Birthday Party Playlist (Or Sorry for Partying)

A few weeks ago I was on a mission to appreciate my neighborhood. I was trying to make peace with living somewhere I wanted to escape so I started wandering the streets in search of inspiration. A few blocks from my place, I came across this carved into the sidewalk.

Hollywood sidewalk on Dogs Dishes and Decor

Today, it sort of seems fitting somehow.

See, my birthday is Saturday…. and today is the 10-year anniversary of Kristin Connor’s death.

I had only met Kristin a few months before we lost her, but time doesn’t always feel relevant in the face of loss. Kristin was our friend Angela’s best friend from high school. She he had recently relocated to LA from Michigan, and we welcomed her into our displaced Midwestern family immediately. There was just something about Kristin… I can’t really describe it. She was warm. She was real. And I liked her right away. Talking to her was easy, and it was almost as if I had known her for years.

Two days before my birthday, she was killed in a car accident.

The summer of 2003 was maybe the best and worst of my life for so many reasons. And my birthday party that year was a blowout never to be forgotten.

We were celebrating. We were mourning. And OMIGOD, we were annoying the neighbors.

That day we were coming together — and we were saying goodbye. It was my birthday party.  It was Angela’s going away party.

And maybe most of all?

It was Kristin Connor’s wake.

Partiers on Dogs Dishes and Decor

Part of the 17th Street Birthday Party Crew. Santa Monica, cira 2003.

So today as I think about the friend our family lost, I want to tell a whole bunch of Michigan kids how much they mean to me.

See, it struck me as I was perfecting the playlist for my upcoming birthday party that so many of the songs on it reminded me of members of my Michigan crew. Many of them will be at my (much more civilized) birthday this year. Many will not.

But either way?

I’m thankful for them and maybe I don’t really say it enough.

So, here it goes:

Chamillionaire’s Ridin’ is for Melissa. It reminds me of the days we were rolling through Hollywood in her dirty Volvo while painting our toenails on the dashboard. Melissa has been by my side for so many birthdays, so many movie premieres… and so many goodbyes. Together we’ve mourned her Beagle, my first Spaniel, our grandfathers, my grandmother, our mentor, my cousin, Kristin Connors, and her father. We’ve laughed through the tears and we’ve danced through the pain — sometimes at Barney’s Beanery and The Bungalow — where they don’t even have dance floors.

Lyke Li’s Little Bit is for Nicole. She put it on one of the many amazing mixes she has made me over the years. It’s for all the dinner parties we’ve thrown together. For breaking into my apartment to do my dishes after I sliced my thumb instead of an eggplant. For knowing how to make me feel so special on my birthday. For her generous heart — and her kind spirit.

Juvenile’s Back that Azz Up is for my panda, Sarah. It reminds me of our last summer in Ann Arbor. We used to open the sunroof of her Explorer and absolutely blast the song while driving past civilized restaurants on Main Street during dinner hour. This song is for standing by my side at my grandfather’s funeral. For asking me to be in her wedding. For helping me out of a pair of capris with a broken zipper in a TJ Maxx dressing room. For giving me perspective on what really matters. And for years of love, laughter, and loyalty.

Kesha’s Tik Tok is for Kelley. We put it on our Camarillo Road Trip Playlist and listened to it A LOT while we were stuck in gridlock and she was carsick beyond belief. It’s for the endless talk that first night we met in the Pi Phi basement — the talk that led to so many more. It’s for being my senior spring break travel partner. For skipping chapter to watch Monty Python with me. For asking me to be her only Michigan bridesmaid. And For standing by my side for 16 years… no matter what.

Lee Brice’s Friends We Won’t Forget is for Anna. It’s for sharing her story and really, really listening to mine. It’s for pushing me to do a few more push ups. For making me change my make up, my clothes, and my hair. For our dinner parties. For reminding me how much I love country music. And for just knowing when I need a hug.

Britney’s Toxic is for Ryan. It’s for all the good talks we had about our grandpas — and for taking care of me the day after I lost mine. For teaching me about birdies, eagles, and albatrosses. For legal services rendered. And for knowing I needed to hear a little Britney on a bad day at the office.

Westside Connection’s Lights Out  is for Josh. It brings me back to the days of our endless wandering through the aisles of Amoeba Records. The days when he’d drive across LA at midnight just to watch Diggstown with me. The days of batting cages and Brett Ratner’s driver incessantly interrupting our Indian dinners. It’s for always stepping up — even when it was risky.

Huey Lewis and the News’ Do You Believe in Love is for Michael and Jody. It’s for all the support, advice, and sous chef work over the years. It’s for making me believe everything works out for the best. For showing me what it’s like to be a really great team. For including me in the Cycle for Survival in memory of Jody’s mom. And for making me a part of their family every Christmas. I’m proud to share a birthday with their son Connor who will turn one on Saturday.

