09 December 2005

Hollaback Girl fun

When I got the song "Hollaback Girl" stuck in my head after hearing the charismatic Gwen Stefani sing it on Saturday Night Live, I had to go look it up and decide whether to buy the song. While I was vacillating, I surfed around and found one of the funniest pieces of writing I have read all year: an Orange County Weekly dissection of the song "Hollaback Girl" by Greg Stacy.

29 September 2005

Joke of the day

Donald Rumsfeld is giving the president his daily briefing. He concludes by saying: "Yesterday, three Brazilian soldiers were killed in an accident."

"OH DEAR GOD, NO!!!" George W. Bush exclaims. "That's terrible!!"

His staff is stunned at the president's display of emotion. They nervously watch him drop his head into his hands.

Finally, Bush looks up and asks, "How many is a brazillion?"

26 September 2005

Imaginary friends and adoptees

About two weeks after she started school, The Girl came home and announced, "I have an invisible friend." I asked her some questions about said friend and she answered them. Not a mention since two weeks ago.

Today our daughter pretended she was a seven-year-old with the name of a baby we know (whom I happen to think is so cute and have a teeny crush -- do you ever get crushes on favorite babies? There have been a few babies who I've just fallen for). "Miley" was visiting us because her parents had gone to Africa. "Miley" stayed behind and I told her that if she wanted to stay with us forever and be The Girl's big sister, she could. "Miley" liked this idea very much and agreed to be adopted and live with us forever. "Miley" helped me paint today, saying that her little sister, whom she had decided was three, wasn't big enough to paint. I announced the addition to our family to my husband when he got home tonight.

07 September 2005

Telluride: Best of

My vote for the best of the 2005 Telluride Film Festival is [drumroll, please]:

Sisters in Law
In a courtroom in Cameroon, Vera and her courtroom staff do as much good as they can every day. It’s a great deal of good, at a place and time where women and children are routinely beaten and the men continuously pull excuses, tricks, blows, or bribes from up their sleeves to maintain the status quo. The film follows three of the plaintiffs, two abused wives and one young child, in their journeys through the legal system toward justice, hope, and humanity. The force of nature that is Vera, the judge, pulls these women and children into its wake, granting them peace and freedom for the first time in much of their lives. She is an example of someone who is making a difference daily by helping others achieve respect and dignity without a shred of egotism; every world leader has something to learn from her. These women’s and children’s stories are as suspenseful and outrageous and life-affirming as any fictional creation. Fans of mysteries like Law and Order will find it gratifying to see justice done in the real world.

This is what film is all about! I wish Telluride could have shown Seoul Train; it would have been a good companion for some of these. But ST's poor production values probably hurt its chances. Maybe their next film....

29 August 2005

My kid is a kindergartener!

Suddenly I know what they're talking about when they say children grow up so fast. My daughter is being subsumed into the rituals and rhythms of school. She will do so many new things that I won't see every time. I will no longer be there when she learns a new song or comprehends the notion that specific words have meanings. I won't be with her when she figures out how to copy a picture or write the next new word.

What a shock!

It still pulls at my heartstrings that this tender little shoot of a child is already In School, daily mixing it up with the other kids, at a big neighborhood school. (I once went to school across the street from her school, and we played chess with the kids from my daughter's school.)

Now there are probably four or five Indian kids in her grade in school, plus some Hispanic kids and some white kids. I can't tell how much she notices skin color or how she sees herself. I was stunned hearing my Asian-American friend say she was quite surprised to realize growing up that she wasn't white and blond like Farrah Fawcett and half the girls in her class. But there are lots of brown kids around this girl of ours, so she's not different. And she has the amazing crib sister connection to sustain her. It's a new world, different from when we had 1 black kid, 4 hispanic kids, maybe an asian kid, and everyone else was white, including the vast majority of the teachers.

Gone are the days when I wondered whether she was ready. She is so ready in a way I may never truly be -- surprise, surprise, surprise! She's even ready to take the bus from school to the park, without me being at the school. And she's loving and curious and engaged, ready to play and willing to have adventures.

It's as if a mantle of fiveness has settled atop her shoulders. She suddenly has this self-posession she's never had. An Idea of her Self in Space and Time. Or even just a glimpse of this new idea of herself.

She's learning about manipulation. We have to watch out that Grandma doesn't always say yes, overextend herself to her granddaughter. She is in no way the little girl's slave, yet The Girl has treated her as if she is her personal, life-sized plaything. We must set the little one straight. Her Grandma is precious and deserves to be respected and cherished. Grandpa, too.

In other news, I'm looking forward to my latest publication on Movie Habit, discussing Gimme Shelter and a film about an African pop star. I am about to go to the Telluride film fest, so it will be fun to have something new posted.

Speaking of Telluride, I am thinking I can collect little Telluride stories -- 100 words about you. Or what you brought to the festival. Or something you have learned since you arrived. How could my friend's bear story get included? She wanted to go to the festival and all of her friends bailed, so she camped in the wilds near town. All night she heard animals grunting near her tent, and heard talk in a cafe of a seven-foot bear seen rummaging in a Dumpster at night. Two days passed before she realized she could shower if she paid her $1.25 for three minutes like all the other campers. Life improved dramatically, and she never got eaten by a bear. But of course she had to pee outside the tent six times that night.

'Night all. Sleep well!


17 August 2005

The power of music

This is a review of the music documentaries Gimme Shelter and Femi Kuti: Live at the Shrine. A newer version of this essay is at Movie Habit.

I just watched Gimme Shelter the other night because someone recommended it (at a panel about documentary films at the World Affairs Conference). What a creepy, disheartening portrait. 1969 brought the Summer of Love, but followed it with the Rolling Stones' free concert at the Altamont Speedway, near San Francisco. Four people died at that event, including one who pulled a gun and was stabbed to death by a biker, one of the notorious Hell's Angels. (I was at a concert in San Francisco a couple of years earlier, at the age of four, during which some of the Hell's Angels provided "security." I was terrified of the big, bad bikers, even after people assured me that they were there to protect people. I found them unnervingly drunk and unpredictable. For the record, I was afraid of the police, too; there always seemed to be drugs around and I remember the paranoid flurries when the cops came near.)

