Category Archives: Music

Sarah McLachlan: Support the Arts

DSC_0018

I’m terrified of anticipation. I always feel like I’m in the middle of a movie where any potential happiness is foreshadowing the protagonist’s inevitable down-slide into misery. Maybe I take my job as a writer too seriously and forget that art doesn’t always imitate life and vice versa. Or maybe as a poor kid from Ohio I’ve just dealt with a lot of shit. It feels scary to want something when disappointment, even tragedy, might be on the line if I’m rewarded.

So when my partner told me that my favorite musician was playing that night, and close by, I smiled and nodded. A half-hearted, “Oh, that’s cool,” while the weight in my chest told me it’s futile to hope. We had our day planned out already. We were going to a light parade to celebrate Pride. Sarah McLachlan was a novel idea, but it cost money and we already had the supplies we needed for the celebration that night. After the massacre at Pulse, I’ve been feeling like showing a little of my rainbow to the world.

“Actually, I got the dates wrong. The light parade’s tomorrow,” she tells me.

I pause for a moment and allow myself to feel the first little tugging of what looks a lot like fate; another plot device I use in my work but don’t generally apply to my own life.

“It says there will be three special performers with her,” my partner goes on. “But I can’t see any more with my stupid phone. We should look online.”

Now I’m intrigued. Who else could be playing? I go to my computer and try to find out, but it’s vague. My partner tells me to check the seats still available and I wonder what the point is. It’s not like it will change anything if there are front row seats available. We’re not going anywhere. Things like this don’t happen in my life.

Soon, my partner is beside me and I’m swept up in a whirlwind of activity. We’re looking at a blueprint of the venue and watching each little circle going from blue to white as the seats disappear. I want to close the website. I want to be realistic.

“Look, these ones are the cheapest,” I say, playing along as if we’d actually do something so impulsive.

“No, check the front rows!”

I don’t see how this is feasible. Doesn’t it cost too much? Why bother getting my hopes up at all?

“Get those ones!” she exclaims. I tell myself she’s just being competitive and click two seats. Before I know it, we are on a rapid-fire mission to check out with our tickets before the five-minute expiry leaves our seats open to other people.

I’m staring in shock at the check-out page on the screen. It’s telling me that I am going to see Sarah McLachlan as if it’s the most normal thing in the world.  I suddenly realize that my partner has pushed me through. She didn’t let me talk her out of it. She didn’t let me settle for terrible, cheap seats in the back of the venue. She ran to get her wallet and now I am going to spend the evening beside the person I love most in the world listening to my favorite musician. I never believed I would.

About now is when I cry.

I’m surprised though, when I realize that I’m not just crying tears of joy. Suddenly, I’m about 10, 11, 12 years old again. I’m smiling radiantly at a young man my parents know from California. His name is Mike.

“Does he know Nikki died?” I ask my mom when she tells me he’s going to visit. I worry he might not want to come anymore if my brother isn’t there. Her face falls.

“Yeah,” she says.

“Did he cry?”

My mother is quiet for a moment, pain in every line of her face. She looks small, dwarfed by the middle part of a sectional whose corner has been reassigned as a computer chair. I feel bad bringing up the death of my seven-year-old brother, but I have to know.

“Yeah, he did.”

I nod. If he cried too, then it’s okay if he comes. I don’t want to talk to anyone who can’t understand what we’ve lost.

This moment is ancient history when Mike is in front of me; an exotic specimen from across the country. My brothers and I have always liked him; he’s funny. Our mom taught us a keyboard command to say we are blowing bubbles in the chat room where they met, and Mike, (FruitGod, but we called him Fruity) would claim to eat them. He is a child psychologist and he has a t-Rex in his office. Now that he’s here, we expect more fun.

He doesn’t disappoint and I’m back to beaming when he hands me a present. It’s a portable CD player. Possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Streamlined and silver, with little grey buttons and a clear window where I can watch my CDs spin. It even came with my own perfect pair headphones; black and spongy. He also gives me a disc. It’s a burnt copy of “Surfacing.”

