Photography by Sophie Spinelle - Shameless Photography
Dania recounts her 'coming of age' through this playlist of musical mile marker songs.
Oasis - Cast No Shadow
Bonnie Raitt - I Feel the Same
The Police - Walking On the Moon
Pearl Jam - In Hiding
Ani DiFranco - Fierce Flawless
Tori Amos - Sugar
Lucinda Williams - Sweet Side
Colin Hay - Wayfaring Sons
I don't usually get excited about my birthday, but some years I can't help it. This year had me especially twitterpated for two reasons: I got to spend the actual evening of my birthday in the studio with Zilpha, Matt, and Roy mixing Red Brick Tide. Shortly after my birthday, I learned that tickets were still available for Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds live at the Beacon Theater on November 15th. Two things I love within days of each other - must've been the birthday gods (or the hallmark CEO's) trying to get me into the b-day ballyhoo. After the BDay, October came and went and we released "Red Brick Tide" on November 12th (it's on iTunes and CD Baby, check it out) and had a huge party and show to mark the occasion. Things were looking good and I was glad to nurse my release party hangover with the comforting thought that in two days, I would be in the beautiful Beacon theater singing along with the man who got me on this whole song writing kick 14 years ago.
Fast forward to Tuesday November 15th!
Z and I are at the diner next door to the Beacon (well done on the strategic location Viande). Z ordered a grilled cheese with tomatoes and I ordered the chili (in case you were curious). Ever the investigator, Z used the dinner hour to extract the story of my love affair with Noel Gallagher. So, I gave her the 'short short' version while slurping up the the blanket of cheese that keeping my chili warm and we were off! The Beacon Theater was, as always, lovely - if you subtract the 3000 people milling about. I'm becoming less and less fond of crowds as time goes by, but all that didn't matter when the band started playing. Noel was in top form and his band was an interesting group. The bassist, a tall and lanky fellow from Liverpool, held the bass in a way that pointed the headstock to the ceiling and kept time with his neck which jutted out farther than any human neck I've seen before. Still, the neck was on the beat and he was great.
The high flying bassist also sang backing vocals that added some nice layers to the songs. The drummer was very forceful - a heavy hitter - but the intensity was well matched to Noel's signature uber-overdriven guitars. On the keyboards was Oasis regular keyboardist Mike Rowe and Z fell in love with him. Unlike the bassist who kept time with just his neck, Mike used his whole body to commune with the music and it was pretty fantastic to watch as he lunged forward on the downbeat and bashed the keyboard with both hands like a bear cub enthusiastically smacking about for salmon. The guitarist was American and Noel had a good time joking with the audience about a Yankee infiltrating his latest Brit Rock invention. He was a solid player so I guess the States has won one point with Noel. From the stage, Noel was the skinny guy with a big head of hair wearing a white collared shirt, calmly strumming away. He sang humbly, scrunching his little frame to reach the mic - unlike his brother who became known for his mic stance: arms behind the back, chin out, next extended. As a performer, it's clear that Noel has no compunctions about being a low key drama-free front man. He's a songwriter - and a damn good one - and that is enough for him and the songs are enough to make the show entertaining. In a recent interview on CBS, he referred to his role as a front man saying "I hate it" because "everyone stares at you." "I haven't got any moves" he added. "I think people understand that all I've got in the music." Plain, simple, honest.
Anyway, I don't mean to go on - this is definitely not a concert review because I am way to biased. Let's face it, I am the kind of geek fan who was puppy dog loyal through some of the really bad Oasis records because I was holding out hope for Noel's comeback. But here are my two cents, the comeback is here. So, I'm really looking forward to the next one which is due out next year. But don't believe me, find out for yourselves. Songs previews are all over the interwebs.
Back to our story!
Encores are awful now because everyone knows they're coming. But when you're a fan, you'll take anything you can get, expected or not. And, I was pretty stoked that Noel decided to kick off the encore set with "The Importance of Being Idle."