By the time the albums Sticky Fingers and later Exile on Main Street came out, I was crazy for the Stones. I put a giant poster of Mick Jagger by my bed, and kissed it often. I was jealous when he married the exotic and impossibly glamorous Bianca. When the Stones played in Denver I begged my parents to take me, to smuggle me in, to let me dress in high heels and pretend I was a grownup. But they knew about Altamont and wisely refused. (I can say they were wise now that I am a parent, despite knowing that my parents went to that Denver show and had a great time, no violence.) I finally got to see them play a stadium show when I was in high school -- it was a great show despite the vast distance from the stage.

So I found watching the Altamont concert come together and fall apart in Gimme Shelter quite disillusioning. Having been a huge fan of Mick Jagger in particular, it was sad to see his staginess at every turn. Charlie Watts, the band's laconic drummer, reacts honestly to the footage of the concert and the calls to a radio station from a Hell's Angel. But every word Jagger speaks seems calculated, every gesture inadequate to the occasion. Mick is a fantastic performer, in his role as the strutting, sexed-up frontman. But as the Altamont gig disintegrated, which it had started doing well before The Rolling Stones took the stage, he comes off like an ineffectual parent: "If that guy doesn't stop it..."

One clip shows him watching footage of himself responding to an interviewer, who is asking some silly question about whether the Stones are more satisfied (in the wake of their hit "Satisfaction (I Can't Get No)." "Sexually, yes. Financially, no. Philosophically, we're trying." "Rubbish," he comments on his own performance for the press. But it seems that if there's a camera rolling, anything Jagger does is likely to be a performance.

And what for? Sex sells, I thought as I watched Mick prance and preen about the stage, joking about whether the audience would like to see his trousers fall down. But sells what?

Tonight I watched the new Femi Kuti video, Live at the Shrine, which I'm reviewing for Movie Habit. This guy has something to sing about. He's a star in Africa, where he lives in Lagos, Nigeria and has continued in his father's footsteps. Fela Kuti, Femi's father, was an outspoken critic of corruption and promoter of African unity, and Femi now wears his mantle. Every Sunday night, Femi performs at a hall he built in memory of his father, the New Afrika Shrine, the stage full of musicians and dancers. Scenes from the Sunday night "Jumps," as the shows are called, are intercut with interviews with people in the band, street scenes, and interviews with Femi himself. I know "desperate poverty" and "war-torn nation" sound like cliches, but they fit Nigeria all too well. Kuti talks about how Nigerians can't call themselves independent if they can't get electricity and water consistently and constantly have to ask for aid. He uses his music to send out the word about conditions in Africa. To me, the lyrics sound preachy and overly political, but in their context, what else could they be? He could sing about romantic troubles, but chooses instead to sing about what it's like to be oppressed, not only by your circumstances but by your own choices.

Femi talks about how dance is a kind of communication without language, and I understood this watching not only his constant motion but also the writhing, jittering women onstage. It is a tribal art, a release of all kinds of tension for participants and observers alike. Suddenly I could see the scantily clad go-go dancers onstage with The Isley Brothers in that context. Of course people use music, dance, and sex to get their message across: Everyone understands the language.

I found Gimme Shelter so deflating by comparison. Mick Jagger urges the restive crowd at Altamont to just "sit back and get in the groove," but then they play "Under My Thumb." The song has a groove but is about a guy who has discovered how great it is to have power over his woman. Then the deadly violence breaks out and the rest is history. When the "greatest rock and roll band on Earth," as they liked to proclaim, had a chance to make a difference, they forgot about the power they had to say something positive and just threw down another hit. Of course, to be fair, Femi Kuti exhorts his audience not to throw their beverages, giving up and saying, "You're too drunk to hear my request." The plastic bottles -- and resin chairs -- fly throughout his next song. But no one kills anyone, and the message Femi brings to that hall full of dancers seems to lift everyone up a little higher than they were before.

26 May 2005

Ian Rankin's Scottish Cop Novels

Okay, I admit to having become completely addicted of late to Ian Rankin's John Rebus series of mystery novels. He's a maverick cop based in Edinburgh who works on instinct and is fueled by booze. I am trying to figure out why I haven't been able to stop reading them and have come up with a couple of answers.

First, Rankin is clearly as interested in music as I am, and works song titles and lyrics into his character's consciousness throughout. Many of the references are lost on me, but I'm often inspired to go check out some band he refers to.

Second, his books are well constructed and rich in detail about Scotland's places and peculiarities. I always delight in deconstructing the jargon (only a few bits have eluded me so far but a good example in the novel I'm reading so far is "paraffin budgies" for helicopters) and recognizing all the little Britishisms. They have quite the penchant for abbreviations and sometimes cutesy phrases (recce for reconnoiter, drinkies, walkies, and so forth). He explains Scottish terms for weather and national characteristics (how fat and sugar are the heart of the Scottish diet, and if you add alcohol you have the heart and soul, he says). The regional jargon and the twists and turns of the stories keep my mind sharp, and I enjoy them the same way others enjoy crossword puzzles.

Third, I thought I was just a bit of an Anglophile, having visited London a couple of times, but it turns out I have something of a feel for Britain as a whole. I've been told I have Scotch-Irish roots, so it figures, I suppose, that the atmosphere Rankin describes feels somehow familiar. Despite being a resident of the Western United States for my entire life, I've always felt so at home in Europe, in the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, and France. Germany felt too familiar, and I was not comfortable in Portugal, but I'm sure the latter discomfort was the combination of the language barrier (no, Portuguese is nothing like Spanish, the closest I ever got to a second language) and its being the first European country I ever visited (I was trying way too hard to blend in, which I no longer worry about but still get asked for directions in the native languages). I hope to see more of Britain, despite much of its reputation, not disputed in Rankin's books, as a fairly grim and dreary place.

25 May 2005

Digging in the well

Since I last posted, I've done a couple of big things: I've written my father a letter saying I don't want to see him, and I have visited my grandfather, who is 87 and in what I think of as the steep decline of his life. A few years ago my grandfather was traveling, going dancing, and having a busy social life. Since breaking his back in a fall last year, he has round-the-clock nursing care and can't even feed himself.

Before I left, I asked myself many times over why I was going to see my grandfather, since in some ways I don't think he is a very nice guy. But he's always been good to me (even while he's picked mercilessly on other members of my family).

