I'd been smitten by a misapprehension without bothering to understand what I was looking at.
The first time I went to Paris was like a beautiful dream. 1994 or 1995. I was…young. It was a class trip. I recall going to La Galerie Lafayette by myself and seeing cherry motifs on everything; on all the fashionable clothing, accessories. I was so impressed with the blend of adorable and beautiful. Bright cherries; probably sour if real. Then I saw them everywhere in suburban America a year or so later. I felt at that moment like I’d had an advance knowledge of something terrific, and I. Felt. Cool. Unquestionably cool, for having seen it first elsewhere. Didn’t even buy any of the cherry stuff. Just saw it first. In Paris, at that.
(Today), almost thirty years later, I bought acrylic cherry motif-ed earrings because it reminded me of the joy of seeing the design in Paris. This was in Cape May at a gift shop slash coffee shop slash bakery. I also bought earrings from the same designer that look like toadstool mushrooms. Those I bought probably because I never got to name my son Mario Nintendo Ishii.
Anyway, I recalled from my first trip to Paris, that there was a fashion shoot taking place at La Place Centre George Pompidou. French models in clear raincoats and umbrellas on a cloudless sunny day. The shoot was being overseen, it seemed, by a figure much more impressive to me than any of the models. A petite Black woman with closely shorn blond hair, who wore a fanny pack like a cross body harness bisecting her breasts; like a seat belt. She was sort of barking orders in French. How cool. I wanted to be that cool.
A year later, back in the States, I saw the remake of Sabrina starring Julia Ormond, Greg Kinnear and Harrison Ford. There’s a scene in the movie of a photo shoot in Paris where Sabrina had gone to college, and immediately I recognized the people in it. Clear raincoats, umbrellas. So what I’d seen the year before in Paris was not a photo shoot but a scene of a photo shoot for an American film. What I’d thought was a French fashion photo shoot was a fake photo shoot staged for a film about a British servant who worked for an American family of extraordinary wealth.
In the remake, I looked for the cool Black woman. Maybe I made her up in my memory but she definitely seemed like a person to see. Not an offscreen wrangler, but possibly portraying one on screen.
A few years later, between my first and second year of college, after a horrific spring semester that almost killed me, I was staring at a tiny television for the nth straight hour in my mom’s depressing apartment next to the freeway. David Bowie was touring Earthlings and made an appearance on Conan O’Brien’s show, which at that point was still late night so this is like one am. O, David Bowie. So cool. And lo, as he started singing I’m Afraid of Americans, I saw behind him, a cool petite Black woman with closely shorn blond hair playing bass. Was this the same woman I saw in the photo shoot scene of the remake of Sabrina?!
I guess I thought at this point that if this was the same person, she was an actress first, and that being hired to portray someone, anyone, could include the ability to portray a musician. All you had to do was demonstrate the ability to play a musical instrument.
The thing was, the horrific spring that preceded my brain dead Summer had prompted me to give up playing music. I thought at the time it would be forever, but really it was just a few years. I was a touch dramatic about it. I failed a performance final by flatly missing my slot and squandered my scholarship in the department. I failed American Folk Music, a survey course that required only that I write about a fucking bluegrass documentary. Do you know how hard it is to fail as a music major? All you have to do is demonstrate the ability to play a musical instrument.
I remember sitting in my dorm room looking out at old growth redwoods and watching the clock tick as my performance final slot came and went, thinking no one needs me to show up. I pretended I was too good for this shitty school. After academic probation, I gave away everything but some abused mallets which resurfaced as decor. I redirected my energy to poring over pop music, rented a piano no one but my roommates ever heard, and graduated a lit major because look I’m still an immigrant so I was never going to drop out of college or truly squander such a hefty investment in lessons.
Today, thinking about the bassist, and curious as to what I had possibly only fantasized having happened in Paris on that film set, or on Bowie’s televised performance, I look up the credits for Earthlings.
I am mortified to discover that the bassist is a real musician. A real active musician. Is there any other kind, you ask? I just mean she’s not an actor. Assuming the least of her was just my bias—that someone so cool would only be seen and not known. I’d feel bad suggesting that her being an actor is somehow worse than being a musician but we all know what I mean. The point is I was wrong and she is legit. How long has this bias pervaded my understanding of cherries? Just because I was tokenized doesn’t mean everyone else has to be. I mean cherries have to come from somewhere, right?
Gail Ann Dorsey. Gail Ann Dorsey played with Bowie from Earthlings on. Played with a lot of amazing people. Writes music. Is regularly interviewed. Who knew. Not me. I was smitten by a misapprehension and didn’t pay enough attention beyond my dumb drama to figure out that cherries don’t have to be cool. They’re just cherries. And you know what’s great? Gail Ann Dorsey is from Philadelphia.