In between gigs, in between boyfriends, in between cities, in between days, I just like to write.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The day Grunge ran out of gas (R.I.P. Kurt Cobain)

Seattle, 1995 -- Grunge had by this time become ubiquitous. Over the din of clanking silverware, surely Soundgarden was playing. I was having breakfast with my boyfriend of a few weeks, months, who can remember? I was oblivious to everything. We placed our order, and he asked, “If I bought a newspaper, you wanna, like, share it and read it?” Nah, not really. I want to have breakfast with my boyfriend, you dorkhead, I thought. Giving him a faint nod of disapproval, we finished eating and strolled down the street and eventually parted ways. He still lived north of Fremont, but I had just moved to Capitol Hill on the other side of Lake Union. That evening I had to work at my waitressing job, somewhere halfway between the two.
I was still living amidst various unpacked boxes, not quite feeling at home in my new digs. The phone rang. “Is Courtney there?” No. Wrong number. Dorkhead. Feeling underwhelmed by my relationship, and generally annoyed at the Universe, I thought I would try to reboot by renting a video and relaxing before my shift started at 5pm. Luckily, my new apartment was right off of Broadway, not far from Hollywood Video. I combed the aisles quickly and came up to the counter with my video, signed up for a new membership, and asked for a VCR* (guess I left my old one with my former roommates, or maybe I never had one, who can remember?).  *VCRs were used before DVDs, kids.

Back at home with my freshly-laminated Hollywood Video Membership Card, probably some Thai take-out and “Broadcast News”, I began to hook up the VCR, like I had done several times before, to my little television. Fitting for this most unsatisfying, albeit sunny Sunday in Seattle in 1995, for some reason, this was just not working. No matter what I tried, what channel I set the television to, what hole I stuck the cable in, all I could see on the screen was snow. After about 20 minutes of trying to hook up this VCR in vain, my head was throbbing and my temper was fuming, which is how I always feel when getting frustrated with technology. Then I discovered that the metal connector was only superficially attached to the cable - two separate pieces, which should have been one.

Relieved to have discovered the cause of my frustration, I grabbed my keys in one hand, the injured cable in the other, with the VCR slung under one arm, and marched back down to Hollywood Video to rectify the problem. Without using any words, I plopped the VCR down on the counter, took the two parts of the broken cable, one in each hand, holding my fists together and, with a percussive grunt, pulled them apart, demonstrating to the Hollywood Video customer service representative exactly what my source of woe was. 

Sympathizing with my plight, she said to me, with that sort of upward lilt and vocal fry that would begin to define the next generation, for she was before her time, “Okay, no problem! We can totally just give you a different VCR. I just need to see your Membership Card.”

I had left my freshly-laminated Hollywood Video Membership Card at home.

Before my fuming could recommence, she intervened by saying, “Oh, that’s no problem. Just give me your phone number.”

“325-4224,” I spat.

She typed in the numbers with a velocity that only a child of the computing age could execute. And with this same swiftness, her gaze fluctuated between my eyes and her computer screen, discreetly glancing from left to right, before affixing itself on my confounded stare. She whispered: “Do you know you have Kurt Cobain’s old phone number?”

Suddenly, everything made sense. The wrong number. The melancholy. The dark cloud cast upon this otherwise rare, sunny day in Seattle in 1995. Whether I was cursed or blessed by the ghost of Nirvana’s troubled frontman, I knew I had been touched by greatness. I still had enough time to go home and watch half of “Broadcast News” before driving to work. Then, for the first time in my life, and the last time since, just about 50 yards before reaching my destination, I ran out of gas.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Letter to the Sun

Dear Sun,

So, you’re back. You think you can just leave for six months - SIX MONTHS! - then waltz right in and be accepted with open arms? 

All this time, I have been faithful to you, only to have you return for a day, maybe two, and then leave again. Heaven knows knows where you went. You didn’t write, you didn’t call, you just showed up and acted like nothing ever happened.  Well, I needed you here, Sun. Did you ever think about that? 

