It’s been quite a week. My winter vacation stay at my parents’ house in upstate NY was curtailed, in order to drive down to drop my sister off at Penn Station before the impending snow storm on Sunday evening. I love staying home normally, so when Mother Earth gave us an unprecedented and quite impressive storm of 30+ inches of the white stuff, I was happy to stay indoors and drink my dark chocolate Swiss Miss and watch some of my favorite movies (Sound of Music & Charlie and the Chocolate Factory happened to be on TV the last 2 nights!). I have the entire week off from work, so today was another day of staying inside, cooking leisurely (which I’ve found to be a wonderful experience), getting some items checked off the ol’ To-Do list. I ate hot and delicious soojebi (a traditional korean “poor” man’s food – it’s a soup with cooked dough and potatoes), then even had some Trader Joe’s coffee ice cream for dessert. My day had been good, relaxing. I was content. I brushed my teeth, then went into the kitchen to do the dishes, while watching the Eagles play the Vikings, finally, in what has turned out to be a controversially postponed game. I heard my text ring go off on my phone while I was doing the dishes, so I made a mental note to check it later.
It slipped my mind for a bit, and then I remembered to see who had texted me. This was what I saw on the screen from my friend, Phil: “So sad. We have one extra ticket. Someone didn’t show up. LH goes on in 15 minutes. If you can make it, it is yours! LOL”
My eyes widened. My mind started to race. Earlier on today I had noticed on Facebook that Phil was going to the coveted Lauryn Hill concert. I knew she was back performing again, but I had to sadly forgo the show due to its price. They had been on sale for $75 ($65 above my budget this year for shows).
Let’s go down memory-lane for just a bit. Imagine… circa 1993. I was in 8th grade and went to a birthday party for one of my friends, Tara. The party started off with a trip to the movie theater, and the movie of choice was “Sister Act 2“. Whoopi Goldberg had starred in a movie a couple of years back called “Sister Act”, and due to its popularity, they had apparently made a sequel. That was the first time I heard the voice that would forever be imprinted in my mind. Lauryn Hill, probably just about 18 or 19 at that time, played a major part in the movie and though her acting skills were lacking, her voice was one-of-a-kind. She had the perfect vibrato, vocal riffs to die for, and an unmistakeable tone quality. The talent was undeniable. I don’t even remember how I got my hands on a cassette tape of the soundtrack, since times were hard back then, but I did. And I listened to it on repeat many, many times. (Sidenote: Come to think of it, that was my first exposure to Aretha Franklin – she had contributed a song to the soundtrack. But I had no clue who she was at that time.) I copied Lauryn Hill’s every vocal inflection to the T, and when I could not get it, I practiced over and over again until I got it down. I sang the songs and practiced the low notes that my young voice could not sing, the high notes that were unreachable. I showed this much devotion vocally to only one other artist growing up – Mariah Carey. I never actually was able to copy Lauryn’s voice… that is actually impossible. That’s how unique her voice is. Her improvisational skills (“vamping”) are so unique and so hard to copy. I tried anyways.
Fast forward a few years. I had been closely following Lauryn’s career trajectory, but lost track once she joined the Fugees. I wasn’t much of a hip-hop or reggae fan growing up (unfortunate for me) so I moved on to other artists/singers. “Sister Act 2” remained my favorite movie soundtrack and I heard the Fugees’ remake of “Killing Me Softly” on the radio frequently. Then in 1998, Lauryn Hill released her first and only solo, studio record, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The album was a brilliant collection of her superior vocal, hip-hop/rap sensibilities laced with philosophically profound lyrics… all interwoven by a theme of love discussed in classroom setting by children (those who have heard the album know what I’m referring to here). The album quickly went platinum and multi-platinum. Then radio and MTV picked up her most popular and radio-friendly single, “Doo Wop (That Thing)” and played it over and over again. We all basically fell in love. Then after a year or two of fame and fortune, Lauryn Hill disappeared from the public. It was a self-imposed exile. Media called her “crazy”, “gone off the deep end”. She had made a couple of appearances on award shows and concerts reading scripture passages from the bible and saying things that didn’t make sense to the masses. And just like that she was ostracized from public acceptance. A couple of years later, she did a small concert for MTV unplugged, and while the songs did not match up to the quality of those on her studio album, she shared much about the experiences she had gone through being in the limelight, the pressure, the expectations, the manipulation. Much of her talk was spiritual in nature, and she openly shared about God and how he was changing her internally. Many people wrote off the live album which resulted from the show as “rambling”, “sub-par performance”, “not the Lauryn of old”. Basically she was written off on all accounts.
I love Kanye West. Yeah, media has also written him off as “crazy”, but I don’t care. I recognize his genius and even if he knows and flaunts it, I really do not care. I want to hear more music from him. I don’t want him to ever stop making music. In one of his songs, called “Champion”, he says… “Lauryn Hill said her heart was in Zion, I wish her heart still was in rhymin’…” The song is not about Lauryn Hill, so it seems rather random that he would rap about her. When I first heard that line, though, I did one of those deep, mmmmhmmmm’s. He understands. I, too, have been wishing all these years that Lauryn Hill was still making music. And I have a feeling we’re not the only ones. She released ONE studio album and after 12 years, we’re still thinking about her, wishing she was still making music.
