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Pittsburgh (Part 3): Waiting for the net

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by Nicole Skeltys

There is a Zen saying: “Leap and the net will appear”.

That was the spiritual justification T and I used to sell most of our worldly possessions in early 2008 and take off to the US with a tiny budget, almost no US contacts and (in my case) uncertain health. The hope and expectation that if we just followed our instincts and put our faith in strangers in a strange land, our lives – which had reached personal and artistic deadends in Australia – would turn around. Now, 10 months after touching down in Vancouver and embarking on our North American adventures, there is no doubt that is exactly what has happened. And the spate of good fortune (or spiritual cuddles, depending on your point of view) that followed us on the road has, since we reached Pittsburgh in October last year, developed into the kind of spectacularly lucky streak that would get you thrown out of a casino in Vegas.

As I write this, The Jilted Brides are preparing for our debut Pittsburgh gig and CD launch on 13 February (Valentine’s Day weekend). Thanks to the generosity and flamboyant vision of Richard Parsakian – one of Pittsburgh’s arts community movers and shakers – our launch is taking place at The Andy Warhol Museum, one of the most spectacular venues in town, as part of an AIDS Task Force benefit. And thanks to the generosity and enthusiasm of Charlie Humphrey, another formidable force in the Pittsburgh arts scene, we actually have a CD to launch – courtesy of his little label, Uh Oh Music. Our new band – Al Vish (drums), David Wallace (guitar), Ryan McMasters (bass) – are extraordinarily talented musicians and lovely people to boot. We rehearse in Al’s studio which just happens to be down the road from where Tanya and I live in Lawrenceville. As we step up rehearsals and media promotion in the lead up to the gig, I reflect upon where I was 12 months ago and I have to say, things are looking up.

Our first (and only) gig in Australia was in April 2008 at Melbourne’s Glitch club and cinema, only a couple of weeks before we took off to play at one of Canada’s biggest festivals in Vancouver. On the whole, I think its fair to say, the gig “went bung” (an endearing Australian expression meaning something screwed up). The mix wasn’t great and our nerves mercilessly attacked our vocal chords in a quivering battle that lasted all night. Nevertheless, one audience member enthused later that Tanya reminded her of Janis Joplin, and someone else pointed at my keyboard and said Pink Floyd. At each subsequent performance in the States our sound has improved and our new band now has such a powerful psychedelic sound, we are expecting our Pittsburgh debut will be our best gig yet.

At the end of the Melbourne gig, we played one of the hymns from ‘Larceny of Love’ called Darkness/Light, while Tanya’s tripped out montage of space flight and planet footage filled the screen behind us. I wrote an incantation which we read over the deep electronic drones and angelic voices of the track. I reproduce it here, as it reveals the state of mind I was in just before I left Australia.

Incantation to Darkness/Light

If I do not make it to the other side of today
I was glad to meet you anyway
Though I was more alone when we parted ways
I was glad to meet you anyway
I don’t know my future, I just know I cannot stay
This is a prayer for the highway

I am telling you this because
I am the Broadcast
I hear the voices singing across time
Even those voices that rang in ancient times
I can still hear them
Listen to me because I am stronger than what you see around you
It is because each night I wander back
Marvel without end at how I can be

I tell you turn your mind to wonder
Be a stranger to Existence
And you will see what I see
I tell you every thought and action creates every hour
And every heart opened is a question answered

My feelings, you see
They are like the finest lace ever woven
And my mind, you see
Is the finest hourglass ever fashioned
Truly, you can see the whole of history gleaming there
If you lean close enough

I can pull away from this flypaper without any effort
I fly up and float around and around the room
Elated with release
Peacefully spiralling upwards and upwards
I fly straight to the window and crawl all around it
Trying to sense the opening, the crack
Because You are outside
And I can feel Your breeze

A great murmuring filled our ears
Of wind in meadows and ocean breeze
The purring sands
And the fire on leaves
And we ask forgiveness from all we see
And the rivers and mountains and sea
Thank us endlessly

So we bless and thank you for this:
That you’ve shared with us a night of bliss
We bless each marriage of Darkness and Light
And God speed every Jilted Bride.

I like to think these two jilted brides have been sped along the highway by ‘The Great Whatever’ and much of the net is starting to become visible. T is now teaching in the film faculty at Point Park University, developing video projections for Squonk Opera (an innovative multimedia troupe based in Pittsburgh) and together we are working on a series of promotional films for one of Pittsburgh’s great regional parks – The Grandview Scenic Byway Park on Mt Washington – which is enormous fun. I was recently granted a 3 year artist’s working visa – not easy to get, but I was apparently able to convince US immigration I was an “extraordinary alien” despite having no experience with inserting anal probes into earthlings or creating crop circles using lasers from spaceships hovering several miles in the air.

But still, I feel the whistling of air around my ears, I am still in a kind of freefall. There is currently not enough income coming in to survive and just as much uncertainty as ever as to how that situation can be turned around. Starting again in a new town – even one as absurdly friendly, supportive and beautiful as Pittsburgh – is tough, with no friends to call up, hang out with. Faith, optimism and the benevolence of the Great Whatever will continue to be required to pull through the next few months.

Forty eight hours after our Warhol performance, T and I board the plane back to Australia for a few weeks to wind up our affairs and get our various bodily parts medically examined courtesy of our excellent universal healthcare system – I am in particular overdue for an oncology check-up and mammogram. And I am also most anxious to spend time with my dear friends and adopted parents Graeme and Eugenie – Graeme’s condition after his massive stroke has hardly improved. It will certainly be a moving experience to go back home after so much as happened, and then to say good-bye again.

But between now and then there is much to do – costumes to select from Richard’s Eon shop in Shadyside, hair-dos and false eyelashes to discuss with our make-up artist, more invitations to send out, and many more hours rehearsing under the fairylights and ’60s swirly wall carpets of Al’s studio. We are certainly anxious to sound and look as good as we possibly can, make a good impression in our adopted home. Hopefully the audience will be in a particularly good mood thanks to the Steeler’s superbowl win on Sunday (you could have been forgiven for thinking world war two had just ended, such was the hysterical jubilation in the streets all night!). And of course, we will be playing on Valentines day weekend – our heart-ache ballads will make happy lovers relieved that all those woes are now behind them (at least for the time being) and for the single and lonely there is always the hope, of course, that a jilted bride or groom might catch their eye and the greatest safety net of all – the net of love – might magically appear by the end of the night.

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