Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Own Nine Lives

My Own “Nine” Lives

I saw “Nine” with my friend Alison the other day. We went in the middle of a very wet and rainy day in Los Angeles to one of the screening theatres at the Landmark in West LA… she knows my love of the comfy sofas in those theatres… I had heard a lot about this movie because, well, anytime anyone who knows me sees a movie featuring sexy women in lingerie singing and dancing torch songs about love and sex and passion and religion? They call me and tell me they just saw a movie “right up my alley.”

(What alley is that, exactly?)

No, I’m kidding. I’m flattered. They call me and tell me that because years of singing my own crazy version of the habanera from “Carmen” while dressed in a bustier and garter belt in Le Cirque Rouge Burlesque Cabaret have led people to associate me with all things Folies Bergeres… ;-) Okay. SOME things Folies Bergeres.

I want to write about a moment of my own life, my own foibled, fabled life, inspired by the part when Louisa, played by the EVER amazing Marillon Cotillard, does a number in which in her fantasy, she torments her husband, the guilty philandering Guido, by performing a strip tease for other men. My take on that- it’s her way of trying to show him how she feels, how painful it is to be betrayed like that… but you know, when it’s YOU being the one betrayed? It takes tremendous awareness to be able to see those places where you yourself did the betraying, and this method rarely exacts any response that creates greater love and harmony.

But we’re not talking about love and harmony. We’re talking about passion, commitment (or not), betrayal, sex, fear, anger, and fire…

I know, because that scene mirrors the first time I ever did a burlesque striptease.

I joined the motley crew of burlesque performers in Minneapolis at some point in the early days of its inception. I had seen a notice that Amy Buchanan and Ophelia Flame (and others) were forming a Burlesque and Vaudeville style cabaret… it was listed somewhere in Minneapolis’ alternative weekly newspaper, City Pages… a number of my friends in Minnie had seen the notice and thought of me, too, and a few of my friends went out their way to email me and call me to tell me to check it out.

See, I’ve always had this thing for performing in slinky vintage slips. In fact, my very first time performing in such a thing was when I was 11! No kidding. I performed as an Egyptian Slave Dancer in my middle school’s talent show while my friends lip-synched to “Dance Like an Egyptian.” My mother and teachers and my friend’s mothers had no idea I was going to do this, or they probably would not have let me do so. And I, as yet innocent, had no idea that this might be in any way inappropriate for a pre-pubescent sixth grader. I just remember that my friends and I had rehearsed for days and days how we were going to do this little number, and I wore black kohl eyeliner and proudly marched my little butt out onto stage wearing just a bed sheet wrapped around me like an Egyptian slave girl’s costume. The audience LAUGHED and laughed and laughed. To this day, I’m still not sure WHY it was so funny, and yet I am grinning ear to ear because I remember how hard they laughed! Oh, and the starlet was born.

So, back to Le Cirque Rouge (and relative adulthood)… I went down to the club Amy and crew had built out of what had formerly been “The New French CafĂ©.” It was all dark red and Frenchified and sexy, even in the middle of bright and snow-covered Minneapolis afternoon. I think I sang Carmen, and then “Whatever Lola Wants.” They liked it. I was in.

It took a few months to get into the groove of costumes and egos and breasts. Don’t get me wrong. I had a lot of costumes and a lot of ego and two of my very own, thank you. But so did everyone else have PLENTY of supply of all those things (*except Garron the Houseboy, of course. He had everyone else’s breasts, but none of his own.) And then there were the endless performances, some great and some terrible, and the fighting, and the hair pulling (kept on stage for audience benefit!), and the jokes and the magic, and then there was the great and terrible SCHISM from which formed Lili’s Burlesque and etc., I won’t get into the nitty gritty here, you can Google search all of this and get everyone else’s story about how it all went down.

IIIIiiii want to talk about MY strip tease. See, in all the time I was with LCR, I never did a strip tease. Amy used to ask “why not!?” “Why not!?” And my reply was usually something like, “But I’m already wearing next to nothing while singing.” I remember trying something out while singing “La Vie En Rose,” in which I was wearing a Marlene Dietrich style man’s shirt and jacket, with just a garter-belt attached to some fishnet stockings and little black high heels. At the end of the song, after the “la, la la la la la las…..” I sang once more the line “La Vie En Rooooooooose” and tore open the white shirt to reveal my vintage black and white lace bra… and I noticed that although the audience hooted and hollered, they cheered longer and louder when I sustained a very high note earlier in the song. I realized I was probably better off showcasing my VOICE and my SONGS then showcasing my… ahem… pasties…. I’m not sure why. Maybe I should be offended that my voice is more impressive than my dĂ©colletage. Or maybe I should be proud…. but…. It probably had more to do with my belief in my voice over my belief in my body… Oh, hyper-analyzing my own psyche aside…

Really, the real deep down other part?

I had a boyfriend and he was a really great guy except he had this… jealous streak. He was excited for me to sing in the cabaret, because a) he got to hang around and watch the beautiful women dance, and b) he loved for me to sing and perform, and c) he was a drummer and picked up gigs as a fill-in for when the other drummer couldn’t make it. But his response to me performing the strip-teases?

