Thursday, September 11, 2014

And The Beat Goes On


It's no secret that Pink Martini is pretty much my favorite band in the world. My crush first developed the first time I heard the French lyrics to "Sympathique," while vacationing in Greece, and I fell head over heels when I was introduced to a live bootleg of "Hey Eugene."

I've seen them in concert five times, and cried salty tears over the performances I had to miss, like the time I was stuck in Redding while the rest of my family was in the front row at their New Year's Eve show in Portland that was broadcast live on National Public Radio.

But the real tears - real, actual tears - came a few weeks ago when I got the news that Derek Rieth, one of the founding members of Pink Martini had died. I was prepared to hear that he'd been in a horrible bike accident, or died from a sudden, undiagnosed brain aneurysm. But when I heard it was suicide, I was in shock all over again. I wasn't prepared for that.

I still don't really know how to adequately express how I feel about Derek Rieth's passing. But I'll do my best.  I know I'm going to sound like every single other person on the planet who mourned Robin Williams' suicide ( which was just days before Derek's), but I am having such a difficult time understanding how someone so talented, so creative, and so universally loved, would take his own life.

And this might sound a little bit selfish and totally self-centered, but I'm devastated that someone who made me so happy by giving me one of the greatest gifts I've ever received could selfishly take himself away from the rest of the world.

You might have been there, actually, when Derek gave me that gift.

It was almost five years ago. October 5th, 2009. Pink Martini's first appearance in concert at the Cascade Theatre. I could barely contain my excitement, knowing that not only did I have front row seats for the entire family (I pulled strings, I called in favors, I resorted to guilt tripping), but I was also going to introduce my favorite band in the world.

If you were there, you might remember that I joked from the stage that night that I'd pushed China Forbes down the Green Room stairs and she'd broken her ankle. I said I'd be replacing her that evening as lead vocalist (not true), but everything was cool because I knew all the words to all their songs (totally true).

I finished the introduction, and then skedaddled off stage, but hung out side stage for a moment until all ten members of the band entered and started to play, led by pianist Thomas Lauderdale, with his adorable spiky platinum hair and thick black rimmed glasses.

Derek, the percussionist, was still standing backstage. We chatted for a moment, and he complimented my beautiful green necklace, which was actually silver, but was glowing green as it reflected the exit light by the stage door. And then he said, "Hey, do you want to come back up on stage during the encore and perform with us?"

Have you ever had one of those "I'm so happy I could die right now" moments? That was mine. Derek had just given me the best. gift. ever. I mean, seriously. Would I like to perform - really, actually perform - with Pink Martini? Hell yes!

Could it get better? Hell yes! Later, he pulled me aside during intermission and told me that he'd seen the kids with me in the front row (my daughter Sophia and my godson Garrett), and he told me I should bring them along too.
My friend Edie captured the moment. China Forbes is singing Brazil at the Cascade Theatre. That's Derek, behind the red congas.  Sophia is in the blue t-shirt, Garrett is the short guy between us, and then me.
If I could compare that evening to any other time in my life, I'd have to say it was like my wedding last year. Glorious, wonderful, but my memory's a little hazy. Just like my wedding day, I think I was just so excited that I'm not sure I ever stopped to breathe and take in the moment. I recall writing that I was grinning like a fool, and felt like the luckiest woman on the planet at that moment. Derek let us choose between a smattering of instruments (I think I had maracas or some Brazilian clacking sticks that my Dad would know the correct name for), and we joined the percussion team for their last song, Brazil. Derek was at my right, playing madly on the congas, while China Forbes sang her heart out, and I did the same, only without a microphone.

Playing with Pink Martini was truly a dream come true, and I have Derek Rieth to thank for it.

I thanked him then, profusely I'm sure, and I probably thanked him all over again when I introduced them again last year when they returned to the Cascade. But I won't get that opportunity again, because he's gone. Took himself out of the game.

And I'm so disappointed, because that guy was loved. By a lot of people. He wasn't just the percussionist and one of the founding fathers of my favorite band. He had an insatiable appetite for music, and traveled around the world to understand the rhythm behind the music of other cultures, and brought it back home. He was revered as the guy who made Samba popular in Portland, and co-founded the popular and provocative percussion & dance ensemble Lions of Batucada. He surrounded himself with bongos and congas, and he even made the triangle cool.

He also had a deep, tender, sensitive heart, and struggled with depression.

He left a note that said he wished he could love himself as much as others loved him.

I wish that for you too.

So it's with a pretty heavy heart that I share today's playlist. Music from my favorite band, featuring my favorite percussionist, a guy who helped give me the best day ever. Every single one of these songs is from the Pink Martini songbook, even the very last one, which is so fitting for today's playlist, even though it features the unmistakeable voice of the late Phyllis Diller, and Derek sat that particular one out.
RIP Derek Rieth by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

  1. Sympathique - The one that got my attention
  2. Hey Eugene - The one that made me fall in love forever
  3. Brazil - Their signature encore, the one where I got to stand next to Derek on stage
  4. Hang On Little Tomato
  5. Bolero - The one I can actually play on my radio show
  6. Amado Mio
  7. Donde Estas, Yolanda
  8. Sway
  9. Syracuse
  10. Tuca Tuca
  11. And Then You're Gone
  12. But Now I'm Back - The one where another public radio guy, Ari Shapiro, sings with the band
  13. Una Notte A Napoli
  14. Mas Que Nada
  15. Everywhere
  16. Quizas, Quizas, Quizas
  17. Smile (featuring Phyllis Diller)

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