Cover Story

What’s New, Chloe Lou?

Chloe Lou. Photo by Julia Hall McMahon.

Do you ever feel like you’re in a dream from which you cannot awaken, uncertain whether you are the one having the dream or merely the one being dreamed of? You lose your sense of self; time and place have no meaning, and you become shrouded in the exhilaratingly dreadful feeling that you don’t really belong. Dread because of the uncertainty you are so certain awaits you; dread that the answers you seek may not be forthcoming; dread that the life you once knew has gone askew, never to return. Yet exhilarating because this is freedom in its purest form, outside of time itself, exhilarating because of the fear you feel while being cast out from the safety of your hopes and delusions; exhilarating because now you are condemned to be free to choose—completely alone among everyone—whether to play the game until it’s done or burn it down and start anew—a new game where you can just be You, a self-conscious cosmos that is the foundation of its own being with still so much left to do. A game where castles are just made of sand, dreaming rests and wishing stops, fate will always lend a hand and troubles melt like lemon drops.

Then suddenly you’re in a place. You recognize the place as someplace you’ve never been before. You think you’re in the right place, yet this place is strangely out of place. You feel strangely out of place in this out-of-place place, but this must be the place.

Folly Bridge on a golden afternoon. You meet for cocktails at some divey-type hole in the wall. It’s a rather disjointed kinda joint, selected more for locational convenience than any sort of over pretentious hipster street cred.

She is early or you’re late, you can’t remember which, but she is there waiting for you. She’s dressed not to kill, but just to maim. Her eyes glimmer with a certain saudade, a longing perhaps for a love that could never be, like she’s searching for the word for the thing for which there is no word.

The girl seems entirely whole yet possessed by the fragmented beauty of someone who has been broken down thoroughly. The pieces that are left of her have been remantled in such a way that her heart is in her eyes and her soul is on her shoulder. She tries to hide her vulnerability behind a mere patina of strengthening endurance, but if you really look into her, the shadows of a pain not yet overcome loom behind a mind troubled and clouded by black vapors all too readily apparent. Somebody hurt this dame but good.

She orders a Shipwreck Dream on the rocks. The amber tinge of the dump you’re drinking in sets off nicely against her azure locks. Her smile makes you feel the interconnectedness of everything—her smile, like if blooming desert flowers in the spring could move about. You want another hit. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to make her laugh.

Having never talked to her before, you aren’t quite sure what to expect. Some people are downright prickly when roustabouts come rousting about, but not Chloe Lou Liddell. She opens her book to page one and you both just go back and forth, round for round, and by the time you get to her epilogue it feels like the two of you have written together a song that no one else will ever know…. 

CL: Where should I start?

SDT: Start with “The End,” then we can be done. Or start at the beginning.

Chloe and her mom circa 1990.

CL: My birthday is on December 12, 1989. My mom was HIV positive. She had AIDS and had only found out about it a month or two before I was born. They did a c-section to lessen the chances of me contracting it as well. After I was born, they gave her six months to live so she became an activist. This was a time when there was a lot of stigma around AIDS, it was seen as a “gay men’s disease” and other people were taking it for granted that they couldn’t get it. She did a lot for San Diego in the rest of her time. They only gave her six months but she ended up living until I was three. I don’t remember her at all. I think I have one memory of her that is actually my own memory and not just from watching home videos.

SDT: What did she do exactly through her activism?
CL: She had tried to go to support groups but they were all for gay men. She couldn’t find anything for women living with AIDS. She wanted to create a space for everybody to be able to talk about their experiences living with AIDS and HIV, so she started a support group. Another thing is that a lot of people kept it a secret when they were diagnosed because of the stigma attached to being someone who has this disease. But Mom told everybody she had it. It was kind of crazy and she lost a lot of friends over it. People were just cruel and didn’t want to interact with her because they thought they might get it from her, and there was so much fear surrounding that epidemic in general. She just tried to educate people. There’s a house in Vista now that is named after her. It’s part of Fraternity House, Inc. They started off as a facility for men to, basically, go and die. They called it Fraternity House because calling it what it actually was would have made people very uncomfortable with the idea that the facility was renting cheap rooms for people to live together and take care of each other and live out the last of their lives. So [Michaelle House] has now become a house for people with special needs that are living with HIV/AIDS who can’t take care of themselves.

SDT: When did the music hit you?

Chloe with her dad, mid-1990s.

