The Captain

He looked like a buoy floating darkly in his own stale ocean.Two reflecting lenses under a white cap and bill, bobbing subtly, anchored to a glass at the elbow of the bar. I never saw The Captain’s eyes because he never took off his aviator glasses.

Cap-&-glasses

Cap-&-glasses

The Captain was the mostly silent partner to Dolly’s toxic, soda-pop stream of consciousness. He perched by her side with a closed-mouth grin. The smile was a chemical effect.

Dolly, the Captain, and my dad had no special bond beyond the circumstantial. Dolly and the Captain were drunk at a geometrically faux-Asian bar, and my dad was playing music to drunks at a geometrically faux-Asian bar. Their puzzle pieces fit, but I didn’t.

I stood out from the arrangement, and when I stood on stage, the oddity became stark. Most patrons appreciated the novelty of a kid singing, a break from the usual. One did not.

When we played, The Captain felt the chains in his chest grow heavy. He heard them jangle and remembered he was still alive. He hated to remember that. The Captain felt the liquor dripping off the pages of his mind, bringing back the warped type-face he’d tried to stain, to wash out.

From the stage, The Captain melded with the crowd, a permanent installation, putrefying in the corner. I paid him no special attention when I was singing. Maybe he noticed that. Maybe he never noticed me at all, until one night the toxins and the harmony created just the dissonance to roll the sallow of his eyes towards me.

avaitors-&-eyes

avaitors-&-eyes

Most of them clapped and talked and drank. One of them got up from his stool.

One of them swayed like maritime tools, loosely in the hands of fools, willowing like weeds of sickly green dementing in the saline.

One of them limped as if pegged and docked down at my table leg. He beached himself against my chair and venomed hot into my hair.

“They don’t want to hear you sing.”

I didn’t know what to do. I had just gotten off stage, and I was 4 feet from my dad who was mid-song.  I white-knuckled the screwdriver I had in my lap.

screwdriver

screwdriver

He was so close, right up on me, heaving with the buzz-saw timbre of angry stupidity.

“They don’t want to hear you.” “No, you’re wrong.” I had no idea what to say. I should say something, right? No, I should ignore him. I can’t ignore him. I’m leaning further and further to the left and his weight is following me.

“You…they don’t wanna…they don’t wanna see you…” “Get away from me.”

This was the sharpened point of despair. This was the only weapon he had, and he held the blade to me.

I was frightened, but I was outraged too. I was too small to physically resist him, but I wouldn’t submit to his rasp - he was cutting too deeply for me to ignore.  He was digging into the heart of an artist’s fear: that “nobody wants to hear you sing.”  He knew that. I wonder if he’d been an artist himself a long time ago.

30 seconds of rancid invective felt like an hour of torment.

Finally, Dolly, on a gust of red and perfume grabbed his shoulder from behind. The Captain seethed and hissed as the toxic goddess pulled him back into the sea of shadowed drinkers.

I moved to the table at the edge of the stage. The next time I looked back he was gone. I never saw the Captain’s eyes, and I never knew his name. I never exchanged another word with him, and I doubt he remembered anything.

The Breath of the Ink of the Shadow

Le Deux Café was the new inside of the inside when I was 19.When you turned off of Hollywood Blvd onto the side street, the place looked like a cement wall with a sheet metal garage door. Rusted. You had to know where it was. I was with the band. As always.

I would go around the back, where the bougainvillea started to crawl. The bouncer came into view, backed by understated trip-hop loops from an unseen speaker.

The sounds of city and industry steamed off my body, when I crossed into the muted pulse of the “beautiful people.” All who pass through this womb will be luminous, and shall always be. The strung lanterns heaved with the heartbeat of this message, and a wave of whispered subconscious repeated the mantra.

This was the essence of Le Deux, the new “cooler than thou” but post-cool. This is where cool had finally come to rest, to drink, to speak softly in profound vagueries, suggesting that absence of depth is the evidence of it. I bought it, because I wanted to. It was a dream.

This scene was new for my friends in the band, but not entirely for me. I hadn’t been back to Hollywood for almost a decade before I started coming here, so the vibe was new, but the neighborhood still knew me. At this point, I still maintained frozen walls around any memory of my early years in Hollywood, so I threw myself into the plush, toxic, heartbeat. I felt vampiric, I sharpened my eyes to bite into what I saw, to drain the white blood of luxury. A friend of mine had taken to drinking a single shot of whisky out of a tall glass, just because. I adored his affectation.

whiky-glass

whiky-glass

But it crept in, you know, “the ghost of consciousness past.” It dripped up over the cream colored leather chair, up my shoulder, just outside my ear. A vapor made of ink, trailing shadow. Only I could see it. I tried to hide it from my friends. It was closer to me then my body-heat, and no blonde gossip, no touting of whiskey glassed or shot, no buzz from the bass string from the trio behind me, no crackle and moan from the man singing jazz through a bullhorn, no singing of my own, could drown it out. My old life was outside the metal wall, static, for years.

