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Los Angeles, Magical Mystery Musician

Cristina in Los Angeles, United States

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日本語

Wherever in the world there are people living, some kinds of ghost stories exist. Regardless of country, region, and even religion, ghost stories are made, developed, told, and established. They make people scared, but being scared itself can be an entertainment, which is an interesting aspect of human feelings. Horror movies have been popular and almost all amusement parks have a haunted house. This concept that a building itself is haunted prevails all over the world. Even Disney Lands have a popular ride called "Haunted Mansion." A scary ride "Tower of Terror" is based on the idea that a luxury hotel is cursed. Maybe luxurious buildings are more likely to be put under a curse.

In the United States, you can easily find this kind of "haunted mansion." In New York, Cleveland, Michigan, and anywhere is there a famous haunted house. Winchester Mystery House in San Jose is even listed on the National Register of Historic Place.

And in Los Angeles, there is another mansion you can find on the list. The atmosphere around Echo Park is hipper in the middle of the city. On Carroll Avenue, which locates near the park, there is one block which is apparently different from other parts. All the buildings there look too old as if they were left behind the time. Actually, these buildings, which were employed to British Victorian style, are preserved as cultural reserves. It is said that some people keep living in some of the houses, but you cannot feel someone's life there. It might be impolite for the residents to say this, but the area is a bit strange and scary.

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Well, it's not that unnatural phenomena or deaths around the area were reported. Then, why does a "horror image" attach here? One of the reasons can be found in the music video, which is probably the most famous in the world. It is Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Its horror-movie-like story and unique choreography gives you some strong impression. Seeing Michael suddenly transform into a zombie, a girl, who plays a role of his girlfriend, screams and runs into an old mansion, but the house is blocked in by zombie-Michael and his company and there's nothing she can do. And the mansion locates on this street. That's why this house is now called "Thriller House" and fans of Michael all over the world visit here. In the video, holes are made in the walls and windows, and finally zombie-Michael comes close to the girl. When it seems the end, the world is suddenly lit up and Michael is gently smiling in front of her. "What's the problem? C'mon, I'll take you home." Okay, zombies weren't here. Maybe the horror movie I just watched with him gave me an illusion, she thought, completely relieved with Michael's arms around her shoulders. But the next moment...

Anyway, let’s finish this long horror story, as our interviewee today is not a ghost at all. This woman, who is a singer-songwriter, and who lives close to this “thriller house,” is no doubt a human being. It’s true, however, that she gives some kind of mysterious atmosphere… 

Something personal and important

Cristina lives in a quiet area near Sunset Boulevard, which is famous as the title of an old movie. It’s a tasteful cozy house. The garden is well maintained and the furniture is nicely old. The wooden walls and floor has a natural color and makes a warm atmosphere. She lives with an all-gray rabbit. It has a white line on its face, which makes it look cool. It is a small house, but it’s spacious and relaxing enough for one person and a rabbit.

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As Cristina welcomes us into her house, she makes a relaxing atmosphere. Wearing a dressing gown and sitting on a sofa, she looks as if she was in a movie. In the first place, she is absolutely gorgeous. It’s not a beauty that an ordinary woman could be, but that is totally different from others, like only something from outer space can obtain. At the corner of the room, there is a figurine which can be used for some magic, which is totally suited to the room.

As basic information, we asked her how old she is, but she says, “It is a secret.” Jokingly, she says, “I’m ageless.” Caught up in her mood, we feel that it can be true. She is a mysterious woman.

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Though she has that unique mood, she is at the same time very friendly. When she answers our questions, she chooses appropriate words for each question to answer accurately, even adding simple explanation for some difficult words. She behaves as if she knows the hardship that interviewers might suffer. This is no wonder, since she used to work as a music critic. She started her career as a journalist in New Orleans, where she spent her college days, and continued working after moving to New York. From the town of traditional music to the town of most current music. Asked who she has interviewed so far, she listed famous musicians, such as Christina Aguilera and Arcade Fire. In Manhattan and Brooklyn, she spent eight years in busy New York City. 

