That rare feeling of knowing you are in one place, but simultaneously being pummeled with the feeling of being in another. Fog like the fog we felt that Monday a few weeks ago is England: thick, dense, gloomy, damp. And beautiful. I am grateful to have been blessed with a day of my England just by stepping out of my door in California.
When the Sun is Orange
It’s so smoky; the world is orange and grey.
A town burned down 80 miles away, to the ground;
We put masks to our faces, my chest heavy,
Involuntarily smoking now;
I see the particles embedding themselves in my children’s lungs:
They cough, vomit, cry, cough again. But we,
We still have our homes, our belongings, our lives.
Our city is standing, shrouded in the smoke from
The fire that burned a town to the ground.
The orange sun is strange, dusk at noon,
Challenging the smoke with its warmth: surprising.
Autumn hues, wrong, set the balance off kilter,
And the smoke continues to swirl, stuck, an apparition
Of our future perhaps, but real, this is no image.
Our ground is literally burning away beneath our feet
And we still deny, deny, deny.
Orange sun, grey smoke, burning breaths,
Search for bones and remains: where is the rain?
We lack appreciation for the droplets of water,
Praising blue skies and wispy clouds.
But when the rain refuses to come and blue turns to smoke
And smoke turns to death, all we do is
Close our eyes and yearn for change.
We are on Day 8 of being engulfed in wildfire smoke from the Camp Fire which burned down Paradise, a small town about 80 miles north of us, and is now considered to be the most deadly California wildfire on record. The air quality levels peaked over 343 today, harzardous, and our normally blue skies are grey, orange, hazy, and thick. The fire is still burning, and the wind is still blowing all of the smoke to our sity, where is sits, stagnant: the smell and the feel of the world’s biggest bonfire at our doorstep.
I wandered off down memory lane last night, a little trapdoor under the carpet, a rabbit hole again. What started it off this time? Somehow reading about the scene on Ludlow St in 2005 led to me thinking about 1994, and tap tap tap a few minutes later a face, a memory, oh my gosh it’s you, and you, and you… Another half-written memory, another playlist revisited and another story to tell.
Writing this book is HARD. I hesitate between telling myself that I have been waiting to get all of these pieces out of my head, journals, and off of my laptop forever, and telling myself that no one wants to read hundreds of pages about me. That’s a little boring, no? But really it’s not all about me… I’ve lived in some really special places at some really special times surrounded by some really special people, so maybe someone would be interested enough to buy a copy, to read a few pages?
I keep adding and deleting and realizing that a story is missing and another is too much. Some years I wrote a lot more than others, and I keep finding loose sheets of paper, scribbles in a park on a lunch break, emails to myself from 2001 or 2015, and notes and post-its stuck to postcards. I have to decipher them, connect the dots… Where was I, who did I love, what was I listening to? Was it vodka, whiskey, coffee, or sobriety? Was it film, digital, phone, or all of the above? Was it Doc, Frye, or barefoot?
Do I publish 600 pages of stories, memories, moments in time? Do I divide it into two? Chronological? Random order? Poetry sneaking through the pages? With Spring Comes Hope was straightforward: a beginning and a place to finish. Of Hearts and Sea Glass is a brick, a cloud, and a marble, or maybe a snowball, rolling, rolling, rolling, collecting layer after layer of thickly packed snow.
You tell me… Are you interested in England? In France? In Israel? In NYC? Are you interested in music scenes, depression, sex, drugs and rock n roll? Are you interested in heartbreak and happiness, facts, autobiographical fiction, real people with fake names? Are you interested in the ocean and the stars, writers and dreamers, lost souls and barefoot wanderers? Are you going to be upset if you recognize yourself? Are you going to be hurt if you don’t appear? Couldn’t give a shit either way? My writing is often impulsive, spur of the moment, a sudden image flashing from my memory unraveling a string through time, words rushing to get out, to convey that one moment. It’s that song that takes you right back there, every single time, a punch in the gut while it rains stars over your head. When it happens I have to drop everything and grab what I can, writing, typing, dictating, because once the string has unraveled she floats off downstream, just another pearly drop in the water.
