Dear Amanda

I shouldn't call you Amanda, I suppose. I don't actually know you. We're both musicians from Boston, but I left the city and moved to Vancouver long before you and Brian formed the Dresden Dolls. My band participating in the WBCN Rock 'n' Roll Rumble and your band winning it were almost 20 years apart!

I'm going to call you Amanda anyway. You bring that upon yourself by being so amazingly good with social media, especially Twitter. Really, I don't think anyone does it better. I'm astounded by how much time and effort you put into that and your Tumblr blog. And look what happens. You retweet someone's tweet and they're yours forever. Worth the effort, I'd say. Others should learn from you.

I went to your show at the Commodore tonight. Or technically last night, but I haven't gone to bed yet, so I'm calling it tonight. Just a few weeks ago, I had no plans to go. I had thought about going to see Bloc Party. I've been a Bloc Party fan for many years. I'm only a newly minted Amanda Palmer fan.

It all started with "Amandagate." First, the story of the amazing amount of money you raised on Kickstarter so you could make and distribute your new album independent of a record label. You asked for a hundred grand, and your fans ponied up 12 times as much. And then, the kerfuffle about inviting local musicians to play with you on stage for, what was it, beer, hugs, and high fives, or something like that. I already wrote about that and how I feel. At any rate, all of that caught my attention at a time when I had just returned to Twitter. I watched the video for "Want It Back" and was completely blown away by both song and visuals. Stil, I held off for several days before following you on Twitter. I wasn't sure I wanted to go down that path.

When I did follow, one of the first tweets I saw was that you were in New Orleans. I wrote that you ought to go to Chef Chris DeBarr's new restaurant, Serendipity. Not only had you already been there. You saw my tweet and wrote back to tell me you had been there and that Serendipity was "killer."

You had me.

I downloaded Theatre Is Evil and was even more impressed. The range from rocking hard to being quiet and intimate is quite startling, in a good way. Not many people can cover a range like that in one record. Maybe someone like Neil Young. That's good company.

Pretty soon I was buying a ticket for your show at the Commodore. Only one at first. My partner is not a fan. But she loves me, and she said that she would go with me, so I bought another ticket. Sadly, this evening, she had really bad stomach flu. She was in no shape to go to a show, so I got all dressed up and went by myself.

And you did it again. I tweeted, "Oui, c'est moi, all by myself @amandapalmer in a one-shoulder magenta dress and sparkly tights. #talkstostrangers" This was not long before you and the Grand Theft Orchestra took the stage. And you retweeted it! I was so touched by that! It's getting to me now as I write this.

This isn't a review of the show. I wasn't taking notes. I was a bit late arriving, so I'm afraid I caught only the end of Jherek's band. I'm sorry. I saw the few numbers that Chad and his band played. I sang along with everyone else to "Sweet Dreams" and "Don't Stop Believing while Ronald Reagan played. I saw the fruit! Since I was late, I missed the setup, but I definitely enjoyed the results. I didn't know Americans ever used the term "courgette"!

I have lots of pictures, so I know it happened.

And I saw your show. That's not really the right word for it. The Amanda Palmer experience? I'm not going to say that it changed my life, but it definitely made a huge impact. Loved loved loved it. Love how you give so much on stage. Love the playfulness, yes, even the iPhone pile and the soccer tits. Love the anger and the pathos. I can understand why you didn't play "The Bed Song," but there was still plenty in the set to really move me, like "Trout Heart Replica" and "Grown Man Cry." At one point you hopped off the stage and walked right by me while you were singing, and then walked back through the crowd. I knew you usually ended up crowd surfing at your shows. What I didn't know was that I was going to be in the right place at the right time. I helped support you. I kept that long train aloft as you surfed back stage left. I wasn't on stage like some people, but I was part of the show. The experience. You let me touch you. You touched me.

It was a wild and crazy and beautiful experience. And not only was I late arriving. I also slipped out a bit early. I had to take SkyTrain home, and I wasn't sure when the last one would run. As well, my aging feet were killing me. And I have band practice tomorrow, so I really shouldn't be up now. I don't know how much longer you played, whether you really had to stop at 12:30 or not. But I was wonderfully filled up. I couldn't party anymore.

