Recently, it has felt like a daily battle to hold on to the parts of myself that I love the most—my creativity, ability to connect, sense of adventure, and, most of all, my belief in magic. I’ve fretted that the spark that has always flickered in me has dimmed.
I work for a start-up and, as is often the case with start-ups, the workload is intense. Not only is it a lot of hours, but my work requires my brain to be firing quickly and on all cylinders, whether it’s because I’m interviewing people or writing. Doing this for hours on end every day with no break is challenging, to say the least. And this is just the work part of my life, which isn’t even the most important part because, of course, Izzy.
A few weeks ago, I was asked to do some writing for a show that a band I wrote a book about several years ago was playing at the Apollo. The concert was being held to celebrate the anniversary of their magnum opus album. I had no time to work on this, but I still jumped at the chance. I love working with these guys—they bring out the very best in me, are undistilled good energy, and remind me of all the happy, magical times I spent writing their book. Aside from all of this, buying that album as a 12-year-old girl is a memory that will remain etched in my mind forever. It marked a turning point in my life. It was the beginning of a story that continues to this day. I love this band, both for who they are as individual people, and for what they’ve done for me personally and professionally.
So, I worked a little bit harder. I got up at 4:30 in the morning to get in some extra writing time, and I interviewed all of them one-by-one for the first time in several years.
It was as if I woke up. I could feel my creativity and enthusiasm start to flow in ways they haven’t for a long time. Bantering with them reminded me of who I am when I’m at my best. Hearing their memories took me back to another place and time.
That was going to be the end of that. Then, at the last minute, I found myself on a plane en route from California to New York to attend the actual show.
It was a maniacal weekend—the kind of adventure I used to have all the time, but haven’t experienced in quite a while. I hopped off of a red-eye flight to be greeted by my friend, Jen, who traveled with me all over the world while I wrote a book about another band. Everything Jen and I did always veered a little off course (and, sometimes, a lot off course), leaving us to flounder around in bizarre situations far from home, like sprinting across highways in Rome in the middle of the night. This time was no different. We spent a delirious day running around Manhattan like mad women, trying to put out unanticipated fires as everything went insane around us. At first I was frustrated—then I realized how perfect the scenario was, and that there was no one better to be with in that moment.
The next day, my friend Celia rolled in. We first met many years ago while working at Random House, and spent our time alternately working like crazy women and wandering around Manhattan and Hoboken, with our adventures usually culminating in a bottle of wine in the park. We strolled around Central Park, like we used to do on our lunches at Random House or en route to my old place on the Upper West Side. We rolled by Random House and loitered right outside of the revolving front doors, where we spent way too many hours of our life taking smoke breaks. We crossed the street to McGee’s, where we used to scrape together our extra money for after-work drinks and nachos. All of it was surprisingly the same, even all these years later. It felt amazing to re-tread territory that felt far more warm and inviting than I would have anticipated.
That night, Celia and I headed up to Harlem to the Apollo. Celia has never seen this band play and couldn’t even pick out a band member for the life of her, so it was hilarious to see her indoctrinated in such an extreme situation. I am accustomed to seeing the band play in stark, bright arenas, so it was an entirely new and thrilling experience to lumber down the dark, tight staircase of the Apollo and find ourselves in a sparse, low-ceilinged backstage where everyone was jammed in like sardines. You could feel the energy pulsating off the guys as they wrapped their heads around being back at this theatre in this way thirty years after they turned it out on Amateur Night, marking a turning point in their career and putting them in the company of greats, like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, and Jimi Hendrix. It was impossible not to think about what must have been going through their heads thirty years ago on Amateur Night, and how much life has been lived since then.
Stepping out into the theatre before the show started was a life moment. The Apollo looks like I had imagined it, although somehow smaller, more kinetic, and grittier. The room was hot and alive with energy. The band exploded onto the stage as the bass thrummed deep in my chest, and the crowd exploded right back, until you couldn’t even remember where the boom had originated from. Every now and then, I caught a glimpse of Celia next to me, looking at everything around her, stupefied.
And then, during the most emotional moment of the show, the band’s lead singer said, “No one has ever really told our true story, except for Nikki Van Noy.” That’s me. I could almost feel my blood stop flowing for a split second. I stared at Celia to make sure I had heard right. “That’s you!” she screamed over the din. In that moment, it was almost like the 12-year-old version of me walked right up next to the 40-year-old version of me and grasped my hand, marveling at how far we’d come. At how many dreams we’d made come true, with nothing more than sheer effort, hard work, and a little bit of luck.
The vibe after the show was almost giddy. Backstage, you could simultaneously feel a buzz and a collective sigh of relief about the magic that had just transpired on that stage, where so many others have succeeded and many more have failed. The lead singer pulled me over to him and said, “I had a couple of Nikki Van Noy moments onstage.” “Shut up,” I replied, jabbing him in the ribs. “No, I did,” he told me, “I knew you were out there, and every time I told a story I was like, ‘Shit, is Nikki fact-checking me?’” I felt a huge surge of love and pride at being a small part of something much, much bigger than myself.
We lingered on the loading dock as the crew loaded out the show. Finally, I said, “I gotta go get pizza.” “Pizza?” my favorite band member said, “I want pizza!” So, a gang of us headed off drunkenly (some of us literally and some of us not) to Chelsea and overtook a pizza shop, much to the dismay of the owner.
The next day, Celia and I had big plans to meet up with the third member of our old trio, Maria, and hit the town. Exhausted, the three of us ended up lounging in the hotel room all day, emerging only when food was required. People like to say they “laughed so hard they cried.” That day, I literally did. That kind of aching, can’t-catch-your-breath laughter that stems from incomplete sentences, an off-side glance, and a sort of short-hand gibberish that would mean nothing to anyone eavesdropping on our conversation.
We talked about serious things, too. We talked about where we’re going, and where we’ve been. We talked about the things we want to change in both pie-in-the-sky and very logistical ways. We dreamed, which is what the three of us do. And then we did the other thing the three of us do, which is begin to figure out how to put those dreams into action.
I spent just a few, short days with the people who know me best. With the people who saw me create somethings—big somethings—out of nothing. With the people who have seen me at my highest and lowest, who have seen me tear down my life and build it into something bigger and better several times over. With the people to whom all of the chaos of the past few years is nothing more than a blip on the radar.
With the people who can—and did—reignite my spark.