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Secret Life of an Expat: I Finally See Gogol

Photo by thisisboss

Three years ago, before I had even submitted my film to the animation festival in France where I met my husband, I lived in Los Angeles. I had finished grad school, and I felt old. I listened to a lot of NPR. I know it’s not the coolest way to discover a band, but one day Terry Gross interviewed Eugene Hutz, the lead singer and founder of Gogol Bordello. Gogol Bordello are a group of immigrants living in New York City, and their music is self-described as gypsy punk, with chipper melodies and driving rhythms.

At the time, a very good friend and I were working full time as a small animation team on a mostly live action film. I’ll call her my “school-friend,” because we met at CalArts. She hailed from one of those Asian countries so well represented in artsy American cities, and we started listening to Gogol Bordello every day at work. Truly addictive, energizing and inspiring music, and so sing-a-long-able even if some of the lyrics are in Russian or Spanish. I discovered they were coming to town and we bought tickets, two months in advance. We were so excited.

But at the time, my heart was floundering: I was recovering from a long-term-relationship breakup, working two freelance jobs outside of my full time job, and my BFF of 16 years was about to leave town forever. I was having trouble acting normal, and my school-friend/coworker and I stopped getting along. I don’t remember the catalyst, but we stopped talking, which was bad because our desks faced each other, so we spent 40 hours a week feeling awkward and tense. We didn’t laugh anymore, we misunderstood each others’ intentions. I don’t remember all of the details, but it was simply, yucky.

When the day of the concert came, I was totally stressed out. I had a deadline the next day for my freelance work. My school-friend had been making efforts to warm up our friendship, but I couldn’t imagine having fun with her again. I was mad at myself for getting stressed about the freelance work, and for not working it out with my friend. I decided not to go, perhaps as self-punishment. I called a mutual friend of ours (another foreigner living in LA, oddly enough) and offered him the ticket.

I instantly regretted it, but didn’t have the courage to change my mind. To be honest, I was scared of the concert. Scared that an enormous mosh pit would form and trample us, I was too old (and had always been too short) for mosh pits. Scared that I wasn’t cool enough for gypsy punk.

They told me the next day it was one of the best concerts they’d ever seen.You know, I would have fit in at the concert. All you have to do is dance and sing. And I knew all the words.

lead singer Eugene Hutz in his sweat soaked glory

I could have stopped listening to them, because their music reminded me of what a stupid mistake I had made. But I forced myself not to lose Gogol Bordello just because I was an idiot. So I kept dancing and singing to songs like Undestructable, Think Locally, F**k Globally, Wonderlust King, and 60 Revolutions. I won’t say they changed my life, but with their lyrics quietly flowing through the back of my mind, my life started to change. I started to write, found a suitor with whom I would not feel old or stifled, immersed (with difficulty) in a foreign culture, became a (not evil) step mother. I am the immigrant now. The very privileged kind of immigrant, who flies across the ocean for love, instead of escaping a war zone in the back of a truck, but an immigrant all the same. One who has come a long way and started over.

And two nights ago, I celebrated that.

Yup, Gogol Bordello played Paris. They are on tour again, promoting their new album. M is out of town so it was just our friend Jeanne and moi. I fearlessly snuck out of work early and I didn’t care whether or not I fit in at the show. It was everything I hoped it would be, and I realized, while jumping up and down and singing along with the rest of the crowd (they knew all the words too), that I was watching a group of artists on stage. People like me. People who have found their passion and work hard to achieve it. Three years ago I felt too lost and old to see them play. Now, well, we were swept into the mosh pit a number of times, but you know what? When it’s just an accordion and an electric violin fueling the rage, you can’t complain about a few banged up shins.

It was one of the best concerts I have ever seen.

p.s. I know I sound like a crazed fan now, but here are a few favorite lyrics… and if you want to hear ‘em you can go to their website, or

excerpted from Start Wearing Purple

I know you since you were at twenty, and I was twenty,
but thought that some years from now
a purple little little lady would be perfect
for dirty old and useless clown…

Start wearing purple wearing purple
Start wearing purple for me now
All your sanity and wits they will all vanish
I promise, it’s just a matter of time…

excerpted from Undestructable

…But if you stepped on path of sacred art
and stuck it out through thick and thin
God knows you become one
With undestructable
And so no longer live I in fear