The thing is, that one studio album, Miseducation, it does not get old. In some strange way, it is timeless. I believe that is an essential trait of something that is deemed classic. Ever since I bought the album several years back, after initially putting it on repeat for months, I’ve continued to listen to it once a month, if not, once a week, for years. YEARS. It’s just that good.
And something very mysterious occurs when geniuses get written off and exiled into oblivion. Their work lives on and its presence gets stronger as time goes by. If the music is good, it has a way of finding its way to the people. This is exactly what happened. Lauryn Hill became more popular than ever in her absence. More people caught onto her art. Many people tried to copy her style to no avail. We all found out very quickly, there was only one Lauryn Hill.
Okay. Fast forward to today 10:45pm. Now that the context has been set, perhaps it’s easier to understand the thoughts going through my head when I saw Phil’s text. I immediately found out that she was playing at Music Hall of Williamsburg (only 15 minutes from my place!) and that she was supposed to go on at 10:30pm, but still hadn’t come on. I grabbed everything as quickly as I could and jumped into my car, drove carefully through the snow-laden roads near my apartment and got myself to Williamsburg in a jiffy. While walking towards Music Hall, I encountered a big crowd standing near the entrance. Unbeknownst to me because I was so wrapped up in getting to the show, I head-bumped my way straight into a rap battle. I actually body-slammed into the guy who was in the middle of the circle spitting rhymes, but I had not even realized it! I just made my way through the crowd and went straight towards my destination. My eyes were on the prize. (Later on, Phil pointed that out to me and I cracked up so hard because I didn’t realize what had happened! He said the guy probably then started to rap about me! LOL)
It was about 11:30pm and I made my way into the hall, as Phil came out with the ticket. She still had not come on. There were rumors circulating that she might not even show up. (But then again there were also rumors that Prince might make an appearance!) Though the crowd was obviously getting antsy, this ended up working out in my favor. I’ve been to TONS of shows these past few years and I know that headliners like Lauryn Hill do not play until midnight. Just ask any regular concert-goer and they’ll tell you the same. I think we would all agree, though, that it’s worth waiting out every frustrating minute. Finally, she took the stage. My heart began to race faster. To my absolute shock, her “fans” then actually proceeded to ‘boo’ her. Yeah. It was about 40% of the crowd. She was “late” and these babies were crying that she didn’t come out on time. I’m sorry. But I ceased to believe at that moment that they were real fans. Firstly, this is how things work at shows. No one ever starts on time, and if you don’t know that, then that’s your problem. Secondly, this is the first time we’re seeing her in YEARS… or EVER, and you can’t wait a couple of hours? You actually think you have the right to complain? Go bury yourself in the snow.
I really believe that the way the media has portrayed her to the public has shaped and/or affected many people’s opinions of her. Over the years, Lauryn has had a reputation for being late to shows, not showing up to rehearsals, etc, which has only added to the public’s negative perception of her. Maybe she should release a sophomore album called, The Misrepresentation of Lauryn Hill. It’s so frustrating. In my 100+ times of going to a show in NYC, this was the first time I actually heard the crowd boo’ing the artist. To my surprise, she was actually very apologetic and respectfully told those people who were dissatisfied that they are free to leave and get a refund if they wished. Then she went on to give an amazing, amazing show.
Her energy and fire are incomparable (not to mention her voice and rhyming). I personally wished she had done more singing, but she’s such a good rapper, an amateur hip-hop fan like myself can even appreciate it. Her tongue moves at lightening speeds and she can spit rhymes like nobody’s business. Her band was SICK, SICK, SICK. It was a simple 5-piece band and they just knew how to get it on. Lauryn had command of that stage and once she opened her mouth, it was pretty much over. We knew why we came. It was memorable. A totally memorable concert that I had waited 18 years for.
Here are some vids that I took during the show:
Before tonight, I was already very thankful for the events that had transpired in my life in 2010. The bad times were PRETTY BAD but the good times were REALLY GOOD. I have grown a ton over this past year, in ways I could not imagine. This is my second childhood dream that has come true this year (first one was going to the U.S. Open Mens’ final match). My bucket list is getting shorter and shorter, and it’s all happening totally unplanned! I recently watched a very inspiring “Last Lecture”, given by Randy Pausch, a dying professor at Carnegie Mellon on YouTube. In the lecture, he talks about achieving your childhood dreams and says that it’s actually much more gratifying to enable others to realize their dreams. I’m especially thankful for friends who have been so integral in enabling the realization of my childhood dreams. Tonight, MAJOR SHOUT OUT AND THANKS to Phil Varghese, his cousin Jerry George, and actually, the SNOW STORM. Can you believe, I wasn’t even supposed to be in New York tonight? I was going to stay at my parents until probably Wednesday, but I came down early to drive my sister to Penn Station so she could get out of town while she could. Then the person who was supposed to go to the Lauryn Hill show couldn’t fly out to NY due to the flight schedules being all messed up after the snow storm. It’s crazy how the stars align to make things fortuitously occur. In other words, I really thank GOD for this opportunity. (I sound like I’m accepting a Grammy or something!) Anyways, this really capped off 2010 in an incredible way. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading and sharing in my joy.
Here’s to the last days of 2010! Let’s make it memorable!