Music

Why Working Out to P!nk is F*ckin’ Perfect

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Screw Britney. Screw Rihanna, and Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga, and (gasp) Beyoncé. When it comes to female pop workout music, P!nk rules.* No matter what mood you’re in, the petite acrobatic vocalist will get you moving.

I was reminded of this yesterday at my Peloton cycling class in Chelsea. Before I even hopped on my bike, I was in a funk. And not the groovy kind, the smelly kind.

You see, I’d found myself stuck recently, afraid to wipe off the dust on my keyboard and commit words to Word. What if my blog post sucks? What if it’s boring and unfunny and pointless? What if it’s not book worthy? I hadn’t posted in months, and now I was terrified to do so.

This might seem counterintuitive. After all, I just finished writing a book for a publisher based on my other blog, 40 Dates & 40 Nights. Shouldn’t I feel like a major f*cking badass, ready to take on the Internet by storm? I mean, c’mon, I’d finally achieved that holy grail every actor dreams of: VALIDATION!

And yet, every time I sat down with my laptop, I couldn’t bring myself to type a single sentence. I’d click on Firefox, and pretty soon I’d be down a rabbit hole, reading short stories by Clarice Lispector, researching apocalyptic earthquakes, trying to understand why people are religious. Suddenly three hours would pass and it’d be time for my barre class and then I’d be out in Manhattan and how could I possibly think about silly meaningless blog posts with all this crazy life swirling around me? (And cocktails swirling in me.)

But every morning I woke up with the same nagging feeling: WRITE. (also: hangover.) Once again, I’d pull out my lap top, crack my knuckles over it,* and not get to work. Let the cycle of self-admonishment begin.

My spin class rolled around yesterday with yet another blank document on my desktop. As I adjusted the seat in the dark room, a weariness overtook me. Why am I here? Do I even enjoy this anymore? Throughout my unstructured life as an artist, exercise has been pretty much my only constant, an almost sacred space of meditation, discipline, and endrophin-induced joy encouraging creative flow. But lately my workouts had felt more like doing laundry or washing dishes than a blessed communion of mind, body, and spirit.

The lights dimmed and the instructor hopped on her bike enthusiastically.

“In case you guys didn’t know, this is a P!nk ride, so yeah,” she announced unapologetically, then turned on the music.

A pink ride? Does this mean it’ll be supporting breast cancer? Or only include songs that have to do with every five-year-old girl’s favorite color? I wondered. Perhaps it was being sponsored by Vicki’s Secret and we’d all get matching thongs at the end. That would be fun!

I began pedaling to the beat, humming along to the song. Who is this? The vocals weren’t gravelly enough to be Amy Winehouse, and were much too pop-y to be Mary J. Blige, although the lyrics were dealing with family drama. Can we work it out? Can we be a family? I knew the voice, but I didn’t.

Until I did. Within three notes of the second song it hit me — Ohhhhh, it’s P!nk!! (Duh.) I smiled at my obvious oversight, then picked up the speed of my legs. This should be.. cool I guess? I was still in my funk.

My initial thoughts on the ride echoed my early feelings on P!nk’s music – meh. Back when she’d first debuted on the radio waves, I’d been somewhere between milquetoast and irritated by her party anthems.*** When I moved to LA in 2004 she was one of my first Hollywood encounters at a sushi restaurant, and as we threw back sake bombs I remember wishing she was Christina Aguilera.

However, over the past decade I had grown to respect P!nk and her vocal and physical acrobatics, even kinda sorta love her. And with each song of the ride I understood why. On one sprint I’d be ready to kick someone’s a$$ because so what, I’m still a rockstar, and the next I’d be nodding my head on a climb, knowing I needed to keep going. You gotta get up and try

By the time we’d finished arms, I felt like myself again – back in my body, excited to get to work. The honesty in P!nk’s lyrics moved me. Raw, simple, real, unafraid. Was her music poetry on the level of Leonard Cohen? Did it possess the originality of a Dylan, or the depth of a Joni Mitchell? No. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t good, or relatable, or inspiring.

The second to the last song came on: pretty pretty please, don’t you ever, ever feel, like you’re less than f*ckin’ perfect I started to cry, realizing that that’s what had been keeping me from blogging these past couple of months: fear of not being perfect. It’s something I’ve struggled with my whole life. Perfectionism. It was the cause of my eating disorder, my anxiety, my writer’s block. Why do we do that? Why do I do that?

As I pedaled through the finish line, I decided right then that I would start posting on my blog again the next day, no excuses. It didn’t matter if what I wrote sucked or was boring or pointless, because at the end of the day, that’s not what it’s about. Every song isn’t going platinum. Every blog isn’t getting turned into a book.

