Category: Music

To Maman, With Love

To Maman With Love

I’m not good with ages, including my own. Hence, whenever bouncers or waitstaff unexpectedly bypass the usual ID-check and ask, “How old are you?” the first thing that comes to mind is, Uh… am I even twenty-one yet…? Fortunately, this number amnesia doesn’t extend to important dates, allowing me to be certain without a shred of doubt that today is my mom’s birthday.

Maman, as she’s affectionately known, is immensely important to me because (as apparent to anyone who’s ever mistaken our voices on the landline phone of our past) she makes up an invaluable portion of both mine and my sister’s identities. And considering all the incredible elements that comprise the Renaissance dynamo that is my mother, my sister and I should feel very lucky to share in that genetic pool. My mom has an imagination that packs a wallop. Her sense of wonder is tangible in the way she approaches every facet of life. Her unyielding desire to learn from each of the experiences she encounters is inspiring. And demonstrating the very essence of the adjective “motherly,” my mom has the unfailing ability to comfort even the most overwrought hysterics.

Furthermore, my mom is a woman from whom natural talent radiates like the awed circles that form around her whenever she takes the dance floor. Among the many skills she demonstrates an aptitude for, she’s the most fastidious and loudest cheerleader in all of North America; an incredible artist and writer whose oeuvre spans the creative gamut from joyously whimsical to powerfully evocative; an aficionado on all things kooky-fresh, such as The B-52’s, Shonen Knife, and Plastique Bertrand; a learned and opinionated voice vying for social, cultural, and political equality; the contender you absolutely want on your team for trivia night; and an altruistic giver through and through.

When I was a child, one of the greatest gifts my mom gave me–despite the hordes of Barbie dolls I pleaded for and miraculously received–was her time. When I came of kindergarten age, my mom decided to take up the helm as a homeschool teacher for a year that may well have been the most formative period of my lifelong personality. Thanks to my mom’s patient and steadfast teachings, I developed a deep adoration for vocabulary, a genuine affinity for reading, and a penchant for writing that catapulted me beyond the school’s benchmark. I can’t begin to thank my mom enough for the educational time she dedicated to her children, and I feel certain that without the lessons she’s continued to impart to this day, I would not have ended up as academically driven as I am. Quite frankly, I attribute my brains to my mom and thank her every day for placing so much emphasis on their fortification.

While incredibly important to my character, this inherited love for learning barely begins to skim the surface of all the things my mom’s doted on her daughters from day one. As children, my sister and I grew up in a home replete with fantastical paintings adorning the walls and floorboards: a cheerful, multicolored snake spiraling on the living room floor, an alebrije-esque lizard spanning the length of the kitchen, a winking fish suspended above the stove inquiring, “Hey good lookin’ whatchya got cookin’?,” and our little bunk bed fortress decorated with Shoobie the flying pup, our beaming faces, and an array of designs and calligraphy unique to my mom’s playful aesthetic.

For birthdays, she gave us not only presents but whole window murals commemorating the occasion and themed homemade cakes that somehow defied gravity with their twisting Seussical stairways. From the time I was nine-years-old my mom devoted hours upon hours to reading us Harry Potter aloud, complete with individual character dramatizations and the correct pronunciation of “Hermione” years before the films enlightened my peers. Her all-encompassing love for animals turned my sister into an atheistic St. Francis incarnate, preaching to kittens and puppies The Word According to a Six-Year-Old. When relationships went south or the transition into college proved dispiriting, my mom gave me ways to combat sorrow and the means to harness positivity in the face of life’s many obstacles. And her multilingualism and sense of adventure resulted in my love for language, graphic design, and cultural history and mythology.

For physical sustenance, my mom gave us the many delectable gifts of moussaka, chipotle chicken, banana bread, and the phenomenal macaroni and cheese recipe she inherited from her father. For mental fodder, she gave us a love for games, even if it occasionally resulted in my sister overturning a card table in a bout of loser’s rage. For 85mph exhilaration, she passed down her love of roller coasters and repeatedly travelled with us across the country to seek new thrills–although the spinning tea cup gene clearly skipped me. And as a strong female figure who embraces her identity and doesn’t shy away from displaying that fabulous demeanor to the world, my mom gave her daughters the ability to be ourselves regardless of any judgment that may come our way.