Where were you when I was left alone in the dark and cold? Where were you when I was diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency and had no idea why I felt so sad all the time? Where were you when I had to get my winter boots resoled, because I’d never worn them so often before? And it’s not just about me. What about our poor little Christmas Cactus who bloomed on Easter thinking that it was the middle of winter and his daddy might never ever come back?

Maybe I don’t even need you, Sun. When you weren’t here, I could just go get an ice cream cone whenever I felt like it, and I didn’t have to stand in line for 25 minutes. When you weren’t here, I wore all my favorite sweaters - at the same time! Now you’re back and you expect to me hurry out and get a pedicure, shave my legs - even above the knee - and wear my sheer low-neck blouse and mini-skirt, wrap my arms around your warm neck and kiss your face until my lips burn off?!?

Well, don’t assume that I can’t be happy without you, but the truth is, things are better when you’re here. So, you can come in. 

But I’m still mad.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Canta, no llores: Election 2012

The first time I heard Barack Obama speak, I was moved to tears. I don’t even remember what he said (but thanks to YouTube, it’s there for review). It was February, 2007 - more than a year before the election even happened - when he announced his first candidacy. My mind couldn’t have been farther from thinking about US politics, much less who might be running for president. But something about that voice made my ears perk up and listen, and I liked what I heard. Listening to Obama’s final campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, right now (also thanks to YouTube, a day later) I’m getting teared up again. I’m laughing, I’m crying, I’m proud and I’m completely smitten.  He’s off the cuff and spontaneous; he’s connected with his audience; he’s tired and his hair has turned gray; he’s hoarse. But even through all that, he moves me. He is sincere. He is genuine. I am a singer, I hear it in his voice.

Obama may not have accomplished all he set out to do yet, nor could the best of wizards have done so, given the circumstances and time frame. I am not one to be very critical, and I’ll admit to being even uninformed at times. Now that I have been paying attention, however, and looking at this administration with a more scrupulous eye, I do not approve of all that has gone on. I’m guilty as charged of basing my support on an instinct. Even after corroborating that instinct with some facts (variable, depending on where you look), I tend to turn the other cheek when I read about drone strikes, failure to rescind the Patriot Act or close Guantanamo (although I believe he will eventually). 

So our president hasn’t been perfect, but I also do not approve of how we have been behaving. Like I said, we have been swayed by our emotions. We have also been selfish, near-sighted and easily fooled. Most people I know voting for Romney stated economics as their reason (even though The Economist has endorsed Obama), and I spat civil rights back in their faces. How could you? Then I state civil rights as one of my reasons for voting for Obama, and they come back at me with a drone strike. Ka-fuckin’-boom.

If this election has shown me anything, it’s that the two most popular candidates, in performing the job they’re auditioning for (so to speak - I’m a singer, I hear it in their voices), would be more alike than we may think. And that we are more different than perhaps I thought before. Either way the election goes (too early to call at the time of writing), I predict things like drone strikes, Patriot Acts and the like, and the economy (yes, the economy) will stay the same. Also unchanging are the terrible attitudes of some Americans who have not even considered the aforementioned issues, and simply cannot bring themselves to vote for a black man. Or those who think same sex marriage or the right to choose should be something we decide for others, even though it would have no effect on us whatsoever. 

Right now, watching the results of the exit polls come trickling in, the margin is very narrow. I’m not even going to go so far as claiming that Romney and Ryan themselves would carry out their putative sexist, homophobic policies if elected, and maybe they would even do an okay job with the rest, but I shudder to think that the office of the president could be handed over to them because their supporters base their votes on ignorance and lack of love. Here’s hoping that the next tears I shed over this election will be tears of pride for my president, and not of heartbreak because of my fellow Americans.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Are You Ready to be Heartbroken? (Lloyd Cole Concert Review)

This is a reprint of an April 2009 entry on my other blog - Christine's Voice - but it is actually more fitting for this blog, for it doesn't relate even indirectly to my operatic career:

This weekend I was traveling between Düsseldorf and Frankfurt for pleasure, stopped in Cologne for business, and decided to reward, or rather console myself with a nice dinner beside the famous Kölner Dom. Far off on a bulletin board, I saw the words LLOYD COLE in big white letters. After my dinner I walked over to take a closer look. Turns out, he was playing not far from there that very evening. It wasn’t like a bolt of excitement had shot through me, but I was suddenly very certain that that’s where I would be going, despite being wrecked from my weekend and knowing that home was only another hour and a half away. I got a large cup of coffee, directions to the venue, and I was on my way.

    The first Lloyd Cole song I’d ever heard was “Perfect Skin.”  My sister put it on a mix tape for me, which I remember listening to on a long drive to San Diego in 1985. That year was my first year of high school. I don’t think any of my classmates at the time had heard of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions except for me. I scribbled a line from that song on my school notebook: 

“...cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin, sexually enlightened by Cosmopolitan ....”  

    No wonder my popularity began to wane with the popular kids, who were content with “Footloose” and “Uptown Girl”, and wax with the mods, who were still searching for the deeper meaning of “Blue Monday” and “How Soon is Now?”

“... Jane is fine, always fine, we're unhappy most of the time. We don't talk, we don't fight, I'm just tired, she's way past caring. So we drink Spanish wine, we tell lies, we're killing time and we feel fine. Well, what's the crime?...”

    Lloyd Cole’s songs are often melancholy. Glum rock, it’s been called. For his sake, I hope his songs are not autobiographical. Using the first person narrative, his songs often mention people by name, which makes it seem like he could only be drawing from personal experiences. Sometimes he doesn’t say much at all, and other times he’ll go into so much detail, you feel like it’s some inside joke that you’ll never understand.

“... I was a king bee with head full of attitude and ashtray heart on my sleeve, wounded knees. And my one love song was a tattoo upon my palm you wrote upon me when you took my hand...”

    In some ways, listening to Lloyd Cole is like an inside joke, because you feel especially kindred with people you encounter who also know his work. Actually, as a fan, I feel a little guilty. Having faithfully bought the first six albums, somehow skipping over his first solo album (how dare I?), I stopped after Love Story.  Then again, so did he. By the time his next album came around in 2000, I was working as a full-time so-called professional opera singer. I was distracted. 

    Those three words were uttered by Mr. Cole himself at last night’s concert. As I said, I went to the concert on a whim, really, but a very unvagarious whim. 

“... I was looking for a rhyme for the New York Times when I sensed I was not alone. She said, ‘Do you know how to spell audaciously?’ I could tell I was in love...”

    Although I’ve been to Cologne on several occasions, I can’t say that I know my way around. Hoping to be sitting on the right subway myself, the man next to me asked if I knew where the Kulturkirche (Culture Church) was. Of all the people on that subway, two Lloyd Cole fans were sitting right next to each other. Kindred, I tell you, kindred. The two of us helped each other find our way to the venue. It’s a regular old Lutheran church, in a regular old neighborhood, except for the fact that it’s one of the few neo-gothic churches still standing in Cologne after the bombings of World War II, and that it’s used for cultural events (except for Sunday mornings, of course). While waiting for the concert to begin, my brand new friend and I exchanged Lloyd Cole stories, which turned out to be quite interesting, due to the fact that I knew my way around the old stuff, and he was a fan of the newer albums. I was glad to have met a fellow fan, but when it came to finding a seat, I enjoyed my independence. I left him outside waiting for his unpunctual companions, and snagged myself a sweet single seat in the third pew.

    I was quite surprised at my own feelings of anticipation. When the roadie came out to hook up the guitars, my heart skipped a beat, thinking it was going to be Mr. Cole. Then another person came out to put a small bucket of ice cubes next to the two bottles of evian and hand towel (never did figure out what the ice cubes were for). Other than that little table, there were two microphone stands (one for the singer and one for the guitar), a few monitor speakers, and two guitars. That was it. Then the culture church’s pastor came out to announce the event -- oh why do they torment me so?! The suspense was killing me! Finally it was time. 