But it is about living fearlessly. About owning your truth, and honing your craft, and taking risks, and being willing to fail. So what if you make a wrong turn or a bad decision, release an annoying song about partying or write a dumb essay about a spin class? Get up and try again. And again and again. It obviously worked for P!nk. It can work for the rest of us.

Damn, it feels good to be back! 🙂

*Okay, fine, all of these awesome ladies kick my ass on the treadmill.

** I didn’t actually do this, but I’ve seen it in so many movies I thought I should add it.

*** 2000, WTF?! We’re getting so old.

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Home

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During the London Olympics of 2012, while other people were cheering on Michael Phelps and Gabby Douglas, my mother was busy discovering an American Idol winner – Phillip Phillips. His game changing song from that competition, “Home,” had been usurped by NBC as the official theme of the Games. The earthy tone of his voice, the heartfelt lyrics, my mom couldn’t help but be swept off her feet and over to her local library to borrow a copy of his CD. She uploaded the music onto her iPod, and began playing the summer anthem in a never-ending loop on her morning hike.

A year later, amidst the aftermath of a taxing break up, I received a phone call one day from my mom crying. I asked her what was wrong, and she said she’d been listening to “Home.” My initial instinct was to laugh – the thought of my 57 year old mother crying over an Idol was pretty priceless – but then she said she’d been envisioning me. She knew Aaron, my ex, hadn’t been the right guy for me, but she was desperately wanting me to find a loving, supportive partner. “I’ve been praying for your future husband,” she said, “for a man who will say those things to you.”

As sappy as this all might sound (especially to a non-believing feminist like myself), my mom’s words hit me hard. If I’m being completely honest, I had watched that season of American Idol with my ex and I had cried during Phillip’s win and preceding victory song. While the whole show is designed to bring the audience to tears (“My parents died and I became a prostitute to feed my 9 brothers and sisters”), it wasn’t the perfect camera angle on the singer’s tear-stricken face, nor the utter delight of his friends and family that had moved me on the couch that night. No, it was the song. The simple, haunting, beautiful “Home.”

When I think of the word home, the first image that pops in my mind is the house I grew up in. It was a beautiful two story craftsman overlooking the bluff in Portland, Oregon. My parents had bought it for dirt cheap (it was in a low-income neighborhood), and renovated it, restoring its 1930s charm. One of my earliest memories is of the day they got the keys to the house, and I ran up the stairs and into the master bedroom. The realtor had left a giant white teddy bear in it, and four year old me exclaimed loudly “My room!” And so it was.
We lived in that house on Willamette Blvd. until I turned 16. The housing market was booming, and my parents turned a large profit on the sale, buying another fixer in a much more desirable neighborhood. Two years later, they turned that home for a profit, and bought yet another, much larger fixer, and thus began their later in life careers as house flippers. They now live in Rancho Mirage in a chic single story mid-century with a sweeping view of the mountains. While they own several rental properties now in the desert, they intend on staying in this house for a long time. It’s become home.

When people ask me where I’m from, “where home is,” I find it difficult to answer. Even though my childhood house is the first thing I think of, Portland no longer feels quite like home. My parents have left, my brother’s in transition, my few high school friends I keep in contact with our dispersed across the globe. The only thing keeping me anchored in the Northwest are my grandmother and my memories. According to my cell phone, home is technically my parent’s place in Rancho Mirage. Every time they phone me from the landline there, it shows up on my caller ID as just that – “Home.” And in some ways, that’s correct. But, after living in my Los Angeles bungalow for over seven years now, my place in Hollywood certainly feels like home, too. Especially after a month or two of traveling abroad, which I’m prone to do annually, I usually can’t wait to get home to my charming one bedroom guest house. (Except for the summer I lived in Paris – for me, that city strangely feels like home as well).

The point is, while all of these ideas of home are tied to a place – the house in Portland, my parent’s place in Rancho Mirage, my Los Angeles abode – the actual concept of home is far more abstract. And that’s what Phillip Phillips song has captured so beautifully. The main verse, the one my mom wants a man to say to me, reads “Just know you’re not alone, I’m gonna make this place your home.” Although he uses the word place, it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t matter where in the world he and his love are, it will be home. As that old adage beaten to death by kitschy wall ornaments and Christmas tunes goes, home is where the heart is.

As I write this, I am still single, and have yet to find a man singing Phillip Phillips songs to me. But unlike my mom, I’m not really worried about it. While I look forward to meeting that special someone and creating my own family someday, I take comfort knowing I’ve always had a place to call home.

