A RAINN Concert Review By Rich K.
Added February 1, 1997
Richard Koppinger posted this long and wonderful review to the RDT mailing list.
The first friend of mine who confided in me that she'd been raped was Audrey. It was her father. Her mother divorced him, but he got away with destroying the life of a 10 year old girl. Audrey and I met in high school when she auditioned for the school play; The Wizard of Oz. She was a freshman, I was a junior. She got the part of Aunt Em, I was the Scarecrow. We got to be pretty good friends, but nothing beyond that. I was used to that, as I've always had more female friends than male. When she broke up with her boyfriend before her prom in 1984, she asked me to take her because she knew that I, unlike her classmates, wouldn't expect anything more at the end of the night than a thank-you and a good-night kiss. About 6 years later, Audrey and her husband were sent to prison for the murder of her mother.
Mary was a friend I met at the New York Renaissance Faire in 1990. One day, she told me about the time she was raped in her dorm room. It was spring break and she was at a party with a few other students who were still on campus. This guy she'd been talking to all night and having really great, intelligent conversation with offered to walk her back to her dorm room. Just to be sure she'd be safe, he said. Once they got to her door, they said good night. As soon as she put the key in the lock, he slammed something across her head, the blow knocking her unconscious.
She didn't tell her story as much as she explained it, as if she read it from a novel; like how she said the worst part was floating in and out of consciousness while he was raping her, and when she fully regained consciousness, she was still gagged and tied to her bed, and that she was very lucky to get herself loose, as most of the students were now gone.
She reported the incident to the faculty, who offered her a deal; free tuition in exchange for not reporting the crime to the police. She foolishly accepted, and later had to leave the college because she couldn't deal with seeing this guy every day and knowing he would go unpunished for his crime.
This woman is my age and her life is messed up to this day. She's one of the most truly beautiful people I've ever known. She's intelligent, funny, creative, and once was working 3 jobs. I've lost track of her, as she moved out of the area a while back. But at least before she left, she got me to help carry her load. As a friend, it was my duty; part of the sacred honor that is friendship. It was one of the hardest things I'd ever had to do, to sit there and listen to my friend tell me her story. I hope she has a very special man in her life now, preferably a tall, well-built guy who shares her passion for Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, and Oscar Wilde. Wherever she is, I hope she's okay.
I knew in my heart that Tori would do at least one show for RAINN, but I figured it would be in Los Angeles, where she formed the short-lived big-hair Spandex-metal band Y Kant Tori Read; or in the Baltimore area, where she got her professional start playing bars when she was 13 years old. I never dreamed a RAINN benefit show would be in New York. I had the money when the tickets went on sale, and I gave them as Yule presents to my three closest friends; Tonya, Scott, and Annie. I was able to arrange for time off from work so I could sleep late and get an early start on the trip into the city.
There was only one problem I had to overcome. I hate going into New York. I'm never comfortable while I'm there. It's stupid, but I'm a complete nervous wreck. All I can think about is that I can't wait to get home.
Yes, this was to see Tori and it was a benefit for RAINN. How could I resist? The last show I went to in Williamsport, PA flew by so fast, it seemed like 30 minutes. It was a blur of screaming fans, magnificent piano, biting harpsichord, brooding harmonium, fiery intensity and one beautiful voice. In a way, it was almost like I didn't see her. So I was very happy to have the opportunity to see her once again. I just had to get over my fear of the city.
I get terribly claustrophobic in New York and it interferes with my enjoyment of whatever I'm doing. It takes me a while to relax and then I get stressed out all over again when it's time to leave. I try not to think about it, but the damn city drives me nuts anyway. Traveling to the city, being there, and then getting out is too much stress for me to want to do it too often. I can't imagine working there, let alone living there. I honestly don't know how some people do it.
The funny thing is that I used to live there, but I never felt paranoid back then. I was born in New York, and lived on East 93rd Street and First Avenue until I was almost 10 years old. It wasn't a bad neighborhood. We only got broken into once. It was after we moved 60 miles west to Budd Lake, New Jersey that I began to really hate New York. My mother insisted that part of my daily TV viewing be spent on watching the news. I figure that she felt there was not enough fictionalized violence on TV, and that I should see some real violence to supplement it. After a while, I felt that New York held death at every corner, and was much too dangerous for me to deal with. And when my grandmother died in 1983, I didn't have to anymore, as the weekly trips my parents made into Manhattan were no longer necessary.
I picked up Scott and Annie from where they worked, since they were both on the way, and I felt safer taking my car than being caged in a subway car with ganstas and mental patients. The last time I was on a train, two guys got into an argument about crack and money. I thought I was going to be killed right there just for being in the same subway car.
"What Rich needs is a house in the country", Annie said as we headed toward the Lincoln tunnel. I could feel my body tense with every minute we drew closer to New York.