I held it together until I got out of the cab in front of my house and looked up at the full moon. I started crying then. I'm a witch, and I celebrate the full moon. It marks the boundary of a cycle for me. There was something about seeing that beautiful moon after having been part of your experience that just grabbed me deep inside and didn't let go. I wasn't sad. I was overwhelmed.

I'm pretty sure the show we saw was unique. It was all about the confluence of events that night. I would have shared it with those around me, but they were doing their own thing. So it was just me and you, and that was fine.

You shared so much of yourself tonight. You share so much of yourself every day on Twitter. Even so, I'm not crazy. I know that I don't really know you. But I wish I did.

Thank you. Maybe you did change my life. I guess we'll see.


- Véronique


Top Chef Canada season 2.1

In July of this year, a restaurant called Fable opened in the intimate space that had been vacated by Refuel, next door to Maenam. The man behind Fable was Trevor Bird, a contestant on season two of Top Chef Canada. Despite having less experience than many of the competitors, Trevor was doing well. Some thought that perhaps he had won the competition, which comes with a $100,000 prize and a GE Monogram kitchen worth $30,000.

Not so. Trevor came in second. But he still managed to open the restaurant, working with Curtis Luk, a fellow competitor, as his chef de cuisine.

Sweetie and I first went to Fable at the end of June, about three weeks after it had opened. We weren't blown away, but we were impressed with the quality of both the food and the service. The highlight of that meal was a slow-cooked salmon that melted in your mouth. And the small room was very welcoming—lively but not too noisy, with an open kitchen. We saw Trevor as soon as we walked in, and Curtis was hard at work behind the bar.

That first meal was only a day after I had sliced off the tip of my finger on the Friday of Canada Day weekend. My right ring finger sported a huge puffy bandage. Our second trip to Fable was two and a half months later. As the host greeted us, he said immediately, "How is your finger?" Now that is a great memory! One of the servers asked as well. How could we not feel like family at that point?

The second meal was outstanding from start to finish. We left feeling that we had found a replacement for the late, much lamented Cru, which had been our favourite place for a celebration or just for a great dinner.

One sig is almost legible!
So even though we had been to Fable only recently, when I saw a tweet about a "Top Chef Dinner" in which Trevor, Curtis, Trista Sheen, and Jimmy Stewart would each be responsible for one course of a four-course dinner, I lept to make a reservation. Trista, now executive chef at Crush Wine Bar in Toronto, had been one of our favourite contestants. Jimmy, who is the chef on the highly regarded Roaming Dragon food truck here in town, had gone a long way in the competition. We figure this was an opportunity not to be missed.

We were greeted by Trevor and his hosts at the door with a "welcome back." At our table were the menus for the evening, autographed by all of the chefs. We opted for the full monty—the meal with wine and beer pairings.

Trista opened with Scallops Ceviche served in a large scallop shell. The scallops, combined with grapes and yellow zucchini, with house-made fingerling potato chips on the side, paired with a Pinot Grigiot-style wine, made for a wonderful starter.

Jimmy followed with Duck Salad, made with heirloom tomatoes, duck confit, peaches, cucumber, and nasturtium flowers, with a lime dressing and a smear of pesto. The presentation was beautiful. The individual components were bright and fresh. The duck was very tasty! But the dish didn't quite come together, and the paired wine, a Riesling-Gevurztraminer blend, did not really help. We still enjoyed the course.

Curtis had taken the main. The "Red Braised" Beef Short Rib served with chestnuts, Asian greens, and rice pasta, was outstanding! And the Burrowing Owl 2008 Merlot that was paired with it might be the best Merlot I've ever tasted. Together, this made for a truly memorable course.

Trevor finished with dessert. This had made us nervous, because dessert had been the bane of Trevor's existence on the show. But the Bacon Apple Tart with Driftwood Farmhand Ale ice cream, paired with more Farmhand Ale, laid our fears to rest. The tart was tart, with just hints of bacon, and worked well with the ice cream. Despite the shared ingredient, the ale might not have been the best match, but it still worked reasonably well.

We couldn't help but do our best imitation of season two judges Mark McEwan and Shereen Arazm. We agreed that Curtis had won the night and would have even without the superb Merlot. We liked Trista's ceviche second best, followed closely by Trevor's tart and Jimmy's salad, but really, every course was a winner.