Here is where I apologize to Sarah McLachlan and tell her that since then I’ve bought several copies of her CDs and to please not arrest Fruity for saving my life.

My dad, a musician who hasn’t heard much of her music, instantly tears into the gift.

“Sarah McLachlan? Isn’t she a lesbian?”

“She isn’t a lesbian,” Fruity says firmly. I can tell he’s embarrassed. “She’s married to her drummer.”

“Are you sure, man? Have you seen her?”

My dad heads to the internet to battle his point and I instantly tune them out as they start bickering. I wouldn’t care if she was an alien. This is the first music that is actually mine and I can’t wait to listen to it.

I don’t know how Mike knew to choose her CD of all things, but it is profoundly soothing. Her voice is like the cool aloe-vera gel my grandma puts on our sunburns. A Band-Aid on an aching soul. I didn’t know how much it hurt until it started to feel better.

After Mike leaves, home is the same as usual. Quiet, with just the clicking of my parent’s keyboards to fill the voids. My brother and I do whatever we can to distract ourselves as the world we are used to falls apart. For me, this means reading devotedly and listening to my CD, singing off-key with my headphones on and eliciting complaints from my brother.

From then on, whenever I see Sarah McLachlan on VH1 or MTV, I beg whoever has the remote not to change the channel. Even my great-grandparents are happy to listen to her.

My great-grandpa finds salvation listening to Adia, singing off-key and jumbling up the words, and I find the strength and courage to forgive him for violating me from the same song. I make him a tape of the CD and write the lyrics to Adia for him. At the end of the tape, there is space left, so I record it on repeat so he won’t have to rewind it. Because I love him. And because I know he needs to remember innocence.

Sorry again, Sarah.

Fast forward to high school, where everything hurts no matter who you are. Her music is still the most soothing, even though my tastes have grown eclectic and angry. There is still familiarity and comfort in her voice. When I put in my (store-bought) version of “Mirrorball” I can still remember who I was before tragedy turned my life upside down, and I am reminded that things will be okay. Even in heartbreak, beauty can gradually be found.

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I am not some kind of super alpha-omega fan of Sarah McLachlan. I know nothing about her, I’ve never owned a poster, and I don’t expect she would want to know anything about me. But her music has gone with me on a rocky journey.

I’m actually afraid she might have become jaded at some point in her long career to the impact of her music. Who has an easy time believing anything they create is all that special? In my experience, after so much praise and direction from other people, it starts to feel hollow. As a writer there are times I feel like once people are a fan of yours or want you to perform a certain way, it can seem like you could vomit just about anything onto the page and people would still find value in it, even if you don’t.

It makes people’s praise and dedication almost feel false. But it isn’t. It’s a testament to the power of creation and an homage to those who are bold enough to try. Even when it’s hard. It’s scary to build something meaningful. Or to build something at all. People are terrified of being honest and putting themselves out there. And even if it looks easy, it’s hard. But working in a field of creation and pursuing the arts, there is nothing else you can do if you want to succeed. You have to expose the deepest parts of yourself to perfect strangers and hope for the best. You have to be brave.

I want to say I am not a fan of Sarah McLachlan as a person, because I will never truly know her as a person. I’m a fan of her music because I’m a fan of creation. She has to be strong and brave enough to put herself out there even when it feels false. And even if a little me wasn’t yet able to relate to the messages of heartbreak and forgiveness in the same context as they were written, she was still able to put something out there for me to find.

Maybe if Fruity had given me a different CD this would be about somebody else. But it just so happens that Sarah McLachlan’s creations were a huge boon to a little girl who was drowning. And it was something she could share with her family. Such is the power of music.

At the concert, there were two empty seats in front of me. They stayed empty through the first couple of songs and I selfishly hoped with everything I had that nobody would sit there. I had an amazing view either way, but I thought the empty seats would make it perfect. In the middle of the third song, an elderly woman and her daughter eventually filled them. The woman in front of me bobbed her grey head to the music and was visibly basking in every second of it. It was startling and moving. She reminded me of my grandfather. I think it was the third time I cried.

