created, I told myself the work wasn't any good, that I was not a "real artist" and all the photographs and collages and paintings are all are just for me, that no one else would see them as worthwhile (and when someone might compliment my work, I would think they were just being kind, that they didn't really mean it). And what kills me is that it isn't only me, I know so many brilliant writers who no one has read, songwriters whose music is better than most of what is on the radio right now which few will ever hear, actors who will never play the roles they could have remade in their own image, visual artists whose work remains unviewed, so many people struck down by demons inside and out. Robin Hitchcock once sang, "The bastards that destroy our lives are sometimes just ourselves, but mostly, they're invisible."

How do you kill something you can't even see?

Still, as daunting a task as it may be, identifying the beast is the first step towards slaying it. So I am sharpening my sword and polishing my armor and I am riding into battle because no one knows the names of the knights who didn't try to kill the dragon. Invisible or not, I have to at least try, because love this song as I do, it cannot be playing at my funeral.

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Swingin' Party

If bein' afraid is a crime, we hang side by side-The Replacements
This song makes me think of college. Not because we were listening to The Replacements a lot at that point, but because this seems to capture the boredom and ambition and waiting for life to start feeling which seems palpable in so many of my memories from that period of time. Wikipedia says the songs on the album Tim are "an assortment of alienated narratives from a motley crew of low-lifes and losers, often tragically unable to function as responsible adults." Which is a pretty apt description of all of us at eighteen. But there is also a sweetness here, like this should be the soundtrack for two girls walking around campus collecting empty beer bottles, ostensibly because one of the girls decided she had a crush on a guy who said he was sleeping on a sofa in the SU and surviving off of the bottle deposits, but mainly because it was something to do on a Friday night. Two short girls in vintage dresses and clunky shoes, giggling about boys between serious discussions about culture and art. Who we hang with is as much a coincidence as it is a choice and the universe knew what it was doing when it conspired to bring Tracy and I together. Because even with the distance of years and geography, even with the responsibilities of family and work, all it takes is a phone call and we are back there, eighteen years old, talking about books and waiting for our lives to begin (it's a good thing we can still fit in the dresses and never threw away the shoes). 

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Friday, May 04, 2012

Flying Cats

Years ago, my parents gave me a stuffed animal for Christmas and said something along the lines of, "But you always wanted a cat." I think you can understand why they think I lack a sense of humor.

So I would do this thing with Fred where I would be flying the cat around the room and then, oh no, the cat kamikazes onto Fred's chest. Dive Bomb Kitty. That Fred found this funny probably explains why we are together.

In spite of this similarity to Salvador Dali, I never imagined, in my wildest dreams, there would be a Hello Kitty Airlines.

Clearly, I haven't truly allowed my imagination to bathe in the surreal soup of rainbows, sunshine, and marketing which is the Sanrio Co., Ltd's raison d'etre. Sanrio, your ability to find new and clever ways to sell Kitty White to the world, bathing us in a sugary coating of twee, is truly awe inspiring.

United, American, Delta, Southwest, and the rest of you, just think of the ridiculous fees you could charge people if you did something like this.

It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "Fly the Friendly Skies." (I am sorry, I couldn't resist).

(all photos Reuters/Pichi Chuang)

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