Monday, December 19, 2016

The Story Behind "All Was Born Anew", or, How To Stay Sane During a Rough Pregnancy

This is the story of how the Alright Alright song, "All Was Born Anew" came can listen to it HERE!

It was a dark and stormy night.  Well, dark at least. 

I was super duper preggo with my firstborn, an unexpected bend in my musical path, and it was a rough one.  By the time the holidays rolled around, I was DONE. 

Sitting at my piano that night, in my delicate condition, I started messing around with voicings and melodies and the words “a babe born to the winter cold” just sprang right out of my mouth. 

And then it hit me.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, had been PREGNANT.

Whether you believe in it or not, you gotta admit, that story is pretty great.  Suspense, scandal, betrayal, miracles, rich people, rednecks…it’s got it all, and because I’ve been interacting with it since my early childhood, it’s a central piece of my psyche.

I sat there at my piano, pregnant as all get out, heartburn getting the best of me, surprised by my shortness of breath as I climbed stairs, fatigued and hungry beyond anything I had ever experienced, and I realized that in this story, Mary was me. I was Mary. 

Some years earlier, I had been told by a super flippant OBGYN that I would have a hard time getting pregnant, so, like you do when you kind-of-sort-of want kids and you’re newly married, I went off of birth control thinking I would rather take my (very slim) chances.  Then BOOM! A year later, I was knocked up and on tour with a band, sleeping on floors and driving around in a school bus powered by veggie oil.  Our world turned upside down by a surprise in the form of a plus sign on a plastic stick. 

I began thinking about how Mary’s world would have been turned upside down and how vulnerable she must have felt.  Pregnancy can be incredibly empowering, especially when you realize that your body is supporting, hosting, nurturing into existence, another life.  But pregnancy can also suck.  It can be fraught with insecurities, emotional rampages, physical discomforts, and life-threatening twists of fate, and don’t even get me started on postpartum depression.  Being a woman in 2016 can be hard enough, just imagine it, like, 2016 years ago. 

That pregnancy for me was cut a bit short, as I went into labor five weeks early.  My baby boy was a preemie with a goth rockstar hairstyle and Seth and I were smitten beyond all recognition.  That little creature, the alien-looking being with an IV the size of a wallet sticking out of his little cone-head, immediately burst into our hearts like the choruses of a million unsung songs, and as soon as we could, we finished the song I started that winter. 

We recorded it, too, that winter, with our baby, Fender, lying across my lap as I played the piano parts.  His little baby cry is in the outro of that super lo-fi version of the song.  We packaged it up and sent it out to a few friends and family as a christmas present. 

I know it is not traditional to re-make a song, but that’s what we did this month for our Song-O-The-Month.  I just wasn’t finished with it for some reason, so we recorded it again, this time with much wider sonic palette, (string sections! boy’s choir! trombone!) And, oh my, how delighted we are!

This song puts Mary’s experience in the spotlight. I couldn’t help but make her vulnerability mine. Her need for human touch, her crazy love for the little critter she had had sprung on her…all of it became my own, and hers became mine, which, I suppose, is a definition of incarnation. 

This song was originally called “Ave Maria,” but we changed the name because we didn’t want it to accidentally get categorized in the classical opera department and forever live in obscurity.  “All Was Born Anew” sounded pretty Christmas-y and kind of sparkly, like it was covered in tinsel and twinkle lights. 

Happy Holidays to you all.  May peace reign in your world, in our world, and may your Chanukah, your Christmas, your Kwanzaa be filled with love. 

Produced by China Kent and Seth Kent
String parts written by China Kent
Mixed by Eric Tate
Mastered by Alan Douches

China Kent: Lead Vocals, Piano, percussion
Seth Kent: all Guitars, BGV’s, percussion
Katelin Champion: Drums, BGV’s
Tom Hagerman: Violins, Viola
Brett Harrison: Bass
Steve Gehring: Trombone
Harper Kent: 1/10 size violin
Fender Kent: boy’s choir BGV section

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Scent of Honeysuckle...The Song, The Story

 Click here to watch on YouTube

No one likes to talk about death.  No one.  Who wants to admit that death waits for us all, around some future corner, behind some hopefully far away hill, across some distant field? To not exist in an earthly context, to not be.  To end.  Or at least to pause


For some strange and unfathomable reason, 2016 is shocking us with how death-ridden it already is, and even though death is the most common experience in life, it still feels so singular, so personal, so subjective.  Because it is. 