I stood on the beach in Nahariya in 2003, and the streets of Oakham in 1995. I walked through Place Grenette so many times I could still do it with my eyes closed, the same way I walked down Orchard St in 2005 or in 2014. I have stepped into the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, the Pacific, and my beloved Atlantic, toes touching sand, fingers shielding my eyes as I looked out over the water to the end of the world. I’ve walked up mountains and through deserts, lived in the biggest of cities and the smallest of villages and places in between. I have loved many and probably been loved by many, often letting it all flit through my fingertips. And right then, typing those words, Catch starts up in my head, and immediately the feeling of sitting in the passenger seat next to my best friend, zooming down the New Jersey Turnpike towards our skyline, cigarette smoke and dreams, wind tying our hair into knots. Our freedom was the city, nooks and crannies filled with stories upon stories upon stories. I still smell the Bakers Oven across the street and dream of soft éclairs and baguettes from the boulangerie next to Stendhal. I try to treasure all of these memories, because I am so afraid that one day they will all disappear into a black hole.
Are you interested? Am I writing this for me alone? For you? For my children? For no one in particular? I don’t know. But it will be done soon, another month or two of editing and it will be done, as long as I know where to start it and where to cut it off. Words for days, stories for years, it will all come together soon.
In the meantime, if you want to help me choose a cover for Of Hearts and Sea Glass, as well as read some previously unpublished snippets over the next few weeks, add your email to my mailing list (see below). I don’t email often, but I promise it will be worth reading when I do! <3
Back when Luna was about 8 months old and we were about to celebrate her first Christmas we started a silly Santa photo tradition where we all dressed in black and frowned next to Santa. It was hilarious, but nowadays neither Luna or Aurora are really interested in sitting on some strangers lap, and it's very likely that Aurora will do a runner through the mall if we even try. So this year we decided to enlist my mother's talents to create some family/holiday/we-are-now-5 photos. I don't know how all those families manage to get their kids to stand still and smile into the camera dreamily for their photos, but I am severely lacking in that skill... Mind you I much prefer a more edgier touch to photos than the general "soft" style, so I knew my mother would understand my vision without me really having to explain it!
The photos are gorgeous, and are a very much a representation of us... If you want to check out the entire gallery you can find it HERE, and I have posted my favourites below. If you are interested in your own session you can contact Alison Toon through her website, wherever you are in the world seeing as she may just be near you on her travels.
Who knows, we may still end up getting Santa photos done, but I really am going to cherish this collection forever. Thanks Mum!
(Family members: if you want to get a high res version of a specific image or even order a print, you can do so through the website).
So, obviously I’m really excited about this year’s Aftershock line-up, as it was what I had considered to be my dream line-up last year. But that’s a festival for you: the possibility of having more than one of your favorite bands in front of you in the same place on the same day (or over the space of a weekend). I’ve been to hundreds and hundreds of shows in my life, and I have a huge passion for live music (who doesn’t?) – but festivals are a whole different kettle of fish. Festivals are music, but also an entire experience: the food, the people, the atmosphere. Festivals are my idea of a circus, in the best way possible. At Aftershock last year some of my favorite memories are of when we spent time strolling around, checking out the different food options, and the different tents to see what they had to offer. We found ourselves circling back to The Music Experience area time and time again, because it was a real interactive treat.
The Music Experience is a place where brands can interact with the public, in a way that makes the public feel like they are walking away with something. That something may be knowledge, a new skill, a purchase, or just the feeling that they met some cool people and had a fun time. We walked in because we wanted to look at the instruments on display, and ended up learning all about different drum kits. Our then two year old sat down behind a huge drum kit and to her delight was handed a couple of drum sticks and told to play. This child is pretty shy at the best of times, but she just grabbed the sticks and started playing, tapping out her own little beat in her head (she’s somewhere on the @SJCDrums Instagram account too). Through-out the rest of the weekend we kept ending back up there just to hang out, and again, someone came over and gave the kids a little egg-shaped shaker, which they ended up shaking around for the rest of the evening (and still continue to play with today). I just loved how welcoming everyone was, and how passionate they were about communicating their love for music. The Music Experience is an awesome way to get people involved in music in general and in the music industry. Their tent goes up all over the country, at festivals like Chicago Open Air, Louder Than Life, and Aftershock of course, and they also host a ton of band signings. (Seriously so much easier than climbing fences and hanging out around a tour bus… Yes I have done that in my youth, and yes, it did lead to some interesting encounters, like playing football with Impaled Nazarene or nearly falling at the feet of Nick Cave).