I started seeing a therapist over the past month or so to help me with some of my overwhelming feelings about the violence and abuse that plagued my family, and the fact that I have a four-and-a-half-year-old daughter and that's exactly how old my sister was when she died (I was six at the time of her drowning). My therapist and I made a big chart of all the people in my family, color-coded with information about relationships, deaths, afflictions, and how I felt about them.

My grandfather is one of the bright spots on my family chart, largely because he supported my goals. I feel that my parents were busy rejecting the conservative ideas of their time but perhaps didn't always know what to put in their place. As a result, I often feel like my academic successes and goal-setting were pretty much my own. I didn't have the kind of parents who urged me on every step of the way, or helped me with my essays and science fair projects. Meanwhile, my grandfather had money, which no one else did at the time, and he believed strongly in the value of a good education. So he encouraged me and gave me money for tuition. My mom and stepdad did, too, when they could, and I did my part by working for a year and becoming a California resident, which reduced my tuition bill enormously, and I worked for my spending money. I was fortunate to finish school with very little student-loan debt. I only had to take the occasional economics class to convince my granddad that I wouldn't end up with a completely irrelevant education (I was an English literature and creative writing major).

Now I am one of the few people I know who can say she is using her degree: I've worked as a writer and editor through college and ever since. (And I've never regretted taking those micro- and macroeconomics courses -- they turned out to be pretty interesting.)

When I went to visit him a couple of weeks ago, my grandfather asked the question he always asks, which is basically: "Do you think your education helped you in your career?" And again I assured him that I did. He helped me in a big way, and he and I both know it.

In contrast, I came home after my first year of college and over dinner with my father at a nice restaurant, I proudly told him about my classes, and that I was transferring to UC Berkeley, because Davis seemed far too isolated to me (and also because my then-high-school sweetheart and I had decided not to break up after all and and we both got accepted -- and it worked: we're still happily married). I asked my father if he could send me $100 a month to help with my college expenses, since I knew costs were likely to be higher in Berkeley. I was completely stunned when my father said no, explaining: "I just can't support what you're doing with your life."

When I told my therapist about this conversation, she said, "That's bullsh*t! He just didn't want the obligation to you." Which definitely fits the overall picture. When my sister had a terrible motorcycle accident some 11 or 12 years ago (and had six or seven surgeries to repair her shattered leg), our father offered to send her the little, old microwave that he used at his auto shop. That was the extent of the help he offered her. Whereas my mom, who was living in the same area, moved in with her and took her to appointments and gave her all kinds of support.

When I think of these moments and many others, I think of my father as such a stunted person, and I know that some of this emotional stunting was the legacy of his parents, my grandparents. That (and the fact that my grandfather is rich) made me question my own motives in going to visit my grandfather. Did I want to confront him about his parenting? Ask if his parents had been violent toward him? Four years ago, however, when I went to his wife's (my step-grandmother's) funeral and saw him bereft, I helped him thread his belt through the belt loops that he couldn't reach because of his bad shoulder pain. I touched his arm and felt this jolt of compassion and recognition. However emotionally stunted the guy may have been, he is still my family, and I am his, and I care about him just because of that. So that's why I went. Not to ask for money, or to demand some kind of accounting for his parenting skills (or lack thereof), but to squeeze his hand and see him, and remind him that family is all we really have in the end. And I did, and it was good.

Somehow I am far closer to forgiving my father for his failings, too, as every day I seem to feel a little more compassion for all of us and a little less pain.


09 May 2005

This site wins my personal design award today

NOW that I've had a blog for a few days, here's what I am impressed with: The concept of blogger.com. I have the Dashboard page bookmarked (and a dashboard is indeed a good analogy; at the terminal people often say, "May I drive?"). I can always edit or view my blog from the Dashboard. It's intuitive and fairly simple where it needs to be. The interface is transparent and familiar: I feel as if I'm writing e-mails to myself.

What I don't like: After I realized a list of links weren't included in the standard template I had chosen, I found it more difficult than I would like to admit to find the location where I needed to copy blogger.com's boilerplate list of links into the HTML code. It would be much friendlier to include a template-editing command panel that allows users to insert new sections from the Dashboard. I really don't want to have to pull the car over to the side of the road to get the tools out of the trunk to do that sort of thing if I don't have to.

What are you up to today?


08 May 2005

What I did today

Happy Mother's Day!

I just wrote a letter. Here it is:

To Bill Owens, Governor
136 State Capitol
Denver, CO 80203-1792

May 8, 2005

Open letter to Colorado Governor Bill Owens:

In Searching for Angela Shelton, someone demanded, “So what are you doing today to stop it?” about sexual abuse. Every day something happens and I have a chance to say, I am doing something about it. Do you sleep a little deeper each night knowing you too have stood for what is right? Righted the kinds of wrongs you dreamed of when you first knew you wanted to be a leader? I have been sleeping well lately, and I recommend it.

Just now a fellow called (from Boston, made me chuckle inside) on behalf of Planned Parenthood’s Rocky Mountain chapter and I just pledged to cover a lobbyist’s cab to the airport, I suppose. But I also spoke at length with the fundraiser about House Bill 1042, which as you know would allow health care providers to withhold treatment from survivors of sexual abuse.

And immediately I could imagine myself in that situation, stumbling across a set of automatic doors, in shock from the most horrendous violation of one’s very life imaginable (try imagining it and see what I mean). At that crushing and terrible moment, when the only thing I needed was an “Everything’s going to be all right, miss,” from a competent and caring professional who could give me the necessary drugs to prevent this heinous act from becoming any more devastating than it already is. Allow yourself to feel just an inkling of the shame and misery that would most likely deter this woman -- or child -- from seeking help anywhere else ever again, much less some other pharmacy, clinic, or hospital.

If you think of this is a right-to-life issue, think again.

Should a mother, wife, daughter, girlfriend, or grandmother, or friend of yours ever face the decision whether to bear the offspring that was a product of a rape, you might be personally touched by this woman’s plight. Surely you know in your heart that for the women themselves and their families, the children who result may not be greeted with pure love and joy. Think about those lives and consider carefully who needs their rights in this situation.