On Music, and Why I Like Celine Dion

Forgive me, music connoisseurs, for I have sinned. It’s been my entire life since I last made a confession, and as such, the burden of my secret musical trespasses have become too much to bear. So here goes: I have listened to John Mayer’s “The Heart of Life” at least 500 times. In fact, probably more than a thousand. Sometimes when I’m running I’ll just put it on repeat and pound the pavement to it for 3 to 4 miles, my feet carrying me along to the goodness of humanity and John’s soulful voice, before finally forcing myself to listen to the Velvet Underground or Beethoven or something with at least an ounce of quality. While I’m at it, I should also tell you that I used to fall asleep to Backstreet Boys’ ballads. Not the really popular ones played on the radio, oh no, the really bad ones that got no love except from boy-tortured 15 year old girls like me. And I should probably add that I have been known to crank up the volume in my car to near deafening levels listening to Elton John’s “Daniel,” Cher’s “Believe,” and One Republic’s “Counting Stars.” Oh, and let’s not forget late night solo dance marathons at Chez Amy featuring Chingy, Trick Daddy, and Akon, that trifecta of Hip Hop Geniuses. Yup, that happened.*

Wow, does it feel good to get that off my shoulders. Well, good and bad. Good because I no longer feel like I need to live in a world of secrecy, snatching my iPhone away when someone opens the music folder, stammering when grilled about my favorite artists, practically fainting when being asked to DJ a little shindig (can’t we just listen to the radio?!) Bad because, well, now you know just how terrible my taste in music is. And to be honest, it gets worse. I’m an enormous sucker for singer / songwriters, I cry at almost every country song, I never remember song titles or sometimes even band names, and for the life of me I just cannot seem to enjoy Jack White. And to top it all off, the first concert I ever went to was Celine Dion. And I loved it. (I’m so sorry, for that I will listen to “Physical Graffiti,” “Blonde on Blonde,” and “Revolver” from cover to cover. Please absolve me!)

* * * * *

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been shy and anxiety-ridden about my musical preferences. I know I shouldn’t be ashamed of what I like, but for some reason, I just can’t help but feeling judged for listening to… anything. It doesn’t even matter if it’s a band everyone loves (The Beatles) or a cool little alt group just breaking on the scene (Joywave) or a tried and true Nashville star (Garth Brooks), I still end up feeling guilty. And I’m pretty sure I know why: because I know nothing about music.

Okay, that’s not entirely fair, I obviously know something about music. For instance, I can identify music from just about every genre, I can tell the difference between Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, I know what a major chord and a minor chord sound like.* But I don’t know about music the way other people seem to know about music, the way Rob Gordon in High Fidelity knows about music. I hear my friends comparing David Bowie albums or discussing the guitar solo in some Stones song or breaking down the tonality and modality in Finnish Folk Music and my pulse turns into a spasmodic metronome.*** Then they’ll turn to me and get that look on their faces and I know they are about to ask me that dreaded question which produces that deer-caught-in-headlights look and I brace for it and here it comes, oh god, please no… “What kind of music do you like?” And inevitably I answer “everything,” A) because it’s mostly true, and B) because then I don’t have to mount a defense for why I enjoy Ray LaMontagne or Eminem or Katy Perry, because frankly, I’m not totally sure why except that they make me feel good. Or sad or emotional or angry or slutty, but in the good way. In the visceral musical response way.

And that about sums up why I like John Mayer’s “The Heart of Life,” or Celine Dion’s “To Love You More.” Not because I have any understanding of the composition or the pitch or the borrowed motifs from some 1960s song, but just quite simply because it makes me feel something, and whatever it is that it’s making me feel at that moment, I like it. And there might be a hundred reasons why technically speaking I should detest Michael Buble’s “It’s a Beautiful Day,” and a hundred more for why I rightfully like Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” but I honestly don’t know what they are. And you know what? Maybe that’s not such a terrible thing as I’ve been making it out in my head all these years. Because really, who cares? I’m sure Ray and Katy and Michael don’t, as long as I keep listening and buying their songs on iTunes. And if you care, dear reader, well, it’s really not that big of a deal, I’ll just let you control the dial. Because after all, I really do like pretty much everything.

*Still happens.
** I definitely can’t distinguish between EDM genres. Go here and you’ll see what I’m talking about: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_electronic_music_genres
*** Should you care to learn more about the tonality and modality in Finnish Folk Music, contact this guy: Raymond Barley, PhD, P.O.Box 10218, Fort Irwin CA 92310

She Was Only 19

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On my way to work this morning a 90s boy band song came on the radio. The predictable waves of nostalgia washed over me, embarrassing tears pooling in my eyes. It was not dissimilar from the way my mom reacted the night before to the Rolling Stone’s Angie. She’d been in college when the 70s rock ballad had debuted on SNL, I’d been a freshman in high school when the sappy overproduced love song hit the airwaves. At the time, I wanted nothing more in the world than to have someone sing those precious words to me- “I’ll be the one, who will make all your sorrows undone, I’ll be the one”… How desperately I wanted to be a guy’s “one.” At 15 years old, the best thing that could ever happen would be having a member of a boy band sing those things for me. Four years later, one of them did.

