My Cousin The Rock Star

Written by Guest Contributor, Sasha Motalygo

Did you ever wonder what happened to the leads in your high school production of Grease? Did the jock playing Kenickie make a future in Hollywood sitcoms? Did that á¹»ber-talented Junior playing Rizzo go on to Broadway fame? If not, perhaps you should have been looking past the leads to the members of the chorus. There, clustered in the middle of poodle-skirted teens, was my cousin, Anya Marina.

The author (left) with Anya Marina (right) in San Francisco

Today, Anya Marina is in that rarefied group of singer-songwriters talented and fortunate enough to make a living at their craft. Last week I was in attendance when she headlined at The Hotel Utah in San Francisco . While not a household name, you have probably heard her songs on TV shows like Gray’s Anatomy and Tostitos commercials not to mention the Twilight Saga: New Moon soundtrack. How did she go from being a chorus girl in a high school production of Grease to this level of accomplishment?

It started in San Diego , where I visited Anya ten years ago. She had just graduated from coffee shop gigs to small clubs, and during my visit, the performance that I witnessed at the Casbah was a blast: funny, raucous, quirky and sweet - just like Anya herself. Her songwriting was still in its incipiency. More off-kilter than her current set at the Utah, the Casbah set list included songs like Sociopath. And I distinctly remember certain lascivious songs whose lyrics were simply unprintable.

The author (left) and Anya (right)

The Hotel Utah is cramped and saturated with Barbary Coast hip. Repeatedly standing in the way of several waiters and patrons, I venture up the substantial wooden stairs to greet my coz’. She is sporting a black outfit and turquoise feather earrings. She introduces me to her colleague Gillian, a publicist. We glance down at the 12 X 12 foot stage below. “Do you know the warm up-acts?” I ask. “No,” Anya says, “they are local.”

Lately, I’ve been used to seeing Anya in larger venues opening for the likes of Jason Mraz and Chris Isaak with an audience of thousands, whereas the Utah has a capacity of 200. As Gillian asserts, however, it is better to headline at a small venue (like the Utah ) rather than to be the warm-up act for a widely known artist. Anya and I catch up on family news and a friend snaps a picture. This is the last stop of a one-month stint around the western states. She is happy to be heading home. She slips me and my friends free copies of her album titled Felony Flats (released on March 13th) named after a neighborhood in Portland where Anya now resides. After a quick application of crimson lipstick, she goes downstairs to greet fans before taking the stage.

Anya’s set is alternatively jubilant, haunting, reflective, wry and rabble-rousing. Before starting one song, Nothing to Go On, she relates the backstory of visiting an acupuncturist who tells her that she has too many memories, that her “soul’s wearing thin” and that her “heart sounds like a violin.” I instantly recognize the nod to the high demands of the music industry, even after achieving a certain level of success.

A tour a few years ago was wearing on her acutely, which deeply concerned our family. The gleeful, quiet giddiness of having a famous cousin gave way to the knowledge of her grueling schedule and its affect on her. Over the years she learned how to fight for a work-life balance, however, and this time around the tour affords her more time to rest. Tonight, she is radiant and relaxed with just a hint of road weariness.

Anya (left) and the author (right)

I marvel at Anya’s patience and endurance. She is surviving the marathon of achieving and maintaining prosperity as an artist. She may be the delicate pixie-voiced Indy singer, but within her is a self-wrought iron will.

After the concert, we hug and say our brief goodbyes. Listening to her CD in the car on the way home, I wonder what my cousin’s first day back in Portland will look like. I hope, above all, that she will she get plenty of sleep and well-deserved downtime. Peace is the Word; that’s the way it should be. Wha-ooo…yeah.

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Sasha Motalygo — Sasha was born in Moscow, Russia and immigrated to the United States in 1979. Her particular area of concern is raising a daughter in the 21st Century, its challenges in the face of prevalent gender-stereotyping and media saturation of traditional, passive female roles inexplicably still in existence. When not raising her own daughter, she is a musical theater performer whose credits include Hedwig and the Angry Inch (San Francisco premiere), Camelot starring Robert Goulet, My Fair Lady starring Jamie Farr, and regional credits including American Musical Theater of San Jose, 42nd Street Moon, San Francisco Pocket Opera and Symphony Silicon Valley. She holds a B.F.A. from the CAP 21 program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and is a member of the Actor’s Equity Association.