Regina Spektor was one of the few artists I listened to as a new mother. Something about her playful lyrics and sweet voice created the perfect accompaniment to the noise and chaos of wailing babies. I enjoyed finding the tidbits of wisdom amongst lyrics such as,“I have dreams of orca whales” and, “We made our own computer out of macaroni pieces.”
It reminded me a bit of my own life back then, how hours and hours of time spent with mundane things like breaking up toddler fights and making chicken nuggets could suddenly give way to a flash of profundity—like a precocious reflection by my son about the meaning of life or a moment of transcendent tenderness between my son and daughter.
Just like Spektor’s lyrics, what might be interpreted at first glance as nonsensical, early parenthood often contained deeper truths.
Becoming a mother makes you especially tuned in to those deeper truths, and often, the ones my mind fixated on were dark. All the scary things that once seemed like remote possibilities suddenly felt like imminent threats to those vulnerable little beings I’d brought into the world.
Regina’s music appealed to me because it took those big scary truths and wrapped them in this sugary puff of nonsense that somehow made them more palatable. Her lyrics helped me tap into my own childish way of dealing with fears by making them into magical things that couldn’t really touch me. She explained to the Telegraph that this has to do with her family history:
“I’m very Russian Jewish in that way. Like, even when I was very young that was always in my head . . . time, life, death. I was very excited and smiley – like I am now – but you definitely have a lot of worries as a kid and you develop magical thinking to deal with it, to prevent the bad stuff from happening. As life goes on you accept there’s a lot you can’t control, that things just happen.”
During those lonely years of early mothering, Regina Spektor was that imaginary friend who always understood me, entertained me, inspired me. So, when I heard that she was coming to Philadelphia last week, I had to go see her.
The moment she walked on stage I felt a tingle of connection. In person, she was every bit as magical and wise as the music that she creates. Each time she beamed out a red lipstick smile, or whispered a breathy thank you, my heart fluttered.
And I was not alone. All around me, adoring fans were singing and clapping along, sometimes with tears in their eyes. Clearly, she is an artist that touches people’s souls.
But, not all the fans were so gentle in their admiration. One man yelled across the room, “I fucking LOVE you!” She responded by hissing into the microphone, “I fucking love you too!” A few minutes later he yelled again about his love to her, this time even louder. She smiled impishly and moved on to the next song. The third time he yelled out in an even louder voice, “I want your hair!” This time she stopped, looked in his direction and turned her head to the side. “That’s kind of creepy. I want my hair.”
It was just a simple statement, delivered in her gentle speaking voice. But, it was enough to stop him from disrupting her any more. I spent the rest of the concert in awe of the strength her pixie-like presence commanded.
My love of all things Regina passed down to my daughter. When she was 3, she heard the Regina Spektor song, “Ne Me Quitte Pas” and fell in love. For a solid two years, no other song would do. We listened to it on the way to school, on the way home, during dinner, in the bath. We listened to it so much that the lyrics became integrated into our world. When we were in New York, we sang about frozen noses and frozen toes. When we were in Paris, we twirled around with umbrellas and professed our love to Paris in the rain.
But, it isn’t just Regina Spektor’s music that delights me. Her whimsical presence hides a depth of experience and wisdom that shines through with everything she does. It was her perspective on antisemitism and immigration that drew me to her most recently. As Russian Jew herself, Regina has used the prejudice she experienced as an immigrant to drive her success, as she told the Guardian:
“Instead of being the Jewish girl in a Russian school I became a Russian girl in a Jewish school. I knew I’d stay the different girl forever. I had dumb teenagers telling me to go back to my fucking country. Telling me we were taking their jobs. I got so pissed off I was like, ‘You’d better believe I’m going to take your job, I’m going to take your job and three other jobs, too’. You grow up with that. I came with refugee status – I was a legal alien.”
Growing up as the only Jewish, only first-generation kid in a conservative white Christian town, I felt that same desire to prove myself, to rise about the stereotypes and misperceptions that many people in my community had about outsiders.
As a kid, I could have really benefited from someone like Regina Spektor to let me know that sometimes strength comes from your outsider status, to remind me that soft voices can say important things, and that whimsical dreamers have an important role in this world. Fortunately, I found her in time to pass her voice on to my own daughter.