Thanks to a wonderful friend, I was able to go to the Venice Christmas Concert last night in Santa Monica.
Now as a “nice jewish girl” Christmas carols don’t mean a whole lot to me, but Venice shows are just magical and the Christmas music is no exception. Venice just released a new double album (you can order it here) so the show was a mix of old favorites, new songs, and of course holiday tunes. Here are a few of my favorites:
Cool Me Down (with a holiday twist!)
(This is the song with lyrics I have tattooed on my wrist.)
Bad Timing Song (also with a holiday twist!)
Winter Wonderland (with a special Venice twist to the lyrics!)
An awesome tribute to Virginia Lennon who works so hard to make these concerts happen!
Blue Christmas (It’s Elvis!) (NSFW, hysterical lyrics.)
I put all these Venice posts into the “Reviews and Recommendations” category because I love them and I think you will love them too. If you enjoyed these videos, check out some more of their music. Maybe you’ll find an album or two that you love… Click on the photo below to go to their website.
Thanks to my my habit of rambling on about my life in a written form I know exactly when I first listened to Christopher Dallman.
From an entry dated 10/21/09:
This morning on the drive to work I became a little bit instantly obsessed with some of the lyrics in this song…
I’m not sure when I first heard his name though. I know he had been recommended to me more than once, I know he had been recommended to me by different people, and I know that the various people recommending him were all people whose musical tastes I trusted. I’m not sure who posted a link to buy his album, but at some point probably a month before that post I was buying some CDs from a website (physical CDs, remember those?) and sort of on a whim added Chris Dallman’s CD to my virtual shopping cart. I remember thinking that I should probably listen to some samples before spending money, and I remember laughing at myself for being too lazy and deciding to just buy the thing. (I rarely did this by the way, but it seemed like a pretty safe bet at the time.) I know that the CDs came in the mail and I immediately listened to whatever I had been all excited about ordering. I tossed Chris’s CD in my car, the inevitability of Los Angeles traffic making it a good place to listen to new music. I’m not sure how long the CD sat in my car before the morning I put it in the CD player. I listened to the first 30 seconds or so of each song before skipping to the next track, just so I could get a feel for what I was in for. (The musical equivalent of reading the last chapter before starting a new book. Something I do with music, but not books oddly enough.) Track 8. Over My Head. I couldn’t bring myself to hit the ‘next’ button. The song grabbed me instantly, it felt like the lyrics were speaking directly to me.
My favorite line in the song:
learning to live is so simple
but simple ain’t easy
and easy ain’t worth your time
I should be fearless
but still now I fear this
I keep looking down while I climb.
I’m not a bad driver normally, but I know I started swerving into another lane because I was so overcome by the beauty of what I was hearing and not paying attention to my surroundings. (I snapped out of that very quickly!) I spent the rest of the drive into work listening to Over My Head on repeat. I spent the next few weeks listening to the album on repeat. (Which sort of implies that I’ve stopped listening to it often. Not true at all, now I just mix it up with the rest of my favorites.) I discovered Chris was active on social media and we pretty quickly struck up a ‘twitter friendship.’
It feels strange to use the word ‘friendship’ in this context, but I don’t know how else to describe it. We chatted online. We weren’t the kind of friends who called each other when we were bored or hung out with each other in real life, but chatting regularly about our lives (albeit in a superficial kind of way) did bring some kind of familiarity to the situation. Maybe I was alone in this, but it certainly felt like Chris was a friend.
It was a gig in early November of 2009 when I first met Chris in person. I know it was a gig he did at Genghis Cohen, but somehow I didn’t journal/blog/post about it so I don’t have a lot to refer back to. It was around the release of the ‘Sad Britney’ CD (a collection of Britney Spears covers, each with Chris’s particular twist.) I remember he was surrounded as soon as he left the stage with what were obviously friends. Feeling shy, I decided not to push my way through the crowd to introduce myself, but no way was I leaving without buying the new CD. Unfortunately there seemed to be no ‘merch’ table so I had to wait until it was possible to grab Chris’s attention. Finally a small break in the crowd and I asked to buy a CD. I might have told him how much I enjoyed the set, but I didn’t introduce myself and I didn’t let him know I was one of the people he’d been interacting with online. While getting me change, Chris paused, looked me, then asked “are you bdbdb?” (My twitter name.) I was shocked he remembered my “name,” much less cared about meeting a twitter follower when so much else was going on around him at that moment. Chris smiled so brightly when I said yes. It wasn’t just me feeling this internet friendship-but-not-really-a-friendship-thing.
