The Wild East recently caught up with American comedy writer, artist and now singer/musician Trista di Genova, who is following her bliss in Taiwan after performing her debut ‘Riding with the Wind’ at Chez Maurice in Tamsui on Christmas Eve. She calls on other would-be artists to ‘carry a guitar everywhere you go’, in a Taiwan society that customarily ‘shuns the artist’, and an upside-down music industry where ‘anyone and their dog can become a Youtube Star’.
The W.E. : How was your Christmas? And why was there only a few days’ notice before your solo Christmas show?
Trista di Genova: It was perfect. I’d made 12 little ‘show cards’ and that’s how many people came — a Baker’s Dozen. It was cozy, I introduced the songs and if I think about it, it was my favorite Christmas, ever. So glad the dream came alive!
Yes, it was a bit spur of the moment! A week before, I’d asked Maurice if he had any reservations for Christmas, on the 25th. He said ‘no’, which seemed strange to me, so I booked it on the spot! Turned out to be a nice and stress-free way to do it, really!
The W.E. : Why have a show singing rock n’ roll covers on Christmas Eve?
Trista di Genova: Good question. And no, I didn’t play any Christmas tunes, too depressing! I didn’t have any plans for Christmas anyway. I was broke and unemployed, alone on Christmas with no family or friends in sight. I was kind of at a low point for me at the time, very blue. I felt parentless, friendless, spouseless etc for the ‘holy-daze’, except for my trusty steed, of course! Broke but happy!
Plus I’d been working on a bunch of songs I wanted to do on the campus at TKU (Tamkang University), anyway. I didn’t care if anybody, nobody or a thousand people showed up, I just wanted to play there, have a show in Bakersfield’, where Baker makes his lake every day! But I couldn’t figure out how to get a mic and generator setup, without buying the equipment.
So I rehearsed at Maurice’s place that week, like a pro, ha! And he coached me, thanks, Maurice! His place ‘98’ is fantastic by the way — great, inexpensive food by a fantastic chef in a rock n’ roll ambiance, right next to the Tamsui MRT. I highly recommend it – it’s a real cultural spot in Taipei. I’ll probably do a Beatles appreciation night in the future.
So once the date was set in a week, that night I designed this flyer, sketched whilst hanging out with my buddy Baker on the steps of Roxy Rocker in Taipei… and doing three-minute tarot card readings for $100nt. I actually cleaned up that night on the tarot readings, made almost 1000nt – Ha!
The W.E. : This image is quite colorful and unique, reminiscent of a Tarot card.
Trista di Genova: Yes, the ‘Ridin’ with the Wind’ concept is based on a line in Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing’. I’ve been studying hermetic symbolism and the occult lately! Fascinating stuff, watching hours and hours of lectures by Michael Tsarion, the alternative historian, who encourages women artists like me, to create works of great personal value, using our own self-generated symbolism. So you see here a woman with hair that flows into the clouds – I love the way the Chinese render clouds.
Then there’s a fair lady, Godiva-like seated side-saddle on a Pegasus-cum-unicorn-cum-Rudolph the Red-nosed Baker. My doggy is one of my greatest muses these days, as you will see someday! Here we’re flying over the sun, with Mt. Guanyin in Tamsui below us — a sacred mountain for sure.
The W.E. : Why have your first show in Taiwan?
Trista di Genova: Well I’m based here in Taiwan, and it’s fairly easy for foreigners to indulge one’s fantasy of being a singer, or having a band, isn’t it. And Taiwanese culture is rife with people who ‘like to sing songs’, from mobile karaoke trucks under bridges and in the countryside, to the ‘Superstar’, ‘Idol’ type of shows that are insanely popular here. It’s kind of quirky, I love that about Taiwan!
The W.E. : What inspired you to be a jazz singer?
Trista di Genova: Amy Winehouse, for sure. I never even cared much for jazz! But when Amy Winehouse died at the height of her career, I began researching her life and music in depth. What a huge loss that was – she was perhaps the greatest jazz singers of our time.
Amy Winehouse was a musical genius, classically trained, who said she wanted to write her own songs to reflect our own raw, often more dark, personal experience. And she did: Love is a Losing Game, You Know I’m No Good, Wake up Alone, Back to Black just to name a few amazing songs. She made instant classics because she’d been steeped in jazz standards and vocal traditions, so of course she ‘killed’ a lot of great covers, too, like ‘Valerie’.
Sia, the amazing songwriter (‘Chandelier’) and lyricist (‘Titanium’) once met Winehouse and suggested they collaborate, but confidence-stricken Amy felt Sia was way out of her league. It’s so unfortunate she didn’t hang around a better class of person!