My great-grandparents were like a second set of parents to my brother and I. They saw us through some of the hardest transitions of our lives. I was stricken by how beautiful it is that Sarah McLachlan’s music can even touch those later in life when contemporary music leaves most from outside of this generation cold. Her themes are universal, and I was reminded of my grandfather’s misty-eyed off-key singing.  Not far behind those memories was the beauty of Sarah’s smooth, soulful voice sending him off at his funeral, exactly as he would have wanted.

Even without ever knowing Sarah McLachlan, it is music and books, creation and the arts in general, that helped me find a sanctuary to gather up my broken pieces so I could make it through some of the biggest challenges in my life. I can’t thank the people who impacted my life enough, and hope to encourage everyone to do the one thing that Sarah seems to find the most important; supporting the arts.

I’m writing this not as a fan of Sarah McLachlan, but as someone who knows very personally the profound effect music can have on the soul. I survived. It’s not thanks to Sarah, or even her music. It’s thanks to the courage it takes one soul to create something that can impact millions of others. It’s thanks to the bravery we can find and gather when we see it originating in somebody else and shared unselfishly, even if it comes from a place of pain and insecurity.

Please, support the arts. Keep them in your schools. Don’t let them be the first to go. There are millions of ways we can help other people, but by teaching and appreciating the arts, we can teach children how to help themselves. We can teach and learn how to survive in a healthy way. When we know how to create, we can all be brave and walk through the storm. Not only that, but we can bend the lightning and single-handedly create something powerful as a testament to our resilience.

Support the arts. And check out the Sarah McLachlan School of Music.

Co-Dependent Love Songs

 

Co-Dependent Love Songs

Riddle me this: Why are so many love songs encouraging people to enter into unhealthy co-dependent relationships? Frankly, what people really need to hear are messages of empowerment, encouraging us to really get intimate with ourselves and the pieces of our lives that make us who we are. If we knew ourselves inside and out, we wouldn’t “’NEED’ you baby,” “’WANT’ you baby,” and “’LOVE’ you baby” to the point of stalking. And we definitely wouldn’t be so prone to suffering from acute bouts of emptiness and boredom upon the absence of another person. We would know how to be happy alone rather than obsessed with distracting ourselves with whatever shiny gadget western consumer culture hands out to us.

I obviously understand humanity as a social animal. We generally believe that we can’t make it on our own, and from an evolutionary standpoint, we would be right. Humans have no fur, thin skin, and no claws. Without cooperation and a little ingenuity, we would have become extinct by now. So there’s that. I get how it feels secure to have another person around who can affirm everything about you. I mean, isn’t it your partner’s job to know you better than you know yourself?

You Don’t Need Anyone To Survive But Yourself

Therein lies the problem. By promoting unhealthy relationships, co-dependent love songs are actually preparing people in the Western world to seek validation from outside rather than from inside. The idea that you absolutely need another person to survive is ridiculous, especially when chronic dating is another symptom of the strange society that we live in. Women are taught that if any man wants them, that means they have value and worth, and if men think you’re worthless, then you had better resign yourself to a dissatisfied life as the local crazy cat lady.

It’s a little out-dated, don’t you think? We’re better than those archaic standards! It’s not as though this idiotic beauty standard will last forever. Women get older, their kids grow up, and then they need to spend time getting to know themselves again and finding out what they care about. That’s where the co-dependent love songs leave us at the end of the day, trying to make sense of where we fit into our own relationships without compromising our identities.

We Don’t Live In 1950 Anymore!

I suspect that there’s a reason that co-dependency is being encouraged in mainstream media. As an oppressive tool, it is really quite thorough. Yes, co-dependency could be considered by some as an old-fashioned way of viewing relationships. I get it. Unfortunately for these people, this isn’t the 1950s. Ma and Pa Beaver are definitely sleeping in the same bed, and believe it or not, Pa has just as much obligation to act respectfully and nurture his child as Ma does.

