Tuesday, March 31, 2009

As Good As It Gets

I don't know what I find more satisfying: doing something totally new for the first time, or getting a do-over of something that went wrong the first time.

I think either way, I'm never really satisfied.

the crowdStevie Nicks made a rare instore appearance tonight at Barnes & Noble Union Square in support of her new live CD and DVD recorded as part of the PBS series Soundstage. I expected the place to be full of drag queens (given my past experience at Night of a Thousand Stevies) but instead, it was full of the same bleach-blonde aging Long Island ladies I usually see at her Jones Beach shows. You might expect goth girls with drapey dresses and scarves, but the uniform is more tight size 12 jeans, black t-shirts, feathered hair, and bedazzled leather purses.

I knew I had to get there early, but as usual I was running late, so I showed up only two hours before the start instead of my planned three. When I got there, I realized people must have started arriving since the store's morning opening, or at least since noon. There were at least a thousand fans in front of me.

So I waited four hours at B&N to meet Stevie tonight (reading Gene Wilder's My French Whore in its entirety), but in truth, I'd been waiting over 10 years. I first spotted Stevie in person when I was an assistant at Atlantic Records, running an errand for my boss which brought me to the elevator bank just as the doors were closing to take Stevie upstairs. She must've been in the office promoting her new Enchanted box set (of which then-intern Michael Goldberg managed to get me an autographed copy, as well as a signed poster). I forget what was so important that I couldn't run up the stairs to follow her immediately, but I remember needing to drop something off on another floor first. By the time I made it to the 28th floor to track her down, she was nowhere to be found (or behind a closed door that a lowly classical assistant could not open).

When I finally got up to the stage tonight at B&N to get my live CD signed (which I had to buy at B&N tonight despite having preordered the CD/DVD combo deluxe edition direct from Warner), I couldn't believe my eyes. I was standing in front of Stevie Nicks. I couldn't get the lithograph I brought signed (they were SO strict!), but it didn't matter. I looked down at her smiling face - which took a break to entertain the waiting audience with a goofy smile and a little wave - and saw kindness and sincerity and love and gratitude and just pure joy. And there was peace. I hope I am so happy when I am 60.

I told her my Atlantic Records story and she said that the box set has been her favorite thing released so far in her career. And then I looked at her longingly, like a high school boy that doesn't know how to end a date.

And then it was over.

When some of the other women got off the stage after getting their autographs, they threw their arms up in the air like they just won a game of bingo, and hooted out a big "Woo!" I held a smile on my face as plastic as the green bag I was holding until I reached the down escalator. And then I burst into tears.

It's hard to wait so long for something and have it be over. And it's so hard to meet someone whose work you've loved for so long. In my year-long search for meaningful connections, such a brief encounter in which I don't even get to tell Stevie Nicks my name is just heartbreaking.

Maybe I'll have another chance for a do-over. Maybe I'll continue my streak consulting for famous musical artists (like my current client Ziggy Marley) and I'll one day get to work directly with her. But how many second chances do you get before you're able to accept the fact that this is as good as it's ever going to get?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It's Britney, Bitch.



First of all, there has got to be a better way to get home from Nassau Coliseum. I get that it's serving a predominantly Long Island-based populace, but when a big star like Britney Spears comes to Uniondale and not to Manhattan, you would think they would schedule an extra bus or two.

Instead, I was standing on Hempstead Turnpike in the cold for over a half hour with 100 other freezing people, waiting for the N72, watching others try to hail cabs that drove by with their top lights on, and backseats full. The ground is surprisingly sandy out there, and when the wind picked up at that big intersection with no buildings to block it, we all got a mouthful of dust. When the bus finally arrived, we managed to all cram in and get dumped out at the Hempstead LIRR station for the 12:17 a.m. train to Flatbush, transferring at Jamaica to arrive into Penn at 1:10 a.m. And then I still had to take the M16 bus home.