A sort of pattern developed where Chris would play a gig, I would bootleg the gig, Chris would pretend he didn’t know I was breaking the rules, and I would share the video files with him when I was done. On more than one occasion he even posted my videos online.
I love the music Chris makes. I think he’s got an amazing voice and is a skilled musician, but I think those two skills pale in comparison to his talent as a lyricist. I tend to collect phrases, lyrics, quotes, etc. the way some people collect stamps or spoons, and song after song I heard words that really touched me.
From Count the Shadows:
How do you measure
The difference between
The way you play and the hand you’re dealt
I must confess that
Every single day
I want to leave my cards face down on the felt
I think those are some very powerful words and ideas. Just like my tattoos, those words speak to me on a very deep and personal level. I’m out of wrists to tattoo (I should have been an octopus!) but I did come across someone who makes bracelets with sayings on them, and was very happy to make me one with song lyrics.
December of 2009: I was between jobs, but even if I had been working I wasn’t at the point where my employment came with health insurance. (Long detailed explanation, has to do with the nature of the entertainment industry and being able to join the union.) I wasn’t eligible for any government assistance with my medication. The pharmaceutical company itself had a program to help low income patients, but I wasn’t eligible for that either because when I did work I made too much money. (Yeah, it makes no sense, I know. But that’s the way it is.) The medication I was going to have to stop taking was a very expensive MS drug that is supposed to slow down the progression of the disease. But it wasn’t a ‘life-saving drug.’ By this I mean I wouldn’t die if I stopped taking it, and therefore there was not a lot of places to turn for help. I was very frustrated and posted something on twitter to that effect. Chris almost instantly replied with “how much do we need to raise?” We. The implication in that one little word was kind of astounding. We. You’re not alone. We. We’re all in this together.
Chris came up with the idea of holding a benefit concert. He recruited his friends Keeley Valentino, Syd, and George Stanford to volunteer to perform. A venue was secured, and the concert was announced on his website and social media. I don’t know how much time and effort Chris put into making this all happen, but I know it had to have been significant.
People who couldn’t come to the concert wanted to donate something. People I never would have thought of asking for help. People I knew didn’t have a whole lot of disposable income. People I knew only casually. People I didn’t know at all. So many people all came together to help me. I can’t even write about it without getting teary-eyed at the outpouring of love I was the subject of. All of those donations, large and small, added up to right around the target number even before the concert happened. The concert itself was indescribable. The music was beautiful, the room was full of smiling people, and my only worry was that I wouldn’t be able to get to everyone who came out to personally thank them. I felt so, so loved that night. It is an an experience I will treasure forever.
Chris posted on his website after the benefit:
I don’t know if I can really put this experience into words in a way that will explain what was happening in my head around then. I knew I needed money for medication, but there was something else I really needed, I just wasn’t aware of it at the time. Being told repeatedly by different organizations and agencies that they just couldn’t help you starts to take its toll after a while. Especially when they each refer you to the other to apply for help, in some sort of never-ending cycle of rejection. You start to feel that you are alone. You are powerless. There is nothing you can do. No one really cares. (People at these places would try to be helpful, it wasn’t as if they were mean or uncaring, but I was told to sell property or borrow money from family or any number of other things that were not an option for me.) You become a little resigned to the fact that you can only depend on yourself, if you can’t provide something for yourself (like medication) then you are just expected to go without… I’ve called Chris my ‘guardian angel’ on more than one occasion, but it wasn’t just the concert and money and medicine that I meant when I said that. Chris taught me that other people (people who barely know me) could be caring and giving. That sometimes I can ask for help when I need it. That no one is powerless when they are surrounded by good people. That I am not alone. It’s something so small, but so incredibly huge at the same time. That knowledge will improve my life every single day from now until I die.
I sent Chris a thank you email. I gave him a thank you card. I thanked him in person. I don’t think even once was I able to articulate just how much his actions mean to me.
Life continued to happen, as it does. Chris released new music which I loved. We stayed “twitter friends” and said hi at shows. As my disease has progressed I venture out into the world less and less, which makes the things I surround myself with more and more important. Chris’s beautiful music continues to be an ongoing presence in my life and source of joy.
At the end of May, 2013 Chris played his “farewell” concert at Room 5 in Los Angeles. It had been a while since I’d seen Chris perform live so I was excited, but sad at the same time. Chris (and Josh) deserve every bit of happiness in life and if this move will bring them closer to that, well, I support them a zillion percent. At the same time I’m selfish and I want to have a zillion opportunities to enjoy his music live in front of me. (Yes, I know I’m coming dangerously close to reducing a talented artist to “dance monkey, dance!” Sorry.)