Another cool Music Experience activity is The Student Experience, where kids between the ages of 7 and 21 who are interested in music and arts, can actually participate in a festival by experiencing all types of activities. From Q&As with band members and all of the people behind the scenes, without whom the festivals wouldn’t take place (sound engineers, tour managers, roadies…), learning about the ins and outs of the industry, to just really experiencing a festival from the inside. If you know anyone who would be interested in joining the team at Aftershock this year submissions are open until October 10th for Aftershock right HERE. I would have leapt at the chance to do something like this when I was a teenager.
Also represented at Aftershock is Fuck Cancer and their Dyin 2 Live program. Everyone knows at least someone who has battled cancer (most people know several people, sadly), and the disease doesn’t discriminate. Old or young, rich or poor, black, white, orange, or blue, cancer lurks everywhere, Fuck Cancer is a non-profit that aims to raise cancer awareness and education about early detection, and the Dyin 2 Live program helps grant wishes to kids and adults battling cancer. You can read more about Fuck Cancer here (and why you shouldn’t have an issue using the “F” word when it’s associated with cancer), and about Dyin 2 Live here. We will definitely be stocking up on merch too, their tank tops and t-shirts are gorgeous. If you know of someone who could benefit from the program submit their story to email@example.com!
You can also check out Maynard James Keenan’s wine, learn about Heavy Grass, create some art with Juxtapoz Projects, hang out on the Monster viewing deck, and help animals in need through Take Me Home.
I’m already planning my outfit in my head, as well as what the girls will wear (I was thinking of Grit n Glory t-shirts converted into dresses because I have to rep my old friends, and because their new tees are going to be amazing), and can’t wait to experience all the fun again this year! Check out the Aftershock website for tickets and all the info you need.
(PS: Did I already tell you how much I LOVE Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and A Perfect Circle?)
Also – I thought this Sacramento Bee article from last June was a great portrayal of what a great event Aftershock is for the city of Sacramento. I know I only moved here 18 months ago and often complain that I miss NYC, but there are some amazing events that are held here all year round, and they are always super accessible to everyone. And, well, I just love a great music festival.
It's already Labor Day weekend, and while it's going to be well into the 100's again this weekend, it still feels like summer has come to an end all too fast again. But I just remembered that Labor Day weekend also means some fun happenings in Old Sacramento, our favourite part of the city! We are only a 10 minute walk from the cobbled streets of Old Sac, and we frequently find ourselves walking there in the evening for ice cream by the old railway station, studying the historic buildings and wishing we could buy one. I love capturing the sun setting through Tower Bridge, watching the red sky contrast against the golden metal structure. I also love walking along bumpy the wooden sidewalks, popping in to Evangeline's, and buying salt water taffy at Candy Heaven (they sell a good range of Mexican candy there too). And during Labor Day weekend the streets go back to the days of the Gold Rush, where people dress up and reenact scenes from the 1850's. There is food, music, entertainers, many horse-drawn carriages, the fire department, and the Pony Express, amidst a ton of other things to see, watch, taste and hear.
I often forget that California wasn't part of the US until 1847, and the Gold Rush that took place between 1848 and 1855 brought all types of people to the western state. I find it surprising that all of this happened only 170 odd years ago! That's not really that long ago when you think about it... Two lifetimes, maybe three... Anyway, I have realised that while I studied a lot of US history growing up, I really need to read up on it, as there are many things I do not know about California. Just thinking about all of these celebrations and reenactments raised a ton of questions for me, about laws back then, about the background of the state's progressive leanings, about how those who weren't white were treated... A ton of things I now need to look into and study. I can't really live here and photograph these things without really understanding the background, can I?
