The Eyes Have It

April 15th, 2014

Some thoughts I’ve had today:

Strength has never been my strong suit.

I succumb to everything–Chocolate, sex, sex with chocolate, crying and compliments.

And I don’t really know what strength is anyway.  I don’t know if it’s keeping yourself from things you want or allowing yourself the things you want.  I might not believe in it.

Some thoughts I had yesterday:

Dentistry is medieval, but optometry is sci-fi-high-tech.  Do you know how they remove teeth these days?  Pretty much how they did in 1653.  They strap you down to a chair, take a wrench and yank it out of your head.

Do you know how they fix your eyes these days?  With lasers.  Which is what I’ve always wanted, but I can’t afford it yet.  However, I still got to wear these when I went to get examined.

AND they have machines, where you look at cute houses at the end of a country road.  I kept imagining that cute house was mine, or I knew people in there, and I was excited to go in and see them.  I was riding my bike.

AND another machine where you look in and every time you see a little flicker, you press the buzzer they give you.  It’s like a video game to test your peripheral vision.  I told the technician that if the machine tested with images of socks on the floor, my ex-boyfriend would have failed.

AND did you know that you can tell if you have diabetes or high blood pressure from how the blood vessels look in the back of your eye.


They took this picture of mine:

That’s the back of my eye!!  Insane.  Dentistry really needs to get its act together.

The eye doctor said I should have been a scientist, because I’m way more interested in this than most people.  I agreed.  I said I majored in English, which got me that nice waitressing job…

He said he assumed I was good at math because I play music.  I told him I was not especially good.  I got to calculus but it made me cry.

Another thought I had yesterday occurred to me as I was heading back to the locker room at the gym.  This guy was in this contraption and pulling and groaning with the effort.  Look at all these people groaning like slaves, but you put your body through this exertion voluntarily now for your health.  They should hook gyms up to the electrical grids of the city.  We would be powered by everyone’s health craze.  We could heat buildings with workouts.  Or, people could put in time building affordable housing (or pyramids) for the city, and that would be their workout, plus community slave service.  There’s solar power, wind power, why not muscle and sweat power?  We could save ourselves by saving ourselves.

And then everything would be perfect.  Except for dentistry… someone’s still got to fix dentistry.


Carte Blanche in Brooklyn

April 14th, 2014

We are still doing it.

The inertia created by 3 part harmony is something you don’t stand in the way of.  You just put on your sequins and let it roll.


We were opening for Mark Ospovat’s multi-dimensional, hair metal entertainment experience, HAIR AMERICA.

The photo really does not do it justice.  My iphone was not capable of capturing the entertainment explosion that happened here.  I love this country for reasons like this:

a) Rock and roll invented here, giving rise to delightful offshoots like hair metal, where grown men can express the rock and roll fury inside them while heightening the drama with very tight pants, very big hair and eyeliner.
b) Young Jewminican boy in the Bronx becomes obsessed with this art form in between shifts at his father’s womens undergarment store.
c) Boy grows up to pursue music, tours in bands and becomes a successful business owner (just like dad).  He starts his own recording studio, naming it after his dad’s store.  Emandee Recording and Rehearsal has been making musical dreams come true for the last 10 years.  Brooklyn’s most creative and up-and-coming acts have made their albums here.  National touring acts too.
d) Boy is grown, but still has hair metal dreams.  Dreams come true when he forms HAIR AMERICA.  The existence of the band increases the rock and roll joy and passion present in the nation, tipping the balance ever further toward pleasure, freedom and music in this country and the world.  High kicks and falsetto are making the world a better place.  Thank you, Mark.


Tonight: TRANSformative – A Night of Songs that Propel Us

March 24th, 2014

Oh geeze, when favorite human, Barbara Maier invites you to play a song for a star-studded, super-cabaret benefit for Joe’s Pub, New York Voices and the Ali Forney Center, you just say yes.  Even if you’re not sure who you are anymore and you don’t have a clue as to what to wear.  I will be there, wearing something that does not feel quite right, but flanked by lovely friends/musicians who do–Julie Delano, Julie Lamendola, Johnny Dydo (drums)and Zane Van Dusen (bass).  We will sing a song about physicist, Richard Feynman, because the night is about movement and change, and he studied the essences of everything, and often described everything as being made up of tiny bits that were “jiggling” all the time.  Everything’s moving all the time.  And as a professional thinker, he found that you didn’t have to pound the problems to get the answers.  You could tap at them lightly.  That’s what the song is about.  Tap-tap-tapping…

Look at the line-up.  Good lord…

Justin Vivian Bond, Michael Cavadias, Angela Di Carlo, Eisa Davis, Miguel Gutierrez, Nicholas Gorham, Carol Lipnik, Amber Martin, Lady Rizo, Viva Ruiz,Chris Rael, Sanda Weigl, Earl Dax and MORE!