“New York was totally not comfortable for me,” she says. Actually, she doesn’t hate the city itself. She liked taking a walk in Brooklyn and watching people from cafe. But the city was enormously exciting. Everything is progressing at a furious speed and people are working like crazy. In a highly competitive place, she was always feeling nervous. “It’s totally different from L.A., where I can relax myself like this,” she says. Yes, Cristina before us looks very much relaxed.

Her experiences in New York brought her life into a different direction. She started her career as a musician there. It seems that turning into a singer-songwriter from a music critic is a big change. For her, however, it is a totally logical transition. It’s a change from “writing about music” to “writing music.” She says, “It’s just a transformation of word and music combination.”

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Anyway, why did she try such a hard task? She was successfully advancing her career as a music critic, and it seems like taking a great risk to start something new from the beginning...

In fact, what made her do that was the atmosphere of New York City. In the big city, there were so many people busily walking around and everything was moving so quickly. "I got lost, mixed up, but nobody cared about what I said." However, there was something within her that was about to coming out from the deadlock. "It was something personal, important, and something I really wanted everybody to listen to." She wondered how to express that feeling. The answer was simple. What she usually dealt with and wrote about: music. In that city, there were various kinds of musicians, from folk singers singing on the street and subways to superstars who play a show at Madison Square Garden. How come would she not be able to one of them? She has decided to create and express music. She was determined to deal with her desire for playing music, which she hadn't noticed, or maybe, which she had intentionally ignored.

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Becoming the one to express music

Cristina is from Pittsburg, the city in Pennsylvania in the Eastern United States. She seems to have displayed her talent for music when young. She started to play the piano at the age of four, and then the harp at eleven. The harp is not a major instrument in the United States, but it was familiar to her, thanks to her Irish-American mother. She also received vocal training. And she was very good at any of them. That, ironically, provoked the expectations of people around her, which put a strain on her. When she moved to New Orleans to enter the college, she left her harp behind. She stopped playing it for a while. 

But that doesn't mean she started to dislike music. Instead, she got involved with music in a different way from before. New Orleans is the city of music, which is well-known as the cradle of jazz. Not only jazz, but there you can also hear funk music, hip hop, avant-garde noise music, and even electronica. Yes, New Orleans is now also known as a huge rave scene. "Sometimes I kept dancing all night," Cristina says with a laugh, but it's difficult to imagine her doing that from the image of the person in front of us. Anyway, in those days, she was literally in a shower of various kinds of music and absorbed them. Music, which she used to "play," was something she was able to "enjoy listening to" at that time.

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Eventually, she started to think about getting the job based on those experiences. Fortunately, she got an opportunity to write an article in a local music magazine. And that was the beginning of her career as a music critic. Again, she was in New Orleans. There were tons of things to write about on music. She made a steady progress on her career. But, as she aimed higher, there was only one place where she would be. It was New York, where music as well as fashion and every art are on the cutting edge of trend. In New York, she wrote many articles, for example, about indie rock. Actually, she wanted to write also about hip hop, but, "They didn't think that I love hip hop," she says. In fact, it is Eminem who is her favorite artist. It's surprising, since the atmosphere around and the music of her is completely disconnected from him. Perhaps, her experiences in New Orleans and New York broadened her view of music over the borders of genres.

After that, another turning point has come, and Cristina began to create music on her own. She also started to play the ukulele. When she performs some of her pieces to her close friends, they like those songs. She is confident that creating music is the thing she has long wanted to do. However, she confesses that she was so afraid of performing them in front of large audience. Of course, generally speaking, it never goes without fear to express yourself in front of others. But her case was a bit different in that she used to work as a music critic. As the listeners know that she has been involved with professional music, they naturally assume that she play something great. 

