adventure: Camden, NJ

I have been running from my words.

A rush of syllables and phrases typically finds me immediately after an adventure, sweeping me up into a frenzy of movement. Pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. I am merely an instrument to what is trying to manifest itself. Though I felt the tug, this time, I resisted being taken under.

It felt laborious. It felt like obligation. It felt like a chore. Could it be because I knew I had a captive audience waiting for me and I felt pressure to fulfill said impulse? Truthfully, I believe it is because writing requires action. And at the time, I barely felt the will to move.

This catatonic state of numbness had been with me for about a month. I know how to continue on through the motions but this low had me at my wits end. The only phrase that seemed to sum up how I felt was "I'm done." I wanted the world to stop. I wanted the throbbing head pain, the hunger, the worry, the "I give 500% and you give 10% but we're still cool, right?" to just stop. I ached for the days when I would numb myself with smoking and drinking. I wanted to disappear but knew that I couldn't. Not because I cared, but because others did. And though that obligation to others can't persist as a will to carry on, it was enough to get me by.

I seemed to have foreshadowed this emotional state by purchasing a ticket to the Mars gig in Camden after I bought my ticket for the Hollywood Bowl. Something told me I would need a show for me. Hollywood would be an experience with my sister and it is never the same when I am with someone. I knew I would want to disappear into the Echelon and be devoured. I needed a vacation from myself, my life, and all roads pointed to Philly. The entire time I was there, I felt embraced by the Echelon and the music. There were no pre-tenses or pressure.

I felt like I could breathe. 

This feeling mirrored a trippy experience I had a few weeks prior. For context, you should know that I am very visual person. And as such, I can see things very clearly that aren't in front of me in that moment. For example, I used to pick out my clothes for school while laying in the bed in a dark room with my eyes closed. In my mind's eye, I can hold vivid imagery and it is there that I came toe to toe with a certain Leto.

As I said, I had been in a bad mood for weeks and when I am like that, I know the best remedy for me is movement. Go for a walk or dance like there is no tomorrow. I walk everywhere but I hadn't danced in a long time. So I forced myself out of bed one Saturday, grabbed my headphones, and pressed play. Having had this habit for years, I've taught myself some tricks to keep me going. This is crucial since I have exercise-induced asthma which means that I become winded much quicker than my body grows tired. A few years ago, I realized that singing helps me get my breathing back under control. So as much I need to dance to let go, I also need to sing.

I ripped through Conquistador, Up in the Air, and The Race exorcising my thoughts with each flourish of my arms and shake of my hips. As the last notes of Pyres of Varnassi faded out, I could feel myself get dizzy, my chest heaving, and my hands searching for the nearest wall. I placed my forehead and palms against the cool surface as the first notes of Bright Lights began. As I tried to slow down my breathing, I closed my eyes. Then as clear as a VyRT broadcast, I saw Jared standing before me. Forehead to forehead to keep each other steady, we were eye to eye.

He was in full stage gear, all black with the fringe coat and no sunglasses, staring me down from onstage. I glanced around to ascertain our surroundings: Rock in Rio audience behind him, Shannon to the left and Tomo to the right. He was grinning at me, slightly squinting his eyes as if laying down a challenge, and he began to sing.

Oh, ohoh, Oh ohoh...

I had already began and he seemed to be egging me on. Coaching me through each word, congratulating with each smile as I gained control over my voice and my chest no longer heaved. We belted out my second favorite song off the album together. At the end, I opened my eyes with a grin and chuckle. And as Do or Die began, I closed my eyes again to see if my vision was still with me and sure enough, there he was. We were in concert once again.

That closeness did not feel as foreign as one would imagine. I was more amazed by the clarity of my vision than being toe to toe with him. Through every VyRT, we've gotten closer because of the intimacy inherent to the medium. Not mention his uncanny ability to find the center of the lens, peer into your eyes, and reveal everything about himself and who you are without a moment's notice. I think being a VyRT veteran and just a general laid-back kind of a chick makes me not lose it when I have physical proximity to the guys. In fact, I remember rather vividly how a conversation played out at the beginning of soundcheck in Camden:
  • Me: Yeah, that sounds great. We should do that...oh look there's Shann-
  • Ali: *runs off to right side of the stage"
  • Me: Oh ok...
    Few minutes later...
  • Me: Jared's here.
  • Girl in front of me: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
My "lost it" moment came later once they performed my favorite song on the album: The Race. I remember having to remind myself to open my eyes. I was so busy singing, air drumming, and dancing that I just didn't think to look up. But I knew I wanted see Shannon play since I couldn't at Church of Mars in Boston. And I knew one of the benefits of being tall is that you are pretty much guaranteed to catch the eye of the vocalist. In that rare moment where both Jared and I had our eyes open at the same time, I got to sing with him while looking into his eyes. Not as close as my vision, of course, but it felt good to croon lyrics that mean a lot to me with the man who wrote them.