Curtis always seems to be busy, and Jimmy was occupied, but Trevor and Trista were doing a bit of mingling. Trista came by our table, and we chatted for a bit between courses. We were thrilled! She seems like a very nice person, and we certainly respect her skills in the kitchen. We've been thinking we should visit Toronto, maybe next summer, and Crush Wine Bar would definitely be a priority destination.

The Top Chef Canada dinner was a great idea and a very special evening, especially for anyone who had watched the show faithfully as we had. And once again, we felt that Fable was a place where we belong. From front of house to the kitchen, that's the kind of great job they're doing. We will surely be back before long to see what Trevor's fall/winter menu is like.



People use their blogs for various things. I don't usually use mine to let out all my inner turmoil, but occasionally I do. That's what the post the other day was about. There's no real crisis. I just have to figure out a few things.

There is only so much time in a day, right? So, priorities, in only one of several possible orders:
  • My day job, which pays the bills and funds other activities
  • My band, Lisa's Hotcakes, and all things musical
  • Fashion merchandising school, and all things fashion and style related
  • Sweetie
  • My friends, and social activities in general
That's not all, of course. I have to make time for buying, preparing, and eating food; exercise; household chores; shopping; at least a little downtime; and no doubt several more things I'm forgetting at the moment.

Oh yeah, like sleep. Those who say "I'll sleep when I'm dead" will get there sooner than they wish.

Ideally, my main activities would be day job plus goal. As in day job plus music. Or day job plus fashion. Trouble is, I have day job plus music plus fashion. Plus all the rest.

I've been working on life after software for some time. I earned a certificate in counselling skills a few years ago. I have no regrets about the time I spent doing that, and I appreciate the skills I learned, but I decided against going to graduate school, and in this province you can't be a Registered Clinical Counsellor without a Master's degree. I took courses toward a certificate in technical writing, thinking I should be very, very practical in my choice of post-software careers. But I realized that after software, I did not want to go anywhere near high tech. It has been very good to me, and I am most appreciative, but before I retire and/or check out, I'm going to do something I love.

So I made a huge shift. I started working toward yet another certificate, this time in Fashion Merchandising. I have a passion for fashion (you knew I had to write that, yes?). I am enjoying my studies so far, even when there are a lot of assignments. Despite my age and lack of experience, I think I will be able to find or make myself a niche in the industry. I'm already networking and will do much more.

But there's that darned music thing. My focus is split. The rock and roll bug bites hard. Every time I tell myself it's never going to work, it pops back up and says, yeah, but it might. It works for some people. Maybe it will work for you.

You know how long ago that started? I was 10 years old (shhhh) when I saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. I didn't want to hold their hands (well, except maybe George's). I wanted to be them. Ten years old. That's kinda formative. It's as much or more a part of me as anything else.

A passion for fashion. A passion for music. I'm working on both. Am I hedging my bets? Or really, don't they fit together? We are a rather stylish band. Music and fashion (and occasionally anti-fashion) mesh very well. Even though I am not an aspiring designer, fashion is still a creative outlet for me—styling myself for now, hopefully styling others later. And music is my most obvious creative outlet. I should not try to separate one passion from the other. It's all art in some way.

So here's what imma do. Imma keep those balls in the air. Despite the weariness of age, despite pain in my left arm that's starting to worry me even more. I know how to juggle (for reals, although only three balls). I can keep these balls moving.


Faint hope

They say you never forget your first love.

Years ago, I put a great deal of time and effort and money into becoming successful playing rock and roll. Nothing in the world was better for me than music. I wasn't quite sure what "successful" would have been, but it would not have involved a day job. It would have meant playing music all the time, even if that meant making only enough money to get by and continue playing music.

It wasn't a dismal failure, but it was a failure nonetheless. Or maybe a learning experience. I didn't have the chops, or the ability, or the creativity, or the drive, or the persistence, or the je ne sais quoi. And I thought I had learned my lesson. I didn't want to stop playing music. But I knew better than to try to "make it."

I was fine for many years playing music only for myself. At least I thought I was. But I got involved in Girls Rock Camp Vancouver, and then Ladies Rock Camp in Portland. I met so many female musicians! I thought I had left having a band behind long before, but I started getting itchy.