Last month, I released a song called, "The Scent of Honeysuckle," as the first offering in a year-long Song-O-The-Month project.  I released the song on March 4th with no intention of publicly discussing the intimate details behind the writing of the song because, well, it just seemed gauche, mundane.  But I have since changed my tune...figuratively, of course...because I think people need to be able to talk about death, to listen to songs about death and allow themselves to be healed by other interpretations of this terribly common human experience.  This song is indeed a song about death, namely, my father's death.  It is a channeling of my father's experience of death, as observed by me at his side as he lived out his last days.

My Dad, Walter Dallas Curtiss, was diagnosed with stage 4 sarcoma in June of 2007.  He had cancerous tumors, or polyps, throughout his abdomen that had originated in his knee.  "It's just a Baker's Cyst," he had said months earlier as we were walking down the sidewalk with my firstborn baby in a pram.  His right leg was swollen to twice the size of his left leg, and he kept having to shake it as we walked.  It was troubling, to say the least.  During that visit, I remember weeping one night in bed next to Seth. I wept like a refugee, as scenes from my Dad's life, my parents' toxic marriage and subsequent divorce flickered in my memory like a super 8 movie.  Somehow in that sudden emotional storm, rinsing out some of the family grief that had accumulated in me during my formative years,  I knew something was terribly wrong with my father.

My youngest brother, Ian, was to graduate from ASU in May of that year, and my Dad became, by then, aware that something indeed was not right in his body.  At one point during a family graduation party, he pulled my brother aside and placed his hand on a bump in his belly area.  "Don't tell anyone, Ian, but I think something is going on," he said. 

Then came the tests, the CT scans, the awful waiting, and the worst-case diagnosis.  Surgery was scheduled almost immediately, and I flew out to California with my baby to be with him.  My father, was this strange enigma I never really understood, never really related to.  I had lived with this man for nearly 18 years. He changed my diapers and witnessed my first steps, taught me to whistle, to toggle peas at dinner, to drive really aggressively.  This was the man who had flown fighter jets in Viet Namm and never really talked about it, who had graduated in the top 5 of his class at the Air Force Academy, and then managed to acquire THREE Master's degrees from various prestigious universities.  My father, who had sported a mustache for all of my life; my Dad, who loved action movies, Ann Coulter, light beer, puns, and camping; was dying. 

I didn't know it at the time, but that trip was to give me my last, one of my only truly beautiful, unencumbered moments with my father.  He had just come out of surgery, and I somehow was alone in the room with him.  The machines were whispering, humming, thrumming, and he was sleeping.  The soft golden light, streaming in from a California blue sky was framed by the window sill.  It was afternoon, the saddest part, when the ardor of midday is done, and the sigh of evening still a few hours away.  I felt the weight of grief, the endlessness of it.  It wasn't the loss of the father I didn't really understand, it was the loss of what was already gone.  When you "don't have a good relationship with your Dad" you always think there is time to fix it.  When that time is taken away suddenly, the void you always steeled yourself against sucks you in like a sink hole.  The past and all the chances of getting something back suddenly and irrevocably evaporate.

And then he stirred.

He looked at me in a sluggish, drugged gaze and smiled a bit.  I approached his side, and he sort of turned to me.  I was trying not to show how sad I felt, how heavy I had become.  I wanted to be helpful, to be useful in my utter helplessness.  I wanted to say all the things that would magically heal us, heal me. 

And then he said, "Remember that time in Ohio when we  played in the leaves...?

This was not what I expected him to say, but I knew what he was talking about.  That golden afternoon light, plaid 1970's jacket, Ohio, Autumn, piles of leaves, I remembered the pictures at least.  I was probably two or three. 

 "I remember that day," he continued.  You were jumping in the piles...we had so much were so cute."