In any case, the Gold Rush Days event this weekend is really just a great way to visualize what Sacramento must have looked like back in the day. Last year I thoroughly enjoyed watching the fire department reenactment, and the Pony Express riders galloping through the streets! As well as just watching all of the people in costume walking around, as if they really were in 1850 and not 2017. There is no cover charge, but the later you come the more difficult it is to find parking as the parking lot fills up extra fast and there are no cars allowed on the Old Sac streets during these days. Also! The schedule has been slightly changed due to the heat advisory, so it's best to head in early if you need to park somewhere. I do recommend the light rail though, it really isn't a long walk from the stop on Capitol Mall.
Here is my photo album from last year to give you a taste of what you can expect this year - as well as a few of my favorites below.
As a sidenote, a friend recently evoked the existence of something that I had never heard about before, probably because I have never really visited the southern states in depth: plantations that have been turned into "museums", depicting slavery in a very "light" way. It made me think about how there is often a grey area when it comes to museums and historical reenactments, between being educational and used as a way to whitewash history. Sacramento's Gold Rush Days are in my opinion just a fun way to visualize the history of the area, but it does make me think about how there was no real Native American representation that I saw last year. In any case, this is a topic I need to explore more of, for another post. I really do need to brush up on my US history!
It may still be 108 degrees out but I can already hear autumn calling out to us. And while I love all of the seasons, I hold a special place in my heart for autumn: the nights drawing in, the cooler mornings and evenings, soups instead of salads, Halloween and Dia de los Muertos… And also Aftershock! This will be our second year attending (you can see what I had to say about last year’s event right here), and I’m even more excited about the line up this year than I was last year! I know I previously said that we might just take the baby this year, but after seeing the line-up I really want the girls to come too. I know, I know, they probably won’t remember seeing Nine Inch Nails live when they are older, but I would love for them to see them right here in Sacramento.
In This Moment, @alisontoonphotographer
Back in 2000 my mother moved to California and I came over with her for a week, my first time in the US. That week also happened to be the same week that Nine Inch Nails played a sold out show at the Sacramento Valley Amphitheater, with, as opening band, A Perfect Circle. While I had been a NIN fan since my early teens, this was my first encounter with Maynard, and opened up the doors to a huge, everlasting love for both Tool and A Perfect Circle. For the rest of that year I had Mer de Noms on constant repeat in my little apartment back in France. It’s still brilliant.
Anyway, I was waiting with baited breath for this year’s Aftershock line up and I actually shed some tears in happiness. Both Nine Inch Nails AND A Perfect Circle will be playing for me again! And thousands of others, but, technically, I know that it will feel like they are only playing for me. I haven’t seen either band live since that day back in June 2000, and I know full well that I am in for a huge treat (and so are thousands of other people). I’m not finished though, because who else is going to be gracing the Aftershock stage (again) this year? Another all-time favorite of mine Mr Marilyn Manson himself! (I really hope he releases that album soon by the way, I have been waiting for it since early spring!). And also: the one and only Ozzy Osbourne.
(It’s really a family affair you see… My mum used to try to frighten her mum by playing Black Sabbath; I used to try to scare mine by playing Manson and NIN. It worked so well that my mother has since shot Manson several times, with her camera, as well as 100’s of other bands and shows all over the world).
Marilyn Manson, @alisontoonphotographer
And while these bands/artists are at the top of my all-time favorites list, and I can’t wait to catch them again, there are so many more bands playing over the two-day festival. Some crowd favorites such as Five Finger Death Punch and Stone Sour, Mastodon, Halestorm and Gojira, all of whom are definitely going to put on a brilliant show. And then, others that I REALLY don’t want to miss like Highly Suspect, Eagles of Death Metal (last seen in 2006 at Irving Plaza in NYC), In This Moment, and Nothing More, who have been on steady rotation over the past few months in this household. And can I also say Suicidal Tendencies?? My 1994 16 year old self is still very much alive and kicking.
Nothing More, @alisontoonphotographer
See, this is what I love about a proper rock festival: while you can be 16 and have a fantastic time (and probably end up in a few mosh pits), you can also be nearly 40 and still have an amazing time, watching bands that put a brilliant show on 15 years ago, and an even better one today - all the while discovering new and up and coming bands. I am really looking forward to discovering more of Deap Vally (a little Juliette Lewis, a little Fluffy, a little riot = right up my street), As Lions (hailing from my homeland), and He Is Legend.
