Ed. note: This is a letter Crystal wrote to me telling the story of the time she met Tegan and Sara in Sydney. After reading it, I did what any sane editor would do and asked if we could publish it on the internet. Enjoy! Love, Laneia
“What will you say to Tegan and Sara?”
I used to get asked that same question at church, except it was about Jesus and what I’d say when I met him at the pearly gates, or whenever it is that Jesus supposedly comes out to greet you in the afterlife. My answers were things like, “I love you” and “please forgive me” and “thank you for dying”, which earned me gold stars at youth group but would most certainly get me ejected from the Tegan and Sara Meet & Greet at the Sydney Opera House.
Despite workshopping my friends’ “what will you say?” question during the week, I felt unprepared, like my ideas for opening lines were still in need of fine tuning.
“… it’s basically my job to be obsessed with you”.
“… I’ve spent the past four years documenting your every move.”
“… when Heartthrob was first released I talked some smack about “Love They Say” and, while I wouldn’t cite it as one my favourite Tegan and Sara songs from a lyrical standpoint, I realise now that I’d been projecting some of my own personal issues regarding love onto that piece and even though my ribbing came from a place of levity and not malice, it wasn’t fair and I’ve felt terrible ever since and I’m sorry.”
“… do you want to see a photo of my cats?”
The VIP ticket that I held entitled me to a few minutes of face-time with Tegan and Sara before one of their Sydney concerts. (This wasn’t some sort of sweet music editor perk — any fan was able to nab a ticket to meet them). Admittedly, I nearly backed out in the 11th hour. Not because I’m shit at making small talk; we’d spoken on the phone before and so I knew first-hand that Tegan and Sara were skilled conversationalists who would pick up my slack.
I nearly backed out because I’m shit at looking excited.
Laneia, you’ve met me. I’m a soft talker and a silent laugher. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether I’m having a good time. I was worried that Tegan and Sara could mistake my low intensity presence as a trait of that guy — the one who’d show up to a fan event but spend the whole time looking totally above it, like he’d rather be at home watching re-runs of Rizzoli & Isles. I hate that guy. I hate him so much that if Tegan or Sara, or any person that I respect, ever confused me for him then I would be totally mortified. I would just die.
In the end, excitement and curiosity beat my weirdo insecurities. I forged ahead to the Box Office.
“Hello. I’m here for the Tegan and Sara VIP fan experience.”
It wasn’t actually called that, to my knowledge. I just felt that the band’s fancy choice of venue gave me licence to be a little melodramatic. The lady at the box office felt the same way. Rather than direct me to a rendezvous point, she triple verified my identify and then slid a nondescript envelope across the counter.
“Your instructions are in this packet,” she whispered.
Very clandestine, Tegan and Sara. Colour me intrigued.
The enigmatic packet contained a bright pink VIP lanyard with a tiny typed note attached, directing me to meet someone named Jeremy by the Stage Door. Or maybe his name was Jerome. There’s no way to confirm this, the note self-destructed as soon as I read it. Despite being called in at 6PM, it appeared that I didn’t actually need to be anywhere until 6:40PM. Sike.
I treated myself to some $12 vodkas while I waited because I was anxious and fiscal responsibility just didn’t feel as important as alcohol right then. Remember what happened the last time I met two queer idols at the Opera House? It was crushing, I was nervous about putting my fragile fangirl heart back out there again. By the second drink, I’d convinced myself that my ticket had an invisible clause stipulating that Tegan and Sara weren’t allowed to be dicks. Not that they seemed like the type.
I arrived at the Stage Door roughly the same time as a dozen lanyard-wearing asymmetrical-haired ladies and a handful of dudes. One of them paced while talking on his mobile, telling cool stories about his personal relationship with the band. I couldn’t tell if he was part of our group, maybe he was legit someone’s third cousin. I considered striking up conversation with the only other loner in the waiting area but instead got busy removing and re-donning my jacket a half-dozen times.
Here’s a thing about the Sydney Opera House: No one under the age of 50 is ever really certain of how fancy you’re meant to dress when you go there. There’s no formal dress code, per se, but sometimes I’ll be standing in the forecourt admiring those beautiful white sails and I’ll start wondering about how Jørn would feel about the display of tattoos in his House and shame myself into covering up with some sort of tailored cloth situation.
Elusive Jeremy eventually appeared. He’s a ridiculously handsome man who speaks with the confident tone of someone who wouldn’t have time for stragglers. So when he said “follow me!” and charged off through the loading dock, we all but ran. He led us into the belly of the House, past a large staff cafeteria filled with crew and down a dark, dank corridor and then into the saddest boardroom in Sydney. Everything was beige and circa 1973.
Jeremy asked us to form an orderly executioner-style queue against the boardroom walls. He explained that, one by one, we were to approach the point-and-shoot camera that had been set up at the front of the room and that’s where Tegan and Sara would greet us. After our chat we’d have our photo taken, which would be shared with the band’s 805,703 Facebook fans sans cropping to minimise my mega structure or the application of the X-Pro II filter (instagram reference) to lift my skin’s natural washed-out hue.
I really liked Jeremy. When I used to work on tour crews I’d see artist reps treat fans like hysterical teens before they’d even been given a chance to propose or pass out. He wasn’t like that. He didn’t read the riot act or tell us to be cool. Maybe he trusted us. Maybe he sensed that we were too terrified to do anything but hug our respective sections of beige wall.
