For years, I worried that something might happen to her and wouldn’t hear about it. I wasn’t particularly close with too many of her friends and I’d met members of her family once or twice. She lived in Brampton growing up, but she bounced all over the place when she got older. If it wasn’t for Yaya I wouldn’t have found out at all. She told me that they found Angel down at the Harbourfront.
It came as a surprise to me that not everyone referred to Angel as Angel. She was born Angela Sinclair and she had two brothers named Anthony and Angelo. She took on the alias to avoid confusion. I learned this in a roundabout way when I went to Steve’s Music and I was told she wasn’t there, but the staff thought I was referring to another girl whose name actually was Angel. Luckily, Angel(a) saw me. She told me that I could call her Angela from now on, since being mixed up with her brother was less frequent these days. I shook my head. She was my Angel and that was how it should be.
I hate that I can’t remember the words to You Got Me by The Roots. Angel and I rehearsed for that like crazy. She was psyched about performing a hip-hop number and we’d agreed that You Got Me would be perfect for us. There was a lineup to get into the club and we just went over the song over and over and over again while we waited. We must have looked like the biggest dorks, but it paid off. We got on stage and we didn’t forget any lines and frankly, we killed it. To this day, I still think we outperformed Maestro who was the special guest that night. Of course, our turn came way later in the evening and the crowd had thinned by that point. Worse, the subway system had long stopped running and some friends of mine had to drive her home. It was the last and best night of hip-hop karaoke I attended.
She once wrote an entire exam in rhyme. She got an A. It was apparently so good that her professor added it the course website (the link is long expired, unfortunately). I don’t know if this says more about her or about the quality of evaluation at the University of Toronto.
Angel would do this thing where you’d say something and she’d react by opening her eyes as wide as humanly possible. She would vary her expression depending on whether she approved or (as was often the case with me) disapproved. Regardless, in that brief moment between initial recognition and processing, what you just said seemed like the most important/intelligent/insulting/bewildering thing that was ever said.
I’ve been known to go off on a rant from time to time, usually ranging from harmlessly ignorant to wildly uninformed; occasionally entertaining. One of my best was about the Justin Bieber smash hit Baby or as I like to call it, “The Greatest Pop Song Ever Written”. I’ve never put this theory down in writing, so now is as good a time as any.
The song starts off with a simple piano bit that adds a touch of class to the proceedings followed by some unimaginative vocalization. The beat comes in and it’s impactful, but inoffensive. At this point, I’ve essentially described every dance pop song you’ve heard in the last 50 years, though you could substitute other instruments for the piano (electric guitar, violin, saxophone, etc.). Bear with me.
The lyrics are nothing to write home about, but they are affecting (especially for the target demographic) and thus, effective. The words could not be more thoughtless, a broad mix of age old epithets (You are my love, you are my heart) and modern phrases (Are we an item? Girl, quit playing). It is fluff, but what digestible fluff it is. Then we get to the chorus:
Baby, baby baby oooooh
Baby, baby baby noooo
Baby, baby baby oooooh
I thought you’d always be mine, mine…
That right there…sums up every love song you’ve ever heard in your entire life.
Baby, baby baby ooooh = I met someone and I’m in love
Baby, baby baby noooo = We’re having some problems
Baby, baby baby ooooh = Regardless of what happens, I’ll never forget him/her.
I thought you’d always be mine, mine = Generic longing
Compare to a section from Something by The Beatles:
You’re asking me will my love grow
I don’t know, I don’t know
You stick around now, it may show
I don’t know, I don’t know
Or Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers:
Lonely rivers flow to the sea, to the sea
To the open arms of the sea
Lonely rivers sigh, wait for me, wait for me
I’ll be coming home, wait for me
Is there really any difference? I could list a hundred songs with more powerful, clever, well thought out lyrics that follow the same structure and sentiment. Baby distills centuries of lyricism and poetry into a handful of nonsense utterances. It is brilliant.
A guest “rap” by Ludacris, in which he dishes out possibly the weakest 16 bars ever heard on a mainstream song (when you rhyme “star-struck” with “Starbucks” you are no longer qualified to be a hip-hop artist) somehow makes the song more irresistible. A better verse might actually have distracted from this tightly manufactured concoction. Even after going on this spiel multiple times (verbatim, mind you), I’m still not sure whether I’m kidding or not.