I've taken two-hour treks to Long Island for concerts before, but it's usually for a retro act at Jones Beach, and after a Stevie Nicks, Poison, or John Mellencamp show out there, plenty of busses await your embarkment right in the parking lot.

I felt like I spent most of last night waiting for Britney to get onstage. After the nearly two-hour trip to Nassau Coliseum, I arrived (across the street, where the bus drops you off, which is not that close to the gate) at 7:30 and found out that the Pussycat Dolls had cancelled because of illness. For a moment I hoped Britney would just take the stage earlier, but instead was met with circus performers. A guy spinning pottery on his head. Acrobatic tricks with a chihuahua. A lot of slow posing.



The show finally began with an over-the-top intro by Perez Hilton dressed as a queen - the Queen of Hearts? - on a circular video screen that rose to reveal a three-ring circus stage below, and lots more circus performers who lifted Britney onto platforms and out of cages and rolled her from one end of the stage to another in a dizzying tennis match with Britney as the ball.

# of songs lip-synched: all but 2 (unless I'm giving her too much credit for "Everytime" and "Toxic")
most head-scratching moment: an Eyes Wide Shut-style video montage of Britney lip-synching to Marilyn Manson's version of "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)". It got weird after that.
biggest audience response: surprisingly, "Toxic" and "Womanizer," but I think the audience was comprised mostly of young girls and not moms or old ladies like me, so I guess they would be more into her recent hits
most pleasant surprise: the inclusion of "Boys" on the setlist, which was pretty heavily focused on the new album
song I was hoping for but didn't hear: "Stronger," which is totally underrated
favorite moment: Britney's bellydancing remix of "Me Against the Music"



At times, Britney looked amazing, with a dazzling array of costume changes from circus to S&M to glam. She was juicy and half-naked most of the time, butt hanging out of her hot pants and jiggling it all over the stage. But there was something missing in her live performance that you always see in her videos - the spark, the hunger, the grit that makes you want her and want to be like her.

I love Britney but I don't feel like I really saw any part of her last night. She didn't speak besides the occasional "What's up New York?!", and she didn't make me feel anything behind the songs. I don't know if she was feeling anything. Regardless of how frivolous a song like "Baby One More Time" might seem in the scheme of pop music, lyrics like "My loneliness is killing me" really hit you, even if it takes hearing a cover version by Fountains of Wayne for you to realize it. If you don't feel something while you're in the room with the artist, what's the point of being there in person? Unless you think they're singing (or talking) to you?



Or, maybe the point is really the shared experience with all the other audience members, hearing the music boom through the floor up your legs and into your chest, mixed with screams and concrete echoes. Then it's more of a concert-as-nightclub experience, especially if you're used to going places like Webster Hall that include aerial artists and facepainting and fireeaters with the price of admission. Then again, admission to those places aren't $150.

Britney's Circus was a spectacle for the sake of spectators, with moving set pieces and props and themed tricks (like ninja dancers and samurai warriors), but unlike similarly grandiose tours by Madonna, there didn't seem to be any message behind it, besides "Look at me." Maybe that's Britney's problem.

If you love the circus, go see Big Apple Circus (a special guest last night) or Cirque du Soleil or go hang out at Spiegeltent this summer. If you love Britney like I do, you never know when this might be your last chance to see her live, so you might as well go.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Keep It Moving

I took a cab to Bleecker and MacDougal on Friday afternoon to meet Sebouh for drinks at our old happy hour haunt, 1849. If I could manage my time better, I could have taken the bus or even walked, but once again, it was back to the cab. When I worked in that neighborhood, I would end up taking a cab over there almost every day.

Because I know the route that cabs usually take to that part of Greenwich Village, when this cab driver started to weave his way over to Irving Place and down Park Avenue and then turned right off Broadway towards Mercer, north of Washington Square Park, I asked him, "Uh, which way are you going?"