JT’s SexyBack is for Katy who also celebrates a birthday this Saturday and loves her a little JT. It’s for getting me out of my house while I was helplessly waiting for my grandpa to die. It’s for finding a new home for my dog. For making our birthday special every year. For listening. And for pushing me to do the tough stuff.

Yolanda Be Cool versus DCup’s We No Speak No Americano is for Manning who played it in the car after my birthday in the ‘bu — and before he really became my friend. It’s for introducing me to Anna… and making sure we hung out. It’s for making me like lamb, calling me out on the mayonnaise to yolk ratio in my deviled eggs, and for making me laugh while we were covered in gum. It’s for always showing up when and where he said he would. And it’s for making the tough talks somehow seem easy.

Soulja Boy’s Kiss Me Through the Phone is for Angela who lost the most on August 1. The song will forever remind me of her husband singing it to her in the streets of Hollywood. It’s for the great talks we’ve had about life, death, and design. It’s for being one of the few people on the planet who understands why I come so unraveled over college football. And it’s for introducing me to Kristin.

David Guetta’s Memories is for Kristin Connors herself. It just seems fitting.

And The Victors is for everyone.

Oh, and by the way, I’m not sorry for partying. I am a little sorry about all that Lil’ Jon we played, but I will never apologize for cutting loose with some of the best people I know. I can’t wait to do it again soon.

Remembering Kathy Fogg (Or My Stark Family Mourns the Loss of Our Matriarch)

My friend Suzie* once said, “Some people are poems. Others are symphonies.” And I absolutely believe it to be true.

Both art forms can bring tears — or elation. Both can move you beyond measure. Both have the power to transform. One may be briefer than the other but that does not diminish its impact. Not in the least.

My grandfather was my symphony, maybe the most influential and inspirational I’ve ever known.

Kathy Fogg was my poem. A poem that changed my life.

Kathy was the Associate Director of the Peter Stark Producing Program at the University of Southern California for 23 years, and during that time she launched (and nurtured) innumerable powerful Hollywood careers. She passed away on Friday, and upon learning this news I have been reflecting on all I have in my life because of her.

My grandfather gave me his DNA — and the family that made me the person I am today.

Kathy gave me a chance — and the industry family that has been by my side through the soaring highs and immeasurable lows of my career.

I first met Kathy in 2000 when I was applying to the Peter Stark Program. I still remember what I wore to our meeting that day. I still remember our conversation.

After telling me about the curriculum, we moved on to talking about ourselves. Amidst other small talk, she mentioned she had made a student film with George Lucas as an undergraduate. She smiled, shrugged rather nonchalantly and said, “He’s moved on since then.” Looking at the smiling faces in the family photos lining her bookshelves and her desk, I replied, “So have you.”

Not only did Kathy have her own wonderful family, but she also created the family feeling of the Peter Stark Program. (A program named for the late son of legendary producer, Ray Stark.)

I am sad to say I hadn’t seen Kathy since she retired, but I feel her impact on my life. Daily. She (and prolific producer Larry Turman) gave a girl from Michigan the chance to sit in a room with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. And she gave me the friends who have been by my side in a business not necessarily known for loyalty and integrity. The people who have given me jobs, hugs, support, and big bottles of wine — the people for whom I have done the same. The people who understand the moments of torment and triumph everyone experiences in the crucible of show business.

Kathy saw something in me. She believed in me. She made the call that changed my life that winter day when she told me I had been given one of the 25 coveted spaces in the program.

During the two years the 25 of us spent with Kathy, she made us cookies. She gave us hugs. She made us laugh. She helped us find the jobs and internships that took us to the next level.

The Producing Class of 1994 was so powerful it inspired a New York Times feature in 2002. And that powerful class? Still remembered where they came from. They hired three of us from the class of 2003. Because Family? Takes care of their own.

Some have called the graduates of the program the Stark Mafia. To that I would say, “Isn’t a mafia just a really powerful family, anyway?”

Larry Turman has often told me they select the people who would have been successful without the program, and that may very well be true. But our lives are all much richer for having each other in them.

Kathy Fogg may not have had a Film Produced By credit on any Oscar-winning films. But she has countless Careers Produced By Credits. Lives Changed By Credits.

As I remember Kathy, I am grateful for the chance she gave me, but most of all for the people she brought into my life. Because I can say with absolute certainty that without those true friends and my faith I would have left this business long ago.

photo-360 photo-359

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the batting cages to hit something. Hard. Because I need to do something with my sadness. At least today in remembering what Kathy saw in me, remembering the friends she gave me, I feel strong enough to hit balls by myself. Strong enough to hit a home run. Even if it is with tears in my eyes.

*Suzie is one of those true friends I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for Kathy. And Suzie said that when we were at SXSW with Melissa, another true friend and fellow member of the class of 2003.