Personally, I love the way Amy played guitar as an extension of her voice and song. No women (except maybe PJ Harvey) looked as hot as Amy did, when she performed ‘Stronger than Me’ on Dutch TV! I’ll never forget that image! She showed you can sing, play guitar like the blues and basically still be the rock n’ roll icon that she is.
The W.E. You seem to know a lot about rock history!
Trista di Genova: Yes, it’s another passion of mine, and it’s guiding me now, in the ‘iAge’, Internet age, where anyone and anything can become a YouTube star.
If you’re really interested in rock history, I should tell you that until recently, there was a taboo against women in rock playing guitar, no doubt because of its phallic, cock –rock connotations! In the 90s, Joan Jett had to start her own record label to play guitar. Taylor Swift is a good example of a modern positive example of women on guitar.
Tracy Chapman was busking before she got her break into the music business. That’s another fantasy of mine I’ll have to indulge in. I literally dreamed about it, and I’ve been getting the urge, testing the waters on the Tamsui boardwalk! I’m a little shy though! I’m learning how to ‘mach show’ like the Beatles learned when they got their start in the Berlin music scene.
I should do it, busk in Taiwan, if only out of principle; and now to celebrate an apparent recent decision to lift such oppressive rules governing street musicians!
What’s wrong with a bit of culture, for chrissake? Before TV 50 years ago, singing and playing music was how people entertained themselves, and made a living etc, for a million years before that!
The W.E. : How did you learn to play guitar?
Trista di Genova: As a kid, I picked up my brother’s guitar and strummed a bit. I remember someone said, “That sounded good,’ and for some reason, I put it down and didn’t pick up a guitar again, until college. I was first in my middle school orchestra, but lost interest when I moved and could only get private lessons, which only made them a chore.
I decided to learn guitar after hanging out singing Bob Marley songs with some Japanese exchange students who lived next door. It was like cooking, once I realized what an awesome bonding experience it was, I set out to master it.
So I photocopied a book of Beatles guitar chords from the Berkeley City Library, and taught myself all the chords; using the diagrams of the chords as a crutch first! Since my sibs had played Beatles albums non-stop as a youth, learning to play them on guitar was surprisingly easy.
In fact, I highly recommend this to beginners. I taught an English Guitar Club at a boarding school last year. The very first task is to find a song that: a) you like; and b) one that is feasibly played on guitar.
Then, our interest provides the carrot. With passion, a thing, anything will just come naturally. And as a Liverpuddlian musician, Ian, told me recently, learning to play guitar through Beatles songs is really the best musical education you can get, covering a massive scope. I agree!
I played him – a LIVERPOOL guy a Beatles song, “She came in through the bathroom window”. That was a huge treat for me, for sure! I should make that a life event on Facebook — ha!
Where can I file a complaint? Nobody plays guitar and sings songs anymore. Taiwan society in particular shuns the artist, just look at the life of Ang Lee! His father waited until Lee won an Academy Award to support his choice to study ‘art’. Now, everybody just plays Tetra on their cellphone or watches TV in their free time. In ShiDa, if you play a guitar in the park the police will come, because the neighbors complain. That’s messed up!
So I think everybody should bring a guitar everywhere you go. If you can’t busk, you can at least sing a song on the run – ha!
So now I really enjoy carrying my guitar with me wherever I go. Maybe somebody will teach me something new. The last time I did, this guy Daniel sang ‘Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World”, at the Green Hornet in Hsintien! What a blast!
So I think everybody should bring a guitar everywhere you go. If you can’t busk, you can at least sing a song on the run! Ha!
The W.E. : That leads me to my next question. You’ve started a Facebook page, announcing that you’ve gone ‘on permanent tour, to sing where no songs have been sung before, coming to an obscure locale near you.’ What does this mean?
Trista di Genova: Yeah, I just posted that Beatles song, I should’ve known better, that I sang at a Family Mart in Taichung. Figured that was the only way to make the best out of being stuck in Taichung, which is what always seems to happen to me. It means I plan to sing in cool, ‘exotic’ places to me.
I think Taichung must be some type of vortex hellhole or something.
The W.E. : You’ve recently moved to Pingtung, how’s that going? And, what’s in the cards for future shows?
Trista di Genova: I LOVE The Pingtung,. My new home is idyllic, the Garden State of Taiwan. My family has a mango farm here, so I can do gardening, teach part-time until I start my own English academy in Pingtung, get a lot of writing done [she’s written several books and is publisher of Lone Wolf Press, lonewolfpress.com).
And as for future shows, I had such a great time at Maurice’s, I’m definitely going to make myself available to sing elsewhere too, preferably in hotels. Good way to get paid to practice! Ha!
And watch out – I’m coming to an obscure locale near you! Probably Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Under the Bridge,’ under a bridge someday. So far the sofa I found in Taichung under a bridge was too dusty, ha! Have to find a cleaner random sofa someday. And print off the guitar chords so then I can film it and look fricken hot!