Soundcheck was filled with such great vibes and humor. I can rattle off my highlights from memory with ease:
  • Shannon's shoe flying of the drum riser as he rushed to take it off and make the beginning of Northern Lights
  • Shannon drumming like he's a kid with a pencil on a cafeteria table as Jared rapped A Tribe Called Quest
  • The massive grin that Shannon had as he said "It was great." in response to the question "How was Walmart?"
  • Jared singing one line of Oblivion and Echelon to satiate the crowd
  • Jared and Tomo doing the banjo dance and Tomo professing "I feel like an American!"
  • Shannon raggin' on Tomo for not being on beat "C'mon man!"
  • Jared's corny jokes "I laugh because of your expression, not the joke..."
  • The young girl with a light up mohawk and cape
  • Jared saying maybe they could play Stronger though the only line he remembers is "You can be my black Kate Moss tonight" to which I replied, "Its a good line to remember" and got some laughs (It came to me instantly as did thoughts of Kianna)
  • Reni recognizing the Echelon Donates banner and saying "I know you guys, you do great things!"
  • Being told that I am the nicest tall person someone has met at a gig
  • Shannon saying beer can like a Shakespearean actor after Jared's accent lesson
  • Jared belting through Amazing Grace and part of Stay in between coughs
  • Being told to beware of the journalist by Jared "Don't trust a guy with a backpack in the pit"
  • Mentioning of New York and Boston shows possibly being added to this wackily organized US tour
  • When Ali, Mel, and myself took a picture and the guy taking it said "Ok, say Puberty!" and I just about died laughing.
It felt like the Church of Mars but less people and by that time in the day, I was miles away from myself. Though the whole day I'd been chatting to people and being introduced by Ali to everyone, I wasn't Amina. It was nice. I wasn't aware of myself. I wasn't thinking myself into oblivion. I was just waiting and relaxing with my folks. In this relaxed state, I looked up to see Shannon and Tomo walk through the foyer. There were no screams just turned heads and waves. Minutes later, I saw Stevie bop his way through. I love the pep in his walk and as I mimicked him to Mel, I saw a bright light to my right. Jared was coming through with a bit of a camera crew. Sill no screams, just turned heads and waves. I loved how mellow it all was.

Standing there, I noticed a huge poster above us for the show and took a picture. I mentioned it to Ali in passing, which of course lead her on a quest to see if we could get it for Echelon Donates. Her tenacity is something to be revered as I watched her sell totes as we waited.  You could see the wheels constantly turning in her head. It makes me happy to know that I get to help keep the machine running. Like letting her know about the signing after the show so we could try to get it signed to raffle off. We were working as a team and it felt good to be doing something. My actions are what let me know my worth and after weeks of emotional paralysis, it felt good to be contributing again.

The opening band New Politics, which I had never heard of before, brought such energy that I felt myself losing my voice early. I had heard the vocalist was a dancer but when he did a body roll while standing on the crowd, he got my vote for any- and everything.

Then the wait........

The monstrously long wait that Jared later attributed to interviewing James Franco killed some people's buzz. But I was fine, just enjoying those I saw around me. An anxious 15 year old on my right with braces and dark eye makeup who was clearly at her first show. The older security guard to my left with the sweet smile who started to get a bit worried the longer it took. The girls a few rows in front of me who performed to every song played through the speakers, including a lively rendition of Treasure by Bruno Mars.

Just as I started to get aware of myself again, the lights went down.

Birth riles something primal in me, like how it feels when your eyes adjust to the dark. I just feel so in tune with my senses and ready for whatever is coming. And what greeted me was the warmth of Kings and Queens with the yellow lights and soaring voices. Thanks to my aisle seat I was able to lose myself. I actually jumped. Most time I just go up on my toes because I am so tall that it has the same effect, but this time my feet left the ground. It didn't matter to me what else was happening because ahead of me, I saw raised hands, a leaping guitarist, shining lights, a whirling mass of hair muscles and voice, light reflecting of cymbals in the distance as a bass drum vibrated my body and dictated my every move.

This is all that matters and somewhere in my mind, I knew it would be a shortened experience so I gave everything to every note. I jumped while I could and danced when I couldn't. I sang through every crack and cough even once my overpaid drink was gone. I went to church, bathed in sweat. embraced by voices, and commanded by lights. The gospel of living in the here and now shook through me. Someone behind me was having their own religious experience because when Jared sang "Where is your God?" during Hurricane and I heard a scream, "He's onstage!" Later on during the song, the unexpected "Yeah!" from a bass-laden voice made Jared stop and smile as a man was moved to testify.

I kept myself worked up through the last songs even though my legs and voice had given out. I was still there in the moment because it was pure. It was real and intimate but also big and bombastic. And I savored it because I knew I would have to let it go. The end of Up in the Air always seems to come to soon and before I knew it, the lights were raised. There were people scrambling everywhere and there were spots before my eyes. My body was trying to adjust to the shock. I found my folks and Ali asked me to come to the signing with her. I didn't care if I was the one who went with her but she offered so I was there to support her. I already got my signing in Boston, so I was good. I found Jennifer and Tiffany, who I had actually came with, and we all stood around to wait for the chaos to die down. I got to meet more members of Echelon Donates which was great. We chatted to pass the time but whenever I stood still, I could feel my muscles still vibrating.