An FB event link from Chris Rael:


This play I’m in

March 14th, 2014

I can’t believe it’s already the last show of our run at La Mama.  It ended up being the extended run after all.  It seemed like the right thing to do, even though I’m missing most of SXSW.  I’m happy for the chance to work with these people–amazing, adorable, enormously talented and generous people.  We made this thing together, and we got to share it with people.  Really, what’s better than that.

Last night, our fill-in back stage assistant manager, Briana, took this video from back stage of a little section of one of my numbers.  Vova did the projections and art work.  I did the leaps into oblivion.  Ha.

Three Heads Is Love from Brianna Makanamakamae on Vimeo.

Last show is tonight, 7:30pm, Friday the 14th at La Mama Experimental Theater, 74 E 4th St, New York, NY 10003, ph: 212 475-7710



Special Bushwick Book Club show, Feb. 25th at Barbes

February 24th, 2014

Tomorrow night, we’re presenting new music inspired by Howard Feinstein’s memoirs of his experiences as a civil rights lawyer in the ’60s–“Fire on the Bayou–True Tales from the Civil Rights Battlefront.”  Howard will be there to speak about his book and his experiences, and he will also play his own musical composition reflecting on the book.

I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have him there.  Not only is this such a meaningful time and important issue, but Howard was my blues piano teacher in Maryland.  He was the first one to teach me 1-4-5.  After years of studying how to play notes that I read on paper, he taught me songs that weren’t written down at all.  He showed me songs that aren’t meant to be read, but that you have to feel in order to play.  And it was what was in me all along.  Howard let me into the blues, which have always been home for me.  Kimchi may be my home food, but the blues is my home music.

So, I hope you can come and hear all the new songs inspired by the book, and I hope you can come early enough to hear Howard speak about his experiences.  We’ll be at one of my favorite Brooklyn venues in Park Slope, Barbes (376 9th St, Brooklyn, NY /ph: 347-422-0248), 7pm-8:45pm.

The talented songwriters performing tomorrow night include: spiritchild, Susan Hwang, Shannon Pelcher, Sweet SoubretteMia Pixley, Pearl Rhein and The Lords of Liechtenstein.


Racist thoughts about commuting and Happy Birthday Chris Rael!

January 16th, 2014

The subway train conductor breaked like my dad.  Herky jerky from a paranoia that somehow never makes you feel safe as much as irritated.  At the mercy of paranoid breaking and the congestion patterns of the morning rush hour commute, I was getting fur in my mouth.  Fur from the hood of a girl’s brand new, serious winter coat.  I looked at the label on the shoulder of the coat–”Canada Goose.”  That’s a serious coat.  In Canada, they know about serious winter and therefore, serious winter coats, but they have more personal space there, so they don’t know about eating a stranger’s fur in a crowded subway car first thing in the morning.

Koreans, on the other hand, know something about completely surrendering personal space.  They know how to pack a subway.  It’s not just that we’re smaller physically.  It’s that we’re efficient.  And we surrender individuality for the good of the whole.  The whole commute that is.  I remember morning rush hours where the car was packed so tightly you could lift your feet off the floor and still be upright.  Nobody really complained.  I don’t even remember anyone complaining that much when the businessman who was still drunk from the night before vomited on himself–kimchi vomit no less.

Well, as much as I complain about crowded trains, it does make me feel closer to people.  I guess because I’m closer to people.  And we’re all there together–gross human beings, all breathing and sweating and enduring together; we’re berated together by the other human being who lashes out at us over the loudspeaker.  He’s really had enough, and he lets us have it.  For Christ’s sake why can’t we use all available doors and move to the center of the train?  People….

I will not be taking the train tonight to play at Chris Rael’s Birthday Bash at The Bell House.  I will bring myself and my accordion via my ’94 Corolla, gifted to me by my parents in 1994.  They believed in providing their kids with an American education and a means of transportation.  They didn’t realize they were facilitating my accordion playing and singing in public.  They regretted it later, but they still let me keep the car.  And yes, it’s the one that now has a big dent on the passenger side back bumper with the tail light now hanging out at a… jaunty angle.  Look, I’m trying to be positive; it’s not natural for me.   My tail light is now… a tongue sticking out, uh playfully.  Whimsically.  Something like that.

I’m excited for the show!  I get to play and sing a little on Chris Rael’s great songs and beautiful arrangements.  I’m telling you, no one writes a good run like Chris Rael.  I get to play all kinds of fast and intricate sections in fun time signatures.  I try not to gush too much, because it might make him feel weird, but I listened and listened to that CD of “The Hand” that Bruce burned and gave to me in 1999.  I listened to it so much that by 2001, it wouldn’t play anymore.  And I don’t even like rock music.