Static interference on a turn-dial TV: The program turned to snow. My dad said the signal would not be fixed in the near future, so we may as well go out. He put me in my purple windbreaker, jeans and Reebok high-tops, and we went out for a walk. It was December of 1987. Crusty, silver garlands webbed above the boulevard. Every once in awhile, a piece of tinsel would give up the ghost and feather down to the street, adding a hint of magic to the litter drifts. It could’ve been called quiet, if you could re-interpret the traffic sound into a seasonal white-noise.

The quiet ebbed, and my sneakers ran into a white cotton rug. “Do you want to go in?” My dad asked. I looked up, and the rug rolled out its tongue across the empty lot next to a tall stone apartment building with a Scientology sign. The back left corner of the lot opened its throat and burst into a ruby hive of miniature red-topped houses, green supports, glitter, and candycanes.

christmas-scene(small)

christmas-scene(small)

The texture of the rug got increasingly nappy and glittered as it reached the apex of the scene, Santa’s chair. I’ve always been itchy about Santa, truth be told. Why would I want to sit on his lap? I don’t really know him. Anyway, I stood in line, ascending slowly step by step as other children took their turns - the steps below the snow-rug felt hard and unwieldy.

He asked the Santa question, “What do you want for Christmas?” It seemed like a long moment sitting there “What do you want?” is a big question. My eyes drifted a little as I thought, “what do I want?” “I want to get out of here. I never want to come her again. I want you to promise me that when I grow up I will never have to come here. I will never have to go to a ‘Checks Cashed Here’ place. I will never fall between the decades, and float in an alcoholic neitherworld like the people at Thai Ice Cuisine. I want to forget this.”

When I came out of my thoughts, my eyes were focused across the street, on the Hollywood Wax Museum. I was sitting on a stranger’s lap, on a synthetic hill, staring at a sanitarium for dolls.  I think I told Santa I wanted a Barbie.

more-lights

more-lights

I hazed out of that memory, I’m 19 again, at Le Deux, staring at a living Barbie doll, draped over a man in long alligator shoes. I sipped my Cosmopolitan. The breath of the ink of the shadow was still in my ear, with more to say, more, more, the street was seeping in - and now it was time to leave.

I waited with some of the band, by the corner. The drummer was bringing the car around. The breath of memory was everywhere. The street itself remembered. This side street remembers everything, and she has no comfort. She is stone and we are her countless butterfly lovers. She will reach for me forever - and I will turn away - into myself, my little moments, my precious affectations.

I would try hard to stay away, for years. I would try to honor the wish of the 7 year old on cotton snow, to turn my head from the ink slither and the ashy whispering silhouette, but I would never out run it. The shadow was my own.

A Child Should Know

The bow trembled like a moth, pale pink, on a crown of black hair.Below the trembling moth of a bow, her eyes were still for 20 seconds at a time, then they would shift incrementally. Her mouth was stationary, paused, open, in interrogative paralysis. The questions were coming to her 8 year old mind at light speed, and thus, as physics dictates, her mouth could never catch up. I suppose I should apologize to my friend Patty for ever telling her about my Saturday night gig at a bar on Hollywood Blvd., but I had told all of my friends in 3rd grade. I just never expected anyone to come.

bow-in-window

bow-in-window

By this time, well into my 8th year as a human being, singing at Thai Ice Cuisine was just part of the rhythm of life. It was what my dad and I did on weekends.  When I lived with mom during the week, bedtime was 8:30, tucked in, soap-fresh. When I lived with Dad, Friday through Sunday, bedtime was midnight or 1, after many Shirley Temples with cherries, and smelling a little like perfume and smoke. Dichotomy, as a state of being was not a strange phase in my life, it was life. It is life.

So one day, possessed with my Jessica Rabbit fantasies, secure in my 4-song repertoire, I stood up during show-and-tell. My classmates looked up at me from 4 equally spaced round tables: 4 solar systems, starred and planeted with bitten pencils, rolled up sticker backings, spiral notebook pages, fruit-smelly markers, pink erasers flaking with graphite gray, wrinkly notes passed and passed back, stretchy hair-bands, cuss words etched microscopically on pencil box corners, pencil sharpeners stuffed with crayon wax, crayons mushed into undecipherable colors, and the tables’ unholy underside - a hell of rock-hard gum and fossilized boogers.

I stood up, and the consciousness lifted from the little scattered galaxies. I took a breath, and extended an invitation to come to my show:

“On Saturday and Sunday nights, I sing with my dad at a place called Thai Ice Cuisine. It’s in Hollywood. We start at 8. Thank you.” I sat down.