Eventually, we made our way to the end of the line. Though the staff was being pushy about them only signing CDs, we got the gentlemen to sign it! As soon as Ali said Echelon Donates, there seemed to be a glint of recognition and acceptance. Shannon gave a look of, "Yea eff what they're saying I'm signing it!" Plus, I know they had to be aching for their hotel beds as much as we were at that point. They all quickly made their marks on the poster and our CDs, and I thanked them all feeling genuine gratitude for their willingness to bend the rules for us. I heard Jared say something to Shayla about the poster like he was concerned. I turned to see Ali being addressed by a member of the venue staff. He proceeded to try and take it from her as he badgered her with questions on how she got it. Once she explained, he let it go and wished us good luck and goodnight. I am happy he didn't rip it because with all the adrenaline coursing through my veins, the guys would have gotten a show!

We stopped to take a photo of the poster and I looked up to see Shannon and Jared make their exit. I assumed Tomo was gone as well til I glanced to my left to see him hugging a group of stragglers and taking a picture. He waved us all good bye and good night as we rolled the poster up for safe keeping, then made our way to the doors much to the venue staff's delight.

Plans to hang out got ditched as we all felt exhausted and I knew I had an early bus to catch in the morning. All I wanted was a long hot shower and a bed. In the car, I recounted soundcheck for Jennifer and Tiffany as they told me about the M&G and being in the pit, respectively. We got lost getting back, just like we did getting to the venue, but this time it was my fault for entering in the wrong address. We all just laughed it off and once we were back, Tiff and I sent Jennifer off with hugs. And hopefully on a high that would would get her through having to work in the morning.

The late night banter with Tiff continued just like the night before and as we got ready for the show, though we didn't have any Twilight movies to make fun of at such a late hour. This time we talked about what this experience was for the both of us: an escape. And though we knew we had to go back, we knew it would stay with us. Thats what the songs are for, what every artwork, photo, VyRT, and Echelon you meet is for. Because its easy to disconnect from it and lose that feeling once life comes crashing back in on you. Even hours after the concert as I lay in bed, I could sense myself retreating in anticipation for going back when I heard from the bathroom: "I took my shirt off and now there's confetti all over the floor!" I couldn't stop laughing and I thought, "Ok, I get it. This one is gonna stay with me."

I left the next morning before she had awakened, stopped for a quickie breakfast, then started my trek back to the bus station. I decided to walk because it was a beautiful day and I actually wanted to see a bit of Philly before I had to head home. I was in good spirits and looking forward sharing my experience with everyone. Especially Kika in Portugal, who I sent photos to sporadically throughout the night, but she told me to be there in the moment and we would talk later. More than anyone else, she knew how much I needed this. With memories of the the night before, I got to the station and began to jot down some thoughts.

I kept staring at the my black fingernails. I painted them before the show and they were already a rugged mess. It was always something I wanted to do but never did. I felt proud as I stared at them gripping my pen as a took in my surroundings. Soon, I was en route to New York and decided to leave myself notes to flesh out later because my handwriting worsened with each bump of the road.

By the time we reached New York, I had grown tired but still in fairly good spirits. I felt a headache coming on but thought it was probably just hunger pains and I knew I would eat soon enough. I could sleep it off and all would be well. When we pulled into Springfield, just thirty minutes from my town, I was in agony. My head pulsed and my patience grew thin as I just wanted to get home. I got myself a Subway sandwich and a Coke hoping the caffeine would tackle the migraine that was taking hold. Even with my changing mood, I kept my outward appearance light-hearted as I was still trying to hold on.

As I walked home from the bus stop, I felt something in me breaking. The food and drink didn't work, my body ached, and I knew I wouldn't be at 100% for work the next day. Once I made it inside my apartment, I dropped everything and crawled into my bed, willing my brain and body to relax. All I could think was, "I wanna go back." It wasn't lost on me how with each mile I got closer to home the worse I felt. I didn't want to talk. I didn't want to write. The recollection hurt as much as the present and the future wasn't even perceivable. So again, I went blank.

I automated my way through collecting images from the show, letting everyone know I had returned, and checking my work email. "I could coast through this a bit more..." I thought. Until I got to work the next day and the government shutdown threatened my livelihood. Was this threat ever truly real for me? In hindsight, no. But in that moment, I felt everything within me give up. I sat in my office trying not cry, flexing my hands, and digging my nails into my palm. I felt myself shaking and the need to scream. So I tweeted instead and though the responses calmed me some, without context, no one could know how much of a blow that email was to me. And though I know I am a fighter, I couldn't hold it back because my brain doesn't seem to allow it anymore. Too much tension and I'm gifted with a migraine.