The Danger Of Distraction

Encouraging co-dependency in modern love songs also serves to keep everybody, particularly young people, distracted by their all-consuming relationship drama. They have no time to pay attention to the ways they and others are being oppressed. They are so caught up in texting their significant others that they don’t even notice the chaos going on in the world around them. The media capitalizes on the ups and downs of a confusing and hormonal adolescence and primes everybody up for a “model relationship,” creating roles and standards that keep everybody connected at the hip with no chance of developing an identity outside their partnership. Whether intentional or not, it distracts people from reflecting inwardly so that they know themselves well enough to understand their core values.

When people don’t even understand their own core values, it’s a huge red flag that your relationship may be in for some tumultuous times ahead, and you may end up with someone who will make you unhappy much of the time if your values aren’t compatible. Also, whether consumer culture designed it this way intentionally or not, (it’s not like they control what is on the radio and mainstream television right? Oh wait…) an unhappy person is a lot more likely to try to fill the void with material products than someone who is capable of introspection and enjoys their time alone.

But alone isn’t an option, and healthy relationships aren’t encouraged by these co-dependent love songs. According to the music industry, relationships are just a way to assimilate the pain of your own life by clinging to another person and hoping that not being alone will somehow fix the gaping wounds that continue to affect the person you are today. I have sad news for you, my friends. A relationship won’t fix you. In fact, if you don’t know yourself well enough, it could even be harmful to you or your partner. The only thing that can actually save your sorry soul is unplugging for a while. Getting away and being alone in a serene place. All of us really need a lot of introspection, and probably a lot of therapy, before we will be truly happy in a healthy relationship rather than coasting by in a co-dependent one.

Is It Our Ego?

In a way, co-dependent relationships are one of the strangest and most egotistical situations we can find ourselves in. People who don’t know themselves are constantly looking to another person to make their life worthwhile, seeking within their partner some clue to their own identity. I’m not talking petty interests and movie preferences, I’m talking about the things that really make us tick. What makes us respond. What brings us to life.

When we feel alive with someone else, but not when we’re alone, then the other person has become life-support. Most people end up sucking their partners dry before moving on to the next one, eager to see how we might be perceived differently by other people and what they have to offer in our fragmented search for identity. We become eager to see how they might bring us to life and if it’s what suits us best in other ways, whether material or emotional. We look for ourselves in others, and when we can’t find it or the image is unflattering, we run away as fast as we can and jump into the next experience.

So What Can We Do?

It’s one thing to be romantic. I do believe in romance and love, don’t get me wrong. In fact, it was my partner who thought a post like this would be a good idea. I even think that a co-dependent relationship could become a healthy one with cooperation and a bit of work. Love is out there and when it’s real, you know it. But it’s another thing entirely to believe that it’s a sign of love for somebody to wash themselves clean of any identity outside that of their relationship.

Co-dependent love songs encourage just that, and I think it’s time we really start thinking about what the media is trying to tell us. If we want to make a difference, it would help to only support artists who really value what is important in this world. That way, maybe their messages can become mainstream and make a difference in the lives of millions of impressionable kids around the world, rather than allowing the media to continue brainwashing them into thinking that co-dependency is love. It would save a lot of trouble in the future.

Why the LGBT Community Shouldn’t Be Flattered By Katy Perry

Girl Kissed, Girl Dismissed

AFP kissed a girl and she liked it.
AFP kissed a girl and she liked it.

Once I can turn the radio on without rolling my eyes after five minutes, I think we will have reached a new era of progress. I’m not holding my breath though. That this day will come soon is doubtful. It seems as though all that mainstream music attempts to do is glorify superficiality, conformity and monotony; stealing beats the same way that Vanilla Ice ripped off Queen and splicing genuine inspiration with failed attempts at drollery or overly serious (and often egomaniacal) soliloquies. People are heavily influenced by the music playing in the background of their lives, and it suggests how they should perceive the world around them. The media is an oppressive and powerful tool structured to make money…not empower people. Knowing this makes it a little hard to expect that the music playing on the radio will be very progressive. Degradation and exploitation somehow became a lucrative art form.