    There he was. Not the gloomy face with cold eyes peering up from under a furrowed brow like on most of the album covers. Just an unassuming man in the middle of his life in a black short-sleeved button-down shirt, beige pants and a pair of black wallabee’s. He softly muttered, “Thanks for coming out,” and began to play. I don’t even remember what song it was, or if I even knew it. All I know is that this man, whose music accompanied or created my moods for almost 25 years, was standing almost 25 feet in front of me playing it live. Everything I’ve ever thought or felt since then came rushing back to me in the guise of happiness. I was overwhelmed. The voice is a powerful thing, a very powerful thing.

    I found it very courageous of him to stand up there in front of us, all by himself, reading off chapters of his life. I’ve stood on stage numerous times baring my soul to an audience, but I‘ve always been portraying someone else, and singing someone else’s words, even though the emotions may or may not have been mine. It occurred to me at the end of the concert that he didn’t play any songs from his third album Mainstream, although he played several songs from his first two. Was Mainstream a chapter he preferred not to read aloud? Or maybe he just felt silly at age 48 saying,

“Life begins at thirty, so I have been told. I can easily believe it, the way I’m getting on.”

    Although I hate to hear this myself, I found it charming when he made a mistake. If he would’ve ignored the few mistakes he made, we all would have been none the wiser. But you could tell he was a little disappointed, like when he was 10 seconds into “Pay For It,” when he stopped and said, “I’m sorry. I was distracted,” and told us he’d play that one again for us later. Or when he said, “We’ll do the first chorus instead of the second one” in the middle of “Rattlesnakes.” I only wish I will be famous enough one day to have the luxury to stop before a high note, take a sip of evian and say, “That was going to get very ugly had I not stopped to take that drink of water.”

    The acoustic versions of his songs were arranged in varying ways, and he even strung a few songs together at one point, joking, “You know you’re getting old when you can start playing medleys.” I was amazed at his guitaristic dexterity, and how he could pull so many different textures of sound out of six strings; he used open tuning on one of the guitars, giving a droning depth to songs like “Morning is Broken:”

“... It’s very easy to be brave with your good foot in the grave. It’s very easy to be cold when there’s no one in the world you want to know ...”

Over the years I’ve gathered so many pieces of wisdom from Lloyd Cole’s music. Like I said, I don’t know if his songs are autobiographical, or just inspired by books and other things. It just seems that if I had learned anything at all from what he’s said, then I wouldn’t be able to relate to the music so well. We all have to write our own songs, and make our own experiences. Other people’s songs only provide the soundtrack to our life stories, they don’t write them. He closed the evening with three encores, saving the best for last. 2cv:

“... For we were never close if the truth were told. All we ever shared was a taste in clothes. No, we were never close. ... We were simply wasting precious time ...”

    After the show, Mr. Cole offered to stick around and sign autographs, saying he’d sign anything except body parts, and reminding us that CDs were on sale in the lobby. I would have loved to have bought a CD, but I had spent all my money on the ticket. I felt like such an idiot when it was finally my turn. He was a very humble man standing in front of me, almost smiling. Still, through his pale eyes, I could recognize the dark young man who I found very sultry in the early 90’s, and I felt as nervous as I would have, were I standing before him back then. I said, “It’s not exactly a body part, but I do happen to have my diary with me. It’s the only piece of paper in my bag that I’m not going to throw away.” And with a couple more bumbling sentences, I said, “Thanks for making this day very memorable.”  “What day is it?” he asked, not being able to distinguish one day from the other, being on tour. I told him, then he wrote 4/20/09 and scribbled his name on the front cover of my diary.