To top all of that off, my mom has taught me how I want to approach motherhood one day. Thanks to Maman’s example, I want to inspire uninhibited imagination, I want to answer every question with honesty and imbue a love for learning, I want to be a comfort whenever my children are in need. And beyond that, I’m very eager to behold the whoops of excitement my future children emit when I tell them we’re going to their grandma Lulu’s house, a place of wonder, creativity, and warm, unwavering love.

Maman Catrina

Born to Fly

Born to Fly

If George Lucas had fleshed out Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr.’s lineage beyond Sean Connery’s loveably aloof character, then Indy’s grandmother would be a fictitious interpretation of a real woman named Kathleen. My grandma is an adventurer of Raiders of the Lost Ark caliber, but with the added facets of socialite, food and wine connoisseur, avid supporter of the arts, and incredibly learned intellectual, it’s hard to decide if 007 and his cultural suavity wouldn’t be a more fitting metaphoric descendant.

Born first in an Irish-Swiss family of seven, young Kathleen spent what free time she had traveling the world via the medium of books, a pastime that never petered out and instead manifested itself into an adulthood of constant globetrotting, international charity, and (especially in regards to ornithology) ethological discovery. With a passport that sports the insignias of countries all across the globe, it’s become commonplace to expect that any random visit to her Facebook will yield that she’s in Honduras, Brazil, Vietnam, Canada, Belize, Chile, France, Japan, Trinidad, Australia, Argentina, China, Morocco, Ecuador, Ireland, Thailand, Mexico, or chartering her way via boot, bike, or kayak up and down hiking trails, canyons, and rivers that span the entire United States from Alaska to Hawaii and Washington to Florida. And to be quite frank, that list doesn’t do justice to the expansive escapades that would comprise my grandma’s autobiography.

A Renaissance woman through and through, my grandma’s life of excursion has resulted in a cosmopolitan artist, fascinating conversationalist, and superb chef whose inherited penchant for flavor only increased with the influence of multicultural cuisine. With a sophisticated palate for meals like salmon hash with tarragon and poached egg, asparagus, and huckleberries; a love for symphonic choirs and NPR; and the ability to appreciate the serenity of her peaceful woodland homestead complete with deck recliners and couches, wide-open glass doors, and interior décor amassed by a great eye, my grandma is the well-rounded adult who’s unintentionally instilled a reverence for seniority and retirement in both myself and my friends.

My grandma is the woman who escorted my sister and I to innumerable operas, plays, ballets, museums, contemporary dance performances, musicals, and galleries. The woman who effectuated our educations in classical singing and ballet, and helped organize and attended every performance. The woman whose review I seek whenever I want to introduce anyone to the delectable gastronomy of Portland restaurants. The woman who taught us rewarding, hands-on work in her garden whenever we started feeling out of touch with nature. The woman who sheltered my whole family in her enormous house of sunny windows and hardwood floors, invited us to play in her even larger yard of cherry trees, willows, and evergreens, and later designed a smaller home to be just as inviting. My grandma is a woman who can travel the world, be abroad for months at a time, and still be synonymous with the hometown she’s so assiduously immersed us in.

A far cry from the frail, blue-haired, nightgown-clad grandmothers of the media in both demeanor and personality, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from my youthful, energetic, and warm-spirited grandma is to make things happen for yourself. Actively pursue adventure, actively surround yourself with loved ones, actively seek knowledge, actively volunteer your aid, and actively approach life with a sense of wonder. There’s so much out there to explore, so many experiences to partake in, and so many people to learn something new from that whether you’ve borne witness to 79 years of life on earth or 17, get out there and carve your path, embrace the excitement, affirmations, and comforts this world has to offer. Employ cartography to chart your own life and go revel in the firsthand experiences that a television set could never impart.

