Monday, January 19, 2015

The Day I Met Billie Holiday: A Ramble on Loving Jazz and Being a Doomed Romantic

Billie Holiday - My Man by Bodhisattva1956 I was about ten or eleven years old and we had just moved to a new house in a new town which was normal for us. We were always moving and I was always the new shy mysterious (I liked to think "mysterious" but perhaps the world just saw a pudgy redhead) girl. Maybe I'd grown used to it. Maybe I even liked it. Maybe I will always be that little girl inside, keeping quiet, full of thoughts in a crowd of strangers. I was in the grocery store, thumbing through the cds at random and Billie Holiday caught my eye. I had never listened to her music outside of the soundtracks to movies but I liked the picture, the name. I put on the headphones and my life was never really the same ever again. Strange, such an unromantic electronics section in a suburban town; a part of town that smelled new, felt new, held no memories. New elementary school with new paint and good teachers and students whose parents could afford new clothes for back to school. Yet there I was, traveling back in time, feeling and seeing things that would make me know myself, help me find whoever it is I am to this day. I could hear the band, and her voice, so beautiful but heavy, so soft but real, so pained yet elegant. The way a voice sounds has always been my little version of God. The way it can be funny or sad or gorgeous. The way you can fall in love with a song or just fall in love with a person's speaking voice. To me it is more intimate than the way a person looks. There is something about a voice that cannot hide a soul. That day I listened to Billie Holiday, I came home with the cd and I listened to it over and over again, memorizing the lyrics and lip syncing, memorizing the tones of her voice, the inflection, the pacing. I had fallen in love with her without knowing anything else. Jazz and other wonderful artists of that era would follow but Billie Holiday had opened the door and invited me inside. Maybe it is silly. I often feel very silly. But I look at that day in my childhood as an example of fate just guiding me unknowingly to things I needed but also I see it as a sort of analogy for how I see the world around me. Jazz and the way Billie Holiday especially sings it, (to me) is about both the pain and beauty of living. I specifically remember loving every single song on that "greatest hits" album however my adoration dwindled at the very last song "My Man." I found the song depressing: an abusive spouse she can't help loving. But I listened to that album so many times that eventually I grew to love it too, and to this day it is one of my favorite recordings. Should we love the people and experiences that bring us pain? No. However it is innately human that we do love people we "shouldn't." Even before I'd known romantic love, I knew exactly what the song meant, and I felt her rapture and despair and how they could happen simultaneously. How hideously tragic. How pretty. To love someone is such a joy, but to be hurt by them and to know it will happen again is agony. Addiction, bad affairs. Troubled past. Troubled present. The timelessness of the themes, the way her voice rings with wisdom, joy, hope, sadness. More than all that it's the way that music can transport us. This day in my life was unremarkable, the setting mundane, yet with this new soundtrack to my life there was magic in the air. I see all my petty affairs of the heart as these beautiful poems or wretched sagas, and sometimes I can't help but wonder if it isn't because I love jazz....a little too much.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Accidental Diary Post

Suddenly a tiny change. Anything. Something. A breath of fresh air, a window opens. An extra five dollars in the bank account. Suddenly things look up again, the impossible not so outrageous. I had cement reality boots on but now the cement is loose clay, I wriggle out.  I find some sexy stilettos.

Summer sweeps in and everything looks more hopeful. Maybe I will become a lady detective and travel  to exotic places and sip tea out of a funny cup and feel a different breeze from under a different tree. I fantasize about being a female Hercule Poirot but realize it is not so terrible to settle as someone who only pretends to be Hercule Poirot. I admit it: I'm a fantasist, an optimist, a dreamer, a joke teller. This world is full of people. People I want to love and make happy. But many strangers are frightening and the truth is I just can't make everyone happy or magically give everyone peace and force them to get along. I revert into my own world where Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Louis Armstrong sing theme songs for me, where all around me are possibilities...imaginary friends amid the faces of real people I've never met. I paint the world rosy. I know how stupid I must sound. But if utter happiness and hope are found in the process of regaining my utter lunacy, then why fix a method that isn't broken? I put on clothes that make me happy, I act like a buffoon because it makes me happy, and I try to make other people happy, because it makes me happy.

