"sometimes the blues is just a passing bird/and why can't that always be/tossing aside from your birches crown/just enough dark to see/how you're the light over me."
The Tallest Man on Earth, "Thrown At Me"
I don’t enjoy going to shows anymore.
There used to be an excitement of seeing someone that you connected with over the radio/cd player/Napster and it was pure magic to see them up close, playing for you, playing for a million other people, but playing for you, and you’d look over and see all of these kids be so intensely into whatever was happening on stage like you were witnessing something changing in them in front of your eyes which inherently reflected in you and you felt really connected with the whole mess of it all, the lights and the faint waft of devil’s lettuce and suuuuch cool merch. It was all something that made you feel less lonely.
Paul ruined it for me.
The first conversation I ever had with Paul was about Bright Eyes and yoga. Knowing this and knowing me, it’s obvious that we would be nuts about each other. Our early years were about making mixtapes and 6 years later, at least 3 times a week, we sit on the floor and watch baseball on mute, looking up songs we grew up on or just heard on the radio.
Me: “You know, that song about Camelot? With the saxophone? Here I’ll look it up.”
My mother was a musician and was lucky and talented enough to be a disc jockey for a local Christian radio station. I grew up being able to go to Christian concerts, having my pick of any cd I wanted, just as long as it wasn’t Mariah Carey’s Music Box. My whole family played music in church. We were Partridge without the bus. Music was in me without me having a lot of say in it. We cleaned to Harry Connick Jr and Beatles. We danced to Roy Orbison with brooms as guitars. We seat-danced to Queen in the car, washed the car to Beethoven. We sang to old Christmas LPS as my grandma’s Christmas dinner. We had a very meticulous soundtrack. It made just doing the dishes come alive and I feel like I remember so much more with a backbeat to it. This does not make me an authority, it just makes me appreciate it.
I don’t think it goes hand-in-hand that in order to like a musician you have to see them live. I’m a huge music fan; I just don’t enjoy going to shows, meaning at big venues with lots of eyeballs and sweat. And I hate crowds. Hate them. At 27, I’m much better at not being a crazyperson in public w/o mood enhancers when I have to deal with crowds, but the feelings are still there, I just hide them better. They freak me out: too many faces, too many bodies standing around, posing, and sometimes I wonder if they’ll ever move, if they exit signs with be free of all those strangers, if the room will ever empty and I feel like I’m holding my breath until they all leave. Unless it’s an outside concert, an obscure artist that Shane got me hooked on, or for friendrock, I usually don’t go to shows anymore. I can’t justify the money, I’m usually waiting for it to be over and I’m getting more and more annoyed with the fans. I have a much better “real” experience just listening to an album on vinyl with some really good friends or looking up a new artist with Paul while we’re trying to pretend we clean the house (“excuse the mess, we live here”). And I’m not a production person. I don’t care about the light show, I don’t care about the 5 minute guitar solo and if I can’t hear what you’re singing about for 2.5 hours, I frankly don’t care. And it’s really hard to have fun without Paul at a show as he knows why I have crazy eyes and how to ease them.
I went to Indianapolis to see Bon Iver play at the Murat. I wasn’t originally supposed to go, but a last minute cancellation that day happened and I offered to go to support the troops. I loved Bon Iver’s first album for it simplicity and nervousness but I wasn’t too jazzed about Volcano Choir, his EP or his latest album, and from what I learned today, Gayngs. Woof. The very reasons I loved his first album was his proposed honesty, but the latter sounds so boastful and bossy that I just can’t get into it. There are moments of goodness, but it is definitely not my favorite, and the show was over the top. Frankly, it wasn't good enough to make me forget about feeling disconnected.
Don’t get me wrong: I was with great people. But there’s something about being able to connect/engage only when I feel safe and I just left feeling really underwhelmed and uncomfortable. I felt like I missed something, that I just didn’t get it. I don’t know if it was the music, the anxiety or just missing Paul, but it was a bummer of an experience.
However, I learned, or rather realized, that talking about music is as controversial as politics and religion. If you dare say you aren’t into something that someone else had an experience with, you’re nearly shamed out of existence.
And it makes sense. When you’re changed by something, you obviously think it transcends space, time, logic and something so scientific should affect everyone similarly, like freaking gravity! When you find out that’s not the truth, you get mad, like someone just told you they think you’re mom is ugly, your dad is a sissy and make fun of your last name using a catchy, but not-even-clever animal pun. They are obviously lying or trying to be cooler than you, so you try to convince them, show them that they’re wrong, prove to them that Rex Manning is the living eeeeend for all of these ridiculous reasons that don’t make sense to anyone but you. It’s like you’re campaigning to convince someone to love something when really you’re just looking for validation. You’re just looking for someone to get the “why” and connect and understand.
Music is big. It makes people dance close to each other, dance alone, awkwardly, with their eyes closed, it makes people think and smile at each other when they hear cute things that remind them of how much they might be in love, it makes them buy JIF peanut butter because the song on the commercial was sweet and dreamy. They get triggered back to when they were young and impressionable, when they fell asleep on the floor talking to their roommates in the midst of “figuring it all out.” It’s the sad bastard anthems played at breakfast the night after a party that makes you feel like someone is conducting the soundtrack to your life. It's the reason why the Oldies exist, why the Beach Boys still have a job. Music gets us through a lot and continues to somehow make us feel different than before we pressed play. How is that? How can people playing instruments and recording vocals lead us to feel ways that the rest of the day cannot? It’s magic.
But all of those incidents involve people. And I think we’re missing the mark when we go to a show and expect to connect with the musicians. My hope is that what they really want is for you to connect with each other. And buy their records. But it’s not about fame. It’s about what you’re doing when their song is playing. It’s having Shane show you a new band “you’d really be into” and having it hit you so hard you’re glad you’re sitting down. And it's not about the what. I've had a music snob tendancy, but I get it: if a record makes you bite your bottom lip and seat-dance in the middle of Olive Garden, buy that record and play the crap out of it, even if it's a record I don't care for. So live your life. I’m sorry for all the melodrama, but it’s true. People wouldn’t pay $45 and drive 4.5 hours on a Monday night if they didn’t care.
I’ve been to my fair share of mind-altering live performances, but after going to what may be my last ‘large venue’ show, I’m fairly certain that the headliner had little to do with the way I felt being there. Now, in this part of my life, I don’t have to go anywhere to feel affected and changed and amazed: I feel that way every time baseball is on mute.
(I have to make a couple of clarifications: in no way do I think it’s stupid that people go to shows. Just because I don’t enjoy them doesn’t mean I think you shouldn’t. Just because I didn’t think Bon Iver was amazing doesn’t mean I think you’re horrible because you did. Just because I feel awesome with Paul doesn't mean I think you have to go to a show to feel the same way. See how music and politics and religion are the same? Sorry if I offended. It’s just how I feel.)