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When she went back to New Orleans for recording her first work "The Ditty Sessions," she felt awfully nervous. Some musicians who she has known from before were going to support her, but it felt totally different to work with them as a music critic when working as a musician. Being a professional musician is tough. She knows that much better than other amateur musicians.

The result was, however, that the recording was a big success. Her music and the abilities of those talented musicians were in harmony with each other. "That was amazing like a magic, and we all liked the recorded songs." After about half a year, the music was released without much trouble. Cristina says, "For the first time, then, I felt I didn't have to deny that I am a musician. I was like, 'Okay, I wrote music, released a CD, then I am the one to express music.'" With some detours, she gradually felt confident in herself, and finally she became a musician.  

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When she thinks of...

On the next day of our interview, she was going to throw a small concert. The more we heard about her story, the more interested we got in her performing, and there was no way to miss it. As our interview session ended, we said goodbye to her and the rabbit.

Getting out of her house and walking on a street which seems totally ordinary in the United States, we started to wonder if the interview we just had was a real thing. We felt so because Cristina and the atmosphere around her were so unique and her appearance, the way she talks, and her music naturally combines to make some mysterious impression. Above all, the sound of harp, which she played a bit for us, was so delicate and fascinating that it was like a magical sound. We were so much looking forward to the concert the next day.

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We went to West Hollywood the next day. The west part of Sunset Boulevard, especially the area around the street called Sunset Strip, was horribly gorgeous. There were lots of restaurants and clubs on the street, and all of them look exclusive. Well, it's close from Hollywood Hills, where, like Beverly Hills, world-famous celebrities own mansions. The pedestrians there look apparently elegant. Of course, not all of them are TV personalities or movie stars, but every one of them was good-looking. We wouldn't be surprised at all if Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were enjoying dinner at one of those classy restaurants. Maybe George Croony was driving the car which just passed by. It's a foolish fantasy, but somehow that makes us feel uneasy. 

There was a lounge on the first floor of a hotel there. Some artists were supposed to play there, and one of them was Cristina. We got lost, being overwhelmed by the atmosphere of Hollywood, so when we got there, she had already started her performance. The lounge is connected to the lobby, where a lot of people can freely come and go. The audience was drinking and eating as they feel like. The atmosphere there was rather casual. The ukulele and her voice sounded sweet. Her music was not tumid, but made the listeners feel close to it, which suits to the relaxing atmosphere there. We got a bit overwhelmed by her mood yesterday, but today, surprisingly, we feel relieved by the same person.  

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The music made by Cristina seems to be affected by 60's and 70's music, as she herself admits. Her favorite musician in those days was Phil Spector, who is famous for producing The Ronettes. His music sounds like welcoming listeners to the compact and condensed sound space. For her, who has long been wondering how much distance she should keep from music, the distance between his music and listeners seems suitable to her music. After a while, she put down her ukulele, had a small talk with the audience, and sat down next to the harp. The music she plays is unique and elegant. At the same time, however, it doesn't sound snobby. 

In her lyrics, she often writes about changing of seasons. For example, she compares the ending of fun summer to love. Asked about her personal story, she wards off, saying, "It's a secret." Anyway, her songs sound natural and warm, and familiar to every listener. It was almost in the midst of winter. Among the songs, she played a Christmas song. According to her, Americans are a bit fed up with commercialized Christmas, and Christmas songs are no longer popular among them. "Well, I don't care, I just like old-fashioned idea," she laughs. She made a song named "When I Think of Christmas," whose sound makes listeners feel lonely. That might be the reason why this song can touch lonely hearts. West Hollywood in winter is gorgeous but seems somewhat distant. In the lounge at the three-star hotel, the music of Cristina, who seemed totally out of reality the day before, was the only thing which is naturally and closely being mixed up with the world. 

 

CRISTINA BLACK

 

 

TRANSLATION BY Hikari NISHIKAWA

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