You have to agree with me… This line up is pretty great, no? And while the music is a driving force for me, a festival is also all about the entire experience. Last year I really loved just walking around and taking it all in: the people, the atmosphere, the love, the happiness, the food, and all of the different charities and happenings taking place around the music. When you buy your ticket for Aftershock you don’t just get the bands you love, but also a real festival, just like the festivals I grew up with. I love that the organizers work with different organizations and charities, such as The Music Experience and Fxck Cancer, giving us all a chance to experience what they do and do our own bit to help. I will post more about them, and the others, next week, as I feel like they deserve their own spotlight!
So, Nine Inch Nails, we shall meet again in Sacramento, and I cannot bloody wait!!!
Aftershock will take place on Saturday October 21st and Sunday October 22nd at Discovery Park in Sacramento. For information on tickets, food, policies etc check out the Aftershock website.
Marilyn Manson, @alisontoonphotographer
I know some people have certain thoughts about bringing kids to shows and rock festivals but I think it's great. I was brought up listening to music all the time, being around musicians, even traveling with musicians. A trip to Sunderland with The Janitors and my dad will always be a fond memory, back in 80's England. I proudly caught my firstborn dancing to Nick Cave, The Cure or Stevie Nicks on camera (which she mixes up quite happily with Disney tunes), and laugh as our second gets really excited when her Dada plays Alice in Chains at high volume. Music is a huge part of our lives, so much so that I have a playlist in my head for every event in my life, and song or 4 for every moment and hope that I can pass this love along to my kids like my parents did with me. I sing to the tiny baby growing inside me every evening. As long as my kids are comfortable, not trapped in a mosh pit and are having fun, a music festival is a great experience for all ages.
Last year in late October we took the girls to their first music festival (one and two years old at the time). It wasn’t really any old festival either, but a rock/metal festival that has taken place every year for the past 5 years in Sacramento - Aftershock. In previous years I have kind of looked on with a little jealousy from across the country as my sister and mother watched and took photos of old favourites of mine such as Marilyn Manson and Faith No More, so this time around we were determined to participate. We don’t go many places without the kids just yet, and leaving them for two whole days wasn’t really an option for us. Mind you, kids had to pay full price too, so we didn’t go into this without weighing the pros and the cons. In the end I’m really glad we took them, but all in all I think we will only take the baby this year, but probably not for the reasons you are thinking of.
Luna will always be more comfortable wherever we are, so running around festival grounds with tens of thousands of people fazed her a lot less than a few hours with a sitter would have. Aurora is always pretty easygoing anyway, so she was happy enough to be carried around in the Ergo all day and listen to music. We didn’t expect to walk as much as we ended up doing on the first day, because one of the large stages was really far from the other large stage (if you had VIP you could walk through to the other side much faster, one of the biggest perks in my opinion). While we did plan everything pretty well (apart from me forgetting the kids ear protectors, and I’m so grateful that one of my friends was able to bring me two of her kids’ pairs), I think the first day we felt a little at loss on what to do, and seeing as both the bands that we actually wanted to see (Slayer and Tool) were headlining we spent way too much time walking around aimlessly and getting irritated and bored. In the end we left just after 5pm and had dinner right by the hotel (great idea of my mum’s, to get two hotel rooms within walking distance).
So our first lesson was not to go when the doors opened and to make sure that we were going for a reason. We missed the one band that both of us were super excited to see (Tool) because we went too early and got tired and grumpy. We didn’t make the same mistake the next day. On the Sunday we ended up leaving the hotel a few hours later than the Saturday with a real, solid plan in mind: what we wanted to eat and when, and where we wanted to be and when. While we were relaxing in the grass with the girls, waiting for the first band that we wanted to see (Ghost), a really, really awesome man came up, introduced himself as Danny and gave us two VIP bracelets, telling us he was one of the promoters and that he had a young daughter at home too (after a bit of research turns out that this Danny was Danny Hayes, CEO of Danny Wimmer Presents, and if he ever reads this I would like him to know how we really, really appreciated this lovely gesture and it made the weekend all the more memorable for us). Having VIP access literally changed everything for us! We were able to sit with the kids in places close enough to the stage to see well, and the girls were much more comfortable being able to play and dance on the ground during sets (Aurora was hilarious when she started to rock out to Korn out of the blue!). So thank you Danny, you really are awesome!