When I finally got around to sharing this with Angel, she wasn’t sure whether or not to take me seriously. We were hanging out at Sonic Boom and she was half-listening to me, half-scrolling through rows of discarded discs…then it happened. Someone had overheard our conversation. He gave me a nod and said, “You know what? This guy is right!” Then he walked away. I’ll never forget the look on Angel’s face. She’d always humoured me, but never had she seen a third party actually step in and confirm that my deranged thoughts actually had any merit. I could see the chill running down her spine. She was absolutely mortified. It is a precious moment that I brought up constantly and will hold on to forever.
One time, Angel and I had this exchange:
Me: I think they should make more “hip-hoperas”.
Angel: I didn’t even watch that first one. What was it called?
A: Who was in it?
M: Beyoncé. Uh…that black guy.
A: Oh, that black guy. In a hip-hopera, that really narrows it down.
M: It’s that guy, uh, he was in…shit. He was in Dawn Of The Dead.
A: Didn’t see it.
M: Shit. Okay, it’s that guy. Not Taye Diggs. Not Omar Epps.
A: Mekhi Phifer?
She was the best.
If you’ve ever hung around my friend William and me for more than five minutes, you’ve undoubtedly heard us espouse the virtues of the cinema classic Van Helsing. If you’ve never seen it, it’s about how a monster hunter played by Hugh Jackman travels to Transylvania to fight Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein. That premise alone doesn’t sound too horrible, but the movie takes itself too seriously and it is absolutely immaculate in its incompetence. Anyway, we’ve watched it many times and we never shut up about it. What you don’t know is that we viewed the film separately before commiserating on its awfulness. It was Angel who saw it with me first.
I wouldn’t say I tricked Angel into watching it, because I assumed that she had the same expectations I did. However, it was only halfway through the movie (probably around the time Van Helsing is doing a SICK “fall away from some flames while spinning and firing two guns at the same time” move) that she nudged me and said something to the effect of “What the fuck did you drag me into?” After the movie was finished and she got over her outrage, we spent hours going over the mind-numbing details.
“He dedicated the movie to his father.” I said.
“Did he hate his father or something?” She replied, not missing a beat.
That started off a long tradition of us going out of our way to watch bad movies. When my friend Gary went to Guatemala for six weeks, it was Angel who picked up the slack and accompanied me to see Transformers. We were disappointed by the dullness of Stealth and pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to make fun of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1. The only movie that came close to Van Helsing was Doomsday. I went back through my writings and saw a review I did of the film (hardly worth mentioning), which ended with these thoughts:
“…she suggested that we wander the city for a while. I don’t think we went anywhere too out of the way, but almost every place is new to me and I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather have accompany on one of these aimless jaunts.”
As in charge of her life as she was, there was a lot of turmoil there too. She was someone who would shout at the world and not flinch when it shouted back. But I could see it taking a toll on her. It took a while, but I figured out the most important thing I could offer her: peace. She could always come to me when she needed to settle down or step away from her daily trials. We had big plans for this one outing but we were both recovering from recent illnesses so we decided to take a break at Innis College. The afternoon was perfectly wasted as we went upstairs and ended up taking a nap together. A similar thing happened when she stayed at my house in the dreaded suburbs. She’d been having problems with a boyfriend and family and I thought a little tender loving care was all she needed. I was ready to listen to her all night, but we ended up falling asleep around relatively early. She didn’t need to talk about all that stuff. She just needed to rest.
Is there such thing as a “professional orange squeezer”? Like, if you were really rich, could you hire someone with freakishly strong hands and arms to make delicious, pulpy juice for you at a whim? When I first brought this up to Angel, she indulged me for at least half an hour, even furthering the question with intelligent and disturbing inquiries (and yes, man or woman they’d obviously be shirtless). It became a dumb gag that would often spring up when I was forced to improvise, adding something different to the story every time as is customary with any good joke. One time she asked me about “Tavish McSqueezie” and I had no idea what she was talking about. She insists that’s the name I came up with for my hypothetical employee, but I swear that that was her invention. It should come as no surprise that neither of us was in any hurry to claim it.
The day after my birthday I had lunch with Angel who had forgotten the date and honestly, we’d made plans to meet a week before and I didn’t even think about it myself. She even let me pay for lunch, which she definitely would not have if she knew it was my birthday (but would be justified anyway as I will explain later). Angel remembered that my birthday was sometime this month and when she asked me for the exact day, I just deflected the question. Later, by rummaging through some e-mails, she apparently discovered the date and called me that night.
“Fuck you! Happy birthday, you asshole!”