It's easy to waste time saying the world is ugly. Terrible things happen, tragedy will always exist, but if I can just focus on making my day fun for myself and others, if I can throw caution to the wind in lieu of being ridiculous, of feeling giddy for no reason, perhaps I'm giving life a little meaning, if just for a moment. Even now I'm embarrassed by the overwhelming positivity of this post, but then, why throw a shadow? Why feel guilty? Things are okay, I feel okay. It's okay to foolishly embrace joy, to feel thankful for what we have. For the first time in longer than I care to admit, I feel okay about where and who I am, and slowly but surely I feel myself climbing closer to the mother of all wisdom: that I don't need anyone's approval but my own.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sunny Thursday.

Feeling better about life. The sun is out and Carly Simon is on my record player. Laundry, manicure, cleaning, everything's gonna be okay!

Monday, March 4, 2013

"I am Outraged Womanhood"*

I wish I lived in a world where it was COMMON to feel respected by men. I wish I lived in a world where this was the norm, this was the base accepted policy: that women were people with brains and feelings and they weren't interesting to men simply because they had sufficient sexual organs and attractive physical features perfect for using and objects. This whole dating thing has left me a little disheartened. I hardly ever date and it becomes nearly impossible to trust new people when so many of them seem to want me as an object. It is terrifying to my mind, heart and soul that so many men see me as a skirt they can spend ten dollars on and screw. I am not a commodity. I am not a thing. I am a person.

I've always considered myself a feminist, insomuch that I believe in equal rights for all. I've always considered this my truth, but I've never felt so small as I have lately. I've never felt so personally and so politically offended than I have of late. I'm not actually talking about some crazy politician or his insane remarks on the female body or rape, although a lot of this circulating in the news has been infuriating and terrifying and of course a topic of discussion. I'm simply talking about the way men treat me. I'm embarrassed for the world I live in. I'm embarrassed that I can't go downtown in my own city (which I love) in heels and a short skirt and dance. I can't do that without loathing the human race. I don't want to hear excuses like "men are scum" or "they think all girls at those clubs are looking to hook up" or "that's what people do at those clubs." I don't care WHERE I am or HOW I'm dressed. I want to live in a world where people treat me like a person. No matter what. I hear my own voice in my head saying "You're asking for too much," And at the same time, I'm replying "No. I'm not." It's not just about America. It's just not about downtown. It's not about men hitting on me in bars. It's not about "how hard it is to be pretty." This is about humanity and I'm a person. I deserve to be treated like one. We all do. And I'm sick of apologizing for asking for more. I'm not doing it any more. If this is what I'm supposed to expect and put up with because "that's just how it is", well frankly that's just not good enough for me.

I have no qualms with men and women who want to embark upon casual relationships or flings or one night stands. That can be great if it's what you're looking for, and I wish everybody safety (and caution) and a good time. However I just can't help but feel offended when it seems that everywhere I go, men want one thing from me and don't even care if they get to know me. I'm sure good men exist, after all I'm friends with some very good ones. But the fact that I'm a female stranger shouldn't automatically place me in the category of "potential meaningless sex" right? Even if chemically, a man can't help thinking about it, does he have to treat me that way?

The downtown example is simply that: an example. The trouble isn't this one instance, the trouble is that it is self repeating and this evening I speak of was just a tiny sample out of all the downtowns and all the people and all the men in the world. I know this frustration isn't new and my circumstances are far less dire than those facing countless women worldwide. Perhaps I'm being silly and overreacting.
All I  know is, my heart is heavy and my brain is tired and I can't go on pretending I don't mind being objectified to my own face.

*The Great Dorothy Parker. If she were living today, I wonder what she'd think.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Healing Powers of Hepburn

Art by Cecila Sanchez

 When I say Hepburn I refer to Audrey Hepburn first and Katharine second. Both of them are my imaginary best friends in their unique ways though truly Audrey was my first love. When I was younger I watched her movies over and over in an almost religious fashion. And over five years ago when I went through my first heartbreak over my first love I probably watched Breakfast at Tiffany's at least four times a week. Even if I was sometimes awoken by the party scene when Audrey yells "TIMBERRR!" as Mag Wildwood drunkenly falls to the floor with a resounding thunk, the melodies of Henry Mancini lulled me to sleep and comforted me. Something about Audrey Hepburn being graceful and beautiful and silly. Her simple glamour, her spirit. This legendary woman I never met who lived through WWII as a child and transported messages to the Allies and ate bread made of grass and studied ballet but became a movie star. She was famous but she seemed like a friend. A beautiful friend who picked me up and told me to walk out the door looking fabulous and somehow everything would be okay. Strange that a movie star, portraying a character in a movie, could somehow cheer me up the way people I knew in real life couldn't.