I hope you find it in your heart to empathize with these abused women and pass Colorado HB 1042 to force an acceptable minimum standard of care: In sexual trauma cases, providers must inform women of all of their options and offer emergency contraception, something that some of those women will need at this moment like no other. Another woman will be raped and walk into a Boulder or Denver or Pueblo or Delta or Sterling hospital today. Will she be turned away in her moment of need, or will she be taken care of?

Rape is an act you cannot afford to perpetuate by inflicting parenthood on women who have just been forced to come to terms with their own violation of basic human dignity. Vote yes on HB 1042 to respect the profound need for women to make their own decisions in times of crisis.

The public is on your side if you do, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America:

· In a 2002 poll, 85% of Colorado voters supported the availability of EC in the ER for victims of rape and incest.

· Over 80% of all Americans believe emergency health care facilities should NOT be allowed to deny EC to a woman who is sexual assaulted, regardless of the hospital’s religious affiliation.

· Nearly 80% of women in the U.S. would prefer that their community emergency health care facility provide EC to rape victims.

Sincerely yours,

Risë Anne Keller

03 May 2005

Hitting the Master Reset Button

This article was published in the Colorado Daily on Friday, Jan. 30, 2004:

Even after only five years, Gomez have a lot to look back on. In 1998, the regal bluesman John Lee Hooker, beamed live from San Francisco to England’s Q Awards ceremony, held the British pop quintet’s debut CD, Bring It On, in his hand.

I heard the new band Gomez.” Hooker intoned. “I’ve heard the album over and over and I found no defects -- I think they’re very, very good. They’re going to go places, especially with the young kids, and the old folks will surely follow. Keep on, kids."

It still blows their minds to remember it.

No strangers to blown minds, this group of students from Southport, England gathered in a garage and started making noises. Lifelong friends Ian Ball and Olly Peacock and their college pals Tom Gray, Paul “Blackie” Blackburn, and Ben Ottewell compiled their spacy, blues-soaked pop songs on a demo tape that they handed around to a few friends, including an acquaintance who worked at a record store. Ten minutes after Ball handed Steve Fellows his tape, the amazed Fellows ran out of the shop and caught up with Ball in a nearby pub. Fellows had made several records with his own band and knew where to send the tape. (Later he became the band’s manager.)

Bring It On was the result. The fledgling band’s first album turned Gomez into the United Kingdom’s Next Big Thing, virtually overnight, winning their prestigious Mercury Music Prize as well as a couple of influential British music magazines’ best new group awards.

When the hoopla surrounding Bring It On demanded that Gomez tour to support it, the group found themselves short on stagecraft; they simply hadn’t had much practice at performing together.

“It was really a case of a few English boys who didn’t know how to play guitar making music,” Gray recently recalled in an interview at home in Brighton, England. Ottewell added, “It was only a couple of years ago that I got past being utterly terrified to go onstage.”

Their second studio album, the trippy Liquid Skin, had limited commercial appeal because of its genre-bending psychedelic rock and seven-minute songs. The singles “Revolutionary Kind” and “Rhythm and Blues Alibi” enjoyed their brief moments in rotation, and the band went back to work and continued to teach themselves how to play together and how to play live. They toured whenever they weren’t recording.

Gomez’ first couple of albums were successful enough to allow them to release Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline, a collection of B-sides and new tunes that hadn’t made it onto the first two albums. But three-and-a-half solid years of touring and recording had tipped the band’s balance toward burnout. Gomez took a long break, but even on their vacation they couldn’t resist collecting sounds from around the world to bring home for their next record, which they made in a rented country house jammed with recording gear and copious quantities of booze (and who knows what else).

Peacock said that after their early success they believed “people would do things for us because they liked us.” But fate had a humbling slap upside the head in store for the band. The week Virgin Records’ tiny Hut label released In Our Gun, the axe fell at parent company EMI, which slashed 20 percent of its recording artists and staff; Hut was cut from seven people to four. So while Gomez celebrated the new CD’s release, they also had teary phone calls with current and former record company staffers who had come to be friends and supporters.

In the sobering lull following In Our Gun’s release, their manager recommended that they tour America. No one can say now who thought they were less prepared: the record company or the band. But the group recognized that if they wanted to keep on playing, they had to not only record and tour but also take on their own promotion.

When Gomez came to the U.S. in the spring of 2003, Boulder was among the places that surprised them with a heroes’ welcome.

“I remember Bouldah,” Tom said, drawing out the last word with a knowing look. “People were shouting themselves hoarse from before we even came out. They didn’t stop all night long. It was truly mental!”

In another twist of fortune, a fire at a rented studio melted their gear. So Gomez converted a warehouse into a new recording studio, “With our bare hands,” chuckled Ottewell wryly. They went to work on their latest album, tentatively titled Split the Difference, slated for release this May, and recruited veteran producer Tchad Blake (Pearl Jam, Los Lobos, Sheryl Crow).

“We’re being much more professional this time,” said Gray. “We have a lot of nine-to-five days.”

“More like twelve to seven,” countered Ottewell.

“We can’t spend too much time in the studio. It’s either really hot or really cold,” Peacock said.

“It’s made us more direct. We’d go in and say, ‘Let’s make rock ’n’ roll history,’” Gray said.

“It’s loud in the sense of a ’Seventies rock record, said Ottewell. “We’re pushing the level of sound we can get out of our studio.”

“The sound is always teetering on the edge of just beginning to distort,” explained Peacock.

“But in a nice way,” Gray reassured. “This record will really fly out of your stereo!”

“One of the words that kept coming up was ‘abandon,’” Tom continued. “We’d say we were hitting the ‘Master Reset’ button, trying to find out who we really were after losing our way.”

I asked what advice they would give to their younger selves.

“Keep your eye on the sodding ball,” Gray said.

“Focus. Work hard,” added Peacock.

“You wouldn’t believe what a shock it was,” confided Gray. “We went from stoner college students doing bugger all – and I mean nothing – to…” Gray couldn’t bring himself to say “rock stars” out loud, but that’s what they were. “It was culture shock-o-rama!”

“We’ve been totally surprised by the amount of work it takes,” Peacock said.

