Curtain Call, Dear Tori (Tori Amos, Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver, December 13, 2011)
1. Curtain Call
Many musicians can make up beautiful melodies. Another handful can write some thought-provoking lyrics to accompany the sounds they create. Sometimes, profundity can even be captured in a rhyme. Then, there are composers who are true storytellers, whose voices tap into the collective harmonies that we, social beings, are huculamming at a particular time, in particular space. Those of us lucky enough to witness the performances of such creative beings are truly blessed.
And I was so blessed to see Tori Amos perform at the Orpheum a few hours ago, and, just like I will never be quite the same as I was before my Aunt drove the van that contained me and my dear baby, Penelope the cat, off the side of a mountain-highway a month ago, I will never be quite the same as I was before seeing Tori for the third, and most mind-blowing time, on this, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month of the year we are calling twenty-eleven.
Just as worrisome thoughts entered my brain – really? now? - about seeing the little sister who thinks she hates her big sister, and our fast-approaching reunion in a few days when I fly back east to visit for the “holiday season” – Tori answered:
…hey little sister, I wish you didn’t feel that way and oh little sister, glad you came and I said oh little sister, wish you wouldn’t feel that way and oh little sister, glad you came and I said oh little sister…
You’ll forgive me, one day.
I was relieved of any such worries in that moment. Yes, we women can all conjure whatever we like by the dark of the moon and If the “little” one wishes to conjure hate, I cannot change it. But, me, “big sister”, orphan daughter that was almost called Jasmine, but instead called the most popular name that year, 1984, final birth year in which one who was born during those twelve months of Reagan and Bush or Thatcher or Mulrooney is considered a member of “Generation X”. Yes, I try to make excuses for why we are different, why she hates me, why, says my childhood friend who I took to the concert – a girl who has known me since I was seven and who I hadn’t yet seen until tonight though she’s lived in Vancouver for two years and I helped to convince her to move here, or at least tried to convince – t have other things to conjure, I have no time for hate, and, admittedly, I am rather naive when it comes to this feeling humans have linked to the word – hate – I don’t believe I’ve encountered true hatred before, and when and if I do, there better be a damn good reason. As there is only so much time for us to conjure what we may, and though I’ve been ripped-off, raped, victimized, revictimized, betrayed, rudely interrupted and more often completely ignored,and then taken for my last $20 bill by some man who decided he needed that green paper more than the woman whose electricity some other “they” are threatening to cut off, I do not believe I have ever hated.
Call it my fatal flaw. The lady who could not hate. No water can cure me of my deeds.
So, here’s my story of the hundreds that Tori sang of as she played. I bought these tickets to see my favourite singer, excusing them with words about birthday gifts, rewards for getting through, you know: the reasons that are really excuses, the excuses that are really reasons. Well, my favourite singer is in her 50s now, which means she’s outlived Mother, but any show could be her last. The date of her show, circled on my “Call of the Goddess” wall calendar (the illustration for this last of the twelve months we call a year was particularly beautiful), was a goal. The same way that Oaxaca was a goal to a thirteen year-old me. Make it though this, that, the other obligatory hoops to jump through in order to learn how to become, and maintain being, a predictable, productive, placid (not too placid). Tori sang the stories of we, the women of Vancouver, who have all climbed China’s Wall, used up eight of our nine lives, been rescued by a kind taxi driver and molested by a less kind driver offering a ride away from some here and now that we can sense we best escape. Women like myself who have been written off as damaged goods by twenty-five. Women, unlike me, who have kept running for another decade. Women with nothing to lose, as the suitcases we arrived with were stolen by a crooked cabbie named Lennox who offered us an apartment on one of those respectable streets, like Comox, Haro, or Alberni, an offer that she knew and I knew was too good to be true, but having all worldy possessions stolen was somehow a step up from signing into a shelter. We’ve all been pushed too far, we’ve all got some names to throw around when introduced to certain new “friends”, we’ve counted chickens not yet hatched and bet on the horse with the bum-leg because some guy said that’s a lucky bum-leg, the same guy that took me, you, and your sister to the Hotel Vancouver and then left, We, who walk alone by the Ocean. We, who would not ever live elsewhere;
He left me at the Hotel, I met him at a Hotel, at the and I returned, not to meet him, but to write on the mirror in bright red lipstick:
“Look I’m standing naked before you, don’t you want more than my sex?”
A statement that none of these guys ever bothered to read.
Women who know the lines by heart. Women who still look, just in case. Women who know better. Women who cannot sleep, not even at the Hotel Vancouver. Women whose smiles say “survival”, whose frowns say “forget”, whose grins whisper of the groaning, the struggle and the senselessness and the sacrament. Smiles are all we have left to give, so don’t no guy no matter who his cousins are, better not take one for granted.
Smiles might have been free at a McDonald’s in Montana during the Clinton Years, but they sure aren’t up here, especially when it has been wet and dark for weeks and November has yet to pass.