The teacher approved, the teacher’s assistant approved, and in the moments after, it was somewhat buzzworthy among the bowl-cuts and ponytails. Then the bell rang and the table galaxies went into violent upheaval - great collisions of pencil cases, Garfield folders, and the din of zippers zipping like a locust migration of biblical proportions. In this tornado, Mrs. Otto’s 3rd grade class vanished through the doors, and my 8 year old life continued as usual until the weekend.

shirley-temple-2 copy

shirley-temple-2 copy

Saturday night. 8:45pm. Dad had already sung one set of songs, while I sat in the front row, always in eye-shot, with a wrench he gave me (ostensibly for protection, but also easy access for tuning his conga drum). After dad’s last chord hung, and dropped, note by note from the air, the scattered applause arced and fell like a wino. I followed him over to the bar where Dolly was - goddess-red, draped, painted nails long as a Chinese dynasty, smiling through grenadine lips.

Dad, Dolly and others made grown-up talk, and I went to the bar corner to sort through the drink garnishes.  After 30 minutes or so of yellow and red cherries and tiny swords, I could hear dad changing the tone of his voice to end a conversation, using phrases like “Whelp, ok.”  and “I think it’s about time.” He used breathier tones to break conversation, like the sentence was heavy to lift.

Dad went through 1 or 2 songs, then lifted his head to give me the eyeball, beckoning me to sing. I hopped down, and started for the stage. I wasn’t two feet away from my stool, before the doorway caught my eye – what am I seeing? Time got blurry and muffled. I spotted a bow through the front door’s glass cut-outs. Time began to stretch. Beneath this bow was a bobbing head with black hair – what is that? The bow and the hair turned the corner and opened the front door – someone… came? As my first foot hit the stage, my classmate, Patty, and her parents walked into Thai Ice Cuisine. It was too late to run to the door. I was too far away to shout a hello, to put her at ease, so I just started singing.

Days before, when I stood in front of my class and told them about my weekly gig, I had done it out of pride, joy, confidence that I was doing something worthy of an audience – something fun. But as soon as Patty walked in the door with a bow in her hair, Patty in a multi-colored fancy dress, Patty in a dress she would wear for church or a birthday party, Patty in white tights, Patty in patent leather Mary Janes, Patty with a look of bewilderment brighter than the club marquee - I felt I’d done something wrong. In my blind excitement I’d invited confusion onto someone innocent. I released a sparrow into a dust storm. I’d possibly ruined the brain of a nice little Korean girl.

pink_teal-bow

pink_teal-bow

Patty and her parents sat down at a table near the doorway. A few times they talked to each other, and tried to talk to Patty, but she was unresponsive. She looked lost. Her expression was so sharply shocked, it imprinted on the air, and became a ghost unto itself. It was as if she was suddenly witness to everything in the world that would not make sense for years - and underneath the bow, her head was reaching max capacity. Patty was no sissy, she was a tom-boy at school, but even she was only 8.

I was a different kind of 8.  I was a working 8, and I’d had time to adjust to the mysteries around me – things I didn’t understand were just part of the flow. This came to me as I finished my last song. As I took in her alienation, I felt my own. I shouldn’t have told anyone about this place.  It was not simply wrong of me, but insincere. I was ashamed.

Patty and her parents made it through the set, granted, with more time spent eying the room then the performing act. Finally, my songs were done, and I walked through the tables to my friend. I felt a clash in my reality continuum as I neared her, as the two sides of my world were forced to touch. It was an un-danceable step, two irreconcilable rhythms. I wanted her to see me as I was in school, the same person. I needed that. I needed someone to affirm that I wasn’t actually living two lives, that it was my life that was splintered, not me – but her face had turned to stone, in the house of Gin and ashes, across from Dolly laughing with her snakes of braided hair.

Dolly-mouth

Dolly-mouth

I thanked Patty for coming. I don’t recall what she said, something cordial. I think her parents told me I did a good job, but their superlatives were obstructed by a gentleman reeling between them and the wall. In short order, the family turned, parental hands on the little girl’s back, and shuttered her out of the club. From the inside, I saw the pink bow making quick time down the street. I was glad she was the only one who came, and glad she left when she did. This was better done in secret, it was too much to explain. If anybody asked me, I would tell them not to go. This was no place for children, a child should know.

A Trip to Spain, Pt.7: Hasta luego

Our hotel wall in Madrid is wallpapered on the far right side with a giant photograph of the New York skyline, overlaid with the lyrics to "New York, New York." This is odd for traveling Americans. In 7 hours we'll be in NY, with a 7 hour layover 'till we get on our plane to LA. The wallpaper is a reminder that this room marks the end of our Spanish odyssey.

Last night, with the wind of the breath of the new at my back, I entered my first gothic catheral. I, not a Catholic, did not expect to be overtaken, but the Holy Mother...or The Dove...or the soul of  an infinity of vespers came to me...and pulled me into a knowingness.

me-in-church-1

me-in-church-1

It is alive, you see. This is what they do not tell you.

