I was invited to collaborate with Shin Kawasaki for Tuesday Night Cafe's Season Opener on April 5. He's a talented musician and I wasn't sure exactly how our collaboration would work, considering I can't carry a tune nor play an instrument, or even keep time very well (I am usually that person who starts out clapping on beat, then off-beat, then stops clapping). But I said yes anyway, because I'd never worked with him before and was intrigued at the opportunity. The last time I'd read poetry with a musician on stage was years ago, also at TNC, with my good friend Cyril.
Shin and I met for lunch before my trip into the San Rafael Wilderness (again, with Dunn School) and got to know each other a bit over tacos. It turned out that we had things in common that we'd never realized, and that there was a synchronicity to things that I've been writing about and things that he's been thinking about. We then worked on song lyrics together over email until we could get together in person again-- the Sunday right before TNC.
We met at his rehearsal space in Downtown LA (which he shares with other musicians to swoon over) to refine the lyrics to the song. It was magical seeing how he took the words we wrote together and put them to music. And the process of writing together, too, was new and really cool for me. I learned how a song breaks down into chorus, refrain, bridge, verse. I don't think I've ever collaborated so closely with anyone on a piece of art before-- with spoken word, I would come together with other poets, each of us with our own words. Somehow having the addition of music helped in that process. Or, it was just Shin. Shin is awesome.
The song that we came up with was inspired by our mutual friend and longtime TNC Resident Artist David Tran aka Applesauce. David was actually the first person who ever took one of my poems and turned it into a song (which I like much more than the original piece) called That Kind of Love. I have to admit that my music listening habits haven't changed very much in the last five years, and that song (along with many other Applesauce songs) are still very much in my usual music rotation. Shin and I both visited David in Vietnam at different times, and those experiences made their way into our song. I left our Sunday session feeling inspired and wondering when I might collaborate with a musician again. And then we filled up on delicious tacos again, this time from a little spot on 1st Street I'd never been to before. There is always more delicious to be found in LA. Always.
|I dressed for radio.|
After climbing, I went straight to (In N Out and then) to KPFK, where Quincy and I spoke with Saba Waheed on Flip The Script about TNC. I read a couple of poems, talked about what the space has meant to me as a writer/artist/community member, and touched on family and Khmer American identity. You can listen to the show here.
And then, the day came. The Tateuchi Democracy Forum was packed to the brim. I wasn't as nervous beforehand as I usually am before getting on stage. Even with all the different faces in the crowd and behind the scenes, the space still felt like home-- there were so many wonderful familiar faces, still. Also, as I said to fellow poet Audrey Kuo, it was a queer Asian American poetry quadruple decker sandwich on the stage that night! In addition to the two of us, Jenevieve Ting and Jess X Chen each graced the stage with their poetry.
Shin and I got to close out the night. I read a few pieces while Shin played in the background, and then he got ready to sing our song. I walked offstage to sit and enjoy, but was urged to get back on stage. I was offered a mic, but I declined. I also insisted that Sean get up there with me for moral and pantomiming support. I was so happy when others joined us, (around 2:40).