The first time I laid eyes on Otep Shamaya was at Ozzfest in the early 2000’s. It may have been ’01, but it also may have been ’02. Frankly, I used to go to a lot of concerts—as many festivals as I could every summer for wandering around discovering new bands, plus lots of concert halls, clubs, and dive bars—so it’s hard for me to pin down when it was that I first heard OTEP, or COLD, or so many others that don’t really matter to me anymore, while those two still do mean the world to me. I’m rambling, aren’t I? Shit.
I was standing off to the left side of the stage that was set up in what was normally a parking lot, except that the boundaries of Sandstone Amphitheater would be expanded for Ozzfest, Warped Tour, and other such festivals to make room for third, fourth, or fifth stages. I remember the tent nearby behind me was a man selling hats for dreads and I’d bought one for mine. I watched the stage being set up for the next band. The schedule said OTEP. I’d never heard of them, but that was why I was there—to find new bands to listen to. I saw a petite blonde woman in a red bandana cross the stage. I remember thinking how cool it was that this band had a female roadie. She set out some props and adjusted the mic stand. I assumed it was for sound check, but then the band started to play.
I was blown away. I stood there stunned, but overjoyed. This tiny woman on stage was not a roadie—she was the lead singer. And she had some pipes. Deep, resonating roars emitted from her lips, through the PA system, and down to the depths of my very soul. The crowd was loving it, and so was I. I fought my way closer as she screamed her rage, as she thrust a bloody pig’s head into the air, as she tore at her hair. I had to be closer. I had to see her face, to know who she was so that I would recognize her again. When she smiled, she was beautiful. When she sang, she was oozing agony and fury. I knew from that first set—even from the first song—that I had found a new band to follow. It was love at first listen.
Roughly fifteen years later, I’m still in love with the music of OTEP. Hers is the only lyrical music I can listen to when I’m writing. Otherwise, I’m listening to classical music with no lyrics whatsoever. I guess that’s why her words find their way into my stories. Usually, it’s just a hint or a nod, something that only a fan like myself would even get. To others, my tiny, obscure OTEP references are probably just white noise.
But there was once, years ago, when I couldn’t get away with just a reference or a vague tip of my hat to her. I had to use Otep’s words. I had to weave her and one of her songs into a story I was writing because it fit. It was right there in front of me. Call it kismet if you must. But I was writing, her music was on shuffle, and Stay began to play. It was the perfect moment in the story I was writing. The protagonist was feeling conflicted—should she stay with her husband, for whom she’d developed a great love, or should she return to the arms of her soulmate, with whom she’d shared countless lifetimes together? She wanted the soulmate to stay, but she also wanted him to go away because his presence hurt her family. It also hurt her, because she felt so torn between them. Even the setting was perfect for them to “overhear” Otep singing this song. So I wove it into my story. And there it stayed for years.
But now that story is a book. It’s going to be published in less than three months. I’ve never asked for permission to use her lyrics. If I don’t get it soon, I’m fucked and I have to re-write the whole chapter, paraphrasing her perfect words, butchering her beautiful poetry. I feel like such an asshole. I’m a fucking idiot for forgetting that was in there, until I heard Stay a few days ago. Moron. Dumbass. What the fuck… I can’t let my favorite musician/artist/poet sue me for infringed rights!
I wrote to Otep the only way I could find—I sent her a Facebook message. I got a reply-bot half a second later, telling me I should watch the video that I'd spent hours watching the last few days, and thus effectively marking my message to Otep as read. Awesome. My heartfelt plea, my brief explanation of how drastically she changed my life for the better back in the early days, my borderline begging for permission to use her words in my novel, would now just sit there, forever unread by a human, until the server rots or explodes or becomes sentient and decides to delete it’s useless files full of fan mail. I panicked and backed away for a while to contemplate what to do next. I sent another message, hoping that the bot would not keep replying. I asked for my message to please not be ignored, and I believe this may have remarked it as unread. I hope so.
I hope and pray with every single bit of me that she will allow me the use of a few lines from two different verses, plus a part of the chorus. Without permission, I have to name the song and the artist, and I can only quote two lines. But what is two lines? “Stay. No, go away.” Is that two lines? What if it’s repeated several times? What if in the lyrics I look up, there are several periods in one line? What if in the listed lyrics, there is one sentence that spans more than two “lines?” What if a line is only one word? Does that mean I can say only two words of the song?
A few days after my initial Facebook message, I got a reply from an admin, suggesting that I tweet at her since she does her own Twitter, but not her own Facebook. I’ve done this before, and she’s even answered me before. But I haven’t heard back from her yet. Every day I’m afraid that I won’t. I’ve already re-written the passage, using only two lines and paraphrasing the rest, explaining the words through the filter of Hope’s feelings. It’s not nearly as good. It doesn’t have the same impact. But, it might have to do if I never hear back from her, or if she says no. Maybe, because that song was released under a previous label, she doesn’t have the right to give me permission. I just don’t even know and that is a horrible feeling.
All I can do for now is hope. I’m scheduling this blog to be posted a few days after I’ve finished it. I hope that in that few days of time, I get a reply and I can add an update. If I never hear back from her, I suppose my book will go to print without her beautiful, perfect words to help me explain Hope’s struggle. Such is life, yes? One can’t always get what they want, or even what they need.