Debt. Of Gratitude

I have spent a fair amount of time in the last few weeks bitching about people’s shortcomings. Don’t worry, if there has been a shortcoming and I’ve bitched about it, there’s a really good chance I bitched right at you about it, I have absolutely no ability to censor myself.

(Before I get into this, Mac and Jordana have taken to thinking of me as “the nuclear option”. I have no idea what the nuclear option is in politics (aside from the obvious meaning) but in our situation it’s a bit like they’re the pruning sheers and I’m the back-hoe)

But in an effort to try to stable my mental condition and also to repay the enormous kharmic debt I’m in for all the bitching I’ve been doing, I’d like to just say a word or two about my sister Michelle.

Michelle is a blue collar artist, and she always has been. She has always been a girl of callouses, the great irony being that she is so terribly sensitive at the same time. Whatever it is that she is working on, she absolutely never backs away from the understanding that great achievements only happen when dilligence, intelligence and inspiration are gathered in vast quantities.

Where there is no intelligence, she will provide it. She is simply one of the smartist artists I have ever worked with, especially in music, and even more especially as a singer. Where there might not be inspiration, she will provide it. If you think a thing is unachievable, go ask Michelle, she has eleven ways you haven’t even thought of. And where there is no dilligence, Michelle will create it. Even if you think there is dilligence, her example should shame you almost immediately. When you think you have something finished, you’ve got your smarts, your works and your muses all in a row, bring it to her. I bet you anything she’ll say, “let’s spend another hour on this, I think you’ve just started…”

Michelle and I wrote plays and songs together as little kids, of course. I’m fairly certain that every kid in the world put together plays featuring their dolls and such and then produced them for the family. The difference is that Michelle had such an incredible discipline to our combined imaginations. We played a game called “Candyland” (completely different from the board game) where we were creatures made out of candy. Initially, I was a lion made of, y’know, candy, but Michelle insisted that I find every possible joint and bone and define them all. To this day, I think back and I know that I had candy cane front legs joined with taffy at the elbows, I had a mane made of cotton candy, a trunk made of muscular twizzlers. I remember it to this day.

Our playpeople had vast towns made of cardboard, each family defined, each business creating transactions. This wasn’t me, it was the two of us together that made these things happen. I was creating drama with the characters and coming up with funny stuff while Michelle was making sure that orders placed at the pretend pharmacy were taking an actual hour to come through.

Years later, I would find myself going back to her inspired sense of detail. I remember, I was doing a Christmas show, and the director wanted my character to move downstage center. There was no other actor on stage, but I had established the entire fourth wall in my mind, I knew there was a window downstage, and I moved to be there, to look out the window, the way Michelle would have insisted in 1979 in London.

Two performances later, the director had added a gobo of a venetian blind window.

Last year I was in a show where I sat in the front seat of a car talking to someone in the back seat, and I knew every inch of the inside of that car, despite the fact that we never rehearsed it. My friends said it was the best thing I’d ever been in, almost like I get better the more a director leaves me alone and lets me pretend I’m following Michelle’s orders.

When we got older, we started doing actual plays together, and we started playing in a band. The plays were crap and Michelle shone, certainly, but she never had the patience for a high school era bullshit choreography boring ass nonsense. I was into it, man, I was shaking my money maker, Michelle almost endured it. But in the band, Jesus. She was the bass player, and she created these rhapsodies, these bizarre enigmatic bass lines that were pure profound counterpoint.

We would play gigs and Michelle would bounce in the corner, shock of blonde hair falling in her face, ignoring the audience. She’s essentially a private person, and even then she didn’t want her intimacies on display. To this day, she is a more diligent woman than any of her playboys, and a funnier and funner woman than any of her leftist disciples. She was always a mystery, an enigmatic figure – on stage but face invisible, beautiful blonde perm but one side of her head shaved, complete rebel and magna cum laude.

It’s hard, having a sister like her. I have found people who compare, but they are few and far between. Right now, she’s pushing and yanking and pulling an artistic community around on to their feet in Napa Valley, and it seems like she’s doing it with a plastic spade and bucket, moving sand around to stave off the incoming tide. There is a story of me, at 5, being told to get something out of the basement, and I disappeared upstairs. I came back down, braving the basement with Michelle, age 3, holding my hand, saying, “See? There’s nothing to be scared of…” She has set the benchmark, as much or more than my parents did. She is the inspiration for me to not give up hope that whatever I am working on has the chance to be better, to be brilliant.

I hate the ways in which she has been wasted. I hate that she can be given a job and it’s like focusing a laser, she simply isn’t going to stray from that job. Her talents are enormous, but her dilligence is even larger, and her passion is simply unimaginable. I don’t know how she sleeps, I really don’t. Except that I’ve seen it, she shuts down quickly and without warning, like a prison at lights out, but I almost imagine her asleep, mouth muttering instructions, hand moving with a pen or a bow or a fretboard in it.

I know if she was where I am, she would work twice as hard as I do. And she’d put up with 1/10th the bullshit. It seems amazing to say, but I can’t wait until I have earned enough cred to bring her back to New York so she can work with me. I can’t wait until I’m important enough to work for my little sister.