Music, a black art by Kyrsten Bean

Kyrsten Bean is an Oakland-based singer, songwriter, guitarist, keyboardist and professional writer and a true POV legend. With us from issue one, she has consistently produced some of our favourite poems and stories that we read and wonder what we possibly did without them. 

This is Kyrsten's first showing on the POV blog but you can be sure to see more from her in the future. 

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Music is a type of magic; you never quite know what you’re gonna get when you channel it. When I was a teenager, I sat in my room, door locked, blankets over the window, blocking out any outside sounds I could. 

A group of my former friends waited outside my house to beat me up if I so much as stepped out of the house. They enlisted their friends and siblings to call and harass me or take me down should I so much as walk past them with the wrong look on my face. I’d become subject to bullying through nothing dramatic on my part, merely the whims of the crowd I’d hung with. One day they liked me, the next, after having a party without me and talking behind my back, they didn’t. These were kids I’d been friends with since elementary school throwing rocks at my windows, punching me in the face with no warning, pulling my hair, when before we’d sat together playing piano, listening to mix tapes. I fought back when I had to, but mostly, I picked up my guitar instead. I played songs hoping to catapult myself into a future world where I wouldn’t have to worry about getting two black eyes and a bloody nose when I stepped outside my house. Music was my only hope.

As I grew older, I became more specific about what I wanted. In the beginning, connection with others like me seemed sufficient, others who listened to the same music: gritty grunge, British punk, heavy metal. As long as it had heavy drums and bass, lyrics speaking to social ostracism and being pinned in by unrealistic societal standards, I was on it. I wanted to channel the music like Ozzy and Cobain and the Sex Pistols, had an envy for the way what they’d put out there had ended up blasting on my boom box speakers, soothing me into the reality that I wasn’t alone in the world.

Connection is a mutual choice, not a one-sided deal. Over the years, I kept creating my own music, aiming it subliminally over suburban barriers, city walls, to souls all over the world. Music connected my peers and I when I hitchhiked across the country to get the fuck out of dodge after the bullying started. We met each other in different states in different parking lots for different shows. Sometimes I used the music only for the peripherals – company, beer, food, travel--switching out genres to fine tune my companions, trading classical rock and hippie music for grunge, trading in grunge for black metal, industrial and punk. These days, I don’t like to put my musical styles in a box. One person’s genre is another person’s migraine. Some people won’t even talk to others who don’t listen to the same music as them--that’s not what I am endorsing. Common music can connect people from different strata just as well as people from similar stratas can connect others with music they never would have listened to, and vice versa. Music as an art form for attraction is channelled through whatever means necessary, through bandcamp, soundcloud or, in the beginning, in my case, thecassette tapes I handed out to every musician I met, hoping to start a band.

The first time I ever jammed with a bass player and drummer together was heaven, something that almost brought tears to my eyes. We sounded like a female version of Alice and Chains. We never jammed again; the bass player and drummer got in a fight over me and refused to be in the same room ever after. I won’t get into a diatribe about being a female musician. That’s a whole ‘nother topic.

Then there’s my bass player. Without the craigslist ad I posted in desperation, trying to find a bass player and drummer to work on tunes I’d written by myself as a singer and guitar player, I never would’ve met him. The night he walked into the practice space where I was also meeting the drummer for the first time, I looked from his boots to shaggy brown hair, roped lean arms, dark brown eyes meeting mine and thought: I can jam with these guys. Turned out he was married, so I put him in the Do Not Date box, which I further sealed with the lock, Is Also In My Band, So Truly Off Limits. I jokingly called him Marin Boy for the first year we played music together. Meanwhile, developed an epic crush on me I could only brush off, hoping it would die down.

Over the next year, I slowly learned more about him as we hashed out the songs I had haphazardly pieced together for the band to work on, that he was an old-school punk, grew up in Hawaii. He told me he’d gone from Beatles to Black Sabbath to Black Flag growing up. Never were we chummier in practice than when I threw our Rudimentary Peni songs I wanted us to cover. Gloomy British Anarchopunk bands seemed to be our common thread, though from present-day exterior, we had few trappings in common. He was white collar, office administrator at an architecture firm. I was a part-time library employee going on three years now out in the sticks, Oakland pride to the point of annoyance, ensconced in a small-town feeling artist Mecca composed of cynical, tattooed punks and hipsters. He didn’t have a single tattoo on his flesh, not even a homemade one from teenage years, and lived in a cottage out in the woods of Marin with his wife of 16 years. I had so many tattoos I had stopped seeing them as individual tattoos, or even anything of significance, just foliage that adorned my skin. “Fuck trappings,” he said to me after we started really talking, once he and his wife separated. “They’re such bullshit,” I said.

 One day, when I was sick with stomach flu, he lay on my bed keeping my company, staring at the flyers from local shows I had taped to my walls with blue duct tape. “This looks like my girlfriend’s room when I was 17,” he said. I laughed. “As if you never changed,” I said.

Music is a black art at times, you get out what you put in, and if you pour yourself into a song in a dark mood, others in a similar dark mood may come out of the woodwork to commiserate with what you’ve sown. Yet music seems to have its own filter, the heart of the matter speaks out no matter what sloppy form you pour it into, at least that’s been the case with what I’ve created. I may not even know what I’m saying when I put it out there. A song about rejection, falling in love only to have the person disappear on you, becomes your roommates’ song of solidarity when her boyfriend takes off to another country and doesn’t even take a phone. Sometimes, as a musician, someone in the same flat is the farthest you connect, other times, you reach someone across the world that listens in their bedroom, nods their head and says, YES.


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