Arrangements were made. Tickets were purchased. Friends provided transportation, and sat with me in Room 5 for hours before the show since that was the only way to ensure I had a seat. (Room 5 is one of many places that has told me they don’t do anything to accommodate people with disibilites and I was on my own, but that’s a rant for a different post.) I warned my friends I might get all emotional and embarrassing during the show, but they chose to be seen with me in public anyway. I held it together pretty well, making every effort to be present in the moment and fully enjoy the experience. Until Chris started singing Over My Head, that is. It was just too “full-circle” or something for me, and I pretty much cried through the entire song. I probably got a few strange looks.
And then it was over. We made our way out of the room and I hugged Chris goodbye. Just like the first meeting he was surrounded by friends wanting to celebrate with him.
It’s not as if I’ll never hear his music again. It’s not as if we will stop tweeting or facebooking or social media-ing. Really nothing has changed other than the lack of live concerts. (And I have an extensive library of bootlegs I can listen to when I’m missing that.) But I left that night determined to let Chris know what his presence in my life has meant to me, what a gift he has been. This post is my attempt. I hope I was successful.
Saturday night I was privileged to be in the audience at The Lennon Family Concert, an annual fundraiser in Santa Monica, CA. Officially the line up was The Lennon Sisters, Venice, The Lennon Brothers & Gail Lennon, The Lennon-Cathcart Trio, Ted Lennon, Tim Lennon, and Charlie Vaughn. Unofficially the lineup was somewhat more… flexable. I’m sure the amount of organization it took to pull off a night like we experienced was staggering, but it didn’t feel organized at all. If felt like the Lennon family invited some people (the audience) over to visit, and members of this uber-talented family wandered in and out of the room (on and off the stage) in various combinations all while singing, playing an instrument, or both.
(Yes, Venice is the band whose lyrics are tattooed on my wrist. Yes, The Lennon Sisters I’m talking about are the same Lennon Sisters from The Lawrence Welk Show.)
Our seats were in the very last row so pictures are a little blurry and videos are shaky and often interrupted by audience member’s heads, but I think they will give you a little peek of what I experienced. I hope you enjoy them!
The opening number from the show will sort of give you an idea of the family atmostphere up on stage.
Venice performed some old favorites, and one new song. (I’m not putting the new song online, but it is out there if you search.)
If I Were You
One Quiet Day
All 6 of the Lennon girls took the stage together performing The Heather on the Hill from Brigadoon.
Then it was the boy’s turn.
Finally all 11 siblings took the stage together.
The grand finale had I-don’t-even-know-how-many Lennons on stage singing the Venice song Family Tree. Appropriate and beautiful.
These are just some of the high-lights, there were so many wonderful performances throughout the night. I remember years back when some band members were welcoming children, last night a few of those children took the stage and showed they are as talented as the rest of their family. It was a truly magical night!
Today the Pine Mountain Logs (Venice’s “alter ego” band) performed a free, outdoor concert in Playa Vista. I’ve been to these concerts in past years, they have always been a great time. I love the music, and the crowd is enthusiastic without being obnoxious. (Pretty much the opposite of a bar or club crowd!) People dance and sing along, kids run around dancing and playing, and you are more likely than not to make friends with people on blankets around you. It’s pretty much my ideal concert experience.
Every time I post about Venice I link back to the audio clips on their website, hoping you’ll give them a listen if you aren’t familiar with them. They’ve been my favorite band for many, many years. (The lyrics I have tattooed on my wrist are from a Venice song.) The Pine Mountain Logs are nearly the same line up as Venice, but they perform covers.
Here is a cell phone video I took of Brown Eyed Girl to give you an idea of what the Logs are all about…
(I didn’t intend to ignore Dann Gillen on drums, it was just impossible to get a photo of him from where I was sitting. Sorry Dann!)
When you were younger did you ever write on your hands or arms? It probably tended to be something so important that it could not be allowed to be forgotten. A classmate you had a crush on finally gave you their phone number, or a homework assignment that had to be turned in. Or did you ever doodle on your binder in school or the inside-out grocery store paper bag covering a textbook? (Do not tell me if you doodled on the book itself, I don’t want to know that about you.) “I heart [insert name here]” or “JK + GC TLA.” (Jennifer Kaplan + George Clooney True Love Always, in case you don’t know the lingo…) Something that was just so true that it had to have a physical presence in the world. It didn’t matter that a few weeks later [insert name here] would be replaced with a new name. At the time the strength of your passionate young emotions made this statement the most important thing in the whole world.
