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When my friend invited me to go the to infamous Viper Room on the Sunset Strip to see a singer named Shirley Levi a few weeks back, I gladly accepted.
As we drove down the winding Sunset boulevard, past Hustler and the Comedy Store; past the Chateau Marmont; the House of Blues; the steady stream of taxicabs and valet lines; the outpouring of music, laughter, and voices; the smell of smoke and the glow of red lights, the huge billboards advertising Marciano or the latest blockbuster hit looming overhead from the hills – we finally arrived at the Viper Room.
What I like about the Strip is its authenticity. Many of these iconic venues are unrenovated – at least, not visibly so. They’re allowed to grow and breathe with their own tempo and rhythm, witness to the rise and fall of many stars. These places are living history – where decade after decade, artists have come to entertain their audiences, where lives are made and shattered, where dreams grow and evolve with blood, sweat and tears.
The Sunset Strip has glamour, certainly; but it is not shiny and new, like the clubs in Hollywood or West Hollywood where wannabes sip vodka cranberries, sitting at tables somebody else paid for, scanning the room for the odd celebrity. The Sunset Strip isn’t a sanitized glamour, groomed in a Beverly Hills or a Studio City boardroom, and then carefully pieced together to form an image for MTV music videos or VMA performances. The Strip throbs with life – the good and bad of it, and everything in between.
This is not apple-pie America, but it is America. It’s the America for those who are not afraid of stepping into the battleground of their own destiny and their souls. Some win. Some lose. But all fight on. All tackle their lives with a passion.
Nothing epitomizes this better than the Viper Room. And no one, as I soon would come to find out, epitomizes this better than Shirley Levi.
I was expecting some loud punk/heavy metal-ish/contemporary rock – you know, the kind you’ve heard thousands of times before. The kind that is good, but nothing special.
Shirley Levi was different. As my friend and I chatted over our Chardonnays, the black velvet curtains were drawn from the stage and Shirley greeted the crowd, backlit by a soft red glow. She was a punk rock-looking figure, in black leather pants, a black shirt, and white angel wings.
She started with with heartfelt anthem “Survive” about the struggle between following your heart and society and the people who would have you change to fit their mold.
She sang about following your dreams and never giving up with the upbeat “Bourgeois Peasant,” about struggles in love with “Loyalty,” and about her dear friend Anne Marie who has autism with the beautifully haunting ballad “Anne Marie.” She played on an acoustic guitar and performed from her heart. What struck me the most was she wasn’t just singing or performing. She wasn’t just acting the part of a rocker chick. She was completely genuine. You could feel her heart and soul through her music and her vocal; you could see her passion in her performance. This was real.
A Mix of Old and Contemporary
Her music is like punk rock with the classic influences of Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin. She also reminded be a bit of Alanis Morissette. Her melodies are complex and her voice is soft, mellow timbre. Her lyrics are speak from the heart, are at time humorous, always colorful, and – most importantly – are real. They come from her experiences; from her pain and joy, her fears and hopes, and the fabric of her soul.
Even more astonishing, Levi is completely self-taught. When people ask her when she knew she wanted to be a musician and a singer, she says that God gave her the gift and she was born singing. She also controls every aspect of her musical career – from writing her own lyrics and music, producing and directing her own music videos, and having complete control over image. She has refused to sell out and be anyone but herself.
Overcoming Obstacles to Find Herself
Her insistence on doing things her way takes a lot of strength and confidence – especially in a town like Hollywood. But Shirley Levi is no stranger to hardships and obstacles. She was born in Iran to Jewish-Iranian parents, and was just a small child when the Iranian Revolution broke out. They fled to Israel, where she had to adjust to a whole new country and language, only to leave once again after a few months for the United States. Once again, Levi found herself having to adjust to a completely different county and a completely different language. Once again, she stood out from the crowd.
As an immigrant myself, I understand how difficult that sometimes is. Even as a small child, you often find yourself trying to find the balance between your family’s culture and the culture of the country you call your home. And perhaps in that balancing act is where you find yourself the most; that perilous tightrope is where you learn what you don’t need and where you find the enormous strength inside of you to go on.
I think Shirley Levi has mastered that tightrope.
Activism: Music Can Save the World
Shirley feels very strongly about raising awareness for Autism, saying that people with autism can teach us a lot about life and love. She is passionate about helping to heal the world with her music; about inspiring others to live to their true potential and follow their hearts.
Corporate Kill Art Exhibit
She has an upcoming art exhibit in Hollywood that will showcase an outstanding new series called “Corporate Kill” which all about social and musical revolution. Shirley will also be spinning her music all night, as well as screening a video about getting her message that music can save the world to Oprah. The exact date and location has not been finalized yet, but will keep you updated.
She has had music featured on Indie 103.1 since 2011, appeared on Telemundo’s top morning show “De Todo Un Poco”, Azteca America’s “Entre Nous”, Indies in Motion (as guest and host), Aspiring Hollywood, Conversations Now Magazine, NME, Autism Radio (USA), ICAA Radio (USA), WROM Radio (USA), BEAT 102-10 (IRELAND), 420 BPM (GERMANY), RADIO 101 FM (ISRAEL), HARBOROUGH FM (UK), INDIECAN (CANADA), WAAF FM (USA), 101.9 KISS FM (USA) and others. See a full list at http://www.shirleylevi.com/radio
Live performances include The Viper Room, Avalon Hollywood, House of Blues Main Stage, Knitting Factory, Opium Den, Cinespace, Florentine Gardens, The Motorcity Music Conference (Detroit), Falcon Lounge, Les Deux, Eleven Nightclub, Crazy Girls and many other venues.
Edit: Shirley Levi plays an acoustic guitar, not an electric one as previously written.
Miracle Mile Video message to Oprah
Shirley Levi Official Website