Friday, June 26, 2009

Redemption in the Land of the Hatchback

At this point I am back in CA and mostly re-adapted to Pacific Standard Time, and as the inquiries hang thick on the vine (from text messages, phone calls, MySpace and the ubiquitous Facebook) about how things went, it seemed about time to recount the events of last week....I've made some bad career decisions in my day. Some ill-advised choices. I've shot first, asked questions later. (And my credit cards all say "Amen".) However, this was not one of those times.

From the first time J contacted me, I said, "I'm going to Denmark. I don't know how or when, but I'm going." I had a gut feeling, one that nearly everyone thought was INSANE, which told me it was inevitable for me to travel to a country I'd never seen to work with a man I'd never met.

The folks who know me best were not really surprised- this is how I roll. They secretly planned to pick up the pieces when everything went horribly wrong, and smiled bravely as I went about getting ready to go.

But I decided this time would be different- I would not go in blind; regardless of what my instincts were saying, I knew I had to do some legwork, for Sean's sanity if nothing else, and so I did.

As it turned out, J was who he said he was- a producer with an impressive track record and work that I had heard and liked. Artists he'd worked with gave him glowing reports.

Then, we actually got in the same room and started working, and I felt a little moment of triumph- despite any mistakes I'd made in the past, this time, my instincts were NOT misguided, naive or skewed. This time- they were dead on.

The Longest Day

The first thing I noticed were the windmills- turning purposefully, they dotted the verdant land masses, separated by numerous bodies of water. The sun was just coming up over Copenhagen when we landed, and I was already delighted.

However, my delight quickly cooled when I turned on my cell phone to let Sean know I was safe, and the call wouldn't go through. We'd neglected to check that our international calling was in place, and clearly, it wasn't. I tried various dialing/country code combinations while I kept one eye on the baggage carousel. Slowly, all my attention turned to the thinning number of rollerbags on the conveyer belt- mine was conspicuous in its absence.

I waited until it was clear that my suitcase wasn't coming out, then went to the airline's customer service window, where a Scandinavian gentleman looked at me like I was a bug (or an American:) and told me to fill out a claim form. He was so dismissive I felt certain that he'd only use the form to roll a cigarette, and I began to panic. I'd been on a plane for 14 hours, I couldn't reach Sean, and now I had no clothes, toothbrush, hair dryer, nothing.

We put a lot of stock in first impressions- and I was about to meet J as a tweaking, high-strung lunatic. Dolly Parton once said that she's like an old show dog- she needs her ribbons and bows and brushes. Preach it, sister. This little pooch was certain that J would turn to a pillar of salt when approached by post-Trans Atlantic flight VK, makeup slept off and worry beginning to set in.

However, there are really only two words I can use to appropriately describe J- unsinkable and unflappable. Nothing really riles him up- so you instantly feel ridiculous getting riled up yourself. He was cheery and soothing, even though he'd been waiting for me for an hour, and let me use his iPhone to call Sean. We got into his Peugeot (Hatchback #1), and headed for his home.

As we drove, I noticed that nearly ALL the cars were hatchbacks. Later in the week, I would ask A., his fiancee, why the hatchbacks? She said that cars are very expensive in Denmark, and taxed by weight, so a hatchback offers the most storage bang for the buck. I tried to imagine us in the States- hell in Calabasas ALONE!- giving up our SUV's. Hmmm....

A. gave me most of the socio-economic information on the region that week. She herself was a pleasant bonus to the trip. A Scandinavian beauty, she was blond and blue-eyed, tall and lithe, and she spoke the way she moved- gracefully and with purpose. Everything she did seemed like a ballet step, from planting potatoes in her garden, to explaining the beauty of mathematical equations, to perching daintily on the kitchen counter with a glass of red wine. Mind-bogglingly intelligent, she seemed to know a piece of trivia about every facet of Denmark. I liked her instantly, and was thrilled to meet a woman that I could talk and relate to- I've found precious few in my lifetime.

However, it is also women like this that make me aware of my 5'3" dwarf-like stature, my pear-shaped figure, my F-laden sentences, and my quick temper. (As Storm says, "She's not ladylike...")

Whatever my shortcomings (no pun intended), however, A. didn't seem to notice them , and she set to making me feel at home and comfortable. She put together a basket of various toiletries for me, to hold me over until my luggage arrived, (which eventually did the next evening), cooked meals, and listened to my songs with a thoughtful ear. She translated for me like Annie Sullivan all week as I tried to soak in the difficult language.

However, on that first night, when I sank into bed, all I knew was I missed Sean. I ran up the stairs to use the bathroom, and as if I needed another challenge, discovered I needed to rummage around under their sink for a tampon.

The 9-hour time difference and the overnight flight had made Sunday and Monday all seem like one day- and it would take me until Wednesday to get my shit together.....

'That's why I'm me, and you're you'

I won't go too deeply into J's process; I guess part of me feels protective of his hermit-like status. He's a Brit living, not only in Denmark, but on a remote estate, outside of the small town of Vordingborg, that affords him privacy, a forest, and a short walk through it to the beach. Not to mention a thatched roof and a wood burning furnace- but then again, the house was built several hundred years ago. On my walks down to 'the sea' as they called it, there was such isolation I could sing full voice along with my iPod and disturb no one. J works when he wants to. Naps on the beach when he wants to. And manages to crank out the music hits that afford him this life.