This wasn’t a lost weekend for me after all. Thanks, Lloyd.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tomato Juice, Airplanes, Faith and The Human Condition

Some people ask themselves, ‘What will happen after I die?’ 
Others ask, ‘Is there a God?’
I simply ask, ‘Why is it that I absolutely HAVE to have tomato juice on an airplane?!?’
At first, I considered this to be my own private little quirk, then I noticed that other people had this same preference. And then, the few flight attendants I’ve met over the years confirmed that they serve tomato juice to a large proportion of their passengers. Then Google, wonder of wonders, showed me that people all over the world from all walks of life share my passionate craving in the air - but never on the ground.
It’s not an issue that keeps me up at night, but I just happened to think of it again when I met a friend for coffee recently and he ordered tomato juice. How odd, I thought. So I inquired about his in-flight tomato juice consumption habits and he just shrugged. 
‘What? You mean you don’t have the same craving when you fly?’ I asked, surprised. 
Perplexed, I went home and looked it up again on Google to discover that curiosity about the subject is overwhelming enough to have warranted a few scientific studies, the most recent one from February 2010 having pretty much the definitive explanation to this phenomenon. Apparently, in the lower cabin pressure, our taste buds are less receptive to certain flavors, and the tomato juice satisfies the higher intensity needed to taste anything at all. Whatever. It was a lot more scientific than that - leave it up to ze Germans (Der Spiegel magazine via the airline Lufthansa) to be scientific.
Still, many questions were left unanswered. Okay, so fruity flavors are better perceived - then why not grape juice? Apple juice? Orange juice? And what about Ginger Ale, my second most favorite in-flight beverage choice? Why don’t I crave 7-Up? Or Squirt? (Man, I love Squirt!). Also, I had heard on NPR not too long ago that it was actually the constant droning sound of the engines which dulled our senses of smell and taste, not just the air pressure. What’s the real story here?
I thought my mind was going to be put at ease about this topic, but instead, finding “The Answer” has only raised more questions. How is it that something, which is supposedly so readily explained scientifically, does not hold true for each person? Why do some of us crave tomato juice on an airplane while others feel perfectly content ordering a cola? Shouldn’t we all be the same? What is it about my taste bud sensitivity that sets me apart from or connects me to my fellow human beings?
Not only my dulled taste buds remain unsatisfied about this. Instead of feeling enlightened, I find myself oddly disappointed in learning that my hitherto inexplicable craving is not an anomaly -- just biological and chemical reactions to certain stimuli. And yet I feel a sense of belonging when I meet someone who shares my craving, and bewildered upon encountering people who do not.

I wish I could unlearn everything I just found out about low cabin pressure, dulled senses and beverage choices, and just marvel at my undying desire for tomato juice on an airplane. It’s the special trait I share with probably millions of fellow human beings - something that I can’t explain, but that I definitely feel and hold to be true. 
It’s only a matter of time until ze Germans put their fastidious scientific methods to work exposing the truth about God and the Afterlife. Even if they prove that there is enough evidence to support one theory or the other, this will not possibly be able to apply to all human beings. Otherwise we would all crave tomato juice, wouldn’t we? 
I don’t feel compelled to convince the passenger in seat 9-B that he needs to want tomato juice, too. But I accept tomato juice as my personal beverage choice on an airplane. Take it the way you want it -- with pepper, tabasco, vodka, a twist of lemon or as is -- and enjoy! You are one of us!!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Your Own Personal Osama bin Laden - or - Everyone Needs a Bad Guy