Well, it’s sort of the same thing with my tattoos. I enjoy well-done tattoos and I like people who have and appreciate them. It is art that you love so much you have it marked permanently so you can carry it with you forever. I’m not against getting a tattoo on my shoulder or back or ankle, a picture or symbol that I love enough to make permanent, but my tattoos are on my wrists. I need to get a million glimpses of them throughout the day. I need to be constantly seeing them, even if only subconsciously. It’s not really any different than writing a reminder about math homework on my arm or writing something true on my binder. Did I say sort of the same, I meant exactly the same. My tattoos are things that I know to be true, but I need to work at remembering.
From a journal entry dated July, 2008:
I’ve been wanting a tattoo for somewhere around 10 years now, but I could never decide what I wanted and where I wanted it at the same time. Well, the last two or so years I’ve known exactly what I wanted and where, but for some reason I’ve been dragging my feet and never got it done. This morning while I was zoning out at work a new tattoo popped into my head. It’s not something I was really considering, design or location wise, but it just feels SO DAMN PERFECT and all of a sudden I find that I can’t wait to get it. I know the responsible thing would be to wait and make sure this is really what I want, but I think I’m just going to say what the hell and do it this weekend.
I actually ended up researching local tattoo places at work that day and getting the tattoo later that night. It’s the most impulsive thing I have ever done, I think. Nothing has ever felt so right.
It says “I love you because I know no other way.” It is a line from a Pablo Neruda poem:
I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way
than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.
It has a deep meaning to me. First of all I love the poem, but there are a lot of poems I love and wouldn’t necessarily tattoo on my body… I love that line in particular because it speaks to me about the nature of love. There have been people in my life that I loved who caused me pain again and again. At one time I spent a lot of energy either beating myself up for loving them or trying not to love them at all. It became this weight I was dragging around, something I knew I needed to “fix” but didn’t quite know how. It was quite freeing when I finally learned that I can love someone and not allow them in my life. I can love someone and not allow their toxicity to pollute me. I can love someone without giving them control over how I am treated. I can love someone freely with my whole heart, my love not lacking in any way, and still choose what is best for me.
There are people who, for whatever reason, genuinely love me but cannot participate in a healthy relationship with me. Instead beating myself up for things I cannot control, or feeling that my emotions were somehow “wrong,” I can look at the situation with a whole new perspective. I can let go and move on. It may or may not be what Pablo Neruda intended to say, but it is what I hear, it is what that passage means to me.
Now this all sounds great, I learned something and now it is ‘known’ and life will be all cotton candy and unicorns, right? Well, not so much… Maybe other people are better at this than I am, maybe they can learn lessons like these and, like a light switch that is been turned on and they can now see. With me it’s less of a light switch and more of a skill set that must be practiced. Kind of a ‘use it or lose it’ situation. Sometimes I need to take a deep breath and remind myself that it’s okay to look out for my own needs. It’s okay to surround myself with people who don’t expect me to prove my love for them in painful ways. Nothing about my feelings are “broken” or “wrong.” In the moments that I’m struggling with that, all I have to do is look down and there it is written on my wrist. A reminder I take with me wherever I go.
Fast forward to September 2009. I knew I wanted to get a second tattoo. Just like the first time I was carefully considering many things, even made a few decisions, but nothing felt right the way the Neruda quote did. I knew what I wanted this one to express, but not what I wanted it to say. I actually spent a few months looking up quotes online by subject, finding a lot of things I liked, a few things I loved, but never the one thing that I knew I would know when I saw it.
If you know me in real life you know that I have loved the band Venice for a very long time. I can’t even count how many times I have seen them in concert. Their songs are buried so deep in my brain that I’m not always aware of when I’m singing along with every line and getting every word right. (Let’s not discuss singing the notes correctly, that is something I’ll never be able to get right!)
I was at a Venice concert with a friend; we were sitting in the back instead of dancing at the front of the stage like usual… The band started playing an old favorite of mine, but it was like hearing it for the first time. My shiny new perspective changes things around me even when I’m not aware of it. Sometimes even I am surprised.
Here are the lyrics to the song Cool Me Down by Venice:
You say you wanna get away
Feel the sun on your back
Forget the race Just get off the track
Well that’s alright…
‘Cause I feel that way too
Yeah, I’ve been there before
You don’t have to go far
To lose what you do
And find who you are
Yeah that’s alright…
Start livin’ the good life
Just wanna feel right
And it’s cool coming down
Cool coming down
This is the real life
Forget the headlines
And it’s cool all around
Cool you down, cool me down
So now you got it in your head
But you’re wondering why
You’re still so afraid
Well that’s part of the high
Yeah that’s alright…
Losing the war in the battle somehow
Look for yourself in the here and the now
The love of our lives can escape us it seems
Where is the life that we live in our dreams?
