Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Simple Twist of Fate

Driving home to the Jersey Shore yesterday, I heard local up and coming singer/songwriter Nicole Atkins performing at WXPN radio's Free at Noon show in Philadelphia, and it brought the reality of what has happened to Philly's own Marah this week into sharper focus and just made me sad all over again.

On the radio was a woman who, like Marah, started from nothing, who pushed her way up from the street--sleeping in cars, recording in a makeshift studio--to get her music out. Like them, she worked hard and finally got lucky. She got noticed by the right people and ended up with a major label deal. Now, in this day and age, that's a dicey thing--most new artists who sign with Columbia Records live to regret it, as misguided record production and lack of tour promotion (amongst other things) are the usual result.

But Nicole has gotten luckier still--the folks at Columbia seem to actually know what to do with her, and have really kicked her career up a notch in a relatively short time. She's been on national television (Letterman), had some excellent bookings (The Bowery Ballroom), even done an American Express ad. And yesterday she was on WXPN sounding great --in complete control and enjoying herself. I should be happy for her--another local Jersey Shore musician getting props--but I can't help feeling more than a bit resentful at the odd twists of fate life hands people. Several of my friends have signed to that very same label and received the royal screw--they all worked just as hard and made the same sacrifices as Nicole, and for that they ended up with nothing. How did she get so lucky, and why?

As for the members of Marah--current and former--they are most likely still pondering what has happened to them; how they went from the highest high (a national television appearance, a brand new record receiving stellar reviews, a hotly anticipated national tour) to the lowest low (postponed tour, dismembered band) in a few short days. But they can't afford to linger too long with their thoughts. After all, there are new tours to prepare for, lives to be led, and this is only a brief pause before they move on to the next stage of their lives.

And that's all it can be--for now. "You just gotta keep on livin', L-I-V-I-N" (Wooderson, Dazed and Confused, 1993). But one day they'll be out on the road again--on a lonely tour bus in the middle of Nowhereland, or lying in bed staring at the ceiling late at night--and their thoughts will inexorably turn to the events of this week, and to what might have been. The regret and pain they feel at those moments may be something they carry with them for the rest of their lives.

So congratulations, Nicole--you deserve every minute of your newfound success. With any luck, you'll never experience anything like what happened to Marah this week. Never know what it is to falter when your dreams seem so close to coming true, to fail with the whole world looking on--to hold the brass ring for a brief instant only to have it slip through your fingers.

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