We need bad guys. We need somewhere to focus our rage, and to divert blame away from ourselves.
This morning I woke up and turned on the news -- part of my daily ritual of making a cup of tea, checking eMails and making sure the world is still standing -- to find out that America’s number one “bad guy,” al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been found and killed.
Isn’t it strange that this very night I had a dream about my own bad guy? My own personal bin Laden. A person at whom I to this day direct rage, and who I blame for upsetting my world, albeit a while ago.
I'm not saying I'm without fault. It takes two to tango. Surely, I acted a little less than grown up and overstepped some boundaries or said mean things. But had he been just a little more professional than I (like we expect bosses and leaders to be), my life would look a lot different. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
But what if had I taken a few steps back to see the whole picture and not just the strife and disagreement between him and me? There might be a lot less collateral damage (in this case, to my career).
So yes, Osama bin Laden is dead, but the damage has been done. Damage that will take years to repair, long after his death, because our side of the problem has yet to be solved. Perhaps it’s time we take a few steps back to see what we might have done differently, instead of rejoicing and dancing on his grave.
If the rumors I hear are true, my “enemy” is now, or soon to be, in the same boat as me. On occasion I think, ‘Serves him right!’ or ‘What goes around comes around!’ but for the most part, I can relate to him now more than ever. I clearly remember saying to him in my dream last night, “If there's one thing I don't do well, it's Schadenfreude.” 

“Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble.” Proverbs 24:17

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Please Delete Me: if Elvis had been on Facebook

When Elvis died, I was just going into the second grade. Four of my Facebook friends were in my second grade class. Used to be five - until one of them deleted me. I imagine if Facebook had existed back then, the song would go something like this: “Pleeeease delete meee, let me goooo...”
This morning I deleted someone from my list of Facebook friends. Not because I was All Shook Up about something she’d posted. Just because I figured that this ‘friendship’ with someone I’d barely worked with once two years ago wasn’t connecting or benefitting either one of us in anyway. 

I happened to notice I've been deleted - “unfriended” is now the official term - by at least three people, and in fact it has probably been more. One person I could’ve cared less about (didn't really know her anyway), the next such incident (aforementioned classmate) perplexed me but didn't upset me too much, and the final one actually left me feeling like I was In The Ghetto. I mean, Don’t Be Cruel - he could have at least said goodbye. Nowadays, about the worst thing you can do to a person you love is unfriend them on Facebook. 
But how could I get upset about being unfriended when I’ve deleted people myself? Before you get Suspicious Minds about my friend-deleting habits, here are some guidelines I follow regarding friendships on Facebook:
Return To Sender:
If I had a couple classes with you in school - who knows? maybe I even have a unique memory of you - but have no real investment in our real-life friendship, then I just might click “unfriend” without giving you a heads up.
Are You Lonesome Tonight: 
If I met you once at a friend's party five years ago and you sent me a friend request which I then accepted, and then I don't communicate with you aside from the occasional photo comment or "like", and then I decide to delete you, I'd say it's fairly safe to do so without a former farewell. I bet you probably won't even notice I'm gone.
Heartbreak Hotel:
If you are one of the several ex-boyfriends on my friend list, and I accepted or requested your friendship in a moment of weak nostalgia, I might unfriend you sooner or later. If I haven’t deleted you yet, then you’ll know that our being “just friends” is actually very important to me.
Fame And Fortune:
If I've met you in a professional sense and add you because I have a vested interest in your work, I might end up deleting you after I get tired of seeing all your Farmville posts or updates from your personal life that just don't interest me. Or maybe I’ll just "hide" you. Don't take it personally.
Love Me Tender:
If I consider you an actual friend friend in real life, or even if I've never met you but have extensive communication with you on Facebook or otherwise (like what we used to call 'pen-pals' in the second grade) and then decide to unfriend you, I should probably say goodbye. There's most likely a significant reason which merits explanation. I owe you that much, even if you are nothing but a Hound Dog. If for any reason I neglect to warn you of the impending fatal click, hopefully you'll notice that I'm gone. And I should hope that you would protest. Something along the lines of:

"Hey, where'd you go?"
"Are you mad at me?"
"Did those film compatibility quizzes mean nothing to you?"
"Didn’t you noticed I poked?"
A Fool Such As I:

If, after all your inquiries and protests (messages to my eMail address or Skype number, text messages or unanswered phone calls, or hey, maybe even snail mail), I still fail to give you a proper goodbye, then I was probably never a very good friend to begin with. Well, maybe I was in the second grade, but not now.

You're better off without me.

Now stop poking me.
Thank you, thank you very much.