Gomez will be guests for a taping of etown at the Boulder Theater (at 7 pm) and at the Fox Theatre (at 9 p.m., with Rachel Yamagata opening) on Sunday, February 1.

copyright 2004 Rise Keller

Rose Hill Drive Take the High Road

This article was originally published in the Colorado Daily (without sidebars):

After some meditation, some vocal exercises, and some Red Bull, Rose Hill Drive take the stage at the Fox Theater to howl, thrash, and croon their way through their hard-edged, Led Zeppelin-inspired rock tunes. “City,” “Ball and Chain,” “The War,” and other songs elicit cries of joy from the small but growing knot of friends and fans at the band’s feet. The trio enjoys bantering with their friends in the audience. When bassist Jake Sproul introduces him, drummer Nate Barnes lets his face show his pride for about two seconds; he can’t resist twirling a drumstick and showing off for a couple more seconds. Jake’s brother Daniel dissolves into his ornate guitar riffs, his face hidden behind a thick curtain of shoulder-length ringlets.

Rose Hill Drive keep the pace fast, the pitch steep, and the volume high. Daniel’s guitar allows him to channel Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan while Zep, Pearl Jam, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers thread their way through the tapestry that forms the backdrop of their catchy original songs. The ease with which they wield that age-old she-done-me-wrong blues moan belies their youth (their average age is about 21). Tonight Daniel wrestles his demons and finds bliss on his six-string while Nate pounds his skins and Jake howls of rage and lust. Their instruments, bodies, and minds are in tune; they’re in the zone.

The club is in the zone with them. Daniel’s fluid riffs, Nate’s reckless percussion, and Jake’s impassioned vocals and bass hold the room and leave everyone breathless, wanting more. Jake handles most of the between-song banter. At one point Daniel brushes back his thicket of hair and makes the rare comment: “I love you all.”

“I do too,” Nate says with childlike wonder. “This is really an experience now.”

The words “LOVE” and “BASS” tattooed on his knuckles, Jake emotes, “What I do to you, I do to you, I do to me.” In another song, Jake sings a luscious chorus that drips with the promise of sex – even love – in his smooth, melodic voice. The band jumps back into up-tempo urgency so suddenly that I wonder whether they are perhaps still uneasy with handing out sex so casually, with their ’rents right there in the audience.

Then I listen to an archived performance from community radio station KGNU’s Kabaret from late 2003, on which Jake does a vocal riff to introduce a song and blows that theory out of the water: “Da cudda da cudda da kissa, da kissa, da kissit, da kissit, kiss it, kiss it, touch it, love it, lick it, stick it.” I ask whether they adopt different personas before they perform. They assure me, “We are ourselves onstage.”

Before Rose Hill Drive end their set and clear the stage for the headlining band, the North Mississippi Allstars, Allstar Cody Dickinson joins them for one long jam to infuse the screamfest with some electric organ groove.

* * *

“The love is here! The love is here!” Everyone swarms the kitchen table at Boulder’s Coupe Studios for some fries and fat foccacia slices layered with veggies or bacon, lettuce, and tomato. The food is a relief: It’s been a maddening day so far in the studio for Rose Hill Drive, Boulder’s best-known unknown rock band.

Nate, Jake, and Daniel have been flailing away fruitlessly here at Boulder’s Coupe Studios for an hour and haven’t been able to record for one minute without problems. They would love to go outside and take some bats to their old junker van. After all, there’s a newer van now, a van big enough to carry their burgeoning gear, one that won’t break down on the way to Vail in a snowstorm the way the old one did.

“No way, man. You’ve gotta save that van for eBay,” says their friend John. When a ripple of uneasy laughter travels around the table, he protests, “I’m serious!”

But aside from the garden-variety self-destructiveness of young guys newly emancipated and with time on their hands, the van conversation misrepresents Rose Hill Drive. Everyone in their orbit – their parents, friends, and even the guy who sells me the ticket for the Fox show – says, “They’re such nice guys,” or talks about their passion for what they do, their hearts being in the right place. Jake once described their alliance as a “three-way marriage.”

Although they are not spending their own cash on studio time today, Rose Hill Drive clearly hear the clock ticking. A small crew of people have come in this Saturday to help them record their first EP. The studio’s owner and engineers squeeze sessions in between their day jobs recording soundtracks for McDonald’s ads and their lives; also here are the band’s manager, Brian Schwartz, and a rotating cast of friends and well-wishers. All are here to help the band work the bugs out and get some songs on tape. All have a stake in the outcome. The expectations are high and everyone here comes with ideas about how today will go and what it will mean for their futures.

But the gremlins have other ideas. Sneaking around the studio, they plant a buzz here, something off-key there, and generally muck everything up just enough to irritate. I can’t hear all the flaws the sound engineer and the other folks complain about, but they continue to plague everyone.

“What do you think I should use?” Daniel asks, turning to the studio’s owner, Scott Roche, who is donating his studio’s time for a share in the band’s profits. Roche had scouted for a talented young band he could work with and develop, and he's sure these are the guys.

“You could give up on the Gibson for today and play the Strat,” suggests Scott. Daniel nods; he’d be happy to get on with it. He’s looking more pent up by the minute.

“We’ll just do an out of tune EP. ‘This note does not exist,’” jokes Daniel, with a pained look in his eyes.

“We should go do ‘Ball and Chain,’” Jake says, trying to buck up his brother and itching to play something that will amp them up again.

“Kick that shit,” agrees Nate, percussively. “Bump that shit out. Kick that. Let’s go play.”

“But the Strat is not sounding as fat, I’ll tell you that right now,” Scott tells Daniel.

“Goddamnit, Scott!” says Daniel, stalking into the studio. He picks up a turquoise Strat and huddles in a little closet-sized space to vent some anguish.

In the sound room, engineer Greg McRae mutters at the tiny heap of shredded fingernails and skin he has excavated from Daniel’s Gibson: “You can tell a lot about the way a person plays when you clean their guitar.” McRae is pretty sure he won’t be able to fix the intonation on this guitar without replacement parts, and the repair shop is not open today. McRae is the one who first noticed the guys coming into Robb’s Music, where he was also working at the time. “They were always coming in and picking out the good gear.”

McRae turns to Nate. “You get the Boy Scout preparedness award. You had new skins and everything. You came ready to rock.”

“Yeah,” Nate says. “I want to play,” Nate replies, swinging his arms.

“Actually it sounds really good when you’re playing soft,” says Aaron Lasko, an engineer and partner at Coupe Studios, from his spot at the mixing board.