He got defensive as most cab drivers do, and started shouting "I am taking Fifth Avenue! Second Avenue was blocked! Third Avenue was blocked! I am trying to keep moving!"

Instead of yelling back at him, which I'm generally apt to do, I told him I wasn't doubting him and was just curious to see how he was taking me there, because it was a new way. Again, he said, "I am just trying to keep moving!"

When we got to Fifth Avenue, he said, "See? Fifth Avenue is clear" and we sailed through green light after green light. I sat back and said, "I guess that's true in life too, huh? As long as you're moving forward..."

His demeanor turned, and I could hear him smiling as he said, "Yesss! Exactly!"

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Four-Fifths of Fleetwood Mac and then some...

I first saw Fleetwood Mac in concert at the Finger Lakes Performing Arts Center in 1995. They were playing some kind of 80s revival concert with Pat Benatar and REO Speedwagon, and Liz Green offered to get tickets and drive us from Syracuse on a breezy summer night. I had just been asked by my first boyfriend Seth if I wanted to make it official. I ran to Liz's waiting car and gave her the news, and she clasped her hands together and said, "Oh, Sandi!"

We arrived a little late into Pat Benatar's performance, which is really too bad because I was a huge fan as a kid, but as a college student it didn't seem to matter too much. We had lawn seats, which is the thing to do in those places, but you can't really see anything, and the music dissipates into the open air night, tickling your ears as it floats on by...

During that tour, Fleetwood Mac was barely recognizable. They were touring without Stevie Nicks or Lindsey Buckingham, left with a couple no-name replacements, a wacked-out Mick Fleetwood, a mute John McVie, and a hushed Christine McVie. I can't even remember the concert, it was so unremarkable. I remember better the young girls that were running up on stage to attack REO lead singer Kevin Cronin and thinking, "There's no way that's real. They must be plants."

I've been lucky enough to see Stevie Nicks in concert several times in New York, touring with Tom Petty, Don Henley, Chris Isaak...And also lucky for me, she usually throws in some of her Fleetwood Mac hits like "Gold Dust Woman" and "Rhiannon," so I've managed a taste of the real thing live.

This week Edith and I took ourselves out to MSG for a mostly-reunited Fleetwood Mac, this time only missing Christine McVie. Somehow I missed their big reunion tour, "The Dance," when they were all back together. I'm always missing something.

But we got a lot out of this concert:
  • Stevie's solo career backup singers!
  • A synth-tastic rendition of "Stand Back"!
  • Lindsey's solo hit "Go Insane"!
  • Stevie singing Christine's lead vocals on "Say You Love Me"!
  • The story behind the song "Gypsy"!
  • An encore of "Silver Springs"! (a B-side off Rumors)

Fleetwood Mac has a really big, full sound, and even though I could have done without Buckingham's histrionics and Mick's googly-eyed drum solos, it was a rockin' good time.

What more could I have asked for? Well, besides a Buckingham/Nicks song...

Thursday, March 19 - Madison Square Garden

For tickets to the rest of Fleetwood Mac's "Unleashed Hits" 2009 Tour, click here.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Long, Hard Look at Myself

I avoid mirrors at the gym, which isn't easy to do.

In my urban rebounding class, I've found a spot to set up my trampoline where I'm in front of a glass door instead of the mirrors that line the walls. Still, I can see the reflection of me jumping up and down on the mirrored wall of the gym outside the class studio, but at least the image is smaller and behind a boxing bag.

In Masala Bhangra class, I focus my gaze on my teacher while we're learning the moves, and do everything I can to avert my eyes from the mirror right in front of me while we perform the dance.

It's not that I hate how I look, though watching my boobs smack me in the face isn't an image I'd like to watch repeatedly. It's just that sometimes, you have to not focus on how you look if you want to get something done.

I had to get new headshots taken to support my recent TV work and my future aspirations for more hosting/spokesperson gigs, for which attending to my looks is absolutely imperative. And for professional photos, you have to micromanage every element of your appearance, from brows to lashes to teeth to hair color to nails and everything in between. As much as you prepare, obsess, magnify, tweeze, and bleach, when you actually see the photos, you're not going to be happy, no matter what you do.