Shortly after that, Z and I left halfway through the last song (the real last song). It was "Don't Look Back in Anger," but don't worry I've seen it live before. Why did we do this? I had not clue, but Z had a plan as she happily bounced around the corner to the load-in door. There were a few cops, Beacon security, and one man with a little girl waiting for Noel. The man and his daughter were standing behind a pop-up fence and the cops were waiting at the open door of a luxury SUV (escalade-ish vehicle). With her master plan in mind, Zilpha turned on the Texas charm and chatted up the cops about where exactly we would get to meet Noel. They pointed her to the fenced area but by the time their exchange with Z was over, Noel Gallagher himself was walking quickly to the car. I, of course, was oblivious until Zilpha said "DANIA." I dropped to my knees, clumsily fiddled with the eight million zippers on my back pack, and groped for a copy of "Red Brick Tide." While I was doing this, I heard Noel pause to say hello to the little girl. He wasn't really interested in anyone else and walked pointedly to the car door. I shyly said "Noel" but he didn't turn around and then I realized there was a reason for standing near the car and not behind the fence. I never made eye contact with Noel, thank god, but I did fling the CD into the car as he was getting in. Yup, I am horrified to say, the disc lightly tapped his bottom and then landed next to him. The security guard laughed and said "well, you got the CD in there, haven't ya?!" and we both scurried away trying to see if we could catch a glimpse of Noel picking up the disc. Alas, his windows were tinted and for once, traffic in NYC was moving fast. The trip home consisted mostly of me saying "ugh, what have I done, how embarrassing." After the twelfth lament, Zilpha blithely said "You'll never have a good moment with your idols."
So there you have it. Noel, wherever you are, sorry for throwing our CD at your butt.
I have always discovered bands after their "heyday." When I was younger, I attributed this to living in Lebanon and not having direct access to what was "hot on the scene." But even now, living much closer to the trendsetters, I'm still the last to know.
I discovered Oasis after they had released "Be Here Now," the record after the well received, "What's the Story Morning Glory." I was fourteen and just beginning to learn how to decide what music I liked. In the years prior, I was the devoted pupil of my brother who introduced me to bands like Guns'n'Roses and Pearl Jam. Before that, I was listening to James Taylor and Paul Simon under the tutelage of my mother who has always been my musical and artistic touchstone.
Growing up in my house was kind of like an extended music appreciation degree program. Long and sometimes heated conversations about music dominated dinner conversation and my mother's voice singing along to the soundtrack of the evening filled the house. It's no surprise that I became so enamored with the idea of being a musician and am still chasing that romance today. By the time 14 rolled around, I was ready to make my own decisions about music armed with the knowledge of my elders. I was also ready to start writing music. After having learned to play the drums, I started a band called the Metal Heads. I then moved from playing bass for love of Jeff Ament, to finally settling on guitar for the need of a chord instrument to facilitate songwriting.
Oasis' songs, aside from being extremely catchy, seemed to whisper "you can do it." There was a human quality to Noel Gallagher's composition that made me feel that music was some something that even little old me could attempt. That was all the encouragement I needed. To this day, Oasis have a special place in my heart. The song "Cast No Shadow," at the time, was a favorite of mine because of the lyric, "bound with all the weight of all the words he tried to say, chained to all the places that he never wished to stay," which captured my teenage angst perfectly.
I later found that feeling was not restricted to puberty, and I have had the pleasure of rediscovering the song's relevance to me as a listener through the various stages of my short life. I can only hope that listeners feel the same about my writing one day.
16's a big year for everyone, but for me it was huge. Because of an early birthday and certain incompatibilities in the American and Lebanese schooling systems, I was completing my senior year of high school and preparing (unknowingly) for what would be the biggest event of my life thus far: leaving Lebanon.
All of my siblings including my "near-twin-best friend" sister (who is a year older than I) had flown the coop and I was the last one standing so to speak. Being the youngest in a raucous family five, the new quiet around the house was more than a little disturbing. The more pertinent detail here is that in most Lebanese families, leaving home meant leaving the country with few, if any, return visits.
My family's fate was no different than any family whose base was soon to become obsolete in the face of the need for job opportunities etc. It's no shocker, then, that this period marked the beginning of my blues interest. I had started a band called Last Minute Creed, and in addition to writing the songs, I was playing guitar and singing.
At the time, being able to take a solo was a big deal. So I studied under the greats, Jimi Hendrix, BB king and my mother's favorites Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bonnie Raitt. As a young girl finding her voice as a guitarist and a singer, Raitt was a quick idol. Not only could she sing and play, she did it with finesse and cool that could make even my tin-eared father tap his feet.
The main guitar riff in "I Feel the Same" was one of the first riffs I ever learned to play. Aside from that, I chose this song specifically because it seethes with anger, hurt, and disbelief whose similarity to mine at the time was uncanny. Despite the rough subject matter of a regrettable broken-down farce love, Raitt remains soulfully steady and ultimately triumphant much like I hoped to emerge in the aftermath of my home's demise.
