Belligerent Romance : song. heart. bravery.

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“…the only answer is to recklessly discard more armor.”
― Eric Maisel

 

I re-post this every year.  An anniversary of sorts.  So, if you’ve been down this road, please bear with me.  If not, enjoy.

On this morning 8 years ago, I was awakened rudely by construction in the neighborhood. I fought it for a time, but eventually gave in and hastened my exercise gear on. I got myself outside for a good walking meditation, and couldn’t get Hans’ song out of my head.

Angela.

There are actually lots of songs with my name in the title. The music from the television show Taxi is actually called Angela’s Theme. There’s Helen Reddy’s Angie Baby. Of course, the Stones’ iconic Angie. The Bee Gees have a song. Even Motley Crue, stealing lines from Hendrix’s The Wind Cries Mary with their own “when the winds cry Angela” lyric.

It can be heady, this idea of your name inspiring song after song, but then again none of them were written for me. So, how heady can I really get?

Until Hans. I was to be giving him a kidney in just two more days. This anticipated event had dragged out for nine excruciating bureaucratic months. My best friend pointed out the symbolic time frame as indicative of a kind of birth. But now it was finally arriving, and both of us (Hans and I) were bouncing off the walls in our own way. Me, I’d been doing these walking meditations every day for a month solid in preparation. It was equal parts exercise (I really hoofed it) and opportunity to live with my own thoughts before my day officially began with and in the world; to level myself and clear out my brain for the big day. I chanted, I did mantras, I worked out problems, I talked myself down from ledges, I rationalized behavior, I asked for forgiveness, I defended myself in imaginary arguments, and I thanked the Forces That Be for everything.

But on the walk 8 years ago today, all that activity got shoved to the various corners and crannies of my obsessive brain to make room for memories of the night before, going to see Hans play his guitar in a coffee house, and open his set with Angela . . . written for me.

Interestingly enough, almost all of the romantic relationships I’ve ever had have been with musicians and composers, and yet none of them has ever written a song for me. It is either a great poetic juxtaposition, or a really unsettling indication of the impact I have on the people I’m involved with. Of course, I’m also a songwriter, and I’ve never written a song for any one of them either. So, okay, maybe all it indicates is that every one of us is jaded and crusty and we’ve lost all sense of romance and inspiration.

Picasso painted every woman he ever fell for. What has happened to that kind of belligerent romance? The terrible compulsion to celebrate another human being?

So, hearing this song, sung by teenager Hans and his girlfriend and the drummer in his band, was a moment that had left me speechless and tearful. A moment that had made me realize that inspiration and romance do still exist…. they’re just hiding among the young. And if we still want to be touched by it, then the young are who we need to surround ourselves with.

So there I was, walking my regular route in the neighborhood, and trying to chant my daily mantra, which usually began with “Love, reign over me…” (I have tended to find much more prayerful intention in rock songs than I’ve ever found from anything biblical.) “ . . . make me mindful . . . give me grace . . . deliver me from need . . . fill me with wonder . . . ” etc. Sometimes I chanted for winning the lottery, but I do get that that’s not really how it works, and so those requests always came with tongue firmly planted in cheek. But on that morning I didn’t care about money or enlightenment.

On that morning, I was intoxicated by having had a song written for me, for the first time in my life. I felt like Marie-Thérèse, or Anaïs Nin, or Beethoven’s “immortal beloved”; women who have been painted, written about, composed for, dedicated symphonies. I highly recommend it. Being someone’s muse. It’s a high like no other.

As I walked, I completely tuned out the music that was blasting through the iPod buds wedged in my ear. Explanation: It’s easier for me to do my mantras against music; it’s a deliberate sensory overload; somehow things just stick themselves deeper in the subconscious when they’re too overloaded to have surface impact. It didn’t matter that day anyway; I had abandoned my Pete Townsend-inspired mantra and my downloaded pop tunes, to be flooded with Hans’ song. Or rather, the idea of Hans’ song.

A complete stranger who was walking my way held her palm up, and shouted “high five” as we passed each other. I obliged. First time I’d ever been accosted in that way. And I thought of this woman’s completely loopy bravery. Just to infiltrate a perfect stranger’s sphere, for a split second, and engage. What if I had refused her? Treated her the way we treat the bag ladies who pass us by? I wouldn’t be brave enough to throw my loopiness out there in that way; too afraid of rejection, of having someone look at me like I was nuts. And then I thought of the oddly shaped angle that I was practically on the eve of having surgeons cut me open and pull a kidney out of my body, yet here I was assured that I would’ve been too afraid to be silly on the street with a passing stranger. Which one really takes more bravery?

It takes a special kind of bravery to write a song for somebody. It takes letting down one’s cool guard and daring to show a little vulnerability. Letting the world peek into your opened and exposed heart. And most especially, letting the person for whom the song is written peek into your heart, daring to let them know that you feel, and that they have impacted your life enough to inspire public song.

I once had a boyfriend, a brilliant composer, who, with me, was one day listening to a song written by a friend of ours with a woman’s name in the title. He said, “I don’t think I could write a song with some woman’s name in the title.” He said this with a kind of pride in the claim. I felt sad for him. And sad for myself, as well, because I think that claim was my truth too. We’re all just too cool. Vulnerability is not attractive.

