Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Long Train Running
Exactly 13 years ago, Sean and I took the leap from 'like' to 'love'. And as I sat tonight at the OC Fair, listening to Pat Monahan sing, I reflected on the past decade and change, and how we've changed...and stayed the same.
Train is a motif in our relationship. Sean discovered them with 'Meet Virginia' back when we were still living in South Philly, in a walkup apartment at 4th and Catherine that we thought was the edgiest artist nook in town. It was a surprise, because when I met him , Sean was a seasoned connoisseur of hip/hop & R&B. However, he took to the band immediately; I dismissed them as a one-hit-with-a-novelty-kind-of-song act, and went on with my raging Melissa Etheridge addiction that was at its zenith then. About this time, both of us were coming to the realization that for an actor and a musician, Philly wasn't the best place to be.
"I think I'm moving to Idaho- or Santa Barbara."
We moved to LA with our roommate Mike, also an actor. Almost immediately, Sean was cast as the lead in 'This Is Our Youth' in Santa Barbara. Which was great, except he had to live there for three months while I had to stay in our new apartment in Van Nuys, working. However, it turned out to be one of the best summers we ever had; I drove up every weekend, and we'd spend his days off exploring the beaches, State Street, etc. And on my way back to the Valley, to 'keep him with me', I'd put his copy of Drops of Jupiter in the car CD player. Train was growing on me, as an extension of him.
" Don't give up on me- I'm about to come alive"
Finally we married and moved out on our own. We were living in what we now call "The Box", a 'Jr. one bedroom' apartment in Winnetka. If you stood at a certain spot in the middle, you could see every corner of the place simply by pivoting on that spot at different angles. But we were newly married, it was all ours, and the rent couldn't have been lower.
Unfortunately, Sean's diabetes was becoming more and more unmanageable. It seemed completely indifferent to his impeccable diet, his diligent workouts, his careful monitoring of his sugar. Type 1 Diabetes is a brutal taskmaster- He was tired, grey, at turns listless then snappish- and losing weight at a frightening pace. His doctor finally convinced me to convince him that his best option was an insulin pump.
Although uneasy at first, Sean soon improved exponentially, and the thousands of dollars we'd put on a credit card to purchase the beeper-sized machine seemed like nothing compared to having him back again, jolly and energetic. And as if it was a gift from Pat himself, My Private Nation was released.
I remember cooking dinner while Sean took a shower, with the CD playing through for the first time in the bathroom (of course I could hear it perfectly....remember- "Box"?;). I only half-listened, while Sean analyzed. I was making my own CD, Black Halo, at the time, and I was wrapped up in all that it entailed. Then one night I came home tired as Sean was singing along with Train; I made an offhand remark, and he became incredibly emotional; his sugar was dangerously low, and after some juice and lying down for a few minutes, we talked more calmly. He told me that the songs made him think of me, think of us- our situation. I suddenly realized that this music really meant something to him on a gut level, and so, I would have to give it a more thoughtful listen.
The next day, I drove slowly around Canoga Park doing my errands, with tears running down my face as I listened to "I'm about to come alive". This was what he meant. All the pieces fell together. I got it.
From that point on, Train was our band. "The Box" was in a bit of a 'dodgy' neighborhood, and many a night we would just go to Woodland Hills and drive around the park with the windows and sunroof open to look at the stars with "When I Look to the Sky" playing at top volume. We "Followed Rita" up the 101 to Visalia to visit friends on Thanksgiving. My band was doing a weekly residency; Sean had gotten a promotion at work- things looked bright.
(During this time, we had a memorable Train incident- Sean's birthday came around, and I was delighted to find that Train would be playing the Wiltern. We got tickets and made sure we were there early enough to station ourselves right at the front of the stage. We chatted with some other couples about what song they'd open with as the pit started filling up. The concert began, and I was thrilled that Sean was getting such a great birthday present...that is, until I saw a thin arm wrap around his shoulder. I looked over, and a slatternly blond with a beer in hand was leaning against him and trying to wriggle up beside him. I said, "Do you know her?" He disentangled himself and said "No- I think she's trying to cut in front of us." And try she did. She and her equally drunken friend began pushing between us and trying to cozy up to him, and the man standing next to him, so they could get closer to the stage. Sean firmly told them "We've been here for hours. We're not letting you cut in front of us." The brunette of the two said, "Why are you so uptight? Just let us in front of you." Then she nearly toppled over. The man on the other side of Sean said "I'm with you- they're not getting past me."
At this point, I was pretty ticked. This was supposed to be Sean's night, and these tipsy trollops were disrupting everybody. Sean gently put me in front of him to keep me calm, and put his arms around me. "Don't worry, they'll get tired of bugging us and - ouch!" I snapped around to see his head jerk back; the brunette had pinched him on the neck in a reckless last ditch effort...however, she didn't count on me- because after that there was no containing me. I cocked my fist back and swung over Sean's shoulder; he caught my fist in the air. I ripped it away, gave him a look that made his hair stand on end, pushed him to the side, poked my finger in the girl's face and said "You need to back up, bitch, right now." I was ready to stand on her hair and she WOULD know my name. They both scurried away with the blond saying, "It's not worth it, it's not worth it, that girl's crazy." Around us, the other people slowly started clapping.
