Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.
Simons (guitar, vocals): This hasn’t been easy to write.
Not just because I am a person of color who is both mobilized and triggered by the events of this time. Not just because I am a stay at home mom, which involves continuously caring, cooking, organizing, sanitizing, playing, teaching, refereeing squabbles and getting kids off of and onto devices at appropriate times and managing the family’s emotion bank. Not just because I am a woman with asthma and underlying conditions—who has a child with asthma as well—in the time of the killer, cureless pulmonary predator that is COVID-19.
Sometimes I am so happy to be tucked in close with my family, so grateful that we are safe and healthy; enjoying the slower pace of life on hold. And sometimes it feels so heavy, suffocating almost. There are timeless interludes where I’m just shoveling through an endless checklist of things that need to get done to keep everyone afloat, and it’s like I’m submerged in that murky pond—its surface completely covered in post-it notes that block out any rays of light(ness) or creativity—coming up periodically for breaths. And then the next day starts again.
Those “breaths” are times where I can listen to music or walk in nature—or, maybe, both. When I can do that, it gives me a chance to process some of the musical ideas that are floating just out of reach of my consciousness. And I’ve ended up thinking a lot about creating new songs, as well as reconsidering what I have been doing musically. Most recently, I had been recording and performing with the band that I started a few years back called RunHideFight. We put out a single on Hidden Volume Records, and our last show was May 2019, opening for the Hives and Refused at Franklin Music Hall.
I found myself reexamining the performance spectacle that I had created with that band and reflecting on why I had created it that way. I realize that there are a lot of people who saw me play and think that I am only that persona and that’s how I go about my everyday life. But there are so many different facets of my personality, and that “she” in RunHideFight—the angry, bawdy, Ronnettes/Dolly/super-femme mashup frontwoman who wears a beehive that she speaks about as if it’s another person and plays a Rick Nielsen-style double-neck guitar/sitar—is just a character in a story. And that story is informed by my experiences in the world.
Current events resonate with the old but deeply rooted trauma of growing up as a POC in the largely racist, multi-impoverished state of West Virginia and feeling afraid most of the time, which is a huge part of my story. That racism permeated every aspect of my childhood. Seeing disgust on the faces of teachers and friends’ parents, being physically attacked, having my life threatened, being pulled over regularly, being called the n-word on a daily basis. Having people ask me over and over, “What are you?” as if I was perhaps an anthropomorphized beehive hairpiece or a literal alien or a garbage can that perplexed them because it was speaking—without an Indian accent, at that. As if I was not simply a human kid.
Over and over and over, people looked at me, and because of the skin color that they first and foremost and could not comprehend or move beyond, they would say, “Because you are this, you cannot be that.” And perhaps that mutated into trying to be everything, because people had once said I could be nothing. And that’s kind of what that character is in so many ways: a living compilation of things the world around me way back when told me that I couldn’t be: an “attractive” woman, a good guitar player who’s knowledgeable about musical equipment, a leader. That “model minority” members like myself should not be loud in any sense of the word or step outside of their predetermined profession (read: doctor; later, in those same people’s closed minds, our diaspora would expand into including taxi drivers and hotel owners).
Playing garage rock was certainly an outright release that I needed. I had been so shut down in so many ways taking care of others that it took a die-cut character to get into a place where I could stay focused on my own emotions. I’m not saying RunHideFight is done, but rather that I have different stories to tell as well. I’ve been working from different, more organic musical perspectives, with other friends/projects, and I will be releasing that material sometime soon.
Regarding these photos: Do I need to say that life has been really serious and insular lately? The day MAGNET took these photos, it was so nice to get out of my shell for an afternoon and see JT—my dear friend and musical collaborator—and enjoy some rock ‘n’ roll camaraderie.