When an infant comes into this world, their senses are overwhelmed, bombarded with all kinds of sensorial information we adults take for granted. The light, the shapes, the sounds – all is fascinating and none of it makes sense. This is exactly how I felt landing in Los Angeles. The Sunset Strip where I worked, the studio lots where I was auditioning, the celebrities casually dining at Beverly Hills cafés – it was all more than I could handle. I didn’t know how to process the city, the industry, the people, but I did the best I could. In other words, I partied. A lot.

That first year I went to more clubs and met more “Hollywood” types than the rest of my LA days combined (9 years and counting). This was all the more impressive considering I was attending my freshman year at USC, working 4 days a week as a restaurant hostess, taking 2 nights of acting classes, and auditioning. I had a tumultuous relationship with a somewhat successful actor, I managed to end up in Vegas with strangers not once but twice, and I developed a mild eating disorder (it’s not really bulimia if you only throw up once every couple of weeks, right?) What’s that Eagles’ song, Life in the Fast Lane?

It was April 2005, nearing the end of the school year, when I met him. My relationship with the actor had just imploded, and so my clubbing days reached their zenith. I was going out and getting wasted a minimum of three nights a week, which seemed totally reasonable considering the 4.0 GPA I was pulling. This particular Tuesday night I was at Element, by far the hottest venue in those days. When I think back on Element, and Hyde, and Spyder, it seems like the Golden Era of clubbing- all of young Hollywood came out to play. (In retrospect, the scene was probably no different in 1996 or 2013, I just happened to be 19 in 2005.) I sipped Grey Goose from a table near the stage with some girlfriends, and surveyed the surroundings. The usual suspects were there – Michael, Lindsay, Paris – but I spotted someone I had never seen before: the guy who had once sang “I’ll be the one.”

He kept staring at me as the night raged on, and finally I decided to take a solo bathroom trip, being careful to pass close to his table. It worked- he pulled me aside. We talked for a few minutes before I asked him a little white lie of a question: “so what do you do?” He looked at me, surprised, then said he was in a band. “That’s awesome, what’s it called?” He told me, and I laughed. “Oh my God, I didn’t even recognize you!” He smiled, and didn’t let me out of his sight the rest of the evening. (To this day I wonder if he really believed my fake naïveté. I’ll never know.) He called me on my flip phone before I even got home that night, and I practically died. I so wished I could teleport back to 1998, when all of my friends and I had posters of him in our room. He had since fallen from those starry heights, but he was still sexy, and I was still struck.

We hung out non-stop for the next several weeks. He loved the fact that I had only slept with one other person, and saw me as this sort of innocent, this pure being. In some ways he was right, but in other ways completely wrong. I was smart, and sensitive, and emotional, and compassionate. But I was also caught up in the scene, enchanted by the fame and the fortune of Hollywood. One night he invited me to the studio to listen to them record their new album. “I remember thinking, she was only 19,” he sang. I turned to his producer. “He wrote that line for you,” he smiled. This was real. This was happening.

A couple of weeks later I flew to Florida to see him on tour. My friend Sarah from USC lived in Miami and was home on summer vacation, so I stayed with her the first couple of nights. (That’s a whole other story unto itself.) We made our way up north a couple of hours to the Hard Rock in Ft. Lauderdale, and spent the night with the boys. The next day we saw them play for an arena full of pre-pubescent girls. The whole experience was surreal, and slightly tragic. Who he’d been, where he was now, the way his career had consumed his entire life and sense of self. For weeks we’d been intimate, sharing details of our lives and our thoughts and worries and joys. But nothing was as revealing as this night, seeing him on stage, and then when he returned to the hotel hours later, drunk, angry. I barely remember how things went down, but lines were crossed, I was a bad friend to Sarah, and we ended up driving back to Miami before the sun rose. The fairy tale was over.

We still dated for a couple of months after that trip, but it was never the same. The end of innocence, as they say. The band went on tour in Europe, and his phone calls became more and more sporadic. Finally, I met someone else and he became “the one.” He was not rich, he was not famous, he was just this funny, charming guy. I turned 20 two weeks later. I was no longer a teenager.

It sometimes feels like my past doesn’t belong to me. Was that really me doing those things, saying those words, having those thoughts? I talk about those early days in LA every so often- the Vegas trips, the boy band. Sometimes it’ll come up casually in conversation. But I experience a strange disconnect from this former self. It’s almost as if these various life stages are occupied by different people- baby Amy, teenage Amy, mid-20s Amy. I saw it in my mom last night too, as we sat in my parked car, listening until the end of the song. She was back in another time, those old dorm days, long before she met my dad, had her career, had children.

It’s amazing what a lost tune can dig up.