Same year, as the last song, but different feelings. The bassist and drummer in my band, Youseff ad Nouri, were both huge Police fans and they wanted to add a song of theirs to our regular setlist. Knowing very little about The Police, I assume they wanted to play "Every Breath You Take."
They smiled lovingly and proceeded to introduce me to a band whose repertoire still affects my thoughts on rhythm , melody, and composition today. We ended up covering "Message in a Bottle," but after much consideration I picked "Walking on the Moon" as my favorite for it's blissful marriage of masterful drums and oh-so-catchy melody.
Thematically, this song is special to me because it conjures in my memory a night when Youssef and Nouri took me out in Tripoli and showed me a side of Lebanon I had never seen as a village girl safely tucked away in a big comfy house. We went down to the city shore to visit what they called the "Titanic," an old beached dingy with a VW van parked next to it. A man in the van prepared rose flavored hookahs for a small price and we sat on the beach gazing at the little boat with a big name, laughing at the irony that we understood all too well.
With The Police blaring from the car radio, my mouth full of thick sweet smoke, and the Mediterranean cooing at us, nights like that marked the height of my love affair with Lebanon and my own feeling of "Walking on Moon."
This will be brief because words simply cannot capture my admiration for this band. Because of my brother, I was a Pearl Jam fan from the beginning. When they released "No Code" and many of their fans developed unfair doubts of the band's virility, my brother advised me (and my sister) to hold strong and listen to "No Code" again and uncover its tragically unrecognized greatness. "No Code" was a challenging listen and to us PJ die-hards, it acted a sieve that could expose those who only liked PJ when it was fashionable.
The reward for those who cracked "No Code" was "Yield," a record that felt like a sigh of relief and gratitude from a band who had done the brave work of testing their listeners. A lot of us were left and its not hard to understand why. No matter how many rock-in-a-box bands and pop-tarts are deployed, Pearl Jam have always remained triumphant soldiers in the war on rock.
After seeing Pearl Jam live in Montreal on the "Yield" tour, I officially decided that this was THE band to learn from as an aspiring performer. In addition to having a line up of some of the most talented musicians in rock music, Pearl Jam will always be here to remind us that the live music experience is here to stay and that they are masters of their craft.
Truly, it's hard to choose one favorite Pearl Jam song but I chose "In Hiding" because I have always admired and identified the fact that PJ have shied away from the spotlight in favor of privacy. It's nice to see a band come out of hiding when appropriate and do it with such skill.
The year is now 2000 and I have relocated to Washington to DC for my freshman year of college. As evident by my previous declarations of love and heart break over Lebanon, this was a tough year. Being so far away from home with the prospect of returning getting farther away, I was in an adjustment period that felt like rock bottom.
I kept to myself mostly and walked around DC aimlessly trying to understand the strangely perfect landscape and where I fit in to it all. The answer avoided me, and I was beginning to feel like all meaning was completely lost.
Thank god I was living with my oldest sister. She sensed my distress signal, and in an effort to distract me from my existential crisis, she dropped the answer not in my lap, but, close enough, on a sound stage in the AU gymnasium. A singer named Ani DiFranco was playing and AU students got to go with a friend for free. Of course, I was catching on late.
Ani was touring for her release Reveling Reckoning which came way after the heyday. It was comforting to know that some things, even my tardiness, would never change. Ani was a tiny woman with a lot of music inside her and after watching her teeter on the edge between holding it all in an exploding, I was hooked. I was also finally aware of why was in this new strange place: to learn.
The idea of leaving home became somewhat more manageable when I realized that I had a lot to see and examine. I embraced my new found purpose wholly and became a diligent a scholar. The comfort of this new knowledge was priceless. Now, when I'm feeling wistful and missing my past, I remind myself of my purpose to learn amid in all of the change I experience.
I chose the song "Fierce Flawless" specifically because of the chorus "there was light and then there was darkness and there was no line in between and asking my heart for guidance was like pleading with a machine." For me that sentence summed up the confusion and desperation I was feeling during the first year of the journey I'm still on.
I won't say I caught on to Tori Amos late, because I did hear her music in Lebanon when Crucify was released. I will say that at the time I was completely unable to grasp her work. I remained this way for quite sometime until a college love interest insisted that I reconsider. In addition to not understanding Tori, I had a curiously strong aversion to her approach to art. I felt she was out of control and had no grasp of her craft. According to me, she had given herself completely, dangerously to her art and that rendered her a spectacle that was tragic and irrelevant.
