Saturday, November 19, 2011

Shopping in Philly

Sensing a temporary lull in the crushing workload at the office, I booked myself a trip to Philadelphia. My favorite American city, Philadelphia is home to cheese steaks, much racial tension, and a Latino queen who smiled at me 13 years ago in a Philly nightclub, making me love the city and forever visit it, looking for him in vain, somewhat insanely. It is also home to BalletX, the dance troupe formed by Matthew Neenan, a choreographer I like, so I timed my trip to coincide with something they were doing.

Although I am not creatively stagnant currently (I have been reviewing books at a somewhat steady pace, and I've been doing a weekly songwriting workshop with my heroes Lori Carson and Beth Sorrentino - from my all-time favorite band, suddenly, Tammy! - and Lori's friend Matt Keating) my novel has gone neglected over these past few months. So I was hoping that a trip to Philly would rejuvenate me. Sometimes trips do that for me. Sometimes deaths in the family do, as well.

I realized as soon as I arrived in Philadelphia that my cat tee shirts would not be enough to shield me from the elements (it was really cold there), and I spent a few hours wandering about, looking for a long-sleeved shirt option. For some reason, I became very moved while shopping, which usually doesn't happen. As I passed a Macy's, in fact, I had to blink back tears. What made me so emotional? The solitude of traveling solo? The strange economic disparity that you aren't shielded from at all in Philadelphia, unlike how it is in NY? The upcoming holidays, and a sense of empathy for the down and out in America? God knows, I have been up and I have been down in my life. Right now, I'm okay, and I want to give this year. Give, give, give. I am going to buy, like, a thousand canned goods for the Harper can drive, I swear. And because I am the team captain for my floor, we will win because of it, and I will get the glory that I always seek, that I must have. I selected this shirt, a simple shell, really, from the Gap, along with another shirt from Urban Outfitters. God, remember when it was cool to shop at the Gap? I put one of the shirts on without washing it first, which is novel for me, and it kept me warm.

As I wandered around the stores and streets of Philadelphia, I was transported back in time to when I lived in San Francisco 15 years ago. I often spent whole days and nights wandering the streets (that's what my novel is about), in complete solitude, except when Nefretiti or Dagsy or Hilz or Joshie or Splendido were free for some fun. The near-total, awful, loneliness I felt during the year I lived there still makes me feel sorry for that young man who I was back then. But I became such a fan then, too. I discovered Barbara Manning, Paula Frazer, Jean Rhys, and many other huge influences on my craft while living in SF. I also discovered the simple joy of drinking bottles of whiskey when there's nothing else to do, which, too, became a huge influence.

In Philadelphia this week, I indeed was rejuvenated, and I wrote for a few hours in my novel. Now, instead of having 239 pages, I have 240 pages. Woo-hoo, I know. But really, it did give me the jumpstart I needed. I came back, rushed to Michelle's bday dinner, rushed to meet Suzanne for "Melancholia," and I've been rushing ever since, really. Philadelphia, I love you and your streets, your cheese steaks and your gayborhood, your "Fresh Air" and your peace. I will visit you again when I can, soonest.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Debbi and Vicki and Micki and Susanna

I went this morning to meet Anne for breakfast, wearing my new Bangles tee. It doesn't say "Bangles" on it, though, it just lists the members of the Bangles from their classic line-up. A couple of people I encountered seemed confused by the tee, and I remembered yet again that no one really loved the Bangles like I loved them, no one read the liner notes, begged their parents to go see them in 1989 at the height of their popularity (I was ultimately not allowed to see them), or agonized over their breakup like I did. People thought they were a pop band, but I saw something ... witchier ... beneath the surface ... like Bon Iver songwriting for Fairport Convention or something.

Heidi and I went to see the Bangles' current lineup (no Michael Steele, sad face) at some ballroom or another recently. The Peterson sisters haven't aged a day. In fact, they seem healthier than ever. Sadly, it also seemed that the Petersons have been absorbing Susanna's life force, as she seemed thinner, more wan, than she did in the 80s and 90s. But they were in lovely form, and they rocked as only they can. But I missed Michael, of course. Where is she? No solid information is on l'internet ... only rumors and innuendos, as always.

About 13 years ago, I went to see a tribute to Sandy Denny at St. Ann's Cathedral in Brooklyn. I went to see Michael and Vicki perform (separately), but I was also a little blown away by Susan Cowsill. Hootie was there too, I think. There was a hush throughout the crowd when Michael came on to sing. She was wearing a green velvet cloak with a beautiful ivy pattern embroidered on it. I had been hearing rumors that, after the Bangles disbanded, she went to live in SF to paint and worship the mighty god Heroisch, that great, still god that demands that you sweetly throw up from time to time. She was bewitching that night. I fell in love with her all over again.

Just a couple of years later, I was going through one of my depressive periods, which I go through once every six years or so. I was actually praying that the world would end. We thought it would end with Y2K, but the year 2000 came and went, and I was sorely disappointed that everyone still lived and breathed, our computers fully functional. I began looking for a sign from God. Then, I heard that the Bangles had reunited, and were touring America. That was it! The sign I had been looking for! I imagined them like a modern-day four horsemen of the Apocalypse, bringing the end of the world on their tour, city by city, town by town. I went to see them with Kristin at Irving Plaza and they were a pop band, not the band I had been hoping for. I realized that the world would not end in "Eternal Flame," it would not end "In Your Room." They put out a record that I avoided like the plague, as did most of the world. And years passed. I heard Michael had left the band again.

So when I saw them with Heidi last month, I was not expecting to be wowed, but I was. There were some tee-shirts on sale at the concert, but they were not my kind of tee-shirts. But a few days later, I went onto their website, as I do from time to time, looking for clues, news, any peek behind the veil of these mysterious, badly dressed ladies. I saw this tee, and, though I tried to resist buying it for weeks, I eventually broke down and ordered it. The tee takes me back to the days when I would walk around San Francisco wearing my Juliana Hatfield tee-shirts and my Breeders tee-shirts, and the hipster boys would snicker at me. I wanted to explain to them that it takes a certain kind of coolness to wear a tee from a gurl band, knowing that misogynistic hipsters will mock you. I certainly don't mock their Misfits tees, their own uniforms that they don to make themselves part of a scene. It's hard to explain to the cool that you're cooler than they are, because they're at worst poseurs and at best just like all of their friends, and by choice.

To all my fellow grrl band-loving compatriots, rock on. To the Bangles, whatever it takes, get Michael back. Get her a heroine drip if that's her bag. Susannah, put out another solo record. I love you gurls.