This Is Not Spinal Tap

Shirt & Velociraptor

Of all the rites of passage young people undergo in pursuit of the adulthood they’ll regret upon actual achievement, there might be none more universal than the young attempt to create a band. Almost everyone I know harbored dreams of musical grandeur at some point in their lives, be it in the form of a Josie and the Pussycats tribute band, a clarinet quartet, or a Guitar Hero cop out. Having come from a city that could second as an indie pop production line, I’ve borne witness to band aspirations that actually attain liminal success, from ex-boyfriend’s acoustic albums and official ticket-selling concerts to reviews about former classmates’ bands in Teen Vogue, Elle, and Rolling Stone Magazine.

But beyond the unexpected success stories and the high school band kids who were–true to their pop culture pigeonhole–sexually active, many bands showed potential as talented collaborations or conceptual tycoons, recorded one hit, and dissipated into the recesses of adolescent nostalgia before any substance abuse or Courtney Love maladies could set in.

Personally, I was baited by four wannabe, guitar-toting ensembles, two of which needed lead vocals on cover songs, one of which headlined as “Il Punto G” and served as a mockumentary college band more interested in costumed music videos than music itself, and the last of which was the brainchild of two friends in need of a memorable final project for a Religion and Philosophy course taught by a taller, more sardonic J.K. Simmons.

Il Punto G

I don’t even know if the first band had a name, but it featured a gaggle of girls who’d finagled their way around a couple guitars, bass, and a tambourine, and recruited me to produce the verbose and unfamiliar lyrics of a song that served as their mantra: Death Cab for Cutie’s “Title and Registration.” Needless to say, the fledgling band suffered a Guns N’ Roses fallout almost as soon as I failed to match Ben Gibbard’s timbre and several members went on to produce actual albums with one of the aforementioned exes. Fortunately, while one or two of them may have looked like Axl Rose in his effeminate heyday, nobody grew up to look like the 51 year old comeback.

The later bands emerged almost in unison, one out of academic necessity and the other, the infamous Nostril Hair Band, out of covetousness of the first. Nostril Hair’s sole attempted claim to fame was a cover of Fastball’s “The Way,” but despite the meager track listing, promotional materials flourished as obligatory mustaches were donned, younger sisters were employed as models, and photo shoots were conducted to market a one-hit-wonder band that never properly recorded their one hit.

Nostril Hair Band

Thus, the only band that ever produced anything beyond some memorable, androgynous photography was Shirt & Velociraptor, a band consisting of two girls, one guitar, one synthesizer, one father’s recording setup, and a mission to encapsulate the philosophical notion of “utopia” in harmoniously comedic balladry. While titular photo shoots were dreamt up, the hassle of achieving velociraptor makeup resulted in a band whose legacy spanned a one-track audio cassette, one promotional illustration, and a cover photo shot amidst the dystopian remnants of one member’s burnt-down vacation home. Ironically enough, that lone song has garnered some pretty positive feedback from today’s hipster-manic populace.

Utopia

While viral YouTube glory may not have been in the cards for any of those bands, music was certainly an organic part of my existence in those days. As if trilling away the hours in classical voice lessons wasn’t enough, I was an avid composer, crafting 18 songs to lyrical and instrumental fruition and numerous more that remained confined to the pages of various college-ruled journals. With a songbook that featured satirical numbers and full on narratives that were at once part B-52’s, part Sting, part Portishead, part Third Eye Blind, part Renée Fleming, and part Björk, my synthesizer and I were shaping up to be great composers bored to death by the hackneyed pop star hits we were bound to draft for the rest of our lives. But when the writer’s block epidemic of 2006 hit, gone was my burgeoning talent for amalgamating poetry and a perfect pitch.

It’s a shame that a songwriter’s last smidgeon of creativity was spent on a track entitled “Gojira Girl” just as positive feedback and offers for instrumental accompaniment began flowing in, and it’s an even greater shame that a band with a moniker like Shirt & Velociraptor could extinguish so quickly after finally mastering a basic TASCAM recording device. Thank goodness midlife crises and the elderly cover band phenomenon offer second comings to adolescent hopefuls keen on perking ears with the untapped talent we all swear to.

