BORN TO RISE
Uncle John meets Grammy Awards nominee LANA DEL REY
We’re in a room of a thousand eyes. Kaela and I are waiting in
the front row to meet Lana Del Rey. She has just finished performing five songs
from her new debut album, “Born To Die”, including the title cut, an orchestral
arrangement of nostalgic art, that is the best song on her new album. She
understands the concept that fits us: We were all born naked and no one gets out
of here alive. Her songs strike a familiar chord wrapped in the common thread of
our mortality. Lana is a truth seeker. Her energy is vibrant and alive. Her
songs are sensuous as she is graceful.
Haight Street in San Francisco is bustling with tourists and someone asks me
this afternoon why there seems to be a lot of scantily-clad girls about. “Well,
it hit nearly 70 degrees today and people dress for the weather here”. It’s
February and winter hasn’t come yet, according to the bees, who produced a
second honey harvest here; according to the winter flowers that haven’t bloomed
yet; according to the birds still waiting to go; according to the sky’s lack of
wet winter weather; and according to the garden plants still replenishing us
with food. This global warming, or whatever you want to call these changing
weather patterns, is not a good thing for the balance of nature. We are enjoying
these gorgeous days though!
Kaela is in San Francisco to work today and meets me on Haight Street, named
after Henry Haight, a banker who donated land here to start an orphanage , and
who was the uncle of the tenth Governor of California. Kaela reminds me of what
the neighborhood can be like, how she loved our Victorian apartment where we
lived on Fillmore Street. For her and the other young kids growing up in the
neighborhood, there were hard days too. “My brother’s bike got robbed over
there. My little sister got lost at the Carousel in the park; and I was playing
a game with a black girl across our street in a big cardboard box and some angry
guy came by and kicked the box and split my head open.”
In the nineteenth century when the orphanage flourished here,
before it became a residential district, they shepherded over 3500 children
giving housing to kids in need, and as many as 300 kids were housed in
dormitory-style rooms on Haight Street, and some of these children were adopted,
and those that stayed received training and job skills so when they left the
orphanage at 17, they were also given seed money to start a trade, like
carpentry or dressmaking. The orphanage moved to another part of San Francisco
in the twentieth century and still serves children in need today.
I heard about Lana Del Rey in an email last year and checked out her song “Video
Games” and I understand its instant success. In “Born To Die” she touches a
truth in us all and the mood swings like a pendulum of changes in a fountain of
controversy. She is the latest buzz I tell my stepdaughter inviting her to meet
her after hearing her for the first time. It is Kaela’s birthday yesterday and
she lets a girl cut in front of us whose birthday is today. We’re at the bottom
of the stairs at Amoeba Records waiting for Lana Del Rey. Listening to her sing
live in a small room of records is a special treat and she sounds marvelous as
she is elegant. I been doing vocal exercises recently by listening to vocal
scales and she takes sound to a new level for me. She is a a colorful natural
contralta, a sultry voice of dark high wit.
The full moon outdoors is on the other side of Venus and Uranus, visible in the
sky tonight, so I brought my telescopic binoculars. “I’m so done with drugs,”
Kaela announces after the show. “I’m ready to do something, run an office, do
PR, interior designing, you know I can do almost anything,”like get us in the
front row. She’s nearly the tallest, and sometimes the loudest, girl in the
room. She can do, what takes me a month, in a day. She’s intuitive, not
invulnerable, honest, not gullible.
Suddenly the security guard asks “How did we get from the bottom to the top (of
the stairs)? 300 different people standing behind us like her different songs,
and the crowd gathered gives Lana Del Rey a warm welcome. Lana wants to have a
picture taken with the birthday girl and they ask Kaela to take the picture with
the girl’s camera. Lana Del Rey is shining, yet down-to-earth, cordial and
attentive. I thank her for the live show, introduce myself and tell her my
musical beginnings were in New York at Bensalem, Fordham’s experimental college.
“I went to Fordham University” Lana informs me. She studied metaphysics there.
She has a genuine interest in choir-like music and writes all the songs on her
album, with help of about seven friends. Besides philosophy, Lana is also
interested in the literary arts and was once Arts Editor for her school
“How was it for you? ” she asks me in her sultry voice
“It was a time of transformation. Bensalem was a unique experiment and
experience that gave us complete academic freedom and opened up creative and
innovative possibilities that took us beyond the classroom. A group of us
students, inspired by the Grateful Dead, formed a musical acting troupe, and I
wrote a play for this troupe ‘In Search Of The Candlemaker’ performed
off-Broadway. We later participated in a CBS-TV documentary,
So who is Lana Del Rey? According to Vogue, she chose this career name while in
Miami, because it reminded her & her friends of the glamour of the seaside.
Live, it’s her voice that mesmerizes us! She is not some vacuous party girl
along for the ride, but an intelligent confident woman devoted to her work and
to community service. For the past six years, she and her sister have been
working as a grassroots homeless outreach, helping street people in New York get
their identification and paperwork together to find jobs and transition back to
I gesture to the sign behind us next to the Keep On Truckin’ poster and read out
loud “Grateful Dead”, and we part smiling.
Kaela went to a Grateful Dead
concert in Atlanta Georgia at the Fox Theatre when she was five years old. I was
there with her Mom and we had seats in the front row and when I looked to my
side at the start of the show I noticed Kaela was not there, and I turned
and looked up onstage and I saw Kaela sitting there on the side of the band. She
stayed there for the entire set. I asked her as an adult what she remembered and
she answered "all I could see were these giant speakers that were like
OUR TIME TOGETHER
by Kaela Barrett
I remember when I met you
and I didn´t have a clue,
how you´d make me feel important,
with all the nice things that you
The things that we´d talk about
were what life is all about.
Agreeing with you was easy,
leaving little room for doubt.
We found what we have is
it didn´t take a crew,
to come and change a bunch of
that make me, me
and you, you.
Our ability to bring a smile,
to each other´s face,
was clear from the beginning..
and done with such grace.
I can´t speak for those around me,
but from my own heart I can say,
that after this time we´ve spent
I love you in so many ways.
from Uncle John´s blog AIR.bz