It's hard to commit such misguided opinions to writing, but I have to own what I thought and remind myself that I was (and will always be) a student of music and art at the time. Boy did I have a lot to learn! After years of resistance, I accepted an invitation to see Tori Amos live on her "Scarlet's Walk" tour. It was a solo show and the stage had nothing on it except Tori's regular Bosendorfer piano. I crossed my arms and prepared to be "underwhelmed." Of course, the opposite happened, and there I was, again, watching a performer and learning a lesson whose value to me as an artist is immeasurable.
Tori sang and I listened. I even reacted. I couldn't understand all the words, but I understood the songs. For Tori, the words alone aren't enough. Her voice and body share an equal role in delivering the music. This encourages the listener to venture into a world of greater, less judgmental understanding as daunting and weird as it may be. I was completely enamored and I'm sure my partner at the time took a great deal of pleasure in watching me eat my words.
The solo show was just the beginning of my Tori training. I received a Tori Primer that had full-band, solo, live, and studio recordings on it. As a scholar, my materials were rich and plenty. The lessons where the same. I began to see the folly of my initial opinions. I got to know Tori as a skilled craftswoman who had mastered the one task that determines the success of an artist: choice.
Everything for her is a choice that has been given plenty of thought to yield plenty of effect. From her seemingly unhinged on-stage antics, to diction and her selection of backing musicians, Tori runs the show with her eyes wide open. This is the hard work of being an artist and for those who cannot watch or entertain the very true possibility of their being great value to that art: there is only time to reconsider.
This live arrangement of "Sugar" is my favorite Tori song because she chooses to deviate from the studio arrangement and reinterpret the song's power with Matt Chamberlain's chilling drum beat and her fierce piano and vocal lines. It's multi-dimensional, living, breathing, frightening, beautiful, hideous... and I am right there front row every time.
With a few good lessons under my belt, I began another one of those years that I qualify as tough. I had graduated and begun working and found myself in a college relationship who's expiration was long past. Having been somewhat traumatized by change and loss, my instinct was to cling to what I knew despite the clear signs that parting ways was what was best for both of us.
Our blind tenacity, although we thought it the most loyal act, was in fact the worst thing we could have done to each other. As in every ending relationship, some ugly stuff goes down and no one side can come out clean and innocent.
Still, amid the horror of certain failure there were moments where we chose to make temporary peace. Those were the moments we looked back because there was no looking ahead. Instead of communicating our mutual anger over the clearly empty future, we reminisced and laughed all while drinking heavily of course.
This song by Lucinda Williams always reminds me of those brief time outs where we cut one another a bit of slack. For me "Sweet Side" it's a reminder that we each have a story and when shared with another, the two are bonded, if only for a limited space in time. It is also a reminder that apologies are not as valuable as understanding, forgiveness, and a sense of humor, caustic as it may be.
This song brings me to my second year out of college. The relationship mentioned in the previous post had finally ended and like an old beloved car that's just too damn dangerous to drive, there was undeniable relief when it gave out.
I moved to New York and began again the work of trying understand where I fit in all of it. Many nights I hobbled home sobbing for the pain of lost love and difficulty of starting over alone. I began watching the TV show Scrubs for comic relief and through the show's soundtrack I discovered the recent work of Colin Hay. I do love the song "Down Under" by Men at Work, but I will admit that I was quite shocked when I found out that 'that guy' was producing such different work.
Hay has given up the cheesy beats and silly flash-in-the-pan kitch for a pensive acoustic repertoire of a man who's seen, regretted, and learned a lot. As a scholar, artists like Hay are the wise men a little battered, a little worn, a little uncomfortable. They have a quiet lament about them that echo Blake's songs of experience and even the most eager pupil has to take a moment to question the path of an artist when they glimpse those farther ahead, wizened in the distance.
Perhaps the discomfort lies in the fact that for artists the obviously perilous path - the one that most pragmatic types would turn down in a heart beat - is the only path. There is no choosing or turning down. Colin Hay's voice aches with the pain of this reality and the certainty of loss.
In "Wayfaring Sons," he sings of travel and loss under love's big red umbrella. When I hear it, I am reminded of New York's October and a soaked avenue that was my path to realizing that even though I was far away from my first, greatest love Lebanon and whatever failed relationships followed, the hope to living to tell would sustain me.
I sailed across the sea, my family and me, never knew if I'd return in my memory I yearn...I dream of lying in the sun with my friends and whiskey's flowing.
Hay sings and my heart still skips a beat. In the rest, I know I have lost both places and people and I will lose more. I know not to covet the power to turn back the clock and to relish the gifts of dreaming and remembrance and the music which has been there all along.
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