I was still pretty full of adrenaline, but I managed to smile and return my focus to Pat. The last time we saw the girls they were both on their knees, crawling through people's legs at the other end of the pit to try to get to the stage.
During some stage banter, Pat mentioned he was from PA, and Sean hooted. He said "Where are you from?" And Sean yelled, "Philly!" Pat leaned out and shook his hand, "I'm Pat", he said. "Sean". The audience laughed, and it was the perfect capper to a very eventful evening.
The next day I heard Sean on the phone with his brother. He was saying, "Dude, she SWUNG!! She SWUNG!")
"When it rains, it pours and floods the floors"
Summer was waning, and we went to Laguna Beach to see a friend's play and spend the weekend with him. We stayed out late after the play, laughing and drinking, then went to bed to sleep in before heading back to LA. However, at 6:00 am, Sean's cell phone rang- It was his aunt telling us his mother had had a massive heart attack that morning and died instantly.
When someone who has been sick for a long time passes away, it is tragic, but there is time to wrap your head around the inevitable. When it happens without warning, it may be more merciful for the deceased, but for those he or she leaves behind, it is staggering, ravaging, halting. Sean was blindsided, and we were 3,000 miles away.
We got to PA as quickly as air travel would allow; because it was last minute, we had many stops and layovers; and 13 hours later we arrived at PHL, exhausted and drained. Sean was the rock that he always is for his family, but I knew that inside he was lava. I tried to keep his spirits up and be a mini rock for him when I could.
Over the next few years, he often kept his own counsel. He's not one to feel sorry for himself, or get bogged down in sad things. But it would hit him at unexpected times, and I would try to draw him out. Little by little, he allowed himself to grieve, and we both took a more sober look at the blessings in our lives.
We decided to move out of "The Box"; the neighborhood was degenerating, our financial situation had improved, and we wanted the change. We moved into a rear house in North Hollywood, and Sean promptly lost his job.
This was another shock to his system. We became more active in our church, and Sean poured his energy into running their audio. The bills began piling up; we fretted.
My now new band began garnering more and more attention; Sean got a new manager and commercial agent. It seemed that things had begun to turn around. I bought Sean "For Me, it's You" for his birthday.
But this time, Train didn't have the unifying effect it had before. Our professional situations, at first blush, were positive upward moves, but they became increasingly negative and divisive, and we were both irritable and on edge. Our fiscal resources were tapped as Sean's unemployment drug on, and I decided to go on a diet and not come back. Anorexia, debt, anger, resentment- we were losing who we fundamentally were, and only brief moments, when "Always Remember" would take Sean back into his grief, and I would console him, brought us back to the reality of who we used to be.
"Move on, you know we'll be stronger in the end."
I'd like to say there was a moment, a song, a 'switch' that clicked to bring us out of it- but there wasn't. There was a gradual series of awakenings; and, slowly, we cleared out the negative people and things that had somehow cluttered our lives. And once that process was done, we could see each other clearly again- and we'd never looked so good.
The next few years were filled with rebuilding- Sean was working again, I set about getting healthy, writing and organizing new songs. We created and filmed a web series, and we met new, positive people. I eventually went to Denmark to record a new CD, and set about promoting it.
Christmas came, and I bought "Save Me, San Francisco" for Sean. Although I listened to it about 10 times before I gave it to him:). It was everything we'd hoped it would be, and so when we saw that the band would be at the OC Fair, on our 13 year anniversary, we bought the tickets, and tucked them away.
2 months later my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I got on a plane, and stayed 2 weeks with her as she had a mastectomy. Two days into my stay in PA, Sean called- he'd been fired.
I was so tired that I couldn't even be stunned. I just felt numb. Everything was falling apart- again.
And I could have gone down that road- but the Good Lord said "No. No more."
Mom recovered nicely. I flew back to LA. Sean and I took a good hard look at our finances, and our lives. Opportunities were materializing for me musically, and we knew that suddenly we were at a crossroads.
Sean got a new job. I took on more work. And we made a plan to downsize, cut back, reorganize, and do whatever it takes to get "Whiskey or Water" out to the world. So it can do for the world what Train has done for us.
"I'll open up and be your parachute- and I'll never let you down."
Last night, I sat in the ampitheatre, as Pat Monahan told the audience that this was the biggest crowd Train had ever played to- and he thanked us for being part of it. And I looked around at all these people singing their songs- What were there stories? What events had brought them here? Were they new "Hey Soul Sister" fans? Or were they one of the only people on their feet during "Mississippi" like we were?
Then I thought about 3 years ago- when "For Me, it's You" came out- and for most accounts, it failed commercially. And so did we. And Pat went solo. And to some degree, so did we. And the Train stopped running.
Yet here they are, tonight, with the biggest hit of their career, playing to the biggest crowd of their lives.
Things can change. They can ALWAYS change.
I looked at Sean, and thanked God for every minute of the last 13 years. I can't wait for the next 13. And the 13 after that. And the 13 after that.
Change is coming- 'things are gonna look up'.
"I won't give up- if you don't give up".