I wasn't alone. Sweetie and I had played in bands together back in the day. In fact, it's how we met, so music has always been a major part not only of our lives but of our lives together. We saw that our friends were playing in bands or jamming or both, and we wanted some of that. We jammed with a few drummers and had tons of fun. And we dared to think that maybe we could form a band again.

We got together with one of the women from Vancouver whom we had met in Portland, a bass player who had started to play drums as well. We played some covers. We played some originals. I started writing more. So did Sweetie. We really loved how playing together felt, and we realized we might actually have a good sound. We went looking for a singer, and the other Vancouver women we had met in Portland wanted to try out. The result was so good that we didn't even say, "We'll get back to you." All of us said, "When is our next practice?"

And thus, Lisa's Hotcakes.

Spring chicken time is far behind Sweetie and me. Our band mates are younger but no longer kids either. We all have jobs and lives. We started the band to have fun, and we wanted to take it seriously but keep it casual. But as time went on and we felt better and better about the material and the sound, the goalposts moved a bit. And maybe a bit more.

Among us all, I think it's worst for me. It's like having a second chance with my first love. It's so tantalizing. The dreams and fantasies come thick and fast.

Dreams can be dangerous. They mess with your head. They can make you forget about reality. Sure, people turn dreams into reality all the time. I've been pretty good at that in some ways. But many a dream has been dashed against the jagged rocks of real life. Sometimes we know about the starving artists after they're dead. Mostly we know about the few who have enough to eat.

What is the difference between someone who achieves "success," who manages to play music for a living, and someone who doesn't? Talent? Effort? Persistence? Confidence? Clever marketing? Courage? Willingness to take risks? Being crazy enough to go up against the odds?

Even at my age, I have to ask myself these questions. I'm good at my job, and let's remember what pays for recording studio time, not to mention my wardrobe, dinners out, and a retirement nest egg. I'm doing well in my fashion studies. I really do love fashion, and I want to prepare for a realistic career after I am no longer doing software development.

But I can't get away from it. I'm truly happy and thriving when I'm involved in making music. Last night, when no one else could make rehearsal, I played my guitar for almost two hours. I didn't even realize where the time had gone. After all these years, there is still nothing I have found that is better for me than my first love. So why have I not made music my life's work? Why do I waste my time envying those who have rather than do what they had the courage and determination to do?


For love or money

Should I become Amanda Fucking Palmer's 650,248th Twitter follower? The number will probably have increased by the time I post this. She calls herself that, in case you don't know. She even signs things "afp."

I've never been a fan. I had left Boston long before the Dresden Dolls came on the scene, and when I heard them, their indie cabaret pop wasn't really my cup of Earl Grey. We (Lisa's Hotcakes) did take our cover of the Psychedelic Furs' "The Ghost in You" from a live performance by the Dresden Dolls rather than from the Furs (we re-electrified it). Occasionally, I would see videos from her solo career, which I liked better, but not as well as all the other stuff I listened to. I thought the video for "Map of Tasmania" was more silly than provocative.

And then I heard about her raising an astounding $1.2 million dollars on Kickstarter to produce her new album (on her own record label), followed by her call for local "professional-ish" musicians to rehearse and then play a couple of songs at each stop on the tour, to be paid in beer, hugs, and something else (not money). Union musicians went crazy, and a lot of other people felt that after having raised over a million dollars, the least she could do is pay for extra string and horn players.

While I was looking for details, trying to figure out how I felt about all this, I came upon the first release from the well-funded album Theatre Is Evil by Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra, a song and video called "Want It Back."

It's fucking incredible:

First, the song. There are only four chords, a pattern that repeats through the whole song, but there's louder, softer, more space, less space. It doesn't sound like the same pattern over and over. In a couple spots, you can hear Palmer smiling and giggling ever so slightly as she sings, clearly having a ton of fun.

The song seems to have both a refrain and a chorus. The refrain is brilliant:
Doesn't matter if you want it back,
You've given it away, you've given it away
It doesn't matter if you want it back,
You've given it away away away away away away
Like all lyrics, they actually sound much more brilliant when sung than when read.

And then there's a sort of coda:
I will let you go if you would let some
I will let you go if you would let somebody
I will let you go if you would let somebody love you
I will let you go if you would let somebody love you like
I will let you go if you would let somebody love you like I do.
Like I do, like I do.
I love that.