CL: My dad was really good friends with Jerry Raney and all the guys from the Beat Farmers. He was always around all these musicians. I have vague recollections of these parties from when I was little, where people were always pulling out guitars. I would sing “XXX’s and OOO’s” by Trisha Yearwood all the time, so my dad would make me sing it at the parties. I picked things up in school, back when they had music programs, and I always wanted to sing. I also played the viola and did orchestra in middle school. When I got to high school I had to choose between music and art, so I chose art. As far as singing, I did talent shows through school and musical theater. I joined the Jazz Ensemble at Grossmont College, which is mostly instrumental but they made room for me as a singer anyway. I didn’t know how to read music so I faked it and learned everything by ear. From there I just decided to really get out there and started auditioning for working bands. I got a job with a Top 40 cover band and it was cool because I was making money singing and it just blew my mind that I could make money doing what I love.

SDT: When did you start doing originals?

CL: I had gone with my dad a couple times to see this band called the Flophouse Playboys. I eventually got to get up with them and sing “Chain of Fools” a few times and I got word from [Chris] Davies that they were looking for a singer, so I joined up. Then Chris [Davies] and I started doing duo gigs and he asked if I had written anything. I had some songs I had played around with and he put music to it, and it started from there. I really hadn’t written much up to that point but then I went through a divorce and I started writing like three songs a night for about two weeks straight.

SDT: Let me guess. Break up songs? Tearjerkers and heartbreakers?

CL: Oh Yeah! Lots of sad, sad songs.

SDT: Total shot in the dark.

CL: Even when I try to write happy songs, they turn out sad. I’ve learned to live with it. So, then Davies had joined Ron and the Reapers and I started going to his other shows and I got up to sing with them and Ron [Silva] asked me to join up. They’re incredible musicians. I introduced some songs, and the guys started putting into it. This would have been April 2018. We did one show as the Somethin’ Somethin’, which fulfilled a childhood dream I had, which was to be in a band called the Somethin’ Somethin’. After some discussion we then officially named the thing Chloe Lou and the Liddells.

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Chloe in action. Photo by Darci Fontenot.

Chloe at the Farmers’ annual Hootenanny at the Belly Up last year. Photo by Dan Chusid.

Chloe Lou & the Liddells at Bar Pink: Pete Miesner, David Fleminger, Richard Larson, Chloe, Ron Silva, Chris Davies. Photo by Julia Hall McMahon.

There is a way that her voice makes you feel. It has a sweetness to it, an innocence struggling to stay found meshed with a darkness that lingers underneath. The growl of many vocalists tends to come from anger or frustration, but Chloe Lou’s is born from hurt. She only does it sporadically, which just serves to enhance the effect. What she shows you is that the thin veneer of sweetness she uses to mask her pain is fragile and possibly fleeting; there is a constant concern that it could be completely shattered at any given moment. She may or may not be unaware that this masquerade, despite her attempts at producing a perfect cover, allows her true essence to shine through the cracks.

But that’s what you wanted now, isn’t it? Somebody who shows you who they really are? Someone who isn’t afraid to hurt for you, cry for you, be vulnerable for you, go through hell with you so you can know you’re not the only one? She doesn’t tell you she’s been there. She doesn’t have to. Chloe Lou is showing you that it’s okay to hurt and still carry forward. That healing your pain does not make it go away, but using it allows you to be able to co-exist with it in a way that can make you downright indestructible. You don’t banish your pain, you welcome it, and you’ll find that by inviting it into you that it doesn’t hurt you anymore.

You’re a fan. You know you are. For a year and a half Chloe Lou and the Liddells have been tearing up the scene, ya heard? This girl wangled her way into a band with some of the hottest cats this town ever ripped out. I’m talking about Chris Davies, Ron Silva, David Fleminger, Pete Miesner, that one dude, and that other guy. There’s history there, chemistry, and if you ask the teacher, there’s probably a math book in there too somewhere. There’s an album out, trophies won, shows up and down the coast, and this outfit is straight fire, dig?

Then what happens? What always happens when it’s too good? Circumstances beyond your control, everything down the rabbit hole, things get strange and no one knows how far down this bunny goes. A stain of light leads you to the mirror. In the mirror you see the reflection of yourself as you truly think you are yet will never be. You turn away from the horror to find yourself in a short, narrow hallway. So short you can even see the end of it, and on the other end is another mirror in which you see the reflection of yourself as you truly are, and you can’t understand why the image appears to be nothing like you thought it would be. You are really, ostensibly, inherently incomprehensible. Did you actually think you are the way you think you are? Did you think the thing that stares back at you is really you? Did you see the short, straight line between two points or did you get lost between the forever that lies between, like so many do, lost among the infinite possibilities that lie between two points, lost in Zeno’s halfway between, halfway between, watching the end get farther away from you the closer you get, watching the hope you had wither away, reflecting upon itself just as you reflect upon yourself, each reflection another point, another hallway, another you, another infinite realm of possibilities completely separate from your own….