Needless to say, I’m thrilled to be playing tonight.  Happy Birthday, Chris!

The Frontier Room
Chris Rael’s Birthday BashChris Rael's Birthday Bash
Church Of Betty, Johnny Society, Low Cut Connie, Blueberry
Thu, January 16, 2014
Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm
The Bell House
149 7th St,
Brooklyn, New York
ph: (718) 643-6510


Marathons, the flow and songs about Orson Welles

November 7th, 2013

I’m mostly against marathons.  It’s nothing personal against running or runners; I’m against anything that impedes traffic.  I like to say that I’m pro-flow.  I was looking on the marathon website last Friday to see what the route and timing was, but they made this very hard to find.  There was all this essential information on security measures, baggage options, where the cheering zones are.. “How to Run in 2013”  “How to Qualify for 2014″…   They forgot “How to Avoid.”  I might be a marathon Grinch.

This past week, we had our first Bushwick Book Club show of the fall.  The book was My Lunches with Orson: Conversations between Orson Welles and Henry Jaglom.  It was a good show.  There were 12 songs in all from 12 different songwriters (myself included).  I hosted the show, but I didn’t gather my thoughts enough before the show to express what I wanted to about Orson.  What I did manage to express was that I loved the language that he used.  I loved his voice in my head.  I loved his stories.

But what I missed saying was that he was in a basic way just like us.  His goal always was to make stuff.  And he did.  He created until his last breath.  He had a heart attack while writing a script.  He died with a typewriter in his lap.  What you hear about is what he didn’t make towards the end of his life, and it’s true, he was working on getting funding to make King Lear and The Dreamers.  It’s true that many projects were stalled or incomplete because of lack of funds and whatever ways he couldn’t find around real or perceived difficulties.  But it doesn’t mean he didn’t continue to create.  He wrote and made smaller films.  He painted.  He acted.  He never stopped being who he was.  He never stopped being an artist.  He did it by hook or by crook or by funding his own projects with money made from hawking cheap wine.  He did it come hell or high water or talk show spot on Merv Griffin.

I can relate to this.  My parents never explained this to me.  I think it’s something they couldn’t’ explain because it was something they didn’t know.  In their minds, creating was an indulgence and potentially bad for you, like eating candy or having sex with prostitutes.  They didn’t know that for some people, it’s a need—a fundamental aspect of being.  It’s as basic as whether you’re left or right handed.  Or whether you have a genetic predisposition to diabetes or alcoholism.  It’s like being gay or straight.  I make things, because I was born this way.  You can’t brainwash me or cure me of this with a Christian reform camp or even maternal bullying from my Korean JW mom (which is pretty formidable).  My parents tried to get me to stop, because they thought it was detrimental to my physical well-being and survival in society.  They have their reasons.  During the Korean War and afterwards, being a musician may well have been a death sentence.  This is likely why my father’s dying words to me were “Don’t hang around musicians… They cannot function in society.”  Well it’s too late…  I was born this way.

I think for some people it is a choice, and depending on circumstance, that urge to make things can be nurtured or neglected, and either way, they will be fine.  Some people have no desire at all to make anything but money.  There are all kinds of urges.  My people, we make things.  Sometimes we get outside notice for it, sometimes money.  Sometimes we don’t.  But whether or not you get money or attention from what you make doesn’t have anything to do with that basic inner orientation to make.  They are separate.  One doesn’t have more value than the other, but it’s just separate I think.

That said, I was thrilled with all the new songs from the Bushwick Book Club show last week.  The conversations, whether you liked Orson or whether he irked you, inspired all the songwriters to express something that hadn’t been said before.  Something they hadn’t said before.  And I marveled at the colors each musician chose to present their reflection of or response to Orson.  I marveled at how truth finds its own specific path out of each performer.  The flavor of each artist, each person, each song.  You can hear them here:

It’s hard to assign a value to the things we make, but they are valuable.  Just ask the Gurlitt’s, the Rosenbergs, The Monuments Men (sounds so Marvel Universe).  All those paintings, stolen, the effort made to recover them..  Those 1,400 works taken from Cornelius Gurlitt’s apartment in Munich recently, of which could include works by Matisse, Courbet, Max Liebermann, Marc Chagall…  This is a big deal, because we value the representation of truth as shown on each canvas.  These artists were great because people found value in the way the truth came out of them.  That’s my interpretation.  The way truth comes out of you is so important that you can be sent to Siberia for it.  Just ask Shevchenko (exiled from Ukraine in 1847 for an unflattering poem about the Emperor and his wife).  And these nine exiled poets .  And Dante (exiled from Florence for supporting the Holy Roman Emperor over the Papacy), Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Salman Rushdie…  Don’t tell me it’s not important the way the truth comes out of you.