Nate just stares at Lasko, his expression flat as a cymbal, before he heads for the studio.

* * *

All along, everyone cultivated the musicians’ interests. Nate’s dad, Peter Barnes, a pastor at First Presbyterian, played guitar and sang in Boston coffeehouses during college, mostly James Taylor and some other folk. Nate’s mom Lori played the flute, which attracted her to the music of Jethro Tull. When Nate was growing up, he was always interested in music; an early photo shows the towheaded toddler pulling himself up on a speaker. He tried piano and got bored with it. Drums caught his interest and he played with his church band. Then he met Daniel at Fairview High in the orchestra band and they started playing together after school. Recently Nate told his mom he had heard the Beatles’ Abbey Road and loved it. “Wait just a minute,” said Lori. She ran down to the basement and retrieved the vinyl LP she’d had since she was his age. “That gave me some credibility,” she laughed.

Jake and Daniel’s dad Steve played guitar, mostly noodling on his own. At home the whole family listened to Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, The Who – what’s now called “classic rock” on the radio. Daniel learned “Yankee Doodle Dandy” on guitar when he was six. At Base Line middle school, he was wowing his classmates at a school talent show with the Jimi Hendrix version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on an electric guitar that he held above behind his head and played blind. (“That was cool!” recalls former classmate Justin Hoffenberg, who now plays fiddle in the Coal Creek Bluegrass Band.) Daniel’s brother Jake tried guitar but took off when he discovered the bass.

Back when Daniel and Jake Sproul lived on the University Hill street that gave the band its name, a group of neighbors knocked on the Sprouls’ door. “You guys have to move,” they said, having had enough of the trio’s loud practices. But the neighbors were so nice about it. They said, “We’ll rent you a place, but it’s time for you to move.”

This happened at the same time as Daniel and Jake’s parents were divorcing. “It was a tumultuous time,” their mom, Jacquie Sproul, told me, making it clear these boys know first-hand of sadness as well as joy, that people are complicated, but that this was a private matter and she would not say anything negative about any of her family.

The band no longer live or practice on Rosehill Drive, but thanks to the faith and generosity of a large supporting cast of relatives and music professionals, Nate, Daniel, and Jake are now ensconced in an old farmhouse east of Boulder where they can practice at any hour without bothering neighbors. Their moms have been working on the garden, going to Costco to stock the cupboards, doing their laundry while they are on tour, and orchestrating the wiring, drywall, and painting projects to create a proper practice room.

Now that they are all out of school, nothing holds them back. They’re touring like maniacs, currently a supporting act on the Vans Warped Tour. Everywhere they go they’re inciting a buzz. They spend countless hours listening to all kinds of music, from old Cream albums to the White Stripes, from Cat Stevens to System of a Down. This band has already mastered the conversion of love and noise, pain and beauty into five-minute songs, right there for all to see and hear. And what else would they do? If he weren’t playing bass and writing songs all the time, Jake says, he would be “trying drugs.” “Which ones?” “All of them.” Says Nate: “I’d be a pastor, or a heroin addict.” Asking Daniel the question seems absurd. There’s nothing for him but the music.

As they generate a buzz at Austin's South by Southwest music showcase and in L.A., record execs sniff around. But now they’re proving the cliché that it’s all about who you know in this industry. Nate’s uncle gave their demo CD to a fellow board member: big-time record producer Brendan O’Brien (who has worked with Pearl Jam, Korn, and Stone Temple Pilots, among others). O’Brien was so impressed he asked to hear the band live, and flew out for a private show at the Fox a couple of days later. O’Brien immediately signed on as producer and creative director. Now, instead of flailing around at Coupe Studios to make an EP, O’Brien is lending his professional expertise to help them record a full-length album of their original songs at an Atlanta studio. They’re hoping the combination of their music and his experience will be irresistible to a major label that is willing to nurture them over a long career.

On hearing them live, it’s immediately obvious that these guys have the moxie to fill a stadium one day, and everyone who meets them seems to want in on the scene. Some just want to be around such talented, inspired longhairs who by all accounts have their heads and hearts in the right place; perhaps others want a cut of the booty that will surely fall when they do sign the big record contract. The band’s explanation of how they chose their name already reveals nostalgia for simpler times: “Rose Hill Drive is the street we grew up on and it reminds us of the early days playing countless hours in the basement before management, gigs, labels, tours. It also reminds us of when we just played for the music and the love of it.”

Their manager, Brian Schwartz believes Rose Hill Drive aren’t going to flame out early. He says they take care of themselves, going to Bikram yoga classes to keep themselves balanced when they’re on the road. When they’re in Boulder, Nate meets his family for their weekly bike ride. They tell me about their Brooklyn photo shoot: Nate got queasy and hurled right there on the subway platform. The culprit wasn’t too much imbibing the night before but taking vitamins on an empty stomach. “That was great – we got it all on camera!” Jake laughs.

I’d like to hear more from them about their experience recording with O’Brien in Atlanta, who earlier this year said he only had two things he wanted to work on in 2004: Bruce Springsteen and Rose Hill Drive. But they’re woodshedding, keeping the focus on recording and playing lots of gigs. Schwartz sends out an occasional update via e-mail or forwards the occasional note from Jake.

Meanwhile, Rose Hill Drive are busy “spreading happy seeds,” as Old 97’s guitarist Ken Bethea describes playing live. All at the Fox agree, from the longstanding friends and freshly minted fans on the dance floor to the blonde from Pasadena who takes the drummer’s hand and follows him backstage; from their parents to the recording studio owner and his wife; from Nick Forster, the host of the nationally syndicated etown radio show to the headlining band. Soon we’ll find out what fruits these seeds will yield.

Rose Hill Drive play Denver’s Bluebird Theatre on Thursday, August 26, the West End Street Jam on Saturday, August 28, and Boulder’s Fox Theater on Saturday, September 4. Go to http://www.rosehilldrive.com/ for details.