However, once you see him in action, it's clear how that is possible. J has forgotten more music than I know, and he has the heart of an artist, not a technician. Years ago, he was a much celebrated artist in DK, but now he prefers his relative anonymity behind the board. He plays guitar,bass, drums and piano, and does all with a witty barb and a mischievous twinkle in his eye.:)

But most importantly, he listens. I mean REALLY listens. He understood and appreciated the lyrics to my songs instantly, and gave them the attention they so desperately needed. We put down 9 of my songs and one of his. And there was much rejoicing:)

Many times J would suggest things that I'd been thinking, but couldn't put into words. He announced, "That's why I'm ME and you're YOU!" Then A. would come in and listen to what we'd done. She was planning my imminent move to Copenhagen by week's end, and working out how Sean could break into the film scene in DK.

Fri os Fra det Onde

I realized that I talked about Sean non-stop. But A. enjoyed hearing about him, and told me about her friend, Jens ,who was in a movie that just premiered in March in Scandinavia. It was getting rave reviews, and she told me the plot line and how it was a victory for Jens because not only was he the lead, he was the villain- which was unusual for him. As she finished her story, her iPhone rang, and it was Jens, inviting us to see the movie with him and some friends the next night. A. was afraid she'd spoiled it for me, since she'd given away the ending, but I was grateful, because the whole thing was in Danish (no subtitles).

We went to the movie, which was very arty and very dark (the trailer is on YouTube under 'Fri os Fra det Onde') and then went back to Jens' house. Now I was surrounded by Danes who knew some English, but were VERY shy to speak it. I would have welcomed their broken English, but alas, A. spent the night translating again. Jens gave us a ride back to J's, and on the way asked me about Hollywood. I was intrigued to discover that Jens made his living solely as an actor- he worked in films and plays, but also, because taxes in DK are so high, the government subsidizes the arts; they place a premium on quality art, and so folks can live, however modestly, as artists.

Which speaks to the overall sense of DK. There is a significance placed on the happiness quotient, on the value of spending one's time the way one desires to, with family, with work, etc., and very little concern with 'the rat race' and working 25 hours a day and 'getting ahead'. There was a fluidity, a calmness, a peace to the days, that was foreign (no pun intended) to anything I'd experienced.


Friday J, A., and I piled into the car and set out for Copenhagen. It was about an hour's drive, and we planned to spend the day- see the sights, then go to Beth Hart's concert. Scotty, Beth's husband, had e-mailed Tuesday and asked if we'd like tickets, and since J had looked online and seen that they were nearly the same price as tickets for the Stones, we gladly accepted.

This was particularly significant to the majority of the people in the car, because J and I both had strong associations with Beth. She is my favorite artist, and had even come to see me play in LA, and the fact that I was even on her radar was dizzying. J had co-written and produced songs on her last 2 CD's, one of the tracks being "Learning to Live", a song which reached #1 in DK and catapulted her to star status in that country. J said that at one point, it was being played every 7 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 6 months straight.

So with the promise of a fun evening on the horizon, we set out into Copenhagen. A. told me about the Rundetarn, as we climbed the spiral walkway, and we got to the palace literally just in time to see the changing of the guard. We stopped and got the best pastry I've ever put in my mouth, and got to J's favorite, the statue of the Little Mermaid, just as it was time to head for the concert.

The venue was absurd. It was huge, with contoured interior, and they explained that it had housed this year's Danish music awards. Beth was to be acoustic, just her, her piano, and her guitar player.
The concert got off to a rocky start; for the grandeur of the place, the sound was atrocious. But Beth carried on as she does, and finished gracefully.

The audience, about 3,000 strong, cheered for more until Beth came back for an encore. She sat at her piano and said "This song paid our rent for 3 years." She began 'Learning to Live', and the crowd went wild- they cheered, they sang along, they clapped in time, and they cried. And for me, the most amazing thing was watching J watch them listen to his song.

We all fell asleep in the car on the way home, so it seemed like we'd all just drop off to bed- but J stopped and bought a bottle of red wine, and when we got in the door, he said "I'd like to listen to what we've done."
A. and I got comfortable on the studio sofa, and J brought in 3 glasses of cabernet and we just listened and unofficially recapped the week. A. said, "As soon as you're gone, I won't be able to get him out of this studio."

She toddled off to bed, J went to the kitchen for a refill, and I went to wash up and get ready for bed. But as I came back from the bathroom, I saw the glow coming from the studio, and heard my own voice. I filled my wine glass and went out to where J was nodding at the monitor. "This is good- this is really good".

We stayed up talking, and I realized that I was going to be sad to leave these folks the next day.

650 Kroner

A. hugged me twice and made sure I was in the right line to go through Passport inspection. J hugged me and led A. away, who called, "Bring Sean next time!!" as they walked out of the airport.
I made it through the flaming hoops of security, and realized I still had 650 kroner left, which I suddenly didn't want to exchange- I'd need it in June anyway:)

The flight to Seattle was 10 hours of time to think about what I'd learned on foreign soil. And I don't know if I can exactly put it into words: the way of life is different; the atmosphere is different; the values, the priorities, the whole feeling- is different. And now, these days later, back in LA, I am realizing that I'M different. However, subtly, I'm not the same person I was when I left.

Maybe not better or worse, just- different.

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