She makes me miss my car
Subculture is a new, quaint, listening venue for events and talent to showcase their new songs, their old songs, and the like. We waited in line above ground for about a half hour before the doors were open and the less-than-100 of us made our way through halls painted in newspapers and walls covered in art. We made it down stairs a couple flights to find theatre seats set facing a cute low-lit stage housing a couple mic stands and a grand piano. I smiled. The bar, which I didn’t approach, had the name of the club in what looked like stone, carved out and back lit. Classy, kind of punk, and pretty fun. The host, or event manager, or whoever he was, came out thanked us for coming to the show, reminded us this was a listening-space, so if we are going to get up and use the facilities or go to the bar to do so quietly in respect of the other patrons. He then introduced Alexis Babini.
This guy reminded me of John. The John from the early two-thousands. The John I went to see in concert near ten times before I was 25. He reminded me of just-a-guy-and-his-guitar. And how intimate that can be. How personal. Like he’s singing just for you, or just to you.
Alexis had some fun songs “Shut Up and Kiss Me.” His lyrics are fun, tangible, personal, and sometimes a bit dreamy in that “awww, wish he was talking about me,” way. Good times. I went to the merch-table after his brief set and bought his two CD’s then asked if he had a sharpie. He didn’t, then there was a line forming and someone was looking (quickly) and had him sign them, asking for my name to also be placed on them as Proof, of some kind. I took a picture with him and said thanks and kindly moved on back to my seat and preparation for Anna.
She walked out on stage in a long sheer dress and a winter coat. She walked up to the mic and smiled out to us. Her piano player in dark clothes and a beanie with a beard. He played. She sang. She was resonant. She was pure. She hit this note, and that note.
She told stories about how she came up with lyrics. She told a story about how she looks at herself and decides if her hair looks good and plays air-guitar, instead of making The Face. The Face that everyone, you and me included, make when they are getting ready to leave and they “pose” for a second to contemplate if they look good-and-ready for a photo opp, or a good time–or both. That Face. She told a story how she doesn’t make a face, she plays air-guitar. She was fun. She was funny. She didn’t necessarily speak the same as she sang. Meaning, her voice when she sings was…more. You know how people don’t look like how they sound? Like that. She took all her hair and let it vibrate. She didn’t sing “breathy” and I was thankful, and all of a sudden–I missed my car…
When I turned 16 I got my drivers license, and a car. It was Papa’s car. My grandpa on my mom’s side. I called it The Hooptie. It was a cadillac. Brown, really soft interior. I remember going “in to town” with Papa when my sister and I would stay with him and Bubbu (grandma) during the summer while we were on vacation, and my mom and dad were still working. We were little, my sister and I. Too young to stay at home alone. This was pre-boy-siblings. Papa would take us in to town, which was approximately 1-2 miles away to the grocery store which at the time was called Williams Brothers. It later was a Vons, before the big one on Oak Park opened, and last time I checked it was renamed Cookie Crock. I digress. The car drove smoothly though it seemed as large as a yacht to me. I became excellent at parallel parking with one hand, and let me tell you THAT is quite a big deal considering the size of the vehicle.
After The Hooptie came The Klunker. A ’76 Ford Granada. The Hooptie finally ka-put on me and my dadda was driving his work truck and The Klunker. So it became mine for a bit. But only a bit. Sometimes, because the radio didn’t work I would push a button and start singing a song, then hit another button (which if the radio was working would move the needle/dial to-and-fro set stations) and start to sing another button. I entertained myself this way since I had no music in the car. I would also do this with friends in the car and they, too, found it a bit entertaining making it a game to see if I would go back to the part of the song I left off of, or if I would pick it up from a later bit assuming we had missed part of the song. Good times.
From The Klunker, to The Blue Bomber a hand me down from my sister when she was finally upgraded. This car had a working radio and automatic windows. I could roll the window down and singalong at the top of my lungs, or close those windows and do the same. Totally up to me. I drove this one until I practically blew it up–literally. I was on the highway and the alternator…went….wrong…and white smoke came up from the hood and I lost my steering. I had managed to coast off the highway onto Avila Beach drive and pull in to Avila Hot Springs. I had company at the time which is the only reason I was able to turn the car. It took four arms to get the wheel to turn. I’ve changed a couple tires in my life by this point, as well. From The Blue Bomber I got a high upgrade to The Original Princess Mobile. The gorgeous ’92 Honda Civic was my favorite color at the time, Burgundy. With grey interior a working radio and a working CD player, and automatic everything. Some CD’s were played on repeat for the better part of the year when I was in that car. Running all over the place. Work, rehearsal, coffee time with friends, dinners, parties, work, rehearsal…rinse repeat. It was a great time. It had great volume and I would blast that stereo and sing a long–over and over and over. Soon, that kind of schedule caught up with me. I wasn’t home except for sleep and to change, and that didn’t work for everyone. That didn’t work for the family I was a part of and had responsibilities to. And when I took my freedom too far, my mom put me in check and downgraded my wheels (switching me out with my sisters car). The problem with this was, it was a stick-shift and I didn’t know how to drive one of those. I had gotten home around midnight from rehearsal when she told me this. Handing over my keys and taking the keys to the new-to-me car in the driveway. I remember arguing with her and part of the last words said that night were “I don’t know HOW to drive a stick shift” and she responded “I guess you’d better learn.” After crying in anger and worrying about how to get to work the next morning, I called a friend of mine and he came right over and we spent the better part of the middle part of the night driving my car. He’d drive and show me and explain. He was so patient. I stalled. A lot. But after a few hours I felt comfortable enough to catch a few Z’s and get to work the next day. I didn’t drive that car too long. I still stalled. A lot. Hills were terrifying. And sometimes I found myself taking as many back roads as possible to somehow get a lower grade in order to get to where I needed. My friend drove us everywhere else we needed to be, like rehearsal. It became inconvenient for that same family (that’d be my family). The last straw for my mom was when she asked me to pick up my youngest brother from pre-school and I told her no because I didn’t want to have my baby brother in a car I felt unsafe in. She had thought I was being dramatic the entire time I had been driving–I wasn’t.