"Why do I do this to myself?" I asked, staring out the windshield, my hands clasped white to the steering wheel.
"It's Tori, that's why," Scott answered.
Annie added, "It's Tori, it's for RAINN, it's a wonderful gift you gave us that we've all been looking forward to, including you. You wanted to see Tori and support RAINN more than you wanted to stay away from New York."
We got into the city and parked the car in a lot by the Cheyenne Diner and stopped for dinner. I noticed for the first time that Scott was still wearing a suit. As I poked at my broccoli and cheddar baked potato, I stared out the window.
"Something wrong?" Annie asked.
I looked back at her and shrugged. "New-York-itis", I said.
When we got to Madison Square Garden, Tonya had just arrived, having braved the trains from Summit, NJ after work in the black leather jacket that her boyfriend gave her. "God, this is so great. I can't wait", she said, hugging me. "Thank you, thank you, thank you. You will be able to drive me home tonight, right Rich?"
"Of course I'll be able to drive you home tonight, Tonya."
When we got inside, Scott and I waited for Annie and Tonya to use the rest room. We watched the people milling around; mostly college kids, very much the same atmosphere as the Garden State Arts Center, but with wilder clothes, more hair colors, more imaginative piercings. One girl had sequins in her hair, another had silver metallic bell bottoms on, and one girl who was about 15 with thick glasses and a pageboy haircut was wearing a long white gown with elbow-length white gloves, and delicate white fairy wings. She reminded me of the Bee Girl on the cover of the Blind Melon album.
"You know what?" I said. "This all may seem like a combination of a Science Fiction convention and Let's Make A Deal to some people, but I like these kids. I really do. I wish I could have gotten away with stuff like this when I was their age. This is creative stuff. They're not afraid to show their peacock feathers. I think they're interesting. Unique. They seem to be a lot less uptight about conforming with everybody else then we were when we were teenagers. I mean there's got to be a good deal of self-assurance here if they're going to dye their hair magenta and get their eyebrows pierced."
I thought back to my college days, when I looked at such things with ridicule, raising my nose to the air, snickering aloud, so they could just barely hear me. Years later, I read something that said "A person who spends his life looking down on others is probably living on a bluff." I realized I wasn't fooling anybody except myself.
"And college? Forget about it," I continued. "I was such an uptight anal-retentive little snot back then, it's no wonder I didn't have any friends in college. You know what I mean? If you're going to hang loose, have fun, and wear your butterflies with pride, this is the time to do it. I'm kind of sorry I missed that. You know what I mean?"
"What did you expect?" Scott asked. "You think anybody else was going to show up for Tori in a suit?"
Annie came out of the ladies room. "Wow, it is way scary in there. Where's Tonya?"
"She went in behind you." Scott told her.
"You're kidding. I didn't see her."
Tonya finally emerged in another minute. "I thought I was gong to miss the concert", she said.
When we got seated the curtains were open, revealing the beautiful little harpsichord and the long black Imperial Grand Bosendorfer. I passed the time with some more people-watching. John, who I know from the Vin Scelsa/Idiot's Delight digest came by to say hi. I introduced him around, and we talked for a while about Vin, Tori, and ancient computer history. "A dollar a byte," he said. "That's what I think of when it comes to computer memory. One place I was at, we had an IBM mainframe and we added 256K of memory to it. It took two days to install all the circuit boards. 256K; two days. Over a quarter of a million dollars."
"That's what I like about computer history," I said. "Keeps technology in perspective when you can buy an 8 meg SIMM chip for fifty bucks at a computer show and take it home in a Ziploc bag."
At about 8:00, the house lights went down, and a guy with a brown T-shirt, black pants, and a black knit cap came onstage with a guitar. I didn't recognize the guy at all.
"Hi everybody," he said.
"Hi," I yelled back with the rest of the crowd. "Who the hell are you?"
Not answering me directly, he said, "My name's Willie Porter. I'd like to thank all of you for coming early."
"Oh, Willie Porter. Cool," I said, recognizing the name. In an instant, Scott, Tonya, Annie and a few of the kids around us were asking me who he was. "He opened some of the shows early in the tour. I heard people raving about this guy."
Willie didn't disappoint. His song about ice fishing in his home state of Wisconson was a blast. He apologized for not getting dressed up a bit more, but then a guy in the front row named Steve loaned Willie his Wisconsin Badgers hockey jersey. Willie also had some fun with an old Jackson 5 tune, "ABC, 123"; a "pre-op Michael Jackson song" as he put it. Willie also had some fun with the cameras from Lifetime, taking pictures of them while he was being filmed. "Here you go. Take that, motherfuckers. Yeah, you can dish it out, let's see if you can take it." Then he handed his camera to an audience member, saying "Here, why don't you all take pictures of yourselves down there so I have something to bring home? Just be sure I get the camera back, okay?"
