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  • BORN TO RISE

    Posted on February 22nd, 2012 uncle john 33 comments

    We’re in a room of a thousand eyes. Kaela and I are waiting in the front row to meet Lana Del Rey. She has just finished performing five songs from her new debut album, “Born To Die”, including the title cut, an orchestral arrangement of nostalgic art, that is the best song on her new album. She understands the concept that fits us: We were all born naked and no one gets out of here alive. Her songs strike a familiar chord wrapped in the common thread of our mortality. Lana is a truth seeker. Her energy is vibrant and alive. Her songs are sensuous as she is graceful.
            Haight Street in San Francisco is bustling with tourists and someone asks me this afternoon why there seems to be a lot of scantily-clad girls about. “Well, it hit nearly 70 degrees today and people dress for the weather here”. It’s February and winter hasn’t come yet, according to the bees, who produced a second honey harvest here; according to the winter flowers that haven’t bloomed yet; according to the birds still waiting to go; according to the sky’s lack of wet winter weather; and according to the garden plants still replenishing us with food. This global warming, or whatever you want to call these changing weather patterns, is not a good thing for the balance of nature. We are enjoying these gorgeous days though!
    Kaela is in San Francisco to work today and meets me on Haight Street, named after Henry Haight, a banker who donated land here to start an orphanage , and who was the uncle of the tenth Governor of California.  Kaela reminds me of what the neighborhood can be like, how she loved our Victorian apartment where we lived on Fillmore Street. For her and the other young kids growing up in the neighborhood, there were hard days too. “My brother’s bike got robbed over there. My little sister got lost at the Carousel in the park; and I was playing a game with a black girl across our street in a big cardboard box and some angry guy came by and kicked the box and split my head open.” In the nineteenth century when the orphanage flourished here, before it became a residential district, they shepherded over 3500 children giving housing to kids in need, and as many as 300 kids were housed in dormitory-style rooms on Haight Street, and some of these children were adopted, and those that stayed received training and job skills so when they left the orphanage at 17, they were also given seed money to start a trade, like carpentry or dressmaking. The orphanage moved to another part of San Francisco in the twentieth century and still serves children in need today.
    I heard about Lana Del Rey in an email last year and checked out her song “Video Games” and I understand its instant success. In “Born To Die” she touches a truth in us all and the mood swings like a pendulum of changes in a fountain of controversy. She is the latest buzz I tell my stepdaughter inviting her to meet her after hearing her for the first time. It is Kaela’s birthday yesterday and she lets a girl cut in front of us whose birthday is today. We’re at the bottom of the stairs at Amoeba Records waiting for Lana Del Rey. Listening to her sing live in a small room of records is a special treat and she sounds marvelous as she is elegant. I been doing vocal exercises recently by listening to vocal scales and she takes sound to a new level for me. She is a a colorful natural contralta, a  sultry voice of dark high wit.
    The full moon outdoors is on the other side of Venus and Uranus, visible in the sky tonight, so I brought my telescopic binoculars. “I’m so done with drugs,” Kaela announces after the show. “I’m ready to do something, run an office, do PR, interior designing, you know I can do almost anything,”like get us in the front row. She’s nearly the tallest, and sometimes the loudest, girl in the room. She can do, what takes me a month, in a day. She’s intuitive, not invulnerable, honest, not gullible.
    Suddenly the security guard asks “How did we get from the bottom to the top (of the stairs)? 300 different people standing behind us like her different songs, and the crowd gathered gives Lana Del Rey a warm welcome. Lana wants to have a picture taken with the birthday girl and they ask Kaela to take the picture with the girl’s camera. Lana Del Rey is shining, yet down-to-earth, cordial and attentive. I thank her for the live show, introduce myself and tell  her my musical beginnings were in New York at Bensalem, Fordham’s experimental college. “I went to Fordham University” Lana informs me. She studied metaphysics there. She has a genuine interest in choir-like music and writes all the songs on her album, with help of about seven friends. Besides philosophy, Lana is also interested in the literary arts and was once Arts Editor for her school newspaper. “How was it for you? ” she asks me.
      “It was a time of transformation. Bensalem was a unique experiment and experience that gave us complete academic freedom and opened up creative and innovative possibilities that took us beyond the classroom. A group of us students, inspired by the Grateful Dead, formed a musical acting troupe, and I wrote a play for this troupe ‘In Search Of The Candlemaker’ performed off-Broadway (in 1971). We later participated in a CBS-TV documentary, ‘Tomorrow’s People’.”
    So who is Lana Del Rey? According to Vogue, she chose this career name while in Miami, because it reminded her & her friends of the glamour of the seaside. Live, it’s her voice that mesmerizes us! She is not some vacuous party girl along for the ride, but an intelligent confident woman devoted to her work and to community service. For the past six years, she and her sister have been working as a grassroots homeless outreach, helping street people in New York get their identification and paperwork together to find jobs and transition back to normal life.
    I gesture to the sign behind us next to the Keep On Truckin’ poster and read out loud “Grateful Dead”, and we part smiling.

     

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