So my body made me do what I would never allow: I let myself just fall apart.

And in those pieces, I retreated. I hid behind work and fulfilling obligations but not truly connecting. My smile didn't make it to my eyes and phone calls didn't get returned. During this time the drive for the VyRT of the Hollywood Bowl began and I felt only a slight twinge of excitement. The spark hadn't died but it had gone dormant. Hollywood still felt so very far away.

Somehow the chaos of my reality, or at least my perspective of it, began to lighten. I began to anticipate seeing my sister and being with someone who truly knows me. I longed for the intimacy. With each VyRT Violet but particularly the one from backstage at a gig in Canada, I felt closeness with a caring person who could cheer me up or make me laugh. Kin but not by blood, close but yet still so far, and yet his presence has effect. It is difficult to remain numb while around someone so vehemently full of life, passion, and drive. And it is also difficult to hang on to that numbness when so many believe in you and what you do.

We all have coping mechanism and for me, sometimes I just have to live through it. Other times, I rely heavily on those who fascinate or support me. I once wrote this about fascination:
"being fascinated is the best feeling i know. its love, respect, empathy, inspiration, and conversation that can be conjured without the other even knowing about it. and that unawareness is sometimes necessary...you know the saying "never meet your heroes." but even without their personal participation, there is still a discourse because they exist and they are producing. they are inviting you in. its a relationship that serves you selfishly as a blinking blinding reminder that you are not alone. you are not the only one who feels this or thinks that. you may be an outsider but we are out here with you. i am sure it is nice for them to know that. maybe it is symbiotic. they need us, we need them. thats a nice sentiment really."
Its been years since I wrote those words and I now know them to be true. I am grateful to have you all as my bright lights, my blinking reminders. Even when I don't want look or can't see through the haze, I know you are there — coaching me through the times when I feel like I can't breathe. Though I live for the moments when its all gloriously realized under the stage lights, in all honesty, its those quieter moments when my phone flashes with a notification unexpectedly that I often find solace and strength in having you with me. We're in this, symbiotically keeping each other up and running.

In this case, you've veered me to run towards my words and for that, I am much obliged. I hope they serve you as well as they have me. Until we meet again.


adventure: church of mars boston

I’m sitting in the Hay Market. Eating a scone, as a substitute for my pancake craving since they quit serving them, drinking a smoothie, and waiting on my vegan tofu scramble. I’m still a bit worn from last night’s activities. More reeling than worn out. So much activity, so many people. Makes me think about the introvert vs. extravert conversation I had with my sister recently. We all sit upon the spectrum between these two poles. The introvert side of me finds being social can feel so draining and intrusive at times. But after a night like last night, and some other social activity on Twitter, I don’t feel like I’m being drained. I feel overwhelmed. I feel so adrenalized and so giddy that it preoccupies me.

Being incited into conversation by @LupeFiasco’s Sunday dialogue of the week was exciting enough for me. So imagine what happened when he retweeted and replied to me. There was an eruption of interactions aimed at me. All of these people talking to me, asking questions and debating. If there is such a thing as a mental erection, I was at full tilt with thoughts. I felt like I was schooling folks, but lovingly of course. It completely distracted me from the work I was doing. I was so engrossed and worked up that I couldn’t focus. Even hours later, when I received a reply asking me for clarification after the dialogue had ended, I found myself brimming with a response. 140 characters grew to over 2500 as I made my first post via TwitLonger. It had to be done.

An Echelon tweeted that what I had written was brilliant. I sometimes forget that I am having a dialogue in an open room for any of my followers to see when I start rambling on but I love it when worlds crossover like that. The same Echelon who replied to that post was one that I helped get tickets to the Church of Mars show in Boston, from which I am currently recuperating. I was able to get her friend in as well as another three people. I received a 3-way bear hug once they spotted me after the show. Thank you social media!

I loved hearing my name screamed out in the venue as she vied for my attention just to thank me. I loved the twinkly-eyed look in the eyes of those I helped. Witnessing the positive effect you can have on someone is intoxicating. Being outside the venue talking and laughing like we’ve known each other forever is invigorating. It fills you up with energy and emotion.

I feel like I have more to write about the people than the show…how telling is that? But that’s not to diminish the show at all. Since I was at the last full show seeing them squeeze out all they had left to give, I thought it was great romantic symmetry to see them at their first show excited at the precipice of this new time in their creative lives.

Tomo jumped high, swayed lithely as he played, and banged his drum so hard. I loved it when he just threw his sticks to the side with abandon to get back to his guitar. He was clearly happy to see us and it showed.

Jared was passionate like a Southern preacher in front of his flock while singing often with his eyes closed. It was fascinating to watch him be engrossed in his own work as it took on new life but also improvising as if he was re-learning his voice. He’s changed, gotten older, and still wasn’t at 100% due to his other work, but what shined through was his love. His love for what he’s created but yet to unleash but also for being on that stage again in front of us.