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SDT: So, you’re going along, life is good, this is going to be your year—you’ve got your record, you’re playing shows, everything’s fabulous, the future’s so bright you gotta wear shades, and then the whole world is waylaid by a global pandemic essentially kneecapping the hopes and dreams of millions of working stiffs. How are you dealing with the shutdowns? How do you manage to keep yourself sane in a world whose cheese seems to be irrevocably sliding off its cracker?

CL: I was in San Francisco when it all started going down. At first, I didn’t think it was going to be as big as everybody was making it out to be. Then everybody’s gigs started getting cancelled and that’s when it really started to hit home. I had to get back to San Diego and start figuring out what I was going to do. I had just moved into a new place too, and then I got furloughed from my corporate job, so I was freaking out for a little bit there! I immediately went into isolation and had no human contact for two weeks. My roommate got me hooked on “Survivor,” so I think I watched about ten seasons of that. I tried to write but it wasn’t really happening. May was a blur, and then in June I finally got to see some friends again. We got loaded and hung out and wrote some hip hop songs and recorded them. Musically I haven’t done much, but I’ve been doing a lot of art. I’ve been able to take some commissions, so it’s nice to be able to do something creative and get paid again.

SDT: What does the future look like?

CL: I don’t have anything really planned, but I’ve been mulling over starting a new project, trying to get myself out of the rut, practicing more and getting some writing done. I’m writing some melodies for a musical being produced by the director of the Michaelle House. She’s been involved with the Fraternity House for about 30 years. My main goal though is to write a happy song that’s actually happy!

SDT: What about the music scene as a whole? What do you think the future holds for that?

CL: We’ve had some live gig requests, but nothing really big yet. We’ve been offered some live stream gigs as well, so I’ll have to see if the band is willing to do that. Some people are adamant about not playing at all and I respect that. I wouldn’t want somebody doing something they’re not comfortable with, but the overall consensus is that it’s not a good idea to be encouraging people to gather right now. It’s a real bummer. I want to play, but as far as live music in San Diego goes, I feel like it’s not going to come back the way it was for at least another year, if not longer. Venues aren’t going to have money to pay bands, restaurants are stuck between trying to bring in business but also having to stay within guidelines. It’s definitely stressful to think about, but I don’t have a real future at this point in what I normally do.

SDT: Do you think when it does come back it’s going to be the same?

CL: No. I don’t think there’s going to be as much live music. As many places that were doing it, it was just starting to be more than it was. I was starting to see, for example, places in O.B. that were hiring duos for their brunch crowd and that was cool because it made the market bigger for the amount of musicians who were doing that type of thing, and when it does eventually come back, there will still be those places but I don’t think it will be like it was for a very long time, if ever.

SDT: What about venues like the Casbah or Belly Up?

CL: I’m really worried about that, to be honest. I have a lot of friends in theater and the music industry and all of those people being out of work, and then transitioning into something else because they need to pay their bills, and the places themselves getting left by the wayside is a very real possibility and that’s scary. I’m hoping that places are able to stay open through their Twitch streams; I know that can make some money, but I’m just not sure how many people are really on board for that. Financially I don’t know how much they’re going to be able to withstand this whole thing. I know a lot of places are taking the time to make improvements. Like at Bar Pink [RIP] they’re revamping the place, they’ve redone the tabletops and painted it up real nice.

SDT: Did they ever clean the ceiling? Woof!

CL: My friend works at the Casbah and he sent me a picture of the lamps above the bar. He had cleaned them and he showed me a before and after and I was, like, “Wow, those are clear? Those lamps weren’t brown?”

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Chloe Lou with her good friend, Lauren Leigh Martin.

There’s that word again: hope. There seems to be this glaring optimism that Shitshow 2020 has been a one-off sort of thing, some freak anomaly that can never happen again, and that we won’t see its undulating pustules of oozing moist lugubrious discharge bursting curds of festering seepage onto our precious, wholesome, as-yet-unsullied 2021.

Those who have had their lives ripped out from under them will have to find acceptance that the world they knew is gone and it isn’t coming back; things will be different and a certain knack for rolling with the tides will be helpful at this juncture. Millions have been thrust into poverty and told to sink or swim. Dystopian tent cities are getting bigger as people who once had only hope for the future now have nothing to hold on to, so many more are clinging to barely a thread.

