How are you?
(Yes I expect an answer. I’ll wait. You can leave it as a comment below I think…right Ms. Web Guru, Candi?)
[Candi says: yup, scroll down to the form at the bottom of the page. If it's not there then click on 'comments' at the top right hand corner and scroll back down to the bottom of the page. ]
Ok, while you’re considering what to say, here’s a little slice of life from my corner of Los Angeles . )
Yesterday, I dropped into the Kasimoff-Bluthner piano store. I was enjoying a post java walk in the rain and got lured in by the beautiful grand pianos staring at me with pouty eyes through the window. So I wandered in and started dinking around with Breathing Hope on one of the cherry finish grands.
“Don’t play that one, it’s out of tune. Try that one by the window.” The store owner said, coming out from the back room. My mom often let our upright Steinway fall out of tune when I was a child, which didn’t bother me too much – except for the middle D and the G# below it that sounded like an ambulance siren when played back to back. Unfortunately, most songs use those two keys at some point. (Now that I think about it, maybe that’s why I hover in that octave too much when I compose: perhaps tickled subconsciously to be able to play the notes in tune. Anyway, I digress.)
I made a point to say from the start that I was just walking past and not in the market for a piano at present. Nonetheless, Helga wanted to know what style of music I play, what I do for a living, and shared some history about the Bluthner piano brand with me. She had me play Breathing Hope on three different pianos to hear the variety of tones they offered.
“When I listen to music, I think of paintings. Schubert makes me think of the impressionists.” I think she said; or maybe I’m just matching one of my own favorite composers with one of my favorite art eras – but she did say impressionists. “What do you see when you listen to music?”
I paused a moment. “I suppose that since I come from a dance background with lots of ballet training, I see choreography.”
Yes, she agreed, and quoted someone famous that I didn’t know (as per usual) who said that music has to dance, having a movement of its own. Too true.
She pointed me to an upright in the back before heading to her office, then came back a few minutes later with a phone in her hand.
“What’s your name?”
“Listen, Alice , there’s a songwriter – Nicole – here playing piano now. She’s a music director for a radio station in Oxnard …” then she pulled the phone back from her face a moment to ask me, “ – would you like to go to a Renee Fleming recital at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion tonight? Alice has a ticket she can’t use.”
Hmm, that’d mean I’d have to miss a Ninja party hosted by an old friend from high school. No knife brandishing tonight. But I’d still be able to catch a board game party later with my Motownopoly in tow if the concert didn’t go too long. Why not say yes?
(Sorry I keep lamely missing your awesome parties, Jonah. Please give me another opportunity to wear all black and show off my knife without getting arrested. Hip hop party, perhaps? Or something to do with vampires?)
Helga took me in the back room to exchange information and make sure my name was properly at Will Call. So sweet for a nearly complete stranger. As we wrapped up our conversation, she mentioned that she’d lived in East Germany .
“Did you live there during the war?”
”Oh yes. I was 8 years old when the war started.” She said, her German accent still apparent after some 45 years living on American soil. “Every night, for four years, I thought we would die. And I thought, ‘if they only knew we were down here they wouldn’t drop the bombs.’” Sadly, this was not a Dread Pirate Roberts sort of ‘I’ll most likely kill you in the morning’ nightly fear, but one that was quite warranted.
“When I was about 12 I heard they shot down an American plane in the forest, and two or three of the pilots had died. I looked at a map and thought, ‘Their parents, their families are so far away’. I cried for them. And my heart went out to the families and individuals that died during 9/11. But Europeans understand war; Americans don’t. We know that when you bomb someone, one way or another the bombs will come back to you. More than 30,000 people in my city died in the bombing. They focused on factories and workers’ quarters. The suburbs where the wealthy lived? They left untouched. No, 50% of Europeans tell their children to take alternate service instead of the draft, because we know what war is like.”
I could sort of picture her as an eight year old, surrounded by all that destruction. A little blonde girl with her hair half tied back in a ponytail, wearing some white school dress, walking amongst complete chaos. Not a painting set to Schubert. Not something vague and impressionistic. Something real and mirky. Something filthy and surreal. But here she is alive in the US , selling German pianos to American composers – and offering poor songwriters a free ticket to see Renee Fleming.
Not entirely random math: the average piano has 230 strings. If a string were to represent a life lost, just over 12 pianos worth of strings would have been destroyed during 9/11. By comparison, the bombing in her city would have destroyed 130.
The end of the year brings along that great time to reflect upon what you miss and what you definitely don’t. It enables you to see growth and progress with an easier view, and reminds you what needs to be reached for in the coming year.
So many good and tough things this year. You never want to admit that the tough things lead to good things while you’re going through them, but even a few weeks after – once you’ve had a chance to process it against the context of life in general – it gets easier to admit that points C and D were necessary to get to point E.