He was speaking as if it was a big family picnic and somebody let the Leto brothers and their cousin Tomo use the stage as a favor. There was a good amount of banter throughout the night. He joked but seemed to genuinely be seeking our reassurance, “I’m singing a lot tonight. More than I usually do, right?” Or asking the violinist to be taken down “like 57%” after he asked her to play before they went into Hurricane. Memories of MARS300 flooded me when he brought a little boy on stage during Up in the Air but this child was not scared to dance. He was feeling the music too. The air was light and loose which was just right for a welcome back style affair.

Despite or maybe because of the looseness, it was clear that he was really feeling it. He was experiencing the music live for the first time right along with us it seemed. Since some of the people around me were less inclined, I felt the need to show him I was feeling it too even more. He was there in the moment and I wanted him to know that even amongst the camera-holders, the disinterested parents with their overexcited kids, and the people more invested in him taking of his hat, I was there to welcome him and the guys back to the stage by performing as a part of the choir. To sing and dance without needing to be asked and to experience the new music.

My first listen to City of Angels was during its first performance that night. I remember having my hand on my chest, tapping my thumb on my collarbone along with Shannon. I closed my eyes so that I could really listen. When he sang the line, “I am home” I felt it right in my core. Songs referring to home have been getting to me as of late and in that moment, I realized why. Knowing their background of a transient life, I knew how significant that line really is. I have been in a similar state for years and now, I am finally setting down my own roots separate from my birthplace. I’ve found where I feel comfortable and I’m doing what I love to do. Even more importantly, I know there are people around the world that make me feel the same way even without a fixed location. I can feel home anywhere I can feel that connection.

When I opened my eyes, I remember thinking, “They did it.” Back when they were still recording, Jared asked what we wanted to hear. I responded, which I rarely do but felt the need to this time. I knew there would be the “more guitars!” “less synths!” cries. Mine, however, was rather simple: “Just continue to be honest. As for the rest, surprise me.” That song was all the indication I needed to know that my sentiment was taken to heart.

All night, I could see the passion oozing out of Tomo and Jared, but with Shannon, I had to feel him since a speaker blocked my view. The experience of hearing Shannon live without seeing him was wild because it is definitely different than listening to him in your headphones without a visual. He announces himself quite quickly and thoroughly. My hips seem to respond to him as if on command. I could feel him through my feet, into my chest, and up to the bottom of my throat. Based on the flair I heard during some of the old songs, I knew he was having just as much fun as I could see Jared and Tomo having.

Going to the signing was a no-brainer and I was happy to be able to put a body to the thunderous sounds that had been shaking me all night. Yet, he didn’t look up when I laid my yearbook down on the table for him to sign. He quickly made his mark and passed it down the line. I believe I said hi to him but he was already moving on to the next person in line. I will admit for about two seconds I was annoyed, but then I looked into the smiling eyes of Tomo. It is impossible to stay annoyed when he is looking at you so openly. Besides, it dawned on me as I moved on that Shannon and I had been communicating all night. His drums speak my language, same dialect and everything. I always understand him, loud and clear. He didn’t need to speak to me or even look up. We’d already connected in the most meaningful of ways.

I looked into Tomo’s grinning face and said hi and thanked him after he signed. I could have taken the moment we had there to make some banter but I didn’t. The silence was comfortable to me and I knew there were so many more people waiting. A thank you was all I needed to say to the man that had welcomed me into the family. He slid my book over to Jared who sat last at the table.

As soon as I spotted the black gloves, I started smiling. They were hilarious to me but also quite smart. No germs or smudging just in case. Most people got the posters they handed out signed or perhaps the Boston lithographs or body parts or random bits of paper or clothing they could find. However, I had brought my yearbook with the intentions of having the Echelon I knew I would be meeting be the first ones to sign. But of course, when the signing was announced I knew I would give the honor to the guys.

As soon as Jared saw the black cover of the book, his head popped up with an “OMG” expression then a huge grin. I smiled and said that I came prepared, just in case. He started nodding his head in a way of communicating acknowledgement and approval, all the while grinning. The entire expression of emotion on his face and body language said, “Yep, you are one of us.” He said thank you and handed me the book with a smile before adding have a goodnight. I said thanks and you too before turning to walk away.

On my way out of the venue, I stopped to get a ticket from someone working the door because I knew I wanted as many mementos from this night as I could get. The night felt like a culmination of sorts. I had come full circle from first falling for the band to meeting them. The only reason I had the opportunity to do so was because the promise I made to them and myself was fulfilled. I had done what I set out to do and just as they are starting a new chapter of their lives, so am I. I knew they’d be right along for the ride as I am still riding with them. Jared is right. Attaining dreams only makes you keep pushing for more and that’s where the band and I are right now. Celebrating but also pushing forever onwards and upwards.

Though I wish I could have been nearer the more active part of the crowd, I couldn’t have asked for more from the band. The new songs killed and they played from their gut. They’re excited, which they should be. If you can’t be worked up and in a tizzy about your own work, then why should I be?