What do you do now? “Find something else,” they say. Record numbers of jobs have been added. Just look around, they’re everywhere. You can get yourself a job in one of the lucrative new industries that are on the rise as we hobble into the meowing ’20s. Stealing money from kids with cancer seems to have a bright future, why not learn guitar with all this free time you have now? Have you considered upskilling? Corporate shilling? Pill milling? You can raise enough capital these days by going into crippling, insurmountable debt so you can learn to code, open a hot dog stand on the moon, or maybe you can sell the Danbury Shakes to Mickey D’s for their next Celebrity Sellout Rapper Happy Meal, or work for Civvl, an app that hooks you up to property owners who want to hire independent contractors to literally evict people from their houses. No joke. The future has arrived gig workers! How could you not want to take advantage of these illustrious opportunities? What are you, some kinda lazy moocher?

So, what if this is it? Hoping for a better future is about as useful as clinging to a waning past. This is the stupidest tea party you were ever at in all your life, yet you may have to return to the table, and if there isn’t a seat for you, then you will have to make one. You will have to adapt, make sense of this nonsense without succumbing to the withering anxiety that can accompany the notion of whether this is your self becoming who it is through evolution and transcendence or the bell that tolls for the self you’ve fought so hard to hold onto up to this point, only to have it stripped from you anyway. Which it is, I suppose, depends—were you happy before or are you happy now?

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SDT: We’ve covered the content of your songs as far as break ups, what other topics do you write about? Or do you?

CL: I feel like it’s always something sad, but there are other things—like loving who you want to love and not caring about what other people think.

SDT: Right. Like when you’re in love with that bum and your friends try to tell you he’s wrong for you but you don’t care what they think because you just want to love him so badly even though he gaslights you all the time and mistreats you and leaves his dirty socks in the toilet?

CL: Well…kind of…? I wrote some other break up songs that were more angry, “don’t tell me what to do” type songs.

SDT: It sounds like songwriting is a bit of a coping mechanism you use to come to terms with all of your disastrous relationships.

CL: Yeah, that’s true!

SDT: We live in what is being termed a post-truth society now. How do you figure out what is true in such a world, or at least what your truth is?

CL:

SDT: As in, you used to be able to read the news, and the media for the most part was held to such a standard that they all kind of had to agree on what happened or what somebody said—play it straight and keep their opinions to themselves. Nowadays, any story you read inherently comes with a seed of doubt about whether it’s even real or whether it’s been twisted in some way so as to fit a particular narrative. Legit news sites sound like The Onion sometimes and, ironically enough, a lot of the stories in The Onion don’t even sound like satire anymore. A rag that for years has specialized in ridiculousness has been outdone by the absurdity of reality. What’s up with that?

CL: A lot of it is the words that people use–like I’ll read something and I’m thinking that they’re only trying to get me to believe just their side of things. This isn’t reporting; this is them giving you their opinion and saying it in a way that it seems like they’re reporting, but they’re really just trying to convince you of what they want you to believe. Sometimes it’s really easy to see through, but sometimes I read something from a source and it’s just somebody’s opinion. I’ve always been exposed to both sides, but I know people who only listen to one side, and they don’t get anything from any other side and don’t want to hear anything from any other side. There’s a lot of bullshit to wade through, and you have to be able to read it and still be objective.

When the protests started happening with the George Floyd situation and the Black Lives Matter movement, I realized that I got upset when some buildings in La Mesa got burned down; I was devastated because it was two blocks from the house I grew up in. I went down there the next day and some people were upset and talking about “Antifa” and I didn’t know what any of that even meant, so I did my own research to kind of figure that out. But I had some friends educate me about it and they said, “You’re real worried about these buildings burning down but did you care that people keep getting killed by the cops and that’s why this all started?” It took me out of myself for a little bit and it was good for me to learn about that part of society that I really hadn’t been exposed to until then, but it really had me questioning my entire existence as a human being.

Then I talk to other people who are of the opinion that there isn’t as much systemic racism going on as people are making it out to be, these are people who lived through the Civil Rights Movement, looking at the things going on right now and insisting that it just isn’t happening.

I think everybody is searching for their own truth all the time. I don’t have an answer to that question because I don’t know my own truth at this point. I think that most people don’t know their own truth.

SDT: What about education?

CL: What about it?

SDT: Well, are you for it or against it?