“No. No Way. That shit is MINE.”

Well, fast-forward through four exciting and beautiful and crazy and at times, difficult years with this man, to the point where, eventually, he and I broke up. We had a really difficult break up. I mean, it was just awful. I wasn’t just losing a boyfriend, I was losing my way of life. We had a band together, a home together, cars together, gear together, dreams together. But… for some very specific reasons, the relationship ended. It broke my heart. And, in my immature response to that pain, I did what all drama-queen kitty cats do after a tough breakup. I broke all the rules I wasn’t allowed to break while I was IN the relationship!

Now, the funny thing is, I had been dating a loose cannon, anti-authoritarian, environmentalist, former punk rocker turned jazz drummer turned Americana singer-songwriter. So, there really weren’t too many things I had not been allowed to do for the sake of the relationship. Really, there was only one.

The Burlesque Strip Tease.

And damn it, I was determined to carpe diem and, in my ex’s own famous words, strap on a pair (of pasties) and get ‘er done.

It was New Year’s Eve. My friends Erin and Josh and I were going to a NYE Party hosted by my friend Sean, featuring a number of different burlesque performers as well as DJs, bands, body painting, food, booze, crazy light shows, all in this huge-o warehouse somewhere in Saint Paul. I had a mission in mind, and I quickly located my friend Stan the 3-D Man.

Now, Stan had invented a 3-D machine that could cause LIVE Performers to appear 3-D. This Tesla- loving scientist inventor was so smart and wise to introduce it to Burlesque Dancers, and he, along with the dancers, had invented what was known as “The 3-D Strip Tease.”

Imagine… the audience puts on 3-D Glasses and enjoys as the dancer, behind a white scrim, does a strip tease seemingly CENTIMETERS from your face! It is truly an amazing experience! When she tosses her items of clothing off, it appears as those they are landing in your lap. When she swirls the tassels on her pasties? Well. Let’s just say, it’s pretty darn exciting.

I’m serious. It really seems like the Dancing Lady is Dancing In Your Lap, only she’s not, she’s on stage, and you’re wearing 3-D glasses, and it remains that Sexy-Silly-PG13 style fun.

Stan was setting up the 3-D machine and was going to be running the show for a bit in this corner stage.

I walked over to Stan and said,

“Stan, I wanna do the 3-D strip tease…”

I had rendered a very eloquent man speechless.

“Good then,” I said, nodding, and accepting that his silence implied his consent.

I walked back behind the white scrim on the stage. I was wearing a black and white pinstriped pantsuit and black stilettos… not exactly a burlesque costume, but for tonight, it would work. There was a box full of props and costume pieces and I applied the necessaries… feather boa, pasties, top hat.

“Ready back there?” Stan asked….

“Ready as I’ll ever be…” I said.

And the music started…

You learn a few things fairly quickly- like-

Have the right costume. So, it seems like maybe a black and white pinstriped pantsuit is very sexy in a Marlene Dietrich kind of way, but I figured out pretty fast, if you’re intending to perform an old-school, vintage-style burlesque striptease to a song that’s 3 minutes long? That’s a LONG time to keep it PG AND interesting. The right costume will help GREATLY.

Thank god for the box of props. I somehow figured my way out of the pantsuit and realized I hadn’t yet utilized the 3D Machine, so I made sure to take a feather boa and toss it to titillate the audience. The way it works is, there’s a light machine between you, the dancer, and the scrim. The audience is on the other side of the scrim. You play everything to that light machine and it causes the audience’s perception to see it as 3D.

So, I took my feather boa and I snapped it right into the light. The audience shrieked and giggled. Whew! All was not lost.

There was a sword in the prop box, so I grabbed a chair, danced around it for a moment, and then took the sword, pointed it right into the light. The audience shrieked again. Then I sat down in the chair, and did that trick where it looked like I was swallowing the sword.

Oh, so naughty.

Now I was relaxing into it and actually having fun with what was going on! I started mimicking my burlesque heroine, Ophelia Flame, doing all of her kinds of long leggy moves into the light.

And then, that moment divine, when suddenly you and the music and the lights and the moves and the impulse and the feathers and the tassels are all one, and you move without moving, you sway without direction, you are just in the dance. The feel of the feathers trickling down my arm, the fine soft downy hairs sparkling in the bright lights, my legs kicking high and round, my heart in pulse with the bass and drums, my hips curving in joy of femininity…

And then it was done. The audience was cheering, and I think I may have poked my head out to bow and blush, and then I grabbed my clothes and Garron the houseboy was there and he picked up the rest of the props, and my friends were smiling and I ran to the makeshift backstage, energetically high. I know dancers for whom this is their art and their passion, and I can see why. It was exhilarating, and- fun.