Since my last diary entry here I’ve moved. It’s a wonderful new place; more affordable than the last, in a better and more convenient neighborhood, surrounded by the friends and places that matter most to me. Around the same time, one of my best friends and collaborators (Judith de los Santos) moved back to Monterrey, Mexico to reconnect with family and fresh opportunities. Tough loss; she’s one of those great people you can tell absolutely anything. We’re still in touch, but it’s certainly not the same as having her right down the street. As she moved she gifted me with her couch, bike and I think most everything from her kitchen. I think about her every time I sip from one of her mugs or relax on the couch with something to read.
Did I ever tell you how she and I met? It’s worth deviating to mention. Someone from this international song competition met me at a songwriting workshop, and after hearing Here Now he recommended that I enter the contest. I’m not really big on song contests (trophies just collect dust, and it’s not the judges’ opinions that matter to me either way), but since it was cheap to enter and someone who created the contest nudged me – oh, and you could win a trip to a songwriting retreat in Ireland…
I did some homework and looked up what sort of songs or songwriters had won before, and came upon a previous year’s winner online. Added her on MySpace, congratulating her on her win and mentioned I was entering that year. I started to type ‘…and hey, if you’d ever like to collaborate sometime….’, but MySpace limits your introductory verbiage to 150 characters, and besides, this chick didn’t know me from Eve so why would she care about writing with me?
Sure enough, though, she enthusiastically wrote back saying she loved the music on my page and ‘would you be interested in collaborating sometime?’ Heck yes! We set a time to meet for coffee to get acquainted, then a time to get together and write at my place. I was sick and home from the radio station that day, but we kept our songwriting date and wrote ‘Waiting’ while I was half tucked under blankets and probably sipping tea or soup. The recording of Waiting you hear at Facebook.com/NatalieNicoleGilbert was done that December night in my bedroom – which partially explains the laughter you hear at the start of the track, and the lazy way I slide into some of the notes. *Just listened to the track* Boy, my laughter sounds downright snotty at the start. Eek! I should probably cut that part off for the Best of NNG project coming up.
Wow, that cold December night was a year ago. Not sure exactly what day, but probably almost to the day. Amazing what happens in a year’s time.
I’m listening to the awesome clockwork of rain outside my window. Yes. RAIN. In Los Angeles . Dude, this is no small thing. I only get these days about 5 days out of the year here, so I savor them and soak them up every time they come around. One of my friends even caught rain in a bottle for me when it dared to rain here while I was out of state. I’m sure you would *not* want to do any chemistry tests on that water. Could be used as a biological weapon for an unwanted house guest though. “What?! I only gave him water…”
Did I mention I’m a bit punchy from lack of sleep? Gig at the Cat Club this past Monday, two day radiothon for the Lighthouse homeless mission the Wednesday and Thursday after. Ti. Red. Apologies that what I’d hoped to make one seamless diary entry for you will be this chopped up trio thing. Hopefully when the puzzle is assembled, the picture will make decent sense to you.
Before a bunch of days got in the way, I think I was typing about how the end of the year brings reflection. A chance for re-evaluation, tra la la. It’s a great measuring stick. Can you believe it’s been a year since you were doing the things you were doing a year ago? But boy, aren’t you glad a year has passed? Think of all the progress you’ve made!
Yeah, I know; 2009 had big sucky sections. Pretty much everyone I know took a large financial hit. Something like 40% of my closer friends sold their home or moved into a cheaper housing situation during the course of the year. It especially sucked when that move took many of them out of state. Introverts make new friends in peculiar ways; I think we’re quick at identifying someone who has potential to be a lifelong friend, but also sometimes slow about giving them the application and getting them signed up – which makes replacing great friends tough at times. (Believe me, we introverts have a lot of fun creating the questions on that application form, though, and we do pay attention to penmanship and details omitted.)
Of course, this time of year you also remember little anniversaries of things past. My brother would have been 42 in three days, if I’m counting right. Yeah, 42. Good heavens, he’d be old! (In the off chance that’s your age…I’m sure you don’t look a day over …say, 28. Suffice it to say, when his birthday comes around he crosses my mind. Sometimes I’ll indulge a thought about what he might be up to these days if he was still around. Mostly I think of all the cool new music toys he would love. He did great things with a 4-track and a closet. I like to think he’d be proud of the little things I manage to record these days. He wasn’t around long enough to see me get my start in radio. But he was around long enough to create three great children, and long enough to pass on a bit of a songwriting virus to me, so…that’s something.
Anyway…you know, this late night thing may be working against us more than I thought, in that I’m just typing without editing much and hoping I’ll get to the points of things I wanted to tell you. Like the fact that I’m working with a great new guitarist now (who’s last name is my brother’s first name, oddly enough). Benson Russell – super talented on all things guitar and audio production. It was great to play out with him for the first time this week at the Cat Club. We did Breathing Hope, Nineveh and a song by John Mayer called Stop this Train, among others. Fun, fun stuff. The especially cool part is that we just met about 3 weeks ago at the West L.A. Music free recording classes off Santa Monica Boulevard. I overheard him telling someone about his work and the music he was working on, and for a reason I can’t fully explain beyond knowing he sounded exceedingly genuine, I slipped him my MySpace card just before I climbed over a few chairs to exit the room. I’m not entirely sure I even bothered to say ‘Hello’ as I did so. But he messaged me and we quickly realized we had some friends in common. We’ll be playing around L.A. in 2010, and he’ll be playing guitar on a number of upcoming tracks, too, including an acoustic guitar cut of Breathing Hope.