There are so many beautiful lines in that song, “you don’t have to go far / to lose what you do / and find who you are” is probably my favorite line in the song. The lyric that grabbed me so abruptly though, was “look for yourself in the here and the now.” It was expressing exactly what I had been scouring the net looking at all those other quotes in hopes of finding. I remember stopping. Stopping singing, stopping “chair-dancing,” just stopping everything. I remember turning to my friend and telling her “That’s my new tattoo.” In a flash I knew, it just felt right, the same way my first tattoo had felt.
I didn’t get the second tattoo as quickly as I had gotten the first one, the font and placement had to be perfect and I wasn’t satisfied until I found the magic combination. It was early October when I finally sat down in the tattoo artist’s chair.
I call this one my “diagnosis tattoo” because the way the first tattoo was a direct result of growth due to a bad relationship, this one was a direct result of growth due to my diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. In many ways finally getting the MS diagnosis was a relief, but that’s a topic for a different post. The other thing my diagnosis did was really kick the-obsessing-over-the-future up a notch. I’ve always been a worrier. I can worry about anything. If you gave me a free mansion I could live in the rest of my life, I’d immediately start worrying about who was going to clean it and how I was going to pay the gardeners. It’s just a thing I do, I go to the worst-case-scenario in my head first thing and start trying to figure out how to deal with it. It makes me a great person to have around in case of an emergency, but it’s not conducive to happiness or calmness. It’s something I’ve known about myself for a long time. It’s something that can bring enormous positives to certain situations, I’m not saying it is a bad thing. I’m usually the most organized person in the room because of all the preparation I do trying to make sure things don’t go wrong, but it’s something I have to work to keep in check.
Take a person who can’t stop worrying about things, tell them that they have a degenerative disease with no cure, then stand back and watch the implosion, it’s going to be impressive! Every person is different so every reaction is different, but in general there are only two directions to go, positive or negative. In researching MS I learned that a significant number of MS related suicides occur in the first year after diagnosis, presumably by people who are not yet experiencing any major quality-of-life issues. I’m no mental health expert, but I think those are people who are so focused on what might be coming down the line that they are trapped in a sort of cycle of despair they can’t get out of. As a worrier I totally understand that, but my instinctual reaction was sort of to take it in the opposite direction.
Barring any miracle cures or revolutionary new treatments, MS doesn’t get better. The attacks often resolve themselves, yes, but it is a disease of cumulative damage. Think of coastal erosion, and think of a hurricane. When the hurricane passes things can get back to normal, but MS is still “eroding the coastline” by taking away the body’s function a small piece at a time. Over the years it adds up. I am now in a phase of the disease where I have a significant amount of damage that isn’t going to go away. It would be so easy to focus on that and obsess about what I will do when things get worse. I’m not going to lie, there are times when I still lay in bed and my brain spins ’round and ’round with possibilities, each one worse than the last, but those moments are few and far between.
Mostly I look at it this way: my disease is just going to get worse. No matter how bad I feel today or how frustrating my level of disability, some day down the line I am going to look back on today and consider it the “good ‘ole days.” In the future I am not going to be able to do some of the things I can do today; it’s a fact. When that day comes, do I want to look back on today and regret that I wasted my time worrying and being unhappy, or do I want to look back and smile at how I enjoyed every minute as much as I could? It’s the same way that I can look back now and smile at the memory of dancing in the front row of a concert. I can’t dance in the front row anymore, but those memories still make me happy.
I know you’ve probably heard “live for today” or “one day at a time” in one form or another many, many times. It’s one thing to hear it and say “yeah, yeah, sure, whatever.” It’s another thing to really know it in your head and your heart. Well, I know it now. My life is far from perfect, a few less challenges in life would certainly be welcomed, but if I stop and look around, really take in “the here and the now” my life is pretty damn good. I have things I am passionate about, I have so many wonderful people in my life, and even though my body doesn’t always do what I want it to do, I can still go walk up the block on a beautiful day and appreciate what I see. And on the days I’m having a little trouble remembering that, I only have to look down, I have a reminder written on my wrist.
When I got my tattoos the tattoo artist (same person both times) wanted to make sure I understood that I was getting them upside down. I would easily read them, but other people would have a hard time. That’s ok, I told him. I got them to make myself happy. If you happen to think they are cool, I will smile and say thank you. If you don’t understand or like them, I’ll tell you that’s okay, tattoos are not for everybody. But the fact is that neither scenario makes a difference to me, my tattoos are for me and me alone. I can honestly say that I love them even more now than when I first got each of them.
They are my reminders. They are the lessons that are so important to me, I need them to have a physical presence. They are my tattoos.