2. Dear Tori,
You saved my life once again. First time was in Montreal, and I was just a kitten. Hadn’t even turned 18 yet, but, as my dear roomie, F. (not “fauna” ) from NYC wrote in a song that she composed – guitar, soft voice, folk sound – “She’s been through, too much. Lost a baby, and a Mother, and she ain’t even eighteen”. I had loved your music for just a couple of years, at that point. I hadn’t even heard From the Choirgirl Hotel, yet, but I would the next summer, just as I learned of Persephone whose profile embedded with a garnet I now wear around my neck, a summer of exorcisms, rekindled childhood flames, thinking and writing and almost-dying, of living – really living, the way only a gal can before the clock strikes “twenty”, of getting lost, found, lost, and cackling at harvest moons in the town where Neil Young was born, my own hometown – Winnipeg. The coldest city when compared with population, on Earth. A strip mall wasteland that has the most beautiful train station in Canada, as before the Great Depression (not mine, the world’s) it was to be “Canada’s Chicago”, “The Gateway to the West”. Instead, the population has never risen past about 600,000, and it is a dangerous place, a racist place, and all racist places are damn dangerous. The city is a near 50/50 split between First Nations peoples and White folks, and people who you would never, in your most cynical daydreams, imagine to be racist, tell unfathomably nauseating jokes about those responsible for settling the place they make their comfortable, contractor-built, electrically heated and – for the three weeks in July during which it is hot – air-conditioned homes in. Can you tell I am not proud of my birthplace? Tori, you had a large hand in one thing – my wish that I had some Native blood in me. You see, from about age 15, my mom dead for two years, and my father so preoccupied with my screaming 7 year-old sister (indeed, the screaming was a constant – I attended your show at the Orpheum with the woman, H., who has known me longer than anyone else – since I was seven – and even she remembers not the girl, but the screaming, the “tears on command”, one skill I am glad not to possess) that where I was, what I was doing, when, why, and who with, was of very little concern. Now that I am twenty-seven, he is trying to compensate for his absenteeism when I really needed him, which is sweet but incredibly annoying. “Preaching to himself…” Indeed.
Anyhow – I spent my nights wandering the streets of downtown Winnipeg, often alone, from fifteen to seventeen. Sometimes I was under the influence of ecstasy or mushrooms, but usually I was sober and trying to figure out who the hell I was, why I was here, and so on. I have yet to answer the questions I asked and still ask, but I was accepted by the Native Canadian peoples of Winnipeg as if I was one of their own. It is for this reason that I laugh when, now living in Vancouver, many Vancouverites tell me that I have “nooooo idea what I’m talking about” when I tell them that I find the Downtown Eastside quite friendly. Oh, the number of times I’ve been told that “down there, you’ll get killed for ten dollars”, “down there, you’ll get killed for five dollars”, “down there, you’ll get killed for a twoonie (two dollar coin)” – apparently, life is becoming cheaper quite quickly, as these statements have been made in chronological order over the past year. In Winnipeg, no one is killed over any sum of money unless it’s between family or “family”. In Winnipeg, people are killed, almost every day, for looking at someone the wrong way, for wearing the wrong colour of bandanna, for standing in front of the wrong bus stop at the wrong time. Life may be cheap on certain corners in downtown Vancouver, but life is meaningless where I’m from. In the city that feels much like I imagine the surface of the moon to feel like, so many white people spend their whole lives walking around the cold desert like living corpses, eyes facing the sidewalk, missing my smile as I walk past, happy only about the money they’ve saved by settling in a city without a heart, snickering at stupid people like me that live in Vancouver despite the – yes – rather insane cost of housing.* Well, I would rather have a very little house in a place where people look you in the eye than a great big one in a place where no one shows their eyes.
*Of course, as to any rule, there are exceptions, and I am happy to call a few of them (the majority? ) dear, dear friends.
Back to Montreal: Scarlet’s Walk tour. I did not expect you to outdo that one at the Orpheum. F. and a couple of other McGill girls came with me, and you played all of my then-favourites: Mother, Space Dog (I had been playing that on repeat for weeks!), Wednesday. After the concert I started making art of my own. Collage art, which I have just started selling online. I wish I had the collage I made after your show – “Emerging” – showing the shadow of a woman ripping through the many layers that made up her days, her obligations, her why-not-coffess. Little monsters in the margins, whispering in her ears during insomniac nights, the statement, in Helvetica: quiet, please. I had a long way to go before there would be any quiet, but after your show I decided against checking myself into a psychiatric ward somewhere in Montreal (this had been a plan in the weeks before, during which I had an abortion and, while still pregnant with my “lover’s” child, was raped by the man I gave this incredibly inappropriate name for the first time. The first time of countless times. When I learned that he also raped H. I did two things: I saw a Tamil Yogic Healer to understand why I had been abused by this “man” and several others, so many times in my short life, and I told H. that she must move to Vancouver, as it was the promised land for women of our kind. I did not see her until I invited her to see your show at the Orpheum.