The arches, white - not like marble, not like, pearl, not like chalk , but for all the world like bones - reach their zenith out of their own volition. They feed off our inspiration, and circulate the light. The architecture is the bones, and we...we...are the holy spirit.

arch-mashup

arch-mashup

I do not mean this to read as blasphemy, or presumptuous, this is what came through to me, startling my corneas through the stained glass of Almudena Cathedral.

I take this will me.Gracias España.

And last night, in the Lobby of Hotel Mercure, Madrid, we said goodbye to David (in what I'm sure was his very coolest Superman T-Shirt), Sergio, Óscar, David (de Barcelona),Fernando y Agustin . No - not goodbye, "Hasta Luego" (see you later), because these 10 days, through this sleepless journey, we have found a family overseas. Music lovers. Film lovers. Life lovers. Nerds.

We will not allow us to become strangers to each other again. El proximo año. Rock on, guys.

balcony-

balcony-

A Trip to A Spain, Pt.6: My Love, My Cataclysm

So many times, great inspirational high points are followed by stretches of the comically mundane. As long as they’re somewhat comic, or interesting, it’s bearable.But last night, I was truly moved by a force of nature. A force I live with every day, one that can seem quite mundane out of familiarity, but one that sheds its shell, its Clark Kent anonymity, and reveals itself: a glorious cataclysm.

Bear-conducts

Bear-conducts

Today, I’m sitting in the mundane. In a building that used to be a castle, next to a long line of fans lined up for autographs, on a long pew, in a long row of composer’s wives.

We resemble “ladies who lunch” though we don’t actually know each other very well.  There’s something very Donna Reed or something about this – all of us lined up looking fine, supporting our husbands. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s a positive thing, we do support our husbands, but I can’t help but feel a little like another in a row of paper dolls.

I’m sure I’m the only one. I’m still getting used to being a girl. If you believe in past lives, and you’ll allow me an inch of meta-philosophical license, I’ll admit I don’t think I’ve ever been a woman before.  It takes a lot of gumption, a lot of personal strength.

Being a chick ain’t for sissies.

But here we are and here I am. In all honestly, I am still so proud of Bear. Last night, with a flick of his wrist, he filled a palace atrium with passion, such that the worn stones themselves brimmed with full-heartedness. Some cried. Girls made eyes at him. I’ll allow it, they should.

When I met Bear at school, I was drawn to him because he was the only person I could find who was possibly more ambitious than I. We understood the insanity of our goals, and the impossible odds only propelled us.  We met each other at the beginning of our mutual leaps, and here we are still, in the mid-air of our inspiration, under candelabras and oil paintings of kings.  The path of life is not nonsensical, but it is beyond prediction.

I wonder if watching Bear is like watching me. Later, I asked him how it felt to conduct an orchestra, and it was hard for him to answer. I understand that. It’s hard to describe the way it feels to sing; it’s a thing unto itself, and I am other than myself when I do it – really, more myself.

But the Human Target Suite premier last night was enormous. When the piece began, I wanted to comment to the person next to me, but I don’t know how to say “Things jus' got REAL up in here!” in Spanish.

When Bear conducts, it’s as if his arms physically reach into the bodies of the orchestra, and together they unleash the full current of their combined vitality. A tempest in sonorous sway. An affront to cowardice. A dance on the surface of water, his shoulder tension drops to the French horns and rises to the tics and crashes of percussion.

Finally, open palms turn downward – slow decent – slow vibrato – hands of creation moving slowly over the ocean of a world of sound. It’s the End Of Days for just a moment: “turn out the light” echoes in my mind – down to the original singularity, quivering in all the potential energy of the cosmos…

…and ssssssshhhh.

Pause.

Bows frozen. Hands mute strings. Brass holds its breath. A man in the centre with his head pitched forward, arms parted like low wings, tendrils of dark hair hung like web over closed eyes.

Then a voice from the audience shouts, and the rush of applause begins like a monsoon.

A chorus of chairs react in squeaks and shifts, as asses…300+ asses fly upward from their seats, in support of their attached vocal orifices. I’m not saying the people are asses, I’m literally talking about their asses. The castle atrium was on their feet and Bear turned to bow. He is smiling, he brushes the hair from his face. Bows again. No asses in seats yet, everyone is still standing. And this was only the first piece.

So here I sit among the wives, the next day. Watching my man sign pictures and CDs for fans, but it’s ok. He deserves this lush spilling of adoration. He deserves more.

Last night, I was truly moved by a force of nature. A force I live with every day, one that can seem quite mundane out of familiarity, but one that sheds it’s shell, its Clark Kent anonymity, and reveals itself: my glorious cataclysm.

me-and-Bear-7_23

me-and-Bear-7_23