Revisiting the past


I use the terms “foreign” and  “travel” loosely on this blog, to refer to anything strange and unfamiliar on the one hand, and any journey – physical or emotional – on the other. This post is about psychic time travel, through music. 

As is my tradition (in the United States at least), I went to a Stars show by myself last week. The first time I saw them live was around twenty years ago, when they were just starting out and played in the basement of my university chapel. I don’t think I was alone that time but I can’t remember who I was with… All I remember was that I went on the advice of my little sister, I was blown away, and when I ran into the singer/guitarist Amy Millan in the bathroom I gushed to her about her angelic voice and awesome dance moves.

In 2002 I was 22 years old and I had just moved to Los Angeles. I saw that Stars was playing at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood. I had no friends to go with me, so I went alone. I had recently gone to my first movie by myself, which felt really awkward at first and really liberating by the end, and I figured this would be similar. It was not. I felt really awkward the whole time. But still I was glad I went, and in the times I’ve seen Stars since then I’ve almost always chosen to go alone. It seems fitting for music that is thematically all about solitude, nostalgia, longing, and bittersweet loss.

At the show last week I thought about all of the different me’s I have been each time I’ve seen Stars live (which is too many times to count), including the me I was when I flew on a whim to see them play in Paris, not by myself this time, but coming into my own in a way that made me feel very singular.

Sometimes you’re communing with the past so hard that it’s practically running alongside the present, and that’s how I felt at the show – awash in my various ages. The words of the songs and Torquil Campbell’s always flamboyant commentary kept uncannily echoing the feelings all those memories evoked.

At one point he told the audience, “Put your fists up for your ghosts. They’re on the guest list. Bring ´em along,” and I just thought, Yup.


These musings are apropos of nothing; it’s just that I’ve written about Stars a few times here and I find it interesting how they’re always weaving in and out of my own personal zeitgeist. 

(get over the) hump-day inspiration: Stars

Stars quote

In honor of the trip whose spark came from Stars, so, too, comes today’s motivational quote.

Stars always seem to get me, probably because they get the human condition in general. This particular verse has meaning for me far beyond the sphere of romance. It’s about leaning into and celebrating your vulnerability and flaws rather than hiding them or hiding from them. It’s hard for my overly-critical self to believe in a world in which weakness can become strength, but I love the idea of such a world.

And I got a little bit of evidence of its existence in Paris two weeks ago, when I nervously asked a waiter what amounted to: “Can we to has some the water, please?” He grinned like a Cheshire cat, nodded assent, and left. I was mortified at having messed up the most basic sentence in every way possible, but I couldn’t help feeling that the waiter had not really minded. I asked my friend, “Do you think that look was his way of mocking me, or an indication that he found my horrible French cute? She, too, thought he had been charmed rather than put off by my gibberish.

So there you have it – sometimes the things that make us feel the most inept can actually be our source of power.

I love it when a plan comes together

blurred stars in parisAfter I went to see one of my favorite bands play in Williamsburg a couple of weeks ago, I told Philippe he should see them when they come to Paris in January. He had recommended Agnes Obel to me, and I liked her music a lot, so I thought I’d return the favor.

Well, somehow or other I started joking about jetting off to Paris for the weekend just to see the Stars show. And then somehow or another I started seriously considering it… And then I looked up the price of flights, reality checked myself, and went back to figuring out how to put my real January plan to take a Spanish class into action. I had heard about a 5-week course offered by Instituto Cervantes that would have been perfect in many ways, except that the 6pm start time would butt up against my work hours. I was searching for better options but I hadn’t found any.

Then today I came home to two pieces of mail that serendipitously fit together like pieces of a puzzle: the NYU Continuing Education course catalog, and the same Delta miles credit card offer I get on a monthly basis. I noted that NYU has a February – April intensive beginner’s Spanish class that starts at 6:45, costs less per hour than Cervantes, covers two semesters of Spanish in one, and provides a reason to leave the house all winter. Perfect.

I read the terms of the credit card offer and realized that if I put the class on my new card I’d be halfway towards earning the 50,000 miles they promise you’ll get after spending $1,000 on it within the first three months. If I hope and pray and wait for a post-holiday fare sale and then put a $500 Paris flight on the card (do $500 NYC-Paris flights still exist?), I’d get a $50 credit and end up with almost 70,000 Delta miles to my name, enough to go almost anywhere in the world for free for my next trip. Which would be really convenient in April, after I finish the Spanish class and want to reward myself with a week of immersion somewhere like Mexico City, or Valparaiso, or Southern Spain. Two trips for the price of one. Mucho perfecto!

I signed up for the card and I’m already fantasy packing my suitcase…

And listening to the people who inspired it all, on repeat:

(Photo by Ilhan Gendron of “blurry stars in Paris” – an appropriate choice for this post about my blurry plan to see Stars in Paris.)