In between Montreal and Vancouver, I went to Toronto with my little sister (same one that screams, same one that hates me, same one that my parents spent my entire childhood trying to have, making a latchkey kid out of their first daughter, something they swore they would never do, for they had been latchkey kids themselves. They wanted to live vicariously through me. This was their first mistake. I earned the title “Latchkey” when my mom was out somewhere with the screaming child and my key broke in the door – it was that cold – so I sat outside for a full hour waiting for them to return. ”Why didn’t you go to a neighbour’s?!?!” I had no answer then, but now I have several: I had never been to a neighbour’s before, the parents of all the children in my class hated me for getting good marks and being naughty, and I did not want a neighbour who I would have to pretend to be grateful to, I wanted my mom. It was some ridiculous temperature like minus forty-five and to this day the blood stops circulating in my toes in ten degree weather. Yes, I think that was the first damage I did to this body.) and my then boyfriend, whose parent’s house I lived with for a year, to see your American Doll Posse tour. I took him to several concerts that year, and he would always say something like, “music just doesn’t make me feel anything anymore” right before the opening act would come on. What a little shit. Of course, I did his laundry, made his bed, and he never made me cum. My sister made up for his unfortunate presence, that time (he was a rebound relationship, with a capital “R” – I was hospitalized at the end of my relationship with the aforementioned rapist, Josh Neufeld, son of NHL player, Ray Neufeld, and I met this next fellow, “Levon” in the hospital. I could not sleep alone.) and squeezed my hand as you began playing Liquid Diamonds. I squeezed his leg when you started Glory of the 80′s but he did not notice, nor did he remember you playing that song. What a waste of a really good seat at an unforgettable show. He wouldn’t even take a damn photograph with me to remember it by. And little sister, she doesn’t do pictures. However, your show was enough, and I thought of it often during that year, the final year of my bachelor’s degree, the year I became something on paper, gold medal, best thesis, national scholarship – meaningless, really, but on paper, fabulous -the year before I moved to Vancouver, where I promised I would find myself. The year after the year that the voices (“quiet, please” stopped haunting me – that is a story that words cannot do any justice, but this crazy broad thinks the voices were really spirits, spirits that I exorcised when I left a rathole of an apartment that the same boyfriend and I found ourselves in one summer, child-spirits that chanted in their Native tongue, that cried “Daddy!!!” in English, and crowds of adults whose words I could not make out as they kept me awake, night after night, left the only way I knew how, in the back of an ambulance after taking enough Lithium to kill a horse.
Tori, I’ve lived in the city I always wanted to live in for almost three years now, and I have yet to be found. I’ve been addicted to opiates (along with most of the city’s population! ), I’ve been fat and then anorexic, I’ve had a hysterectomy to relieve unbearable pain due to endometriosis and an ectopic pregnancy, I’ve had four addresses and I really like the apartment I call “home” right now, I’ve fallen in love with a man who lost his mind during the last two weeks of a year-long relationship and after sticking it up my ass while I slept (twice) came after me with a jackhammer (he didn’t get me but he sure did a number on our bedroom door/walls), many more men have fallen in love with me – I guess they all want to save someone and I’m rather pretty, I’ve learned that I love gardening and feel much more human when my hands are in soil, I dropped out of my Master’s program because it started to make me hate sociology and we could not have that, I’ve made good friends and better enemies, I’ve started making jewelry that I sell like a gypsy on the main drag in my neighbourhood in the summer, I’ve applied to law school, and I have a baby (cat) called Penelope that loves me no matter how many times I mess up. She has been my reason for living since my aunt drove us off a cliff a month ago (one of my near-death experiences). That messed me up, but not as much as my aunt’s refusal to take any responsibility or even say “I’m sorry”, when I had to climb a near-vertical 100 ft. cliff with a broken rib a few centimetres away from my heart to get her help, as she was pinned in the driver’s seat. Still recovering. But alive!
Yet, I am still the girl that you sing of in “Curtain Call”. Reaching for a little friendly substance, protection, dust – all of it. I never really heard your words: “You’ve climbed, China’s Wall”, before last Tuesday night, but I have now, and I have climbed.
I need to stop. I need to take care of myself. When I do meet myself one of these days, I don’t want to meet a broken person. I’ve made it this far, what’s a little farther? I know it will not get easier, but I know I do not have to make it so damn hard.
So, Tori, as I come to the end of yet another “Pretty Good Year”, I plan to stop running and hiding from myself. I plan to find out why I want to get away from the woman I am, because others find her quite sickeningly loveable, so she cannot be that bad. I plan do the best I can to at all that I undertake. I plan to be a good friend to the good friends I have found. I plan to make it to twenty-eight without any mention of the “27 club”. Above all else, I plan to stop climbing up the walls, for I know what lies beyond: those same beautiful monsters that I said goodbye to long, long ago, the ones that chant and call for daddy.
Next time I see you, Tori, I cannot promise I will be whole, but I can promise that I will be farther along on my journey to becoming whole.
There are so many more important things in life than learning how to die.