Cirque du Inconduite

Cirque du Inconduite

An admitted dolt in the realm of pop culture, I am not one to devote two hours of my innately fickle attention to a show that awards celebrities for their societal merit, and MTV’s Video Music Awards are definitely no exception. But when the chaos of the proceedings catch the attention of my boyfriend, the diners seated next to us at Phở Show, and the old lady who rings a loud bell as she pushes her cart of purchasable goods down our street every day, I figure there’s no use fighting the tide of insignificant viral knowledge and succumbing to a few recaps. Specifically, the award ceremony’s shocking crème de la crème in the form of Miley Cyrus.

In keeping with the pop culture ignorance that replaced the actor idolatry of my youth, I don’t really know anything about Miley Cyrus beyond the fact that she used to wear a wig on TV and mesmerize kids with a proclivity for hero worship; those of us wrought with country music ineptitude consider her father an achy-breaky one hit wonder; she starred in some movie filmed on Tybee Island while I attended class completely unawares only 18 miles away; she may or may not have married the arguably less attractive Hemsworth brother; and her sexually suggestive shenanigans have been curdling PTA member’s breakfast milk for the past several years of her waning adolescence. On top of all that, I know that she’s the same age as my younger sister–born only a few days prior–and having been around both my sister’s crew and whole troops of them back in my college days, I know how 20 year olds act, and can only imagine how the constant accompaniment of a blinding limelight would amplify said behavior.

Thus, I find it hilarious that a celebrity like Miley Cyrus can get so much opprobrium for parading around in feigned nudity and conducting lewd, embarrassingly uncoordinated dance moves during her VMA performance, but the backup dancers who successively march out to the beat of a sex-driven drum in cliché, skin-tight spandex can go virtually unnoticed. Yeah, yeah, Miley Cyrus was a child role model–I remember how excited my young cousins were to unwrap Hannah Montana paraphernalia at Christmas. But we sure are quick to forget that Britney Spears was a Mickey Mouse Club member (along with Justin Timblerlake and his jheri curls) whose first album beguiled the nation’s youngins, and look where she ended up–a fact that Trey Parker and Matt Stone already equated to Miley Cyrus long before this public debacle. Is this recurrent trend not a blatant sign that we as a society keen on the scandals splayed across People Magazine are culpable for the shocking behaviors of our young icons? If we weren’t a species akin to the Ashleys of Recess fame (crying, “Scaaaandalous!” at the slightest inkling of amorality), then those young superstars we love to distract our kids with might keep their pants on for a change.

As it is, pop culture has always been a game of one-upping the last controversy to obtain some free publicity. You need to be brash to sell tickets to a society that claims to have seen it all, and if standing out means upsetting the mothers who once called you adorable, then by God, the increased attention is worth a clumsy attempt at half-nude twerking. Especially when your competition operates under the moniker “Gaga,” serves as a gay bar icon second only to Cher, and constructs her public persona from Madonna hand-me-downs, Harajuku fashion, and what must have been the deranged visions of an acid trip.

Ironically, the polls say young Miss Cyrus and her unremitting penis innuendos trumped Lady Gaga’s bug-eyed, postmodern nun, Bauhaus-ish choreography, and tacky shell bikini, a feat that even Madonna herself couldn’t pull off when she abandoned the hippie phase that produced Ray of Light, filled in her gap, donned a faux British accent, and attempted to regain popularity by enlisting the aid of M.I.A., Nicki Minaj, and some pompoms. Misinformation or not, however, according to The Slatest, Lady Gaga still managed to perturb Will Smith’s family with the nutty schtick the masses are beginning to deem passé, so perhaps there’s hope for her next public stunt yet.

Overall, the whole Video Music Awards ordeal is a silly affair sprung from a Victorian era affinity for scandal. We the people of the United States of Rabble-Rousing fuel the raunchy flames of fame crazed twenty-somethings by making a big fuss over behaviors that attention-seeking young adults conduct for small beer pong audiences on a weekly basis. The controversy we engender is the coal that keeps this monkey train rolling. Lose the voracious appetite for muckraking, and maybe we won’t have to watch girls the same age as our little sisters defile the innocence of teddy bears and #1 foam fingers with their bad dance moves and flesh-tinted ensembles.