Fortunately, that's what retouchers are for - to create magazine-quality skintone and to make you look younger and more beautiful than you'll ever actually be. As long as you're not shy about pointing out to them all of your imperfections that you want erased.

The whole process is stressful. I arrived at Melissa's photo studio and was immediately put into hair rollers and pounds of hair product despite the blowout I'd gotten the night before. The phone kept ringing and the photog kept gossipping with the hair/makeup guy, whose breath smelled like the stale deli coffee he kept sipping in between brushstrokes. I tried to put on my pewter strappy sandals that make me feel sassy, and Melissa asked me to take them off so I wouldn't scratch the wood floor. She sneered at all my outfits even though I asked her specifically ahead of time for wardrobe advice so I would bring the right stuff.

They both kept asking me, "Does your hair get any fuller than that?"

I've directed a lot of photo shoots as a music marketer and I know how they're supposed to go. This was going so poorly, I was nearly in tears as the makeup artist pinched my eyelid in the lash curler contraption that made me recall A Clockwork Orange. But I was only paying $400 for the session, and since I know you get what you pay for, I didn't insist that they change the music to something I liked. But they should have offered.

As stressed as I was, I had to try very hard to look natural. And breathe.

Despite the initial discomfort and lack of bedside manner of Melissa and her staff, I was actually pretty happy with how the shoot went, getting a peek at some of the shots on Melissa's camera screen along the way. But then again, everything looks better as a thumbnail.

I don't think people should be given the chance to look at high-res photos of themselves, blown up on a computer screen. It's not a good idea for me to be able to zoom into my nostrils and tear ducts. It just makes me feel bad about every little detail. I wanted the retoucher to airbrush my face out of the photos, just leaving behind my shiny, windswept hair and striking blue sweater. I started to understand the compulsion for plastic surgery and other cosmetic procedures that take the personality right out of your face.

For me, though, it's better to leave them a little more natural-looking. I'm no romantic lead. I'm the quirky, smart girl. As long as a couple of my headshots show that, and get me some work, then it's well worth the four hundred smackaroos, and the eye-welling frustration I felt for two hours.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Was (Almost Was)

I was just on the phone with Don Was. Almost.

It was actually his wife, who's working as a video editor on the Ziggy Marley project I'm working on. But I could hear Don speaking to her in the background, saying things like "Ask her this" or "Tell her that."

Most people would know Don from his novelty song, "Walk the Dinosaur," performed by his 80s band Was (Not Was) with vocals by Sweet Pea Atkinson. I always preferred "Spy In the House of Love."

I love my new consulting gig. It's opening up a whole new world to me. And when the label is the artist, and an artist that comes from such a legacy, you can actually feel good about working in the music industry.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Easy to Be Hard

I was procrastinating for the last few days. I told myself I was too busy to take on my freelance writing assignment just yet, but in truth, I was doing everything but that. I thought it would take me forever, so I did the easy stuff first.

My old boss Michael Krumper once said to me that one of the biggest things he'd learned from one of his old bosses was to make the difficult calls first. In my life, I find the hard stuff takes so long that you end up spending most of your life struggling and then regretting all the things you didn't get to. In high school, I paid attention during SAT prep classes when they told me to answer all the easy questions first, and then to go back to the harder work. I've applied that principle to almost everything in my life.

Maybe that's what makes me the busiest unemployed person you've ever met. The hardest thing is actually finding the right job. You can easily fill your time with everything else.

When I actually got down to my writing assignment today, it was a snap. I have plenty of time tonight and tomorrow to goof off before getting serious again on Monday.