Leonard Bernstein’s Maria, from “Westside Story”, a song of truly loopy and delirious love.

Tom Waits’ Martha, an invocation of sweet, melancholy reminiscence.

The Beatles’ Michelle.

Elton John’s Daniel.

Brian’s Song.

Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair.

The list goes on, and on, and encouragingly on. Who knows which of these is based on an actual person, or is merely the playground of fiction? And who cares? Either one still requires a level of unadulterated celebration, and a willingness to abandon cool, which makes someone ultra-cool in my book.

Hans is brave. He is brave to be a musician, going out there in the world for the scrutiny of the jaded. He is brave to have withstood years of debilitating dialysis, countless surgeries, stem cell experiments, catheters and fistulas implanted beneath his skin, and finally a transplant. But perhaps the bravest act of all was his daring to expose his great heart in so many ways, only one tiny example of which was the writing of a song entitled Angela.

 

(Two days later, on July 22, 2008, I successfully donated my kidney to Hans San Juan, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in Los Angeles, and Hans has been healthy ever since.)

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

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Vermin : CD Review

Vermin-TedBrownArt copy

Vermin is the new album by Hans San Juan  (It’s actually already had its 1-year birthday, but I wasn’t writing a blog back then.)

I am so freakin’ excited by this album!   Still…one year later.  That Hans happens to have one of my kidneys inside his body doesn’t mean that any of my musical acumen has shaped him as a musician.   It really doesn’t.   No, seriously.   And yes, I CAN be completely objective about it.   No, SERIOUSLY!

Upon first listen of Hans’s debut full-length album Vermin, you’ll immediately conjure up inspirations of Pink Floyd. And the influences are most assuredly there.  But after a deeper, repeated listen, you get the clearer understanding of the past life Hans is surely channeling.  I say past life, because at 22 years old he is far too young to be writing music of such depth.

Early productions of Hans’ reveal a music that is wonderfully wild and unharnessed in a way that is as compelling as it is also screaming out for a little balance of some compositional and rhythmic rules (go to Cal Arts, dude!   They would eat you up there!  And you would chew the freakin’ scenery!)   But I have to say, Vermin betrays a giant step out of that wonderfully adolescent energy into a decidedly matured seasoning that has married those two ideals magnificently (and that, without taking my advice and going to Cal Arts).

At once operatic and romping in the playground of electronic innovations, Vermin seems to be telling a singular story. Themes of death abound, and ordinarily such a heaviness of theme coming from a 22-year-old would give me great discomfort, but having been there first-hand for a bit of Hans’ personal history (that his kidneys were failing him before a successful transplant took place), I see an undeniable correlation between his music and what must’ve been years of contemplating his own mortality (a concept hinted at by the front cover art of Ted Brown).  If our pain can’t be funneled and turned into something powerfully creative, then what is our pain for?  And THIS Hans has done, so beautifully that his voice, thickened with a choral effect that gives it an otherworldly edge, breaks my heart in all the best ways.

My personal favorite cuts (though there’s not a weak one in the bunch) are:

  • Inside Out, which, at forty-one seconds and with no lyrics but is the briefest of chants, is probably the most spine-tingling track I’ve heard in a long time. Here, then gone, a grace note, but not without leaving an indelible mark.
    http://hanssanjuan.bandcamp.com/track/inside-out
  • The larger-than-life finale Charlatan, which touches on themes of redemption (you get the feeling that though he’s talking to someone else, he’s really talking to himself, as well).
    http://hanssanjuan.bandcamp.com/track/charlatan
  • And the opening track, Below The Skin, which is as strong as any of the concept album cuts out there by the ones who do it best (U2, The Who, Pink Floyd, etc.), a bold anthem that sets the stage for grand, tormented, cock-strutting theatre.
    http://hanssanjuan.bandcamp.com/track/below-the-skin

It’s clear, though, that Hans is also having a blast, twisting our brains with abstract-expressionist lyrics that take a second, third, and even tenth rendering to decode. And like any one of the most hair-raising canvases of de Kooning or Basquiat, it doesn’t really matter if we ever do.  Hans has plugged us into words that are rich, dark, almost gothic, and more multi-layered than most of the 20-something music that’s presently out there.  His music/poetry is nutritious food for thought.

And this guitarist/vocalist/bass player is not in the studio alone. With Hans on Vermin are Paulina Franco (vocals), Mario Torrico and Craig Pilo (drums), Glen Rewal (saxophone), Tyler Davis and Matt Tye (engineering), and this ultra-talented crew supports Hans well.

Vermin is theatre, opera, poetry, and Jackson-Pollock-esque philosophy all in one little square package. It’s the kind of album you keep forever, the way you’d never pack up The White Album or Electric Lady Land to give to the Goodwill during spring cleaning.

Here’s hoping that more than just family and friends get to experience this beautiful accomplishment, because Hans San Juan’s transcendent Vermin is worth the world’s notice and more.

Visit Hans @ http://www.hanssanjuan.com.  And tell him Aff sent you.

And as always:
Create – even if you’re not an artist
Support artists – especially the independents
Live well – doesn’t take money to do it
And be whole

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.