And then there is the video. Wow. The lyrics also work better when they're written in stop-motion animation all over everything—Palmer's naked body, the bed, a book, other people, the walls. It's really engaging. And then the end with the heart coming out of blackness, which fits so well with that coda. If you haven't watched it, you should. My description can't do it justice.

I'm still not an Amanda Fucking Palmer fan. I'll have to listen to more of the album. I suppose I might become one, but her cult following really seems to be an actual cult. I mean, fans (orignially short for "fanatics") can be kind of weird anyway, but at least some of these people seem to worship her. I worship neither deities nor human beings. But I definitely love that song.

I say it's a mainstream breakout waiting to happen. I don't know if she has any real marketing behind her. She seems to disdain it. But she periodically gets herself free publicity by doing something controversial. This latest series of events might cause the breakthrough. Probably a lot more people have at least heard her name by this point, even if they hate her.

I don't hate her. The musicians' union is for people who play professional gigs. Those musicians might actually have a degree from Berklee College of Music (most people seem to drop out). They have training, serious chops, and they should be paid for what they do.

Rock and roll has always been a completely different world. Rock bands play free gigs. If you're lucky, you get a cut of the door (we've actually been paid some for two out of four gigs, so I consider us pretty lucky). Or maybe you make enough to cover expenses. If you continue to do well, your cut of the door gets bigger, and eventually you play for a guarantee. But you're not going to get rich. Pop stars get rich. The day of fabulously wealthy rock bands is gone. Success means you can keep your head above water without having to do anything (that you don't want) except make music.

Amanda Palmer makes art of all kinds. She tends to do some things for little or no money. She raised plenty for her album, but tours cost a lot. She is not rich. The union musicians have a point, but I don't think it really applies here. This is about fans who willingly go to rehearsal, show up for the gig, and are happy with their hugs and beer. And there will still be all the regular gigs for the pros. That's just the kind of career she has.

If I ever get into a similar situation (doubtful), I might approach things differently. But from here, I totally understand about playing just because you love to play. And if any of the musicians I admire asked me to sit in for a night, I wouldn't even care if they gave me beer. But a hug would be nice.

650,318 followers. Increased by 70 since I started writing this post. And none of them are me. Yet.


My cup runneth over

I remember answering a questionnaire a while back. One question it asked was whether I was feeling overwhelmed by information or whether I liked having all that to work through. I chose the latter.

I'm not so sure now. I might have hit the wall.

Tomorrow, I start a course called Merchandising Fashion, the lowest-numbered course in the Fashion Merchandising certificate program. I hope I'm ready! After this past week, I have my doubts.

You see, it's New York Fashion Week, the biggest show this side of the pond. It started with Fashion's Night Out last Thursday and continued through dozens and dozens of Spring/Summer 2013 collections. I'm supposed to be paying attention. I'm supposed to be looking for trends. But my RSS feed keeps piling up, and I just don't have the time to go through each one (many of which require that I click through). So I have seen very few photos from the S/S 13 collections. Not a great way to start a school year!

It's not just Twitter's fault, but it's largely Twitter's fault. Or rather, let's be honest, my fault for having two Twitter accounts that I'm following pretty closely.

I think the Lisa's Hotcakes account is important. @LisasHotcakes doesn't have many followers yet, but that takes time. Meanwhile, I'm trying to tweet interesting things and get retweeted from time to time. And I'm following musicians, bands, promoters, clubs, and radio stations. That's a lot of info.

My personal account, @v_diz, is for pretty much everything else I write about in my blog. I'm following lots of handles having to do with fashion, as well as feminism, food, politics, news, and friends. There is little overlap between the two accounts. Again, I don't have a lot of followers yet, but I do want to tweet at least a few interesting things a day. I hope they're interesting anyway, or at least weird or funny or catchy. I'm definitely no Sherman Alexie.

Of course I haven't given up Facebook, but I do find that I'm skimming. I haven't paid attention to my mostly-fashion Tumblr in weeks. And Sweetie noticed that (until today) I hadn't written any blog entries here for a while.

One thing I need to do to help the situation is the reduce the duplication. I've tried to figure out whether I like a site's Twitter feed or RSS feed better and to follow only one. I have to do the same with Facebook. If I'm getting band tweets, perhaps I don't need that band's updates on my timeline.