Sometime last year though, I heard a song that took my inner cynic by complete surprise. It symbolized to me, at first, progress to the very definition. It was a song by a girl, Katy Perry, about kissing another girl. Hell, she even liked it! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Not because I find it strange that girls kiss girls. I listen to songs with lesbian undertones all the time. I was surprised because of where the song was being played. It was a radio station dominated by songs demanding that females shake their asses and be possessed. I was stunned and thrilled by the apparent turnaround. I felt I was witnessing a landmark. Progress! The Russian pseudo-lesbian duo t.A.T.u. had been a bust, but here was their retribution. The gay community was finally being represented in mainstream media!

Unfortunately my exhilaration was short-lived. Upon listening more closely to the lyrics my relief turned to disgust. Perry was completely missing the point. She was not doing the gay community a favor in any way. Instead, she was reinforcing the same harmful stereotypes that have been scaring people away from an in-depth observation of homosexuality since the beginning. When people hear gay, what they think (assuming it’s not in a context meant to convey one’s contempt toward a thing’s apparent worthlessness) is sex…capital S. It’s not an exaggeration that when typing the word “lesbian” into a YouTube search, rather than finding progressive lesbian artists like Alix Olson or the Good Asian Drivers and valuable lesbian entertainers like Ellen Degeneres and Bridget McManus, YouTube presents us with pages and pages of pornography; videos with artistic titles such as “HOT LESBIAN SUPER SEX.”

“HOT LESBIAN SUPER SEX” is not a fair representation of my community. If my niece were to have questions one day about what it means that I am a lesbian, and rather than talking to me she relied on the media and mainstream interpretations of homosexuality to attempt a deeper understanding of it, she would be horrified and sadly mislead by the supposed information that she would uncover about the gay community. Most of the information floating around out there is not information at all, but rather biased and ignorant opinions or stereotypes. The focus on sex when the issue of homosexuality comes up is deeply detrimental to the general perceptions people have of the LGBT community. That homosexuals are human beings with the desire to be loved is often a factor that is overlooked in lieu of a perverse fascination with the sexual expression of love–a perverse fascination that Katy Perry is capitalizing off of. Not that there aren’t any superficial gays out there, one look at the character Shane on the L Word is proof enough of that, but the privacy of the members of the gay community is constantly violated. Knowing sexual things about people is typically an uncomfortable thing, so it’s not really surprising when people feel uneasy upon discovering that someone is gay. Many people feel they are automatically targeted as potential sex-interests, a presumptuous fallacy that came about because so many people are led to believe that there’s nothing genuinely emotional about homosexuality. What happens in a same-sex bedroom becomes the perverse focal point of most of the overly sheltered people who are confronted with homosexuality, due in large part to the effects of misleading mainstream portrayals of the gay community.

Songs like “I Kissed a Girl” don’t do anything to disassociate “gay” with inappropriate carnal desire. They reinforce the harmful assumption that to be gay doesn’t necessarily mean to be able to love someone of the same gender, which leaves the LGBT community in a light that portrays them as sexual deviants and guilty of sodomy (which is a term also related to the inexcusable act of turning animals into sexual objects) while dismissing the emotional aspects altogether. Katy Perry takes same-sex experimentation into the same field as anyone with ignorant assumptions about the gay community. She reduces her alleged feelings toward the same sex into nothing but carnal desire. In fact, she does everything she can not to acknowledge the fact that the girl she’s kissing might have legitimate feelings. Perry describes this girl as her “experimental game,” something that she just wants to “try on” and, presumably, be admired in.

 

"I'm too innocent and hetero to do anything ACTUALLY gay. Just ask my boyfriend."
“I’m too innocent and hetero to do anything ACTUALLY gay. Just ask my boyfriend.”

