Wednesday, November 30, 2016

One-Man Show

During the first week of school this year, I went to a couple welcome back shows at Tommy's Place to support my friends. A few different bands and solo artists I love were playing shows, and I figured--hey, it's the first week, I'm not busy, and it's right on campus.

As usual, my fellow pop kids blew me away with their covers and originals. Multiple-piece bands were tight and grooving, and solo singer-songwriters rocked out with poignant simplicity. They performed covers as well or better than the original artists, and they sang their own songs like they were already classics.

But almost no one heard it.

I'm no saint. I don't go to every gig I get invited to on Facebook. Sometimes it's because I legitimately can't--I'm under 21, I have another gig or rehearsal--but sometimes it's because I'm just tired and don't feel up to it. And I always feel bad when I miss one, because I know that most of the time, the coffee shop or bar or little venue could really use another body.

The students in the popular music program at Thornton are not just "good." They're great. Maybe I'm biased, but every time I DO go to a gig, I run to the keyboard or guitar right after to write. I feel massively inspired by the talent I see in the other pop kids. They are vulnerable and brave and skilled and silly. They are humble. They are versatile. They are wise beyond their years. I can only hope that my classmates feel the same way about me--to be counted among their musical and emotional equals would be an honor. My point in providing this onslaught of compliments is to affirm how much it shatters my heart to hear this groundbreaking music and realizing that not many people are listening.

It's bittersweet, really. One day, we will be making a larger impact on the music industry, whether that's through performing, writing, education, business, journalism, or some combination of the above. One day, "the time we performed for an audience of just our mom and the bartender" will be another funny story. And honestly, there's something tremendously fun about those little, seemingly inconsequential shows. There's camaraderie in knowing that none of us are selling out arenas, or even the back rooms of pubs. This is where we become our real artistic selves. It's where we test drive new material, experiment with banter and song arrangements, and learn to commit to a performance regardless of the number of people watching.

But that doesn't stop me from feeling frustrated when I see my best friends pouring their hearts out on stage, sweating under the lights, letting tears roll during particularly emotional moments, and knowing that I'm the only one who will congratulate them after the show.

I write all this to say: if you're a musician playing for single-digit audiences, you are not alone. It will all be worth it. Treasure these little shows, because one day you'll be grown and working in the music industry and missing the purity of coffee house open mics. Sing every original song and rearranged cover like you're on stage at the Staples Center, even if the only person watching is cleaning shot glasses and checking the clock. And if you're a friend of a musician: go to their shows. Buy their merch and stream their tracks on Soundcloud. Be one of the people who knew them when. Sometimes it's inconvenient. But I promise that you won't regret it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Last Night, I Wept. Today, I Apply War Paint.

I've always fancied myself a revolutionary.

In history class, when we talked about the civil rights movement or women's suffrage, I envisioned myself as the type of person who would have been on the right side of history. Maybe I wouldn't have been staging sit-ins, but certainly I would have given speeches at my university. Written pieces of incendiary journalism. Bigoted white men would roll their eyes when I came up in conversation. It would've been great.

But I was born in 1997, to a two-parent household of economic affluence in a liberal city in a liberal state. Yes, I am a mixed-race, Jewish black woman. But I'm also economically privileged, have attended private academic institutions my whole life, and have had the unconditional emotional support of two wonderful parents. So yes, people have made offensive comments to me and tried to undermine my achievements. But I have been shielded from much of the oppression that might have impeded my development had I come up in the mid-twentieth century, or in a conservative part of the country, or both. To top it all off, the bulk of my childhood was spent under the first black president of the United States. I coasted into last night, thinking that the bulk of my young adulthood would be spent under the first female president. Honestly, the thought of Hillary's victory was bittersweet to me. Where was my glass ceiling to break? Sure, police brutality is still an issue, the wage gap won't go away for another 100+ years even by optimistic estimates, and in many parts of the country, the LGBTQIA+ community is actively discriminated against, but before last night, it felt very much like we were on our way. Like I would simply be buoyed by the progress that was already taking place. Like all I had to do was exist as a socially conscious millennial, and the world would unfold before me as it always had. But then a funny thing happened.

A bigoted, incompetent, sexual predator won the presidency.

And I cried. Hard.

Last night, I lost my innocence. I watched as the America I'd built up in my mind, the America that still had a lot of work to do but was at least on the path to excellence, disintegrated before my very eyes. I read the New York Times article declaring that a reality TV-show host who will be going to trial for fraud and sexual assault will take the oath of our nation's highest office on January 20. My Uber driver asked me why I was crying. I said many things in response to that, but the crux of it is this sound bite: Trump did not invent hatred. Obama's presidency simply concealed it. Trump's campaign exposed it. The bigotry was already there. It was just less socially acceptable to show it with Obama at the helm. Now, as his time in office dwindles all too quickly to a close, the so-called "silent majority" is silent no more. Their champion has won. They have been vindicated. And last night, that felt like rock bottom. Hopeless.

But I wake up today far from hopeless. Because here's the thing, my fellow women and PoC. My LGBTQIA+, Latinx, Muslim, and disabled siblings:

NOW, more than ever, is our time.

For all the times you've wondered who you might have been during slavery, during World War II, during the Civil Rights Movement - this is when you find out. Sure, laws and amendments have been passed that are meant to protect our civil liberties, and social conditions aren't as bleak as they were 50, 100, 200 years ago. But I assure you that this is a turning point in history. I assure you that our children will be asking us about last night, and the last year, and the coming ones. I assure you that we will be confronted by hatred, and, even more frequently, indifference to our rights under a Republican president, a Republican senate, and a Republican house.

I refuse to be hopeless. I refuse to be complacent. I refuse to spend anymore time weeping. I also refuse to pretend that we are not a nation divided. I wish I could love our president-elect and his constituency unconditionally, because I truly believe that love can triumph over hate. But now is not the time for love. Not yet. In order to love, I first require mutual respect.

I don't have all the answers. I don't have any of the answers. I don't know what this movement will look like, what shape it will take. I don't know what I personally need to do, or what we need to do as a collective. So I'll do what I know to do: I will write.

And tomorrow morning, and all the mornings after that, I'll do what I did this morning.

Apply war paint.