Still, there's no question that adding Twitter to the mix has knocked things off balance. I have to find some kind of balance again. And possibly to make things worse, those of us studying fashion are encouraged to have a Pinterest board on which to pin things that inspire us. So far, I've stayed away, but how long can that last?

To live and die

I was listening to the first Raincoats album, and I went to Wikipedia to get some info. I read this in the entry: "[Kurt] Cobain invited them to play on the tour Nirvana planned for the UK in April, but he died a week before the tour began."

"He died." I felt anger well up in me. He didn't fucking die. "Die" sounds like being taken by a disease in a hospital bed or maybe being killed in a car crash. Die? Don't bloody sanitize it! He didn't just die. He fucking blew his brains out.

And I felt anger because he did that. He took Kurt Cobain away from us, away from everyone. He took Nirvana away.

Yesterday was World Suicide Prevention Day. And right after I felt that anger, I started thinking that even though the feeling was understandable, it should not stop there. What I needed was some compassion.

Because Kurt really did die in the sense I wrote above. A disease took him. He suffered from clinical depression and gods know what else. He didn't ask for that. He might not have dealt with it very well, but he tried. No one was in his head when he made his plan. No one was in his head when he squeezed the trigger. But it's impossible to imagine him doing that unless he was in incredible pain, and that this was the only way he could see to end it.

I've never experienced pain like that. I've never formed a plan. But I have thought plenty about leaving prematurely. There were times when things were bad and I thought that my being gone would make things easier for those I loved. Really, I thought that way. There are still times when I think that I should declare an end. Ironically, sometimes that happens because things are so good. I fear the possibility of things going wrong outside my control.

Stupid, I know. But we are not always logical creatures.

Victim-blaming is no good. But when victim and perpetrator are one and the same, feelings get complicated. And yet I want to err on the side of compassion, see the victim, not the perp. No one shoots dope because they already feel good. They do it to take away pain. No one takes their own life unless that life has become intolerable, for whatever reason.

Kurt died, 18 years ago. It makes me angry. It makes me really sad. But it also makes me feel compassion. I understand the impulse. I understand the need to stop hurting.

Nothing will stop someone once they are determined, but there is so much any of us can do before it reaches that point.


Bluebird of distraction

I might have made a huge mistake. I rejoined Twitter.

It's been several years since I've had an account. Back then, everything was primitive, and the whale of system overload appeared more often than we wished. I can't remember how many tweets I had posted when I decided to pull the plug.

Ever since Lisa's Hotcakes (@LisasHotcakes), however, I knew I would have to take the bluebird plunge again. More than the Hotcakes, I blame my friend Chef Chris (@chefcdb) in New Orleans. I wrote to find out how he was doing during Isaac, and after assuring me that the worst that happened to him were power outages, he told me that he had opened a Twitter account. That led to me going back on again (@v_diz) and then creating the Lisa's Hotcakes account as well.

I know it's wrong, but I'm weak.

The "user experience" is so much better now. Retweets are built in, although I notice many people still doing those the old-fashioned way. The overall layout is rather nice, and everything you need is pretty easy to find (except for "find people to follow").

One thing that surprised me was how much I missed that format. Being afflicted with a certain level of ADHD, I have always found blogging to be much more suited to my writing style than any longer format. I can't even read long articles online! I also write songs, which are even shorter. And now I'm back to 140 or fewer characters! And I find it's a pleasing way to mouth off in a way that I don't do on Facebook or here.

So far, I've posted a few feminist tweets, a bunch of music tweets, a few on the Quebec election (#QC2012), some comments about Michelle Obama's wonderful speech at the Democratic National Convention (#DNC2012), and some fashion bits. I'm finding personal friends to follow as well as news outlets of various kinds and a few people I wouldn't mind knowing, like Neko Case (@NekoCase). I've retweeted a few things I found interesting. I'm hash tagging up a storm. I'm back in the swing of things on two accounts.

Time sink? Oh yeah. It's bad. Tweeting is so quick that it feels like no time at all. But like pennies, those minutes add up. Still, I'm hoping it will be good for the band and interesting for me. We shall see how it goes this time.

If you follow me or the band or both, I'll do my best to be entertaining.