I thought, only an out-of-towner would do such a thing. But he did get his camera back, and Steve in the front row got his Wisconsin Badgers jersey back as well. I can't help admiring people who are that fearless.
After about 40 minutes or so of listening to Led Zeppelin music after the breakdown, the house lights came down again. As was the case during the recently completed tour, the curtains opened to the tune of Joni Mitchell's "Son of a Preacher Man", and Tori entered, greeted by mass hysteria; screaming, cheering, outstretched arms, cries of "I LOVE YOU, TORI". In other words, the usual.
Tori began by playing Beauty Queen/Horses. For the next song, she crossed her legs and said "This song, I played once for some guy, and he's here tonight, and I haven't played it for him since that night. I don't see him," she said, scanning the crowd, "but I know he's here. So... Hi." The song she played was Leather, from Little Earthquakes. I read once that, while she was writing songs for that album, Atlantic sent an executive over to check up on her. It was a nerve-wracking experience for her, as the last record executive who went to hear her new post-metal piano-based songs had dashed her confidence so badly, she almost took out the hair spray and the snakeskin tights again. Fortunately for Tori, the record executive who came that day reported back to Atlantic that she didn't need any kind of "help" at the time. It turned out to be an important turning point in the creation of Little Earthquakes.
Next, she turned to the harpsichord and played Blood Roses, which sent the energy level skyrocketing. Little Amsterdam followed, her song of the hidden and the double-standards of the deep south. Then came Cornflake Girl, complete with the now famous "Cornflake Girl Dance". As she skipped to the edge of the stage, fans rushed to give her flowers, drawings, letters, pages of poetry, or just to touch her hand before she went back to the piano to play the song.
Throughout the entire show after that point, people intermittently approached the stage to leave flowers and other offerings, as if the stage was consecrated as a holy shrine. Only at a Tori show do I see this happen. It seems to me that the people who do this see it not so much as giving, but rather an exchange of gifts. They are giving back, saying thank you to someone whose songs have shown them how to face their fears, how to dance with their demons, how to walk in the dark and where to find their light.
After the exuberant Talula, the stage went dark but for a single spotlight on Tori, who was holding a microphone and facing the audience alone. She raised the mike to her lips and sang Me And A Gun; the song born of the buried memory of her rape, which eventually proved to be the mother of this night; the song that became the catalyst for RAINN. The memories she sought to suppress for so long exploded from her one day several years later after seeing the film Thelma and Louise, and the song was born and performed at a nearly empty Notting Hill brasserie that evening.
This night, in a crowded theater in New York City, people sat in absolute silence, some in tears. I felt my heart break as she sang; slowly, excruciatingly. Then, there was an ominous rumble beneath the floor of the theater, like a pending earthquake. "Oh, God, the subway" I heard in a nearby startled whisper.
The subway; that closed cage of fear where I was certain I would die one day. Did I have to be reminded during Me And A Gun that I was in New York?
But then, I thought, I didn't feel that bad. I wasn't nervous. It still felt like a safe place. Certainly much safer than Audrey's home when she was 10. Certainly much safer than Mary's college campus. Certainly much safer than Los Angeles was for Tori on that tragic night. It occurred to me that I had no reason to be such a nervous wreck at any time that night, and I felt very selfish given that perspective. Nobody ever raped me. Nobody ever tried to kill me. The closest I've ever been to a mugging was when some older kid swiped my basketball from me in a playground when I was 8 years old. And at the end of that concert, when Tori ran to the edge of the stage to touch hands, to hug and kiss a few people in the crowd, I remembered reading that it was a guy who was in the audience who raped her that night, threatened to kill her, and told her with gruesome delight how he would carve up her body in front of his friends. She may have more security nowadays, but she still has to face those people by herself.
Just what the hell was I so damn afraid of anyway? What reason did I have? What right did I have?
As we left the theater that evening, it was the first time in many years that I wasn't walking around the city paranoid. And as I made jokes about the traffic and what I would do to a squeegee guy if one was holding up the flow of New Jersey bound cars, I realized I wasn't going crazy from being in New York. It was as if Me And A Gun was written for anybody who needs to face their fears, no matter how overwhelming or superficial.
"It's like she relives it every time she sings it," Annie said later. "Me and Tonya were holding each other's hands. I was determined not to cry. But when I looked at Tonya, she'd lost it, and then so did I.
"It's tough to watch her sing it live," she said.
I thought of Audrey and Mary, and many of my other friends. I thought about how often Tori has to face that moment, again and again, every time she sings that song, and I silently, tight-lipped, nodded in agreement.
Maybe someday I'll find myself strolling through the city toward whatever destination I have in mind. Maybe I'll go with friends, or alone. Maybe I won't get that sick feeling that murder is waiting at every corner. Maybe I'll go to New York one day and actually enjoy myself. Who knows? I might have a wonderful time. Maybe even see the old neighborhood.
I'm still not too sure I want to take the subway though.
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