Musical Bisque

Musical Bisque

While watching the Savannah College of Art & Design’s reputed fashion show last Spring–and wishing they’d attribute the work to the artists so that I could compare the outcomes to the conceptual catalysts of samurai armor, muscle tissue fibers, monsters found in children’s imaginations, Inuit culture, and DaVinci’s anatomical drawings (none of which was identifiable)–something happened that would unbolt a whole new entryway into my persona. With each wardrobe change, the DJ would seamlessly meld a new track into the electronic du jour, and midway through the production, the tempo slowed, the treble chimed in, and a virilized Destiny’s Child classic contributed to the androgynous dubiety of digital music.

That’s how I discovered Cyril Hahn, a Vancouver-based, Swiss producer with a knack for slowing down pop and hip-hop hits and turning them into something light, ethereal and far from the banality entrenched in the originals’ lyrics. Not gonna lie, Hahn’s tendency to turn vocalists like Mariah Carey, Solange, and the aforementioned Destiny trio into contralto men was a large temptation on my behalf (a fact that might stem from my long-standing membership to the RuPaul’s Drag Race fanclub), but for anyone seeking meditative music that blends the soft din of a sea breeze with recurrent percussions and vocals that could double as the bass, Cyril Hahn is worth a listen… And in honor of LeVar Burton stint on Reading Rainbow, you don’t have to take my word for it:

 

 

 

Before discovering this hermaphroditic opus, I was bred into an eclecticism so quintessentially meta that I’ve never once been able to answer the survey question, “What’s your favorite music genre?” Therefore, Hahn’s induction into Emily Moon’s idées fixes means his oeuvre is now conglomerated into a categorial soup so diverse it gives the melting pot of Los Angeles a run for its money. While I have the ability to fixate on one artist at a time, repeating their canon with the same broken record finesse my dad used to drive us insane with, my ears refuse to hunker down with one genre for more than a day, and thus, I always choose to answer that dreaded question with an explanatory list.

Since childhood, I’ve been raised on an assortment of music ranging from the Irish wail of U2 and the soul of Buena Vista Social Club, to the anarchic shrieking of Bow Wow Wow and the utter nonsense of The B-52’s. My pops had a collection of CDs he recycled through with regularity and when I wasn’t manning the sound system with Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” and Now That’s What I Call Music, Vol. God Only Knows, my dad was instilling in me a nostalgic fondness for Peter Gabriel, Fleetwood Mac, P.M. Dawn, The Police, Seal, and Simon & Garfunkel. Meanwhile, my mom introduced me to classical singers-turned-alternative like Paula Cole and Sinéad O’Connor, Californian favorites from her youth like The Beach Boys and Dick Dale & The Del-Tones, and never-stale oldies like Smokey Robinson & The Miracles and Marvin Gaye.

Along the way I picked up quite a few of my own arbitrary additions to the eclectic mash-up pre-programmed in my brain. Included in this assortment was my middle school fixation on Damon Albarn’s brainchild the Gorillaz (and all things Jamie Hewlett); a sixteen-year-old infatuation with industrial German band Rammstein, which occurred in tandem to my classical singing education and resulted in some atypical harmonizations during my drives to class; my teenage liaisons with Björk’s melodramatic gobbledegook, Kanye West’s catchy complaining, and Joshua Bell’s violinistic prowess; “scooping up coconuts” to my favorite dubstep hailstorms in college; and finally my recent surrender to the oxymoronic mainstream-hipster tunes I refused to listen to while dating an indie ex. But I cite these artists and genres as mere highlights in a longstanding courtship with music: a simple answer to an unintentionally difficult question. For while I inadvertently learned temperamental German listening to Till Lindemann roar his lyrics and “danced this mess around” at Kate Pierson’s behest, I never stopped listening to absolutely everything else. Patsy Cline, Enya, The Coasters, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Elvis Presley, Hawaiian slack key guitar, Ella Fitzgerald, Flight of the Conchords, and all the classic Disney soundtracks–you name a genre, and I’ve probably listened to it twice in the past week.

So welcome, Mr. Hahn, to the euphonic jambalaya that makes succinct answers to that age-old question near-impossible.