On the note of having a finely tuned Genuineness Radar, I have a bit of a confession to make. I wondered if I should mention this in my little diary and get so personal, but a) I want to be decently transparent with you and b) my web guru (and close friend) Candice reminded me that since much of my fan base includes teens who wrestle with friendship or relationship issues it could be beneficial from time to time to let you see we’re in the same boat. That said, I may let you into my building and my living room, but I’m not inclined to let you dig through my closet.
So, there was someone who I judged a little harshly. I heard him make some misogynistic comments, and his behavior seemed to back them up so…I avoided him and was rather cold to him. Potentially mean, but I prefer to use the word cold.
For what it’s worth, when introverts are mean it’s incredibly easy to miss if you blink; we can be fairly stealthy and subtle about it. Other times, we only think we’re being stealthy about it. A friend that was with me one of the times I saw this person last, though, said to me ‘Wow! I’ve never seen you be so cold with anyone!’ but – said friend was also an introvert. Anyway. I avoided events we were both invited to because this guy’s attitude irritated me so much. When we were in the same space, I would do my best to muster being cordial, and I did succeed some percentage of the time…I think. ‘How can people like that change if they don’t have positive friends in their life?’ I reminded myself. But I prayed that God would bring him some awesome friends so I didn’t have to be one. Horrible, right?
Well, we didn’t talk for over a year; as much his doing as mine, and fine by me. Then his name came up somehow in conversation with Candi, and she rightly told me “You know, you should give the poor guy a chance. He may have changed or might have been nice all along. But whenever you see him next, you should play nice.” Mumble grumble. ‘Fine’, I thought. ‘Next time we’re all invited to a concert I’ll go and say a smiley hello and life will be beautiful’, right? But out of the blue, he has a party and calls me up personally to invite me. Egad. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t go. I just wouldn’t. But I’d just had that conversation about being nice a few days before, and had promised Candi….
So I went. And I’m pleased to say that people do change; who can fully know how or why, but they do. What was particularly noteworthy about it all was that this individual was a portion of the reason I…well, that’s not entirely fair. How can I word that?
I had a long list of reasons I didn’t want to be more public with my music, and because of his behavior his name was on that list. I feared that if I got too involved in the industry somehow I might become like him, regarding people the way he did. Gross. When I managed to verbalize that to Candi and a few others, they all looked at me baffled, telling me I was ridiculous to think I could lower myself to the picture I was painting. How could I ever wind up being arrogant, they said, when I’m too shy to even tell people what I do 98% of the time? (I’d rather be appreciated for who I am, not what I do.) Anyway, stars aligned in January ’09, and after a number of prompting events (including getting acquainted with Carlisle Cullen’s well balanced and influential character in the Twilight books), I released to iTunes and Amazon. Naturally, it was the very song I wrote about finding the balance between ‘strength and restraint’ that wound up being my #1 iTunes download.
You know what else forgiving him made me remember? We seem to all have this habit of expecting everyone to recognize our intentions and motivations as good, even if our actions leave little to no evidence. But we are oh so hasty to believe that the way someone acts a particular day or even during a season is the only way they’re capable of acting. We all have off days, off years – days that we’re in a bad mood or we genuinely are wearing a wrong mindset. But thankfully, we’re not stuck in the bad mood zone unless we choose to be. Feet are (typically) not super glued to the floor. We fret over all the details that are on the outskirts of our control while often neglecting the things we can change at the core of our own sphere.
Alright, I’m not meaning to be preachy. Just meaning to be honest, that you and I face the same ponderings as we live day to day.
As I was walking in from the rain tonight my instincts had me in a half jog, scurrying to get inside. But halfway between the car and my front door I told myself to just slow down: soak it in a little. If there’s anything you learn from watching 24 and just living life, it’s that life is just moments. You collect them and squirrel them away like souvenirs sometimes without thinking about it. Recall is great, reliving is great. But how much better the recall and the reliving will be if you really snuggle up in it the first time.
As you spend time with family during the holidays – or whomever you may spend time with – remember to just focus. Focus on them, focus on the moment. Focus on what’s in front of you instead of what’s waiting on your computer, your Blackberry or simply distracting your brain cells. Focus on the warmth of their embrace , the smell of their new cologne, the taste of the eggnog. There are too many days where life presses in against us without our having the margin we need. So take the margin back. Enjoy the page, not just the chapter.
Oh, and we’re working up a little present for you. Get a sneak peek and some free downloads at www.NoiseTrade.com/BestofNNG. Merry Christmas.