The announcement came that Tegan and Sara were en route. It hit me that I still had no fucking clue what I was going to say, or even what my goals were. I knew that I didn’t want to self-promote or Auto-promote or convince them to be my twitter acquaintance, that’s not me. I could’ve told them how “The Cure” was my favorite part of 2010, but talking to musicians about their music to their face feels so strange when I spend so much time talking about it behind their backs, on our website.
There were other things that could be said, things that weren’t about my enjoyment of Tegan and Sara’s music but had more to do with me wanting to be there, except they felt too big to be articulated in two minutes or less. I mean, Tegan and Sara change lives. Maybe they didn’t change yours or mine, but they’ve helped so many people realise that who they are is okay and what they feel is okay and that they’re understood and valued. Perhaps that was never intentional but it is inarguable, the proof is all over every queer girl’s tumblr. That’s just so huge.
I guess that, if I was to distil all my admiration and respect for this fact into one non-creepy gesture that could be achieved within a 90 second time-frame, all I really wanted to do was shake the Tegan and Sara’s hands. That’d be enough. Unfortunately, it’d also only take 10 seconds. I’d have at least 80 seconds left to fill.
Any oncoming panic attack was interrupted the arrival of Tegan and Sara. They simultaneously sucked out the air from the room and charged it with a million volts of charisma. They appeared so genuinely thrilled to be there.
The first fan approached them and the room fell silent. It was so weird, that silence, with everyone listening in. I felt awkward on that person’s behalf and attempted to contribute some white noise.
“It must be a million degrees in here.”
The girl nearest to me smirked and said, “I know what you mean, they’re gorgeous.”
She didn’t really know what I meant, though, because I didn’t mean that. It seriously was warm. I’d taken my jacket off for the seventh time that hour and was still dying.
The room started talking again. I eavesdropped on a group of nearby queers who were devising a game plan. Who would walk up first, what they would say. They had their shit together, I was jealous. The one with the most alternative hairstyle began handing down little morsels of advice such as, “don’t hit on Sara in front of her girlfriend, you guys.” I had no idea which of the three bystanders was the girlfriend but props to her for not bringing along a big stick.
Then it was my turn.
Sara and I shook hands. Firm grip. Friendly eyes. She said “Sara” and I said “Crystal.” She said “nice to meet you” and I repeated that back to her two or three times. She was wearing a leather jacket and these olive green hi-tops with metal studs and looked amazing.
I turned. “Tegan.” “Crystal.” Firm grip. Friendly eyes. My mission to shake the Quins’ hands was complete. This time I said “nice to meet you” only once but it didn’t make it any less true. I can’t tell you what Tegan was wearing because I’d been glammoured by the impressive waves in her side fringe.
Tegan quickly established that I’d put minimal effort into attending.
“Do you live in Sydney?”
The fans who came before me had travelled to the Opera House via a plane from New Zealand. I’d just walked there, after work.
Sara said, “I really love your tattoo.”
She said other things about shading and colours but I was thrown by some pretty serious eye contact and can’t recite it verbatim. I do remember my smooth reply, though.
“I am SO GLAD that you like it! Thank you for saying so!”
The out-of-character enthusiasm was, in retrospect, likely a subconscious attempt to compensate for my geographic privilege, i.e. the close proximity of my office to the Sydney Opera House.
Tegan laughed, presumably at my intense gratitude for Sara’s compliment. I made an attempt at impassiveness by deadpanning, “I didn’t do it, though.”
Sara said, “Well… yeah…”
The “duh” was delivered tonally.
The sound of my joke crashing and burning was so loud that I didn’t hear the rest of her sentence. Tegan began miming a person trying to tattoo their own shoulder. We laughed. Thank you, Tegan. Solid save.
Sara, not quite ready to move on, observed that my tattoo created a nice contrast to my all-black outfit. This was exactly the reason I’d gotten it done, as a matter of fact. People used to comment on the lack of colour in my wardrobe and so I reasoned that an insanely bright floral tattoo would balance everything out. No one had ever made that connection before. Sara does not know this but, in that moment, an eternal bond was formed between us that will never ever be severed.
Tegan asked me if I’d seen them in concert before.
“Yeah, I saw you play last night.”
There were many true statements that I could have followed that sentence with. For example, “It was amazing!” or “Your performance of “I Couldn’t Be Your Friend” was badass” or even, “I liked it more than your Sainthood tour.”
Ultimately anything would’ve been better than what I rolled with, which was to leave the confirmation of my attendance at their concert just hanging awkwardly in the space between us.
My social saviour Tegan Quin jumped in with an explanation of how Friday’s show would be different to Thursday’s show. I listened attentively. Sara clarified that, actually, it wouldn’t be much different at all. I made a joke about how everyone stays seated at the Opera House. They laughed. Crushed it.
“Let’s take a photo!”, Tegan said.
Cameras transform me from a somewhat collected individual into a hot anxious mess, and therefore my farewell was neither proper nor dignified. As soon as Jeremy took the pic and as I felt their arms relax from my back, I threw a wave in their general direction and bolted for the door.
One of them called out, “Have fun!”
Outside, two long-haired lady ushers were discussing the potential maintenance requirements of alternative lifestyle haircuts. Soon enough they escorted me back to the concert hall, where the non-VIPs were. As I took my seat I noticed that the lanyard around my neck had two fresh autographs on it and remembered that while Sara had been talking to me about my tattoo, Tegan stepped up REAL close and reached out towards my waist, which would typically make me jump back or at the very least look concerned, but frankly I’d been so paralysed by Sara Quin’s intense eye contact, that I couldn’t think about what was happening anywhere below my chin. Clearly this was when Tegan had signed the lanyard, but I still have no idea when Sara got her name on there.