And today, when I didn't want to get out of bed, I put on Breakfast at Tiffany's again. The notes of Moon River, her back to the camera, her giant hair. Givenchy. One of the most beautiful dresses ever designed. This beautiful woman. This imperfect character, all alone, eating a Danish. And suddenly, again, I know everything's going to be all right. Somehow. It's a piece of art. A piece of fiction. It's Hollywood and it's "just" a movie...but something about it is my gospel, and I am forever thankful for the fantasies that get me out of bed each day. I'm going to go put on some make up and go to work. I hope whoever reads this is having a lovely day. I'm going to be okay, and so are you.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Crime and Jazz and Justice and Guns and 1970s Trench Coats; These are a Few of My Favorite Things

These are a few of my favorite Movies. I honestly don't know how I would react if faced with crime and violence in real life. I'm a sheltered gal who lives off fictional crime. Also I really don't go in for modern day (or modern films set in modern day) crime films/tv shows as often. Drive was an interesting film because I appreciated the noir vibe, but I also really detested the harsh violent scenes. There was no outsmarting a bad guy, there was no humor, there wasn't ever anything silly or lovable amidst the darkness. Modern crime movies I do enjoy include Reservoir Dogs (which does its share of harkening to films past) and The Departed. I'm sure there are others but I can't think of them.

But down to business....let's talk about crime movies I love/recently watched for the first/semi-first time.

SERPICO 1973 I confess I knew about this movie as a pop culture reference from Wes Anderson's Rushmore for over a decade before I finally watched it. I just kind of love 1970s movies sometimes. The clothes, the attitude. I feel like all movies in this era have a sort of hippie revolutionary feeling. No woman is ever in a bra. She's often working at a newspaper or law firm and very strong, and for the first time there are a lot more African American characters with legitimate speaking roles that are more central to the story. In Serpico, Al Pacino plays the only determinedly just cop on the NY police force, while he is also the least well-kept and most left wing. Al Pacino is wonderful. Go watch it.

THE CONVERSATION 1974 My mother and I watched this movie together when I was probably around ten years old. We used to go to the video store and just walk around until we found something. If she said a movie was really good, sometimes she'd need to talk me into it, but I usually trusted her. The music is perfect as is Gene Hackman's portrayal of a sound recording expert who fears his work may lead to murder.

THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE 1974 The music at the beginning of this classic heist movie said everything I needed to know. CRIME JAZZ. What can be better than crime jazz? Yes, I will watch this. And yes I will enjoy it. Walter Matthau. Men in moustache driven disguises. Did I mention CRIME JAZZ? For people my age, this movie is Speed.....but way better. And CRIME JAZZ. Sorry, I'll stop saying it.
I could also talk about Dog Day Afternoon and Goodfellas and The Godfather and then talk about film noir and the fact that I've only seen one or two James Cagney movies despite my unyielding adoration for that man but I feel I've rambled enough for now. Perhaps I shall post again and perhaps it won't take seven months next time....

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Let's Do This...Let's Talk Jane Austen

Jane Austen is timeless because her stories are about women struggling with friendships, family, and of course, men. Every year somewhere some woman writes an article on Jane Austen for some lady mag like Vanity Fair or Cosmo and every year it's true: Jane Austen understands us. She tells it like it is. No we're not all still obsessed with marriage and we live in a different world in terms of law and career and we don't need men to SURVIVE. But most of us still like to dream about dream about someone who will be a gentleman. Also she simply writes about real people that we all know. The fact that these novels were written two hundred years ago is so beautiful to me. So much has changed in terms of technology and the way we court each other and live our lives. However, the human being is much the same, and the way we feel and interact person-to-person remains unaltered.

Sometimes I nerd out because some of these stories feel like looking in a mirror. Do you ever feel like Elizabeth Bennet and you're surrounded by Mr. Collinses? I do. Or you're Emma and he is Definitely an Elton and she is Definitely a Mrs. Elton? Me too. Or you are crying over some son of %^& bastard and you realize you really are being're being a Marianne Dashwood, and you know deep down you'll get over this. Even though that Willoughby was terribly entertaining for a while. Yes, yes, yes.

I'm probably the billionth lady to ever think and say all this. It's nothing new, but sometimes you have to celebrate something, even when it's old.