"Yeah, I remember," I croaked.  I remembered a picture, a feeling, an imprint of a memory.

 "I love you, China."  And he reached out and held my hand.  


I only perform "The Scent of Honeysuckle" if I know an audience is truly listening, if I have their undivided attention.  I sing it as a way to honor the memory of my father; I sing it with joy and love, even though it can be a profoundly sad song.  Each time I perform it I feel the gap between me and Dad closing, infinitesimally.  It is a prayer of sorts, a way to bring healing to myself and to pour love into the cracks and fissures that are slowly pulling together.

And thusly, I seem to be understanding a bit of the mystery behind one of Jesus' most famous quotes, "...unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

How Seth Found Himself Half-Naked on the Roof With a Gun This Morning...

This is not a blog about creative angst.  This is not a blog about making music or the various and sundry difficulties that task holds.  This post is about blood curdling, eye-popping, lightening-in-your-veins real life shit.  This blogpost is about finding your family suddenly at the hairline fracture between safety and harm.  This blog is about Seth.

Our morning began abruptly at 5:04, when our Springer Spaniel, Bolt, heard some sort of critter clamboring on the roof.  I rolled over and told the dog to hush and stop barking at squirrels.  But the sound was less small animal skittery, more clunky.


Seth, already awake from jet-lag, propped himself up and glanced out the window.

"It's no squirrel, it's a guy!" he yelled and nearly levitated out of bed to the backyard, hollering profanities at our would-be intruder.

I stumbled out of the covers and in that foggy adrenaline-just-got-me-up state, began rifling for a flashlight, of all things.  Seth had meanwhile climbed on the roof, handgun in tow, and eventually knocked me out of my crazed flashlight search by yelling for me to call 911.

In the minutes that followed, I remember my extremely dry mouth and my heart pounding in my skull.  I remember yanking Harper out of her upstairs bed and rushing her downstairs away from danger...the intruder was right by her window, apparently just hanging out.  I remember Fender crying and telling me that God had told him in a dream that this was going to happen.  All the while, I was talking to the 911 agent who was, apparently also talking to the cops.

But the image that is emblazoned in my memory is of my wiry, jet-lagged husband, dressed only in his skivvies  (the flip-flop boxers he has had for god-knows-how-long) in a complete 007 stance with both hands stretched out holding our would-be cat burglar at a silver screen worthy gunpoint.  It was spectacular.  It was frightening.  It was fucking bad ass. It was also, I might add, FREEZING OUTSIDE.

Now, I don't think Seth has ever claimed to be a pacifist, but he is always a peacemaker.  He knows just how to diffuse a charged social situation, and he is annoyingly charming with older women.  In short, Seth is unresistably likable.  So the image of him ready to harm an intruder in order to protect me and our kids was, shall we say, shocking.  And, in retrospect, unbelievably sexy.

Apparently, as we were waiting for the cops (who seemed to take AGES) to surround the house and tell us what to do, our rooftop interloper tried to pull something out of his pockets two times.  Seth said things like, "Hey, Buddy!  None of that!" and "I know you don't want to get hurt so just stay right where you are till the cops come." Intruder-on-the-roof-guy didn't ever say a word.  No shots were fired.  No persons injured.  I guess his hands got scratched on the way down from the roof, so an ambulance came to tend to that.  Then the cops booked him on a trespassing charge and that was that.

Seth had recently returned from a two-week stint in the Middle East.  He was sick with the flu, and not feeling top shelf, to say the least.  I had, just hours before, not-so-silently cursed the chaos of his dirty clothes and backpack and travel gear strewn about the house.  And then he pulls that rooftop Jason Bourne shenanigan out of his pocket.

Herein lies the mystery of marriage, of love.  The constant navigation of two people through moments of weakness and failures immediately followed by moments of extreme courage and glory. Or vice versa.  Broken wonders.  That's what we are.  Beautiful brave buffoons.

And this is how, well before noon on this Wednesday morning, I am poignantly reminded  of grace.

Forget the failures, hold fast to the glory, for that is what we are.  That courageous and deft man is who I married.  To my dying day, I can not forget that.