April 2018

Saturday, October 19, 2013

disappear fear

My partner Ann, our friend Ellen, and I went to an afternoon concert at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center today. The pop/indie folk band disappear fear was playing, and we were three of the fifteen people dotted through the large auditorium. 

I had anticipated that the crowd would be small and mostly older, as the hip teenagers were just rising from their beds and like considerably more volume than I do, as my previous student's work with musicians at an organization called simply, "Volume", suggests. (After all, I can just turn my hearing aid if I want to music to be louder.) 

I have accepted that, nearing my 50th birthday, I am now considered one of the older crowd, but really I've always been part of the older crowd--even as a teenager. 

When I was leaving home for college, my younger sister Jennifer gave me a note that said, "I'll miss you if not your weird music around here." While Sister Jen, who was (and is) much more hip than I was (or am) listened to Van Halen and The Stones, I played and re-played albums by Simon and Garfunkel and Joan Baez. (We now intersect at Tom Petty.) 

Today, as I listened to the lead, Sonia, play her harmonica, I thought of the line, "Folk rock. I've lost my harmonica, Albert," from Paul Simon's "A Simple Desultory Phillipic (or How I was Robert