That weekend we traded in The StickShift for a car of equal value, but with automatic transition. Come to think of it, while driving The StickShift, I never played the radio while I was driving. Never felt comfortable or safe enough. The TradeIn was just fine. Some guy I dated briefly upgraded the tape player to a CD player for me and I was back to singing along to the radio and CD’s in no time. Keeping my responsibilities to my family, and work life, and rehearsals balanced and fair. Including picking up that cute little brother of mine and watching him after pre-school instead of grabbing late lunches and early dinners “because I can.” It was a good lesson. Eventually though, that one also got driven in to the ground. And although it could’ve gone farther we traded it in and got new-to-us cars again. The Red Car had a CD player, and two doors instead of four, and manual windows. It felt like a race car, young and sleek. Perfect for me. This car drove me everywhere in early-twenties-style. When I was ready to upgrade I did, to a The Silver Princess Mobile. Silver (my favorite color), four doors and automatic everything–again. And it was this car, that Anna made me miss.
I know, long route–but it’s my thoughts they just ramble sometimes.
The Princess Mobile was a different kind of freedom. By the time I bought it, I was living away from home (not too far) with a roommate. Paying rent and utilities. Paying my car payment, gas, insurance. All of it. I was “an adult” by many means. I sang to work in this car. To rehearsals. To dinners. To parties. To seeing my family. Sure, it was pretty much the same, but it was all mine. It was a clipped umbilical cord. We drove to LA together, we lived in LA together. And I sang. I sang Sarah, and Alanis, and Madonna, and John–and Anna.
I was introduced to Anna’s song “Breathe,” while I was driving on the 405 and listening to Star 98 point 7 one night on the way home to Burbank. It was just her and a piano I was listening to. Just like the other night when I saw her here, in New York. It was the lyrics “I don’t love him, winter just wasn’t my season” that made me forget I was on a busy highway at night. Flashing headlights and blinkers. All of them existed separately from the experience of the calming voice coming out of my speakers confessing a cry for help. Damn, I’ve been there. I was listening and agreeing: No!you CAN’T jump the track we ARE cars on a cable, life IS an hourglass glued to the table…i can’t find the rewind button either!!! But…breathe. Just Breathe. It was beautiful. Simple, conversational, poetic–and hit me hard. In a good way.
That song always played, for a while. Then it was gone. I didn’t recall who sang it. I had forgotten it even existed for a period of time until I watched Grey’s Anatomy a few years ago in Florida when they had a “singing” episode and I thought “hey…I remember this song…it reminds me of my car.” The thing with the car is that, I was typically alone and could do whatever I wanted. Talk out loud to myself. Yell to someone that wasn’t there if I was mad at them. Sing off key. Sing on key. I could hit rewind and try to hit that note again, and again, and again. I could practice speeches and monologues and come up with comebacks. I could think of my own lyrics, and I did. I even wrote them down, sometimes. Sometimes they’d play in my head and I’d write a whole song and hear it in my head. The problem is I could never recreate it in front of my piano, because I don’t actually play. I mean, I can a little. And if I just listen for it in my head I can figure out how it goes, but that’s just the notes, I can’t …play it.
Those songs, a lot of my songs, they exist only in my head. And when I heard Anna’s lyrics, hell just when she was speaking to all of us in the audience telling us stories, like we were all friends, I could feel that creative piece of me start to peel open and it…stung. A little. It was a warm, stinging sensation. And I missed my piano, and I thought about my car and the freedom I had with it. In New York, I don’t really have that freedom. I can’t be one of the people on the platform with headphone on and sing like no ones around, I need my car to do it. I can’t do it on the train because it’s too distracting. People talking, doors opening, people singing, babies crying, announcers…announcing. It’s not conducive to the creative pieces of me that are waking up. And the hardest part is, really it just makes me miss that ease. The simple schedule of go to work, and rehearsal, come home. Go to the store, go visit friends and family.
Cars make it so easy–New York doesn’t make it easy, you have to work harder here. You have to walk there. You have to go up those stairs, yes all of those stairs. You have to get out of the way. You have to carry that. You have to do it in any kind of weather. And privacy…well, that doesn’t really exist as well as it does driving on that 101, in my car alone.
But it’s been a few years. I’ve had some new experiences, and…I do have a piano in the living room…