There are a lot of dimensions (most of them overlooked by people like Katy Perry) that come with the territory of being a member of the LGBT community. I personally grew up in a small oppressive town where I couldn’t even take a girl to the prom if I wanted to. I was completely isolated from anybody that I could relate to (which isn’t one hundred percent due to being a lesbian but it definitely didn’t help) and, considering I was a particularly angst-filled teenager, it was nearly unbearable. It felt like no matter what, I wouldn’t be able to find happiness in a relationship that wasn’t hindered by barriers of every kind; extreme distance, familial opposition, and the distinct possibility of being a target for cruelty and violence.

My little sob story is nothing in comparison with the thousands of other stories out there told by less fortunate members of the gay community. Even so, the misery I experienced was real and is shared by countless others, which makes me wonder about the girl that Katy Perry targeted in her song. Was she someone like Perry, who uses alcohol as an excuse to do things that aren’t “what good girls do,” without having to take responsibility for them or deal with a few societal reprimands? Or was she someone like me, who had been forced to endure her adolescence locked inside of herself throughout the terrifying stages of self-discovery?

If Katy Perry’s “experimental game” was a legitimate member of the gay community, unless she was dismissive of emotional relationships it’s doubtful that she would brush off Perry’s advances as merely “human nature” and worth no further exploration. The victim of Perry’s saliva, if she is a lesbian, would more likely than not want the chance to develop some sort of connection with her. If this was a girl seeking a valid emotional relationship, it’s impossible to assume that she’d be able to dismiss that kind of attention, which might explain why Perry is so quick to state that she isn’t “in love tonight” and altogether avoid the complications that arise when you integrate sexuality with love, especially when it comes to the same sex. In fact, she belittles the concept of a relationship with the same gender by throwing in the fact that she has a boyfriend, and the time and physicality she invests in her “game” are never going to compare to what she considers a real relationship.

Assumptions like this are everywhere in the media. Shows like Nip/Tuck are constantly reversing the roles of women who proclaim they are lesbians or in strictly lesbian relationships and back track these statements with supposedly irresistible flings with men, making the label of “lesbian” appear to be nothing but, to borrow a phrase from Sarah Warn, temporary sexual insanity. It seems like nobody believes in the emotional validity of same sex relationships, and those that try fail when confronted with the choice between the same or the opposite sex. When it comes to lesbians, men absurdly are always still an option; most lesbians just need a good romp in the sack with the right guy. Hoping that her boyfriend won’t mind that she has objectified and used a woman in a sexual way while staying emotionally dedicated to him implies that there’s nothing about being with a woman that compares to being with a man in a socially acceptable relationship. (Ironically it’s more socially acceptable to cheat on your boyfriend with a girl than to be in a monogamous same-sex relationship.)

Katy Perry goes a step beyond this implication by dedicating an entire verse to objectifying women. It seems like a pathetic appeal and a veiled threat to straight men, maybe even directed at her boyfriend in a “Can you blame me?” attitude. She reinforces the assumption that many men have that it’s okay to see women initially for nothing but their physical traits. It’s an idea that these kinds of men will find sickeningly affirmed coming from a woman herself. At the same time though, she seems to be teasing the men, attempting to make them feel insecure and threatened by women and homosexuals and view them as further competition.

Katy Perry reduces same-sex experimentation into a superficial mockery and harmful emulation of the gay community. Her music, because it is popular, influences the way that people who learn how to live and act from MTV view and treat members of the gay community. There is no hope for a widespread acceptance of homosexuality if we keep allowing harmful generalizations to persist. A small way that we can help is by spreading awareness and boycotting harmful portrayals of the gay community by the media (like, for example, Katy Perry’s song) and working to disassociate homosexuality with sexual deviancy and perversion. The cheapening and exploitation of homosexual lifestyles has got to stop. The only difference between homo and heterosexuals is in an arena that shouldn’t be scrutinized by the public anyway. It is essential that homosexuals become acknowledged as people as opposed to the sexual objects that Katy Perry implies that they are.

Published by the Pathways Literary Journal