Possible sidebars:

What Rose Hill Drive are listening to:

o Aerosmith

o The Allman Brothers

o The Animals

o The Beatles

o Cream

o Elmore James

o Incubus

o Led Zeppelin

o Cat Stevens

o The White Stripes

o System of a Down

o The Vines

o The Who

What’s in Rose Hill Drive’s pockets:

o Nate: Orange scrunchie, lighter, lip balm, drum key, keys, cigarettes, and Sudafed

o Daniel: Hotel key, slide, string winder, earplugs, and picks

o Jake: Lint, a few pennies, candy trash, and a condom with a damaged package

copyright 2004 Rise Keller

02 May 2005

The birds and the bees

A sketch from our lives:

Last weekend my husband, four-and-a-half-year-young daughter, and I were all hanging out in the kitchen. On the chalkboard was written one of her recent questions that came up when we were talking about fruits and vegetables: "Are we part of the squash family?"

Our daughter, who is endlessly interested in babies, asked one of life's bigger questions: "Mama, how do babies get into their mamas' tummies?"

I was standing at the cutting board working on something and started rambling about how when mommies and daddies love each other they can make a baby, and my husband, smiling and listening but not saying a word, started picking up the newspaper.

"Put that newspaper down!" I demanded, laughing, and he grinned and complied.

Our daughter could see that I was uncomfortable -- I really don't think a graphic description of how sex works would have been the right thing at this time, but I was at a loss as to what exactly to tell her that would be appropriate.

I guess I'm just going to have to research and write that article I've been thinking about on how to talk to kids of different ages about sex, an idea I had after we pretty successfully dealt with her interest in masturbation, which started up around age 3. At that time, it was the first thing that made her interested in going in her room alone. I remember being a sexually aware kid (one who perhaps had a little too much exposure/information at too young an age but that is a whole different topic), so I didn't want to discourage her from exploring herself and her feelings. Right away, I set some really clear boundaries: You can do this at home, in your own room, in private. She tested my boundaries, trying to do it out in the living room where I could see her, but I insisted that she go in her room and close the door. Now, once in a long while, she'll say, "Mama, can I go in my room and do the privacy thing?" And I check on her every couple of minutes to make sure she isn't hurting herself. These days, "the privacy thing" tends to involve a couple of wipes and swim diapers or pull-ups, neither of which she uses any longer but which she still manages to find in the back of some drawer. And as far as I know, she's never tried to do this anywhere else, to my great relief.

But what do I tell her about the "birds and bees?"

Rock on,

Welcome to vanillagrrl's world

Greetings, all!

I am excited to have a place to post all these musings about life and art, if you can even separate the two. I'll definitely be talking about music, writing, films, travel, books, sexuality, parenting, and whatever's in my view at the moment.

I am a freelance writer at work on many different projects. One is an interview of the band Gomez from December 2003 that I want to post somewhere in its detailed fun.

Today I'm working on something more serious, however. I am setting up an interview with Angela Shelton, a documentary filmmaker I met at the first annual Boulder International Film Festival this February. She was a writer working in L.A. who decided to make a documentary film in which she would try to contact all the Angela Sheltons in the U.S., to find out about "the state of women in America today." But her film, "Searching for Angela Shelton," ended up being not just a survey of how women are doing but also a very personal expose of sexual abuse in her own life and the lives of many of the women she met in her cross-country journey. In one astounding coincidence, she interviews an Angela Shelton who lives in the same town as her abusive father; this Angela is a tracker of sexual predators. The filmmaker herself pulls no punches: She is willing to say just about anything to anyone. Part of the way through her journey she realizes she needs to confront her father ("All roads lead to you, Dad," she says to him). When she finally does this late in the film it is painful to watch: He completely denies her memories of his sexual abuse, which her stepbrother and stepsister both remember vividly. She is furious, and frustrated. But by the end of the film Angela is ready to end the silence about abuse and she is doing so with every screening of her film and every public appearance she makes.

When Angela called me back a few days later from the road about my message requesting an interview, I was in the middle of cooking some elaborate dinner and it took a minute to come up to speed in our conversation. I don't even remember exactly what it was I said that prompted her to respond, "Are you silly?" I smile every time I think of her saying that.

Of course, this is bringing up my own issues. My father was violent and sexually abusive toward both my mother and stepmother. It's taken me years of reflection, talk, and some therapy to recognize that while he may not have invaded my life in the same way, what he did was emotionally abusive toward us all. He really has shown such consistent disdain and mistrust for women over the years, and by all accounts he still does. I have experienced the same kind of utter frustration when I've tried to talk with him about this. Once I had hoped he would apologize, but every time I have tried to talk with him, he just says he doesn't remember. His reasoning must be: Why apologize for something you don't remember? I have spent the last month gearing up (in my head I say I'm "girding my loins") to tell him I don't want to see him when he comes to town. Now that I have a daughter, his influence is the last thing I want in her life, or my own. But writing a story about Angela Shelton seems like a tremendously positive way to break the silence about abuse -- and help other women learn to do the same.

Through all of this music has always provided me with great outlets for my emotions: "It brings me relief," as Neil Finn of Crowded House says in the song "Nails in my Feet." I just saw the lovely film I Capture the Castle, and the stepmother was a bit of an exhibitionist. I chuckled when she insisted, "It brings me release!" about taking her clothes off out-of-doors.

I have added I Capture the Castle to a list of art about writing that moves me: The father is a novelist with a 12-year case of writer's block whose daughter goes to extreme measures to help him write again. I found this plot thread more moving than the romantic elements, by far. There's another Neil Finn line that sparks my eyes with tears every time I hear it, from his solo album One All (One Nil outside the U.S.): "I missed the page that you thought about," which always makes me think of my supportive husband who is willing to wait for me to write my masterpieces. I hear lines like that and I know I want to have no regrets about my writing, especially because writing is definitely taking me deeper into myself than anything else has ever done. While music puts me in touch with my inner nature (believe me, there will be more on this thread later!), it is writing that helps me clarify who I am. There's a wonderful Francis Bacon quote, a portion of which I first saw inscribed on a beautiful, handcarved wooden cabinet at Bookshop Santa Cruz: "Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man."

For some of the reasons I have described, writing and publishing is not proving easy for me. I thought when I was writing short stories in college that I would be a novelist by now, but it's been difficult to shed the conditioning that kept me watching the signs to make sure I was completely safe before venturing out and saying my piece. (In therapeutic parlance, is this hypervigilance combined with post-traumatic stress disorder?) I've felt rather hobbled by this for years, but am getting more help at last.