And then there was a moment- just a moment- when I was alone, and fixing my little pantsuit, and touching up my makeup, alone in my heart despite the booming crowd out there... And I thought of my lost love, for that moment. I thought of the night we met, and I thought of the night he and I watched the full moon rise over the Chateau de Chambord in France, and riding on the back of his motorcycle clinging tight to him… I thought of the nights we spent playing music together, and the time he got mad at me on stage and threw his (my) guitar at me, and I laughed aloud then, because he always had such a temper, but he was always trying so hard. And as I laughed, a single boa feather fell from my long raven hair onto my lap where I sat. I felt sorry, as if I had betrayed him, his wishes. Without having any feelings about what the art of the striptease is or is not, without having any opinions about what it may or may not have meant, I knew that, having done that… I was sealing the relationship, at least for me. That sounds so… final… to write it like that. But. It was. I had done the one thing he didn’t want me to do.

It was over.

Monday, January 18, 2010

grocery shopping with erin: in three movements

grocery shopping with erin

In three movements


ALLEGRO
Sunday evening, almost Monday morning
In Los Angeles, featuring a rare but welcome rain.
Traffic lights blur in the cool blush of sky tears.

I am on my way home from work, driving along in my Jetta with a check in my wallet, and, regrettably, the knowledge of an empty refrigerator,
an empty pantry,
an empty cupboard,
and an empty stomach…

With delicate counterpoint, I weave out of traffic and into the Ralph’s parking lot on La Brea. Eyeing the other cars in the lot, I spy no drug dealers,
no window smashers,
no hubcap grabbers
(*that I can tell.)

Andiamo, then, into the Ralph’s on La Brea,
into the toxic fluorescent mash-up
of late night nurses picking up cereal
and last call drinkers pulling out pizzas-
(it’s not delivery…)

Who is the DJ in this grocery store at this time of night? And by what prejudice did he decide that we, the late night grocery shoppers, deserved such a woeful listening fate? Just because I’m here at only ever odd hours… well, I think that means I fortissimo deserve good music to listen to… Perhaps I like the lack of long lines when checking out… or meeting the new trainees receiving the least desirable shifts… whomever you are, and you know who you are, it’s time to Come To Jesus on this mix.

And yes, I heard the guy with his Polo shirt tucked into his running shorts singing along.

I believe that is all testimony we need….

ANDANTE
Every time, it is the same story between me and the groceries.

Confronted with actual food for sale,

I seem to forget entirely what it is I actually eat.

I wander endlessly through the aisles, stopping to stare at the things I

* might *

put into lingering combinations over the stove
with the sweet harmony of flavors headed
directly for my lips…

But, no, I have no clue what I eat, once I am staring all this foodstuff in the eye.

Apples? Plums? Do I dare to eat a peach?

Rice cakes. Yes. Rice cakes, one for each… I….. Wait. Rice cakes? Or… was it Wasa bread? Oh, I don’t know, so instead, I shall stare at the Pop Tarts, but I know that if I take home fake food, I will eat fake food. I had better pick up a carton of oatmeal instead.

I know I don’t really “do” dairy, so ice cream is out, but that never stops me from picking up a pint, walking to the next aisle, and then turning and returning to place Ben and Jerry’s back on the shelf.

Meanwhile, two stoney boys with their pants slung low have passed me by three times now, and I know that during the next pass they will try to catch my eye. I’m not sure I want this recapitulation, as I miss that one note where the composer shifted it from sharp to natural. Always just a half a step ahead of myself, and yet never quite inside the groove, we’ll play it out again… I guess… or not, as I feign deep interest in Boboli pizza crusts and thank god I had put away that Ben and Jerry’s five minutes ago….


RONDO

A race to the check out then,
I see the girls in miniskirts and big earrings eyeing my basket
as I eye their champagne and potato chips.
who shall make it first?
None of us. We were all eclipsed by the old lady with a can of cat food.

Waiting to be warmly met,
I should still be waiting yet,
were it not for magazines that let
me indulge in a trashy fete…

And here we are now, Ralph’s Club Card, please!
And cash, down to the penny, but ten dollars I’ll need,
So, debit or credit, whate’er you prefer,
Paper or plastic, damn! I left my cloth bag in the car.

And now I here I am at my little Spanish style fourplex,
pulling into the long driveway,
Singing along with the music at the top of my lungs,
Shoving dried cantaloupe in my mouth.
Managing all five bags and a purse in one arm
with my keys at the ready in the other,
Home!

And I put away the groceries only to discover that
I already had lettuce, and carrots,
And I really should have tossed this guacamole out a long time ago,
And I have literally three jars of raspberry jam and still no bread for toast.

My roommate, however, appears to have bought chocolate covered caramels and
Honey sesame almonds at Trader Joe’s.
I’m sure she won’t mind if I borrow a bite….
After all, she has full access to all my groceries.
Mi miso es su miso.
And finally, as I tenderly put away a duplicate container of oats (seriously)
I notice she has bought those sweet terrors of fake food-

all hail

the forbidden fruits.

Behold:

poptarts

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens the silver foil packaging; only something in me understands
the voice of sprinkles and frosting is deeper than all whole grains)
nobody, not even the rain, has such sticky hands

…………….


I needed the energy to practice?

D.S. Al fine.