So the next time I start to ask the question, "Why does everything have to be so hard?", I'm going to stop myself to make a slight edit, and ask rather, "Why does everything have to seem so hard?" I think things become easier over time. The more time you have to think about a problem, the more prepared you are to solve it. The more time I waste before writing a press release, the more I already have it basically written in my head when I go to type it out.

Let the problems melt and soften in the sun, get a little mushed up and more readily chewed. In the meantime, I've got a bunch of easy stuff to do.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Snow Day!

I've been lucky enough to keep myself really busy while unemployed with trips and activities that were paid for last year while I still had a job.

Edith, Michelle and I were supposed to go snowtubing in January, but our trip was cancelled at the last minute because of...a snowstorm. And since Adventure Society does not issue refunds, we rebooked the same trip at a later date, refusing to give up on our hopes for a grown-up snow day.

This time around, we had the opposite problem: the local forecast temperature was right on the cusp between freezing and thawing, and overnight precipitation could have melted what snow was on the ground. Given my displeasure with the record snowfall in London in January, I knew this would be the only time I hoped for snow all year.

With Adventure Society, you never actually know where you're going. They provide a van and a driver and they take you to a secret location for all sorts of outdoorsy activities, usually Upstate or out in the Poconos (like our snowmobiling trip last year). So we really didn't know what we were getting into until, well, we got there.

The van brought us to the Frost Valley YMCA, on the western/southern tier of the Catskill Mountains, where creeks are called rivers and where sap flows freely from trees for birds to sip. Maple syrup is big up there, as are the hills you climb during a snowshoe hike. There was plenty of snow on the ground upon our arrival, though a bit iced-over from what we assumed was a light rainfall the night before. The ground was blinding white and our shadows long and dark, forcing us to squint into a permanent smile that we felt until we headed home.

I'm not much of a hiker - more of a meanderer - but my legs felt stronger than ever, climbing steep and deep snow hills and teetering on the precipice of a river bank. The snowshoes weren't big tennis racquets like I imagined Pa strapping to his feet in The Long Winter, but they did increase the surface area of our footprints enough to keep us from sinking - mostly - into knee-deep snow. The biggest problem was one foot stepping on the other's snowshoe. That caused each of us to fall at least once. But my spirit was as buoyant as the Salton Sea and I had no problem getting back up and treading onwards and upwards.

After a very camp-like cafeteria lunch (where I fought 8 year old girls for a slice of sheet pizza, and a young teen boy taught me how to use the hot chocolate machine), we embarked on a slightly more exciting adventure, and the activity that particularly lured me: snowtubing. Sure, there's no gas-run motor to rev with the squeeze of the throttle, but those aerodynamic little rubber orbs go fast, and I screamed louder than I ever did on a snowmobile. Lucky for me, this time there were no creeks to crash into.

In a snowtube, your butt sinks down into the center hole, hoisting your legs up in the air (if they're short like mine). At the top of the hill, you keep repeating silently to yourself, "Please don't let me go backwards..." but once you're pushed down the bumpy slope, gathering speed as you go, you can't settle for just facing fowards. With a slight tug on one handle, you can pretty quickly whirl yourself around into a dizzying spin before you reach the bottom, and twirl yourself like a teacup for maximum effect. Otherwise, the breathless trudge back up to the top to return your tube just isn't worth it. We made sure our three trips back up that hill were damn worth it.

It was a strange physical and mental adjustment for me to once again embrace winter, having thrived so recently trips to Joshua Tree and LA. But as an adult, you have so few opportunities to play, something that's so rejuvenating to body and to spirit. In New York City, if getting to play means driving two and a half hours upstate with red cheeks and freezing toes, so be it. It was a great workout, a thrilling adventure, and a nice opportunity to recapture some child-like glee in a day off in the snow.

My current state of unemployment will soon limit my activities that cost money, but I'm sure I'll continue to entertain myself in weird and wacky ways. Someone said to me last week, "Sandi, you realize you have a very interesting life and do a lot of unusual things, right?" and I replied, "Yeah, but it's never enough...."

For more photos, click here.