I only wish you could hear the emotion with which that was said, but alas, it shall remain mine and mine alone. Now, in both our defenses, the only reason she forgot is because I didn’t tell her and the only reason I decided to pay for our meal that day is because we also went out the week of her birthday a couple of months ago and she paid for dinner that night. In brief, we both treated each other to birthday meals, just on our own birthdays. We’ve always been unorthodox in our methods and I don’t see why we would handle such a trivial ritual any differently.
Am I forgiven, Angel?
Joni Mitchell comes to mind. When she was living with Graham Nash, he wrote the song Our House. It’s a good one, written with warmth and humour. Nash was amused by the sight of Mitchell playing the pretty housewife, cleaning up and planting flowers in the yard. She was an unlikely candidate for domesticity.
For Angel, it was Mushaboom. The Feist-penned song conveys the charming struggles that come with city living and the desire to escape to some quaint hovel at the end of a dirt road. I couldn’t tell you if Angel ever wanted that sort of life for herself. She loved the city; parts of it anyway. We both thought that it was a brilliant song that happened to encapsulate that nameless desire that is always just out of reach.
We auditioned for Canadian Idol together. I wonder how many people she told about that. It was…nothing like you see on television. We’d gone on the last possible day so there was almost no line-up; presumably, the best of the best Toronto singers had already come and gone and only the truly exceptional talents would be making it now. I decided to give it a shot anyway and Angel kept me company.
We weren’t part of the same audition group unfortunately, but I could kind of hear her and I know for sure that she was in there with the producers a lot longer than I was. “She’s showing them what’s what now,” I thought. Afterwards, she told me that they had her sing a couple of times and that they passed because she didn’t look comfortable singing without her guitar (why would they let people bring instruments then?). A silly, self-obsessed part of me chooses to believe that they wanted her but she declined because she didn’t want to make me feel bad (not to mention she hated the whole concept). That’s the sort of thing she would do.
There was this one perfect day her and I spent at the Harbourfront, sometime after her cousin Johann died. He’d committed suicide, which was something I struggled to understand. I had a cousin who had done the same and to this day I get frustrated thinking about it. Angel, as always, was understanding to the point that I thought she was being naive. We had a discussion (we never argued) about it and she explained to me how it was possible to feel so helpless, so powerless to affect the things in your life that are infringing upon your happiness that self-termination seems like a perfectly reasonable option. I refused to accept it, but for the first time since my cousin’s death, I at least came close to sympathizing with him.
Anyway, that’s not why I bring that episode up. At some point during our walk, Angel decided to sit down on the edge of the dock and let her feet dangle. I didn’t join her for a variety of reasons: I was scared someone might push me. I was scared I might slip and fall in. I was scared my shoes might drop off and into the water below. She wasn’t scared of anything. Eventually I did sit down next to her and I even swung my legs a little. That was one of Angel’s gifts. She helped me overcome a fear of something silly and small, but she could instill courage in anyone at anytime about anything. One of the most common fears people have is expressing themselves, especially in public, but I don’t know how many friends she convinced to get up on a stage somewhere to read a poem or sing their hearts out. Angel was fearless and she had the power to make you fearless too.
It has taken me longer to finish writing this than I thought it would. As cliché as it sounds, I guess I worry that when I’ve processed or exorcised all of these disparate fragments that that will be the end of it; there will be nothing left to say and I’ll have to move on. What if I can’t recall every story or what if I’m remembering them wrong? I know that doesn’t really matter.
The wonderful thing is that as close as our relationship was, I’m certain that you could ask any of her friends or family about her and they’d have just as many personal and intimate and funny stories about her. What she and I had was unique and yet it’s also something I have in common with everyone else she welcomed into her life. Paradoxical. I wrote all of this to make myself feel better and to capture a fraction of what made Angel such an incredible creature and, perhaps most importantly, to communicate her power to bring people together. I’m a recluse by nature and she was all about inclusion. That attitude was apparent in her charity work, which I was always reluctant to participate in. I would show up when the cause piqued my curiosity. That was one of the rare times she became upset with me, when I refused to sign some petition that she brought around. Eventually she grew to respect my reasons, but it was hard work.
In turn, I respected her diligence, never telling her to slow down or take it easy even though everyone knew that would be good for her. We might never be able to convince each other (she rarely admitted she was wrong about anything), but we would listen to each other. I respected her. I loved her. With all my heart, I truly, truly loved her and it feels so good to say it. I never took our friendship for granted. One time (more than once, likely), as we were parting I hugged her and said, “I love you, you know that?” With most people, the words would have been caught in my throat but they were spoken with ease. She said she loved me too. I’ll be telling Angel stories for the rest of my life.