Japanese Breakfast at the Mill


@ The Mill, Iowa City

When I found out Michelle Zauner was playing at the Mill, I was pretty surprised. I snagged those tickets real fast but I was even more surprised that she didn't sell out until the week of. I've been a fan for a little while (probably only since early spring of last year, shortly after Jay Som became my most overplayed artist on Spotify, but I didn't know her when she was Little Big League). She blew up rather quickly. It was kind of amazing to see her perform at such a small venue compared to where she has been performing lately. What was fun about the whole thing was how I had also seen Jay Som open for a larger band at the Mill before and at one point in time they both toured together.

Zauner captured me in a different way, though. I can't explain how excited I was to have stood only 2 feet in front of her during that entire show. It felt kind of strange — not in a surreal way, but like I knew her more than she intended for me to. It felt like I was watching a close friend. You see, when you find out someone has lost a parent like you have, there's an immediate connection with that person and you just "get it".

There's this great article written about her that basically confirmed my suspicions that we are very much alike; in grief, feelings about death, thanatophobia, in the way we view our work and life, and how we both feel like we are grasping for the tattered threads of our cultural weaves that we see unraveling before us — as if the woven cords were only kept together by our mothers. We are alike in how we developed an over-appreciation for food in loss and, though our food vocabulary in our native tongue is strong, we are missing something larger that would make our cultural experience feel whole and complete.

When she wrote Crying in H Mart for the New Yorker (exactly one month ago today, actually), I fucking lost it. What a beautiful piece. I read it at work and I had to escape to the bathroom about halfway through it to shed a few tears before re-emerging as a slumped, puffy, shell of a person. I felt exhausted, but not in a terrible way. You know that feeling after having a good cry? I shared many of her same sentiments and I can say I know exactly how she feels when she talks about her irrational anger and arbitrary triggers. Grief truly comes and goes in waves. I'll be walking past a salon and smell someone getting a perm and completely lose it (my mom used to get perms). The breakdowns are hard. They never come with a warning and they often arrive when I'm not even searching for her.

So did I cry? If I did, it was with my jaws clenched during, "Till Death" or reflecting over how her music is actually grief transformed. UGH. Japanese Breakfast was a great show. Michelle looks so happy when she performs with her enthusiastic jumping and climbing, all smiles — a reassuring reminder that life moves on. Bonus: she also has a contagious laugh! I appreciate her as a musician, an Asian-American artist, and as a person who has gone though a lot of tough shit. She is warm and full of energy and she makes you want to dance through your tears.