CL: I’m for it! I think society has kind of let education fall by the wayside because it’s easier to control people if they’re stupid.

SDT: What do you dream about?

CL: I had a weird one last night where I was on a vacation at a resort with, like, 25 family members. We were meeting in this giant hall where there were tables right next to each other and everybody was packed together, and I was trying to find a seat.

ST: Did you find a seat?

CL: No. There was no seat available. There was a seat at the table for everybody in my family except for me! How about that?

SDT: Woah, paging Doctor Kilpatient…

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I’m sitting in a bar last year one night after a Liddells show when I strike up a conversation with “Jim from Boston,” who proceeds to tell me a story.

I’m sitting in a bar with, well, myself because I had just run out of friends and I didn’t have anywhere else to go and I didn’t have anyone else to go to. I’ll spare you the gory details and just say my whole life had been completely torn apart. Work life, home life, personal life, you name it had all just been destroyed. Okay, some things were my fault; I got some blame coming and sure, I ain’t perfect, but a lot of it was stuff that was outside of anyplace where I could control it. Anything I’d do to try and fix it just made it worse. Can you imagine that? Everything is falling apart and the best thing you can do is nothing, like you’re watching a movie that’s about your whole life being burned to the ground and all you get to do is watch. It’s enough to make you want to take a brody off the nearest freeway overpass, yaknowwhaddomsayin’?

Anyway, so’s I meet this girl, Chloe Lou, and we get to chatting. Her band was playing a set that night and I guess they were just getting ready to go on. We started talking. You know just light general kind of things. I didn’t say one word about all the crap I was dealing with. I mean, when you get a chance to get away from it for a minute you jump at the chance right?

Well, we had to cut the conversation short because the band was ready to kick off and she had to excuse herself which is cool and all. Time to go to work, yeah? So, I wanted to tell her to have a great show and all but I said it more like, “You know Chloe, I could really use just one good thing to happen to me right now, so could you just go and be amazing because it would mean the world to me. Just get up there and sing your ass off.”

I tell ya, I don’t know what to tell ya. Like I said, I didn’t mention anything about my situation or anything but maybe she could just sense it. But when she sang it was like she understood everything, like she was singing the story of my life or something, like I didn’t have to tell her about my pain because obviously I guess she’s got some of her own.

Anyway, to make a long story even longer what she did for me that night was exactly what I needed. It didn’t fix anything or solve any of my problems, but it was just a little ray of sunshine that cut through all the darkness I was in and for a few minutes things weren’t so bad. That’s all I was really asking for was a little hope. If you can’t find any, I guess it has the damndest ways of finding you. That girl, what she did for me that night… I’ll never forget it. She saved me.

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Photo by Marie Haddad.

Here’s the thing about hope, though: hope can warm and secure the hearts of some who can see the horizon and long to discover what lies beyond, but it may just be the source of their madness when the light dawns on them that it won’t change anything.

Things are broken. Don’t try to go back and fix it. It won’t be the same. If that goes for your life as you used to know it, don’t try to turn your future back into what once was. It won’t be the same. Be broken. Move forward. Brokenly. It’s not about fixing your brokenness but accepting it and embracing it. It’s part of the process. Try to remember that those who see themselves as fixed and whole are surely the most broken of us all, just as those who claim to be sane are surely the maddest.

So, gather up your robes, Pierre. Come don the veil of type and token. Learn to love what’s inside. The revelation of your imprisonment is not equal to the gaining of your freedom. In a world so dark there is no light left for shadows to be cast, you’ll need to find the beacon of true inspiration, like a giant moth to the most furious flame, your need so dire, so in love with the fire that is killing you, seated on the throne of thorns, your Weltschmerz steadfast, the dogmas howling loudly within, the Mothra of Invention is calling for you to rise from the ashes and begin again.

If you can learn anything from the soulful chanteuse Chloe Lou Liddell, let it be perseverance. Innocence? Maybe. Naïveté? Not so much. There’s wisdom where she walks that flows through everything, incurring a certain jouissance that will make you want more. If you basically just like songs and music and listening, Chloe Lou certainly does the job; she is overqualified for such endeavors and will easily entertain the easily entertained. But if you want more, if you’re one of those who like substance and want there to really be something to connect to on the most primordial human levels, that is where you will find yourself right in her wheelhouse. If you want to get your hands dirty and see how deep you can dig, you will be rewarded with someone who can make a perfect stranger feel like a long-lost friend, make the alone feel not so lonely, and be that little ray of sunshine the world can really use right now….

 

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