I didn’t really have a problem with the set up myself, especially after we had figured out where we wanted to be and when. I don’t really have an issue walking a lot, even with a 25lb baby strapped to me, when I have somewhere to be. I do regret not planning things out better and not buying VIP tickets for the first day, but other than that I have no regrets! Oh, actually I do, missing Avatar perform because we kept being in the wrong place at the wrong time! Other than that we will be back next year without a doubt. I used to plan my festival goings out to a tee, but felt that with two small kids we should be more “go with the flow”… I was a little wrong about that!
Apart from the music I absolutely loved the Music Experience tent. We ended up spending a lot of time in there as Luna liked walking around and looking at the instruments. She even played on the big drum kit to the delight of a bunch of people who were hanging out there. Cesar’s dream is to have all the kids play an instrument and rock out together, and we have nearly enough for a band now, so encouraging Luna to play on the big drum kit really made his day! They also had a ton of band signings going on during the weekend, which was really cool.
All in all the entire set up was pretty awesome: great sound, a great mix of bands (not all my favourites, but I’m old and just want to see NIN and Marilyn Manson all the time), brilliant lighting, and loads of food and drink merchants at an affordable price as far as festivals go. A few cons: full price for kids (even babies), and no strollers. The latter was OK for us as we had two Ergos on us and are used to wearing our kids, but having small kids also means extra baggage such a diapers and wipes, and not being able to bring a small bag in for that was a little annoying. Other than that I can honestly say it was super kid friendly (especially if you were in VIP).
So… Why are we only planning on bringing one baby this year? Honestly, it’s too expensive for us to pay full price for 5 people. It will be cheaper to bring the baby and have a sitter watch the girls. Also, the line up this year basically caters to all of my wishes (NIN, Marilyn Manson, Ozzy, A Perfect Circle…), so I really want to enjoy some of my favourite bands without having to chase after a three year old and a two year old while carrying a four month old! Being a little selfish to be honest!
Aftershock will take place on October 21st and 22nd at Discovery Park in Sacramento. All information can be found on the website right HERE (including ticket sales), and I really advise to bring your kids if you are on the bench about it. There is loads of space, we had no issues whatsoever with drunk assholes, and we never felt unsafe. Oh, and there were loads of kids of all ages there, so we weren’t out of place at all!
My amazing photographer mother Alison Toon has shot every Aftershock from the first one in 2012, as well as tons of other festivals and shows over the years. She has a great eye for not only capturing the bands, but also the people and the atmosphere. You can find her work HERE.
With the nights drawing in and the temperature dropping (and yes, even Northern California gets colder, although nothing like the freezing NYC winters we are used to), I thought it was time to think back to late last September and to our road trip down to the ocean. Oceans and seas are my favourite places to be, sitting on a sandy beach watching the waves crashing in the distance, thinking about the past, present and future, making up stories in my end and putting other ones to rest. My best friend picked us all up in a car and we made our way down to Monterey and then Big Sur, stopping in Pacific Grove for the night. Luna took to the ocean like her parents, but Aurora needed a little more convincing, finally accepting that sand wasn't an evil force on our last stop before going home, where we found ourselves on a practically empty local beach to watch the sun set. It was the perfect family getaway and I can't wait to do it again in the near future.
(As a sidenote we also witnessed the rapid devastation that a wildfire can bring from across the bay. You may notice a huge spreading cloud on some of the Monterey pictures - this was caused by a massive fire in the Santa Cruz mountains. At night we could see the flames in the distance.). Full album is HERE.
Chalk It Up is a three day festival held in Fremont Park, Sacramento every year to help raise money to fund children's art education and activities in the area. There are sponsored (paid) squares and community (free) squares, music, vendors and food, covering the entire park. We went on the first day and I was impressed by how much talent there was compressed into one small area! It's a fantastic way to raise money for a great cause and gives all kinds of artists and kids a place to showcase what they can do. You can see all of the photos HERE.