As for that inner nature that music has helped me tap into, current inspirations are the Scissor Sisters and a visit to a Bangkok nightclub, The Bed Supperclub on gay night. I saw a woman who looked like Queen Latifah dancing on the elevated lighted platform and thought, that's who I want to be when I grow up. I have the same feeling when I see the Scissor Sisters perform. In the words of their female band member, Ana Matronic, "What we do is about people displaying their fantasies on the outside, trying to break out of the everyday, and look like their dreams." I am all over that!

So I keep on writing, listening to music, loving my family, eating well, trolling the local thrift stores for fabulous outfits, and trying to keep in mind that every day gives me new opportunities to realize my dreams and reinvent myself.

Rock on,

It's Barbie's world. Are we just furnishing it for her?

Here's an essay I wrote about a year ago:

The other day, my husband pulled a Barnes & Noble shopping bag out of his closet. Inexplicably, it contained a May/June 1997 issue of Barbie Bazaar, a doll collectors’ magazine. Tucked into the magazine pages was a photo greeting card of a Japanese woman in Kabuki makeup grinning from ear to ear and displaying a mouthful of silver braces. Where did these things come from? How did they wind up in my husband’s closet? We will most likely never know.

I started to page through the ’zine, and immediately I got what makes Barbie such a treasure, so attractive to collectors, and it wasn’t the absurd dimensions of her body. It’s that she is ready for anything, a plucky Nancy Drew of molded plastic, dressed to the nines and accessorized for her next adventure. The clothes do make the woman here – they tell you where she thinks she’s going, and Barbie has always been going places.

She has every length of pants, skirt, dress, coat. Every dress is a copy of something currently fashionable in New York, Japan, L.A., or Paris. She has shoes and boots for which the women on Sex and the City would fight mobs at sample sales to find in their sizes. You can even purchase a package of the spiffiest hairdos: Just attach her beehive and she’s ready to catch her flight and start serving those nice businessmen, or slip on her long blonde fall for disco night.

Looking at all of these Barbies of different eras I saw the appeal of collecting: It’s instant time travel. You can zip back to 1963, when all pilots were men and stewardesses had not yet become flight attendants. She’s got the go-go boots, a suitcase, a two-tone princess-seamed tricot dress and coordinated headbands (holding back her flip), and Jackie-O sunglasses to complete the look.

Or take a trip with 1993 Barbie in India, a Peace Corps-volunteer type with dark flowing hair who is donning the sari and bindi of the locals in the hope, one imagines, of having a more profound journey. You knew her in college as The Girl Most Likely to Sit on the Floor at a Party.

You can buy a Donna Karan Barbie. That the Jewish powerhouse designer allowed Mattel to make a Barbie in her image makes the cynic in me fear that it’s less about what we consider glamorous now and so much more about building brand loyalty among schoolchildren. Donna Karan's own story is a Cinderella story – she grew up with her Brooklyn ancestors’ high tolerance for working like dogs and is now living her dream.

Barbie Bazaar reveals that many designers create entire wardrobes and special occasion haute couture for the dolls. There’s a whole line of Bob Mackie gowns, and Dior is a major source of Barbie collectors’ most treasured dresses.

The dizzying array of outfits show as much variety as a clothing designer’s handbook: Every possible dart placement, pleat style, sleeve shape, sleeve cap shape, hemline, cuff, collar style, and so on. Multiply the garment construction variations by the up-to-the-minute colors and patterns and Barbie’s wardrobe is absolutely infinite.

After browsing the magazine for a while, I find to my surprise that I don’t feel superior to the collectors, nor do I begrudge them their enthusiasm for the object of their desires as I page through the magazine. Instead, I revel in our shared love for fashion.

I was never into Barbies as a kid. For my counter-culture parents, Barbie represented one line they simply would not cross, and I was more interested in eating the forbidden Chocolate Sugar Bombs in front of our neighbors’ big color TV on Saturday morning than in playing with their Barbies.

But I have always been interested in clothes -- their endless variations on texture, hue, drape, and function. High fashion remains quite irrelevant to my daily life, which I usually spend in my mom’s uniform of jeans, boot-like comfortable shoes, and knit shirts or sweaters. Going to a boutique and handling and trying on thoughtfully constructed clothing is like a soul vitamin to me: It restores my sense of self and reminds me of all the identities available to me every time.

The Barbies reveal interesting cultural shifts over time. As late as 1981, Mattel was manufacturing a doll named Oriental Barbie, “From the Orient,” the box explains helpfully.

I love the bizarre moments in fashion that Barbie reveals. One doll is a ringer for Annie Lennox, with “surprising but stunning white flocked hair.” She is dressed as what looks like a lawyer and looks like she could shed the tailored jacket to become a dominatrix by night. What I can’t explain is the lute-like instrument the besuited woman holds out from her body as if she is saying, “Where is the nearest garbage can?”

In Japan, Takara Jenny dolls are the equivalent of Barbies, one of Barbie Bazaar’s correspondents writes. Each doll's profile lists their blood type. But that’s not the quirkiest bit. Some of the characters’ blood types are listed as “unknown.” Blood type must have a profound influence on Jenny’s compatibility with the parade of boy dolls.

The Jenny dolls have endless romantic triangles and varying degrees of friendship as each new doll is introduced. After a line of fair-haired, round-eyed boys, Tom enters the scene as “Jenny’s most controversial friend.” Tom is a “dark, dangerous fellow who poses a direct threat to Jenny’s relationship with Jeff.” The doll has dreadlocks and a big gold hoop earring. The romantic author of the Barbie Bazaar article about Jenny dolls writes wistfully: “Hopefully in the future, Tom will be portrayed in a kinder light.”

While Barbie has an outfit for every occasion, Jenny seems to have a date for every occasion: “Jenny’s debut was a resounding success thanks to her loveliness and charm. Special thanks should also go to [her date, the royal] Charles who, in addition to giving her jewelry, was obliged to give Jenny lessons in dance and protocol.” Yeah, everyone still remembers all the sniggering behind wrists about Jenny's terrible social graces until she took up with that suave prince.

Among Barbie's legion of fans, many may not be frequent flyers, buy designer gowns, or have the luxury of attending college. But this game, trendy, über-girl gives us all a taste of the good life. Outfitted for every occasion, Barbie proves that if you can dream it, she can do it. And if a doll can do it, well, surely you can too.