Life, Interrupted: The Performer

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Why you should care

Because music might just be the magic you need to change everything.

“When we’re born, we’re like these little orbs of light that are pure. You don’t know anything; you’re just existing. Then, other people and situations kind of snuff out that orb of purity in us. You have to hold on to your light. … I remember clear as day, I was 12 or 13, I told myself that I was never going to let anybody make me feel small again.”

Years ago in an old Craftsman-style house in rural Michigan, Hether Fortune spent her teenage years angry at the world.

“I was a hardcore vegetarian, animal rights activist, anarchist, anti-religion, anti-authority and very dissatisfied,” Hether says. “I basically spent my teen years in my bedroom. My bedroom was my world.” Her teen years overlapped with the Bush years and her family, who is Lebanese, was targeted after 9/11.

“My brothers would be called things like towelhead, as well as several other harsh names at school. I didn’t like where I lived, or the state of the country. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere,” Hether says. “I had a lot of trauma from my childhood dealing with abuse and neglect. I was so angry, and I definitely channeled that through music. I started doing that at a very young age. I realized that I could go inward and take all of my pain and my anger and put it into something that would help me deal with it.”

Under a slanted ceiling covered in band posters lit by black lights and lava lamps, Hether started channeling her ass off. She’d follow family members around at gatherings, asking them to teach her whatever they played. “I’d learn from watching or hearing,” Hether says. “That grew into harmonizing to singers on the radio, to collecting records and playing the guitar and drums, to summer camps for music … and I just never stopped.”

Hether’s first musical performance was her sixth-grade talent show, where she performed “Hit Me Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears. So nervous that she tripped over the mic cord, Hether learned the importance of the phrase “The show must go on.” “I think I just had a strong desire to express myself,” Hether says, reflecting on her younger self’s performance.

“I just wanted attention that was positive. I received a lot of attention when I was a child that was very negative and made me feel awful about myself. I think that I internalized that so much that I started having this desire to draw another type of attention to myself to balance that out. I was probably just thinking, ‘This is my opportunity to feel good about myself, to entertain people and make people smile or laugh or see that I have something to offer that’s good.’ I needed some kind of feedback that would make me feel good about myself.”

After years of playing in miscellaneous bands, Hether started the band that she is currently part of: Wax Idols. “I first started writing music just because I was compelled to. I never expected anyone to care about anything I did … but when I started Wax Idols, it very quickly started getting attention from other people,” Hether says.

There was one show she remembered in particular. “One girl who was around 13 years old would come to all of our shows in LA. I started seeing her over and over again and eventually, she worked up the courage to just come talk to me and tell me how much the band meant to her. I was so blown away. In her face, I saw the same look that I used to have when I was her age going to shows, and I would go and try to talk to the singer, but it’s hard to express that feeling of gratitude. In that moment, I instantly saw the connection between her and me and I somehow ended up on the other side of the conversation. That was so meaningful for me. I felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself for the first time, and it totally changed my life.”

This article has been updated to correct a misquote.

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