Also this—the maltese falcon made of resin that Humphrey Bogart carried  in scenes from the movie has a starting price of half a million dollars.  I’m using this as proof that people still care about stories.  A prop used in the making of a piece of art is a valuable thing to some people.  I’m using this to support my argument that stories and art are essential to us as humans—integral to our existence in ways I’m not able to articulate or even fully comprehend most likely.

I’m collecting proof to counter evidence to the contrary, like the woeful lack of funding from the government and the fact that it’s increasingly rare to make a living wage being a band/musician in New York City.  If you need stories of the glorious golden days, talk to my dear friend and super-drummer Steve Rubin.  I can’t hear any more of these stories myself, because I’ll get unhelpfully sad and teeteringly close to bitter, but the stories are fascinating… this mythical time when animals talked, there was a chimera on every corner and you could earn a living as a house band playing music to people who would come out and dance.  I also recommend talking to drummer Paula Spiro for tales of playing music in a very different, long gone New York.  Just like Orson said–”It’s terrible for older people to say that, because they always say things were better, but they really were.”

And if that’s true, that means right now is the Golden Age of something… so there’s that.


The High Heels of Lviv

October 11th, 2013

The High Heels of Lviv

These shoes are not
built for running or for connecting
to the ground as much as keeping
you above it.
A spike, like Jesus,
a sacrifice.
Off the ground is certainly closer to god.
These women are just
very religious.

The shoes say,
who cares about getting there.
Lay me down.  Bend me over.  I’m ready for it.
For life, I mean—the exchange, the interplay
and hello, reproduction
if it comes to that.

The heels say
let’s make something.  I’m ready to
make out,
make babies,
make love,
make up,
make believe.

The shoes say
Stay….It’s not the destination, but the journey anyway.

Me, I’ve had enough
of keeping myself above.
My back has let me know.
I spent my 20’s on a platform
above reality.  Reality schmeality, I’d say.
I paid the price for hovering.

I’m flatfooted now
with heels gripping the pavement.
I’m learning to be low.
I’m making friends
with the ground I stand on, which I like,
because I like having friends.

Look, I know what it means—
the illusion of height, the defying reality.
Fuck the elements.  Fuck gravity.  Lviv is centuries
of want me, want me.

I don’t know why
ankles grow fat or toes crooked.
I can’t read minds,
and who knows why time is so mean.
You do what you can.
You put on your shoes.
A heel worn higher still
says what you’ve always known to be true—
if you’re not wanted, what are you?

It’s very nice that feet take you
to the toilet first thing.  But really,
do you exist without being wanted?

I am here regardless, and I have other rules that bind me,
but this city exists because it never resisted.
‘I won’t fight.  You can want me.
I won’t run away.  Stay, stay…’


Girl Pool

October 10th, 2013

Sometimes when people ask me to do things here, I’m like, “Seriously?  Do you know how boring that is?  I mean, it’s really boring.  Like inhumanely boring–as in human beings should not be made to do that.  That’s what machines are for, and once machines gain any level of sentience, we’ll have to think of something else, because no one, not even a partially sentient machine should have to do that.  It is a morally unacceptable level of boredom you are requesting someone expose himself to.”

I’ve never said that, but you know, it was an internal dialogue.

This place doesn’t have nearly enough accordions in it, and everyone goes around acting like poems don’t even exist.  If a poem was found on the premises, they wouldn’t know what it was.  They would think it was a bat that had sadly found it’s way in, and they would hit the poor, misidentified poem with a binder until it smeared onto the industrial carpet.

Bring Your Poem to Work Day would be a mess.


Bareburger song

July 25th, 2013


This is my losing entry for the Bare Burger jingle-writing contest.  With this entry, I didn’t win $4000 and free burgers for life.  I still like the song though.  Here are the lyrics:

No need to panic.
Our food is organic–
everything from the meat to the bun to the cheese.
All our beef is grass-fed,
free from hormones and dread.
Bareburger for you with more omega threes.

Don’t need a big attitude.
We let the food be the food.
You’ll want to get in the nude.
We understand, but please
keep your clothes on in public.
Goodness knows on your own
you can do what you want,
and you’ll want Bareburger.
Click on the burger to hear the song!

I’ve had this longing for fried chicken lately, myself.  It’s one of my many weaknesses.  I can’t help it.  I’m Korean.


© Susan Hwang 2014. Photo: Dany Nierman. Site design by