Ingrid Michaelson, Sugar & The Hi-Lows, & Girlhood

Sugar & The Hi-Lows! (L-R: Amy, Tony, Me, Nona, Trent, Rachel)

Last night my friends Rachel, Tony, Nona, and I went to see Ingrid Michaelson with Sugar & the Hi-Lows. It was such a wonderful show and a great night out on the town.

I’ve been listening to Sugar & the Hi-Lows basically every day since August. They’re a Nashville-based (via TX & MS ) duo, Amy Stroup and Trent Dabbs. Their debut album really spoke to me when I was thinking through a situation and then when things resolved and then also it’s just a great album. Really, listen: Two Day High; Stubborn Love; I’ve Got You Covered (So gorgeous)

They also did a couple of songs from their upcoming Christmas album and had Christmas lights on their kick-drum and a “half-ass tree” that somehow made it through airport security. It was weirdly timed awesomeness. I bought the album and later got it signed! Yay! I’m pretty sure “Sugar Cookie” is my official Christmas jam.

After their set, they were available for handshakes, baby kissing, and album signing in the theater lobby. Unlike when I met Kyle Chandler, I somehow kept my cool(ish) and the inner-fangirl at bay by just saying “I’m trying really hard not to be a fangirl right now.” Anyway, it was all so exciting and Amy and Trent were really cool, even as they were basically getting mobbed.

The real purpose of this post, however, is to reflect on something that happened during Ingrid Michaelson’s portion of the show. First of all,  I feel like you should know, if you don’t already, that Ingrid is an adorable weirdo. As someone who slips into character voices of my own creation, it is reassuring to see someone else do it too. And in front of a sold-out theater. Yeah.

At one point, while adjustments were made to equipment, she told the story behind “Blood Brothers,” probably the biggest single off her latest album, Human Again. The story, which was punctuated by her making a talking Medusa head Halloween decoration react to her bad jokes, focused on two incidents that happened during the six months she spent commuting between Brooklyn and Manhattan to record her album. The first incident, a lovely one, involved her accidentally snuggling a woman she didn’t know on the train. Neither of them moved because they were both wearing such puffy coats that it was like they weren’t touching, but even as  the train emptied, they stayed put, sharing a rare moment of intimacy with a complete stranger. Beautiful.

“Well, you might be a bit confused / And you might be a little bit bruised / But baby how we spoon like no one else”

Then, a few weeks later, she was walking up to the studio and a quartet of high school girls were walking toward her. She described this moment in which her impulse was to cross the street so she wouldn’t have to pass them and risk getting made fun of. But, she snapped out of it, telling herself that she wasn’t middle school Ingrid anymore. As she passed them, one of the girls made a large hand gesture and knocked Ingrid’s full, large paper cup of tea to the ground, spewing tea bags into the snow, where they melted in. Furious, Ingrid grabbed the girl’s wrist and asked her, earnestly, “Why would you do that!?” as though she were demanding all the bullies of her youth to explain themselves. Meanwhile the girl’s friends laughed in the background. After fuming for days, she just decided to channel the emotions into a song, “Blood Brothers” (see/listen below).

I wish I had recorded the whole story. I study girlhood narratives, so I started to get all grad school. It’s a little unnecessary. As Ingrid said of her song, it’s not something that’s never been said before. The basic thesis is “it’s nicer to be nice.” Similarly, this narrative about Ingrid and the girls is so familiar. I recently did some short recruitment speeches at a local high school for a study I’m conducting, and I had nerves about high school girls too. As a nerd who seriously studies girlhood and wants to actually work with girls, I find that I continually have to push beyond that feeling in my gut that wants to cross the street so I don’t get teased. I have to tell myself that I’m not middle school Kasey anymore.

I also noticed that there were a lot of tween/teen girls in the theater last night. I actually saw a little girl with the same glasses I had three years ago. Hi, Mini-Me. Anyway, as Ingrid finished her story, I started wondering about the impact the narrative might have had on the girls there who couldn’t yet tell themselves “I’m not middle school Sally anymore.” I think, because the wounds of girl-on-girl (passive) aggression linger for so long, these stories can carry real weight. (See also: CNN “To My 15 year Old Self”) Marking those moments when we have to remind ourselves that we are women now, not high school nerds, seems like a key part of the connection between girlhood narratives and womanhood as well as a useful way to reach out to the girls in our lives. Also, I think we are all the mean girls sometimes and we all feel like we’re picked on sometimes, so I kind of want to get in the head of the Regina Georges of the world too. Point is, it was a really great story, Medusa head and all. And it was an awesome, beautiful, hilarious concert. Two thumbs way up.

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