The band played their part dutifully and as they are but a part of MARS for me, the story does not end with them. The Echelon graced me with their presence and friendship after the show. Not only ones that I helped but people I had met just that night. After walking around and talking with two that I had spent the show with, I found myself floating around with no real aim. Since we had lingered near the venue, I saw my opportunity to get a signature in my yearbook that I hadn’t earlier.

Soon after I stepped outside, I spotted Jamie Reed and asked him to sign while waiting for the other girl to come back out. I know he saw us talking rather animatedly about the some of the people we saw throughout the night so I hope he was entertained. I had gotten to say hello to Dai earlier while I was waiting in the signing line but didn’t get the chance to ask her. After my two friends left for the night, I spotted her in a group and decided to follow my general motto in life, there is no harm in asking.

She was nice enough to say yes and talked with me a bit about some of her ideas for other books she would like to work on. The group were Echelon from all over and while at first I felt a bit awkward, they offered to let me come along as they were going for drinks. Well, drinks became pizza as food trumped liquor at such a late hour since some of us hadn’t eaten in hours.

It was such a special occasion to talk with people from all over the world and chat with Dai about design. It was so sweet the way her face lit up when I talked about my work. The others were so genuine and funny with such amazing stories from their experiences with the band and other Echelon. We all recognized that what we were doing at that moment was not typical.

Definitely for me, it is not typical to find myself comfortable with strangers so quickly that they become more than that. Everyone was being so gracious and kind that I went from floating to having a bed to sleep in. I could see the potential for meaningful relationships with them so easily if only there were time and no distances to travel but even those didn’t need to impede.

The ease of it all blows the mind of the introvert side of me. Socializing isn’t supposed to feel comforting or easy or fulfilling in it of itself, right? But it does when I'm engaged in something that matters to me with other people that care too. That’s when the draining switches to filling til the point of overflow and complete shutdown of focus or prioritization of anything else. Because it feels good but it also sends the message that I'm not alone.

That is what my MARS experience has made clear to me. You are not alone and if you ever feel like you are, there are people out there to overwhelm you with their similarity to you, with their graciousness and honesty. This fact spans beyond music though its not surprising that it took music to demonstrate this to me in a truly concrete tangible way. It’s easy to become jaded or cynical because perhaps the people that understand you best aren’t physically in front of you or your paths have yet to cross. But trust me, they are out there just waiting, looking, hoping to make a connection of substance.
Even if it is only a lively Twitter conversation or one night at a gig, in that moment when I am connected, all is well in my world. It may pass and likely will because time tends to do that, but that moment will persist in memory. No matter where I am or what is going on, I know I have a collection of connections that make a community where I feel at home. And sometimes, whether its been a good day or a bad one, that is all I need.

To MARS + the Echelon, like I said in the yearbook, thank you for connecting me and helping me become who I had already set out to be. Until we meet again.


adventure: boston, ma

The following was mostly written (I had to clean it up and flesh it out a bit!) after my MIKA show in Boston, which was my first time visiting the city and seeing him live. Considering what occurred only days following, only blocks away from where I had such an enriching experience, this note feels as much as a love letter to Boston as it does to MIKA.

Bloody hell! Im shaking and can barely speak. My voice is cracking and Im chugging water and a mango smoothie to cool me down. Thank the Lord for the Panera on the corner and for MIKA. And to think I almost wasnt going to come. I hadnt realized that he was touring the States but wised up in just enough time to snag a ticket to his last show before heading back to Europe.

I have wanted to see MIKA since 2009 when I first discovered him and to have that chance fulfilled with an intimate acoustic show was more than I could have asked for. That voice can stand on its own and his allure on stage can make you feel like it’s just you and him in the room.

I could tell he was having fun. He was telling stories and saying how he felt like he was in his living room and the world felt small in a good way. He told us how our singing was just right in comparison to other cities. How he dedicated Love You When Im Drunk to his grandmother the night before and she smiled. How his fingers felt like okra when was trying to play or singing, Rescue Me when he needed his band mate to come play Stardust on the piano because he couldnt. He was as funny and silly as I always knew he would be. But his voice was as emotive and heavenly as you can only truly experience live.

Happy Endings brought tears to my eyes as I—for the only time that evening—allowed my thoughts to drift back into my life. But the beauty of his singing snapped me back into my awed state in that moment. His voice ascends and I follow to transcend my worries and memories. Im not me. Im not tired or alone. And if I am, I dont care. Im too busy being part of the choir and as I was one of the tallest in the crowd, looking directly into his eyes whenever I could. I was focused and felt such a chill come over me when he finished the song without the microphone. His voice rang clear bringing about a hush. He has one of those voices that I dont even try to sing along to. Its useless because no one can do MIKA but himself.

His music is like distilled joy, even when he is singing about pain. I think it is because he is genuine and that is comforting in times when things dont often feel that way. But that wasnt the case at this show as the genuinely nice people I met made such an impression on me. They actually introduced themselves to me and all. So far, I like Boston. I dont feel the claustrophobic anxiety that besets me in New York. Its more open and I didnt feel like I needed to constantly have my guard up. It was nice.

As I sit here, people watching and still cooling down, I can feel my shoulders are tense and my feet are aching. My body is still buzzing. Im still thirsty with the smoothie now gone and the water about to follow. But I feel alive and energized. You wouldnt think an acoustic show would get someone this worked up, huh?

Perhaps it was when he took requests and played We Are Golden for the first time in years? We sang so loud and those lyrics really hit powerfully when you have an entire crowd chanting, We are not what you think we are…” Or the performance of Underwater that was breathtaking with the lights dim and him singing eyes closed with such passion. 

Or maybe it was finally hearing Stuck in the Middle live! Or how during Origin of Love, the lights went out at his behest and he asked us to close our eyes and sing as if we were the last people on Earth, which was so exhilarating. Or his flirty-ness during Toy Boy and Billy Brown that just about slaughtered the boy in front of me who spent a good part of the show screaming Marry me?! Or it was hearing him sing both Emily and Elle Me Dit in French interchangeably as smoothly as if he was just breathing? Or perhaps, it was singing the lyrics I wanna come home during Celebrate with him while looking directly into his eyes? When I recalled this hours later as I sat in the bus station listening to the acoustic version, I got chills and a bit teary-eyed. I could feel the magic in my veins still.

I think Russell may have described it best when talking about the feeing of being on stage for the first time, I can taste my own mouth. I feel so aware and in the moment and everything is right. I am going to miss this feeling when it goes. But the ache I would have been much worse if I hadnt made this choice.  If I would have missed this shot.

Another special show under my belt, four years in the making and it was completely worth it. How would I be able to tell the tale of seeing a crowd of people explode into song and dance as our pre-show DJs (MIKAs band mates clad in suspenders and bowties) spun Under the Sea? MIKA did exactly as promised—put a little stardust my eyes, a little sunshine in my life—and I surely needed it. Thank you, sir. Until we meet again.


adventure: carnegie hall, new york city

2:30 am and I was sitting on the floor of the Port Authority Bus Terminal. There was a woman about three yards away to my right that decided to take up stretching, though she was clearly way past due. To my left and in front of me was a group of young ladies discussing how dirty this floor may be because she wanted to take her shoe off to scratch her foot. I'm only here because my Uncle P inspired me to take another flight of fancy.

This time indirectly as he was not performing. However, it was a tribute to him in Carnegie Hall, a venue I've always wanted to see. This legendary stage was lit purple and probably had more soul on it than at any other time. Another dream fulfilled as I got to hear Eric Leeds and Wendy Melvoin play live. And not just playing live, but playing Mutiny and I Wonder U. Songs that are forever tethered to their faces and instruments though Princes moniker encompasses it all.

I wasnt particularly excited by a performer over another when the show was announced. Though I had heard of some of them, it was not like Im a rabid fan. But talent was evident as I read the names. I knew QuestLove would make some good song selections too. Part of what I felt throughout the evening was how well suited the performers were to their song of choice. Either because of their own personal history with the music or how their talent seemed to be perfectly aligned to the tune.

There were numerous pleasant surprises or memories:

  • Making it to my seat just in the nick of time to hear a roaring rendition of Purple Rain to start the show by The Waterboys, with an epic violin solo in lieu of the guitar. We sang along like it was our duty. I was just astonished by the passionate rendition of this showstopper to begin the show!

  • Princess (Maya Rudolph and Gretchen Lieberum) singing the reverse ending of Darling Nikki in its entirety, in unison, and to perfection. Not to mention, Maya doing body rolls in heels while clearly pregnant. I held my breath for her a few times, to be honest.

  • Kat Edmonsons chilling rendition of the Beautiful Ones that really brought out the melancholic longing thats under all the theatrics and wailing. You could have heard a pin drop while she sang accompanied by a pianist only. Well in fact, what I remember hearing was the girl sitting in front of me correcting her when she had a little lyric slip. Prince diehards are a brutal audience but by the time she left the stage, this unknown had our respect without doubt.
  • Devotchkas bluegrass rendition of Mountains with a tuba! You know me, I get giddy at the sight of a horn section.
  • Susannah of Fdeluxe, aka the Family, and Wendys sister truly feeling herself throughout their entire performance. I dont think I had ever seen someone strutting around like that before. I swear I saw Wendy taking a moment to pick which microphone to sing into because Susannah was acting like it was a game musical chairs. I could only imagine how the man himself would have reacted to seeing  his former fiancé on the stage showing out. Think Trey Songz singing Purple Rain at the BET Awards but better.

  • Eric Leeds. Nothing else really needs to be said here.
  • Chris Rock reciting the end of If I was Your Girlfriend only as he can (i.e. with many many more fucks for emphasis)
  • Annie Christian by Talib Kweli, who of course injected the current gun violence into the lyrics further demonstrating how a Prince track from 1981 is still topical. The Roots with Wendy absolutely killed the music on this one. This song was definitely on my never gonna hear it live cuz I was born at the wrong time list but not anymore!

  • Bilals shockingly epic version of Sister. This was another track that I never thought I would hear live and definitely not in Carnegie Hall. He turned a song that barely clocks in at a minute into a emphatic roof-shaking crooning to punk screeching performance.
  • Elvis Costello decided to play the only unreleased track of the night, Moonbeam Levels, and proceeded to catch the spirit. The sound wasnt great in the balcony on that performance so I couldnt make it out as well. But it was fascinating to watch him feeling the music so much he walked on and off without even playing the guitar he wore.

  • Bettye Lavette showed how Kiss should be performed as a sassy and soulful track. She strutted off stage in her purple velvet jacket and I loved every minute of her performance. I knew she wouldnt disappoint. Seeing someone old enough to be my grandmother on stage rocking her hips and crooning from her toes just made me smile so wide.

  • Sandra Bernhard dropped it low during her spoken word, half sung rendition of Little Red Corvette. I felt like I was watching her relive being twelve years old performing in her room with a hairbrush. Her and that track had history, which she laid out on that stage. I loved the presence of comedy in the night because I think people often miss that aspect of Princes work.

  • Nina Persson singing Nothing Compares to U with such emotion and then just gracefully leaving the stage like she didnt just show us her soul through her voice.

  • Alice Smith and Citizen Cope performing for the first time as a married couple with an acoustic take of Pop Life. I love the way she enunciated and punctuated her words. They had impact just like the lyrics are supposed to.
  • Bhi Bhiman was another unknown that came out with naught but his acoustic guitar and a voice that reminded me of John Legend. He broke into When Doves Cry. Again, I felt like the lyrics had space to really breathe and bounce around the room and all of our minds. Allowing them to get caught up in my memories of the song, the video, the movie, and what was happening right in that moment and how it related to my life now.
  • The Blind Boys of Alabama took us to church with a soaring version of The Cross. Never once did anything feel out of place demonstrating how expansive the world of Prince really is. At the drop of a hat I could be on the back of motorcycle being taken to a barn by a lake to lose my virginity (a song that was sung earlier in the night by Diane Birch and teen choir that brought back memories of singing in chorus) and the next, I am being shown the poorest of the poor that persevere because of their faith. It is all fair game because it is all a part of life. Princes music is a living accumulation of experiences.

  • DAngelo triumphantly wrapped up the show with A Beautiful Night and 1999 with everyone else joining him on stage. You could tell he was happy to be on that stage. That he knew every adlib, every mic trick, and he was gonna show out. The audience got to its feet during 1999 and I politely kept my seat not wanting to block anyone behind me. But when I turned and the woman behind me said, Its fine, come on! I left my seat and began to clap along. I love that communal feeling at gigs that comes with joint action. I looked around me and I saw that to my right was a lesbian couple; behind me was a row of young black artsy looking types that I had to correct earlier in the night when they didnt know that Dirty Mind was his third album; and to my left was an older white-haired man who looked like his name was Herb in a plaid shirt, suspenders, and khakis clapping along and swaying. Complete motley in unison having a beautiful night.
  • At the end, as the Roots left the stage, Captain Kirk pumped his guitar to the crowd which someone had to have repaired due to someone borrowing it for his performance of Bambi on Jimmy Fallon where he ripped it and then proceeded to throw and break the guitar!

I left the theatre, in search of food and wondering if it will always be raining every time I am in New York for a gig. I went to a late night diner and then made my way to AMC Theatres to see Jack the Giant Slayer. It was great to be indoors and warm; plus, I have an endless love for the Brits, so a movie full of cockney giants really made my night. Then it was back to the bus station where our story began.

As the night wore on, more unique individuals began to congregate and I started to walk around to keep myself awake. Finally the bus showed up and we had the nicest bus driver. His name was Al and he gave his little speech with the cadence of a Quiet Storm radio DJ. Each statement began with Ladies and gentlemen and I couldnt help but think of Mambo #5. I curled up in my seat as best I could and watch the wintery storm blanket the landscape outside of my window. I had just texted the day before that winter needed to wrap itself up but clearly that message wasnt received by anyone that had any control. But, I thought to myself after I realized I had made it this far through my first Northeastern winter, It will melt. It always does.

Like the maniac that I am, I went to work straight from the bus station. I was so exhausted I found myself only able to talk about being exhausted. But not once did I regret it. Not once did I say to myself, why did you travel to see other people play music that you love rather than the man himself? The night wasnt about Prince. It was called The Music of Prince for a reason. It was about those songs. Those songs are my companions and this was a gathering to celebrate that as well as the diversity on the reach these songs have had. The span of their reach may only be matched the breadth of his styles. 

These songs have seen me through so much and persist to take on new life as I continue to live mine. It is easy to forget and not listen as often. But this definitely acted as a reminder: Visit your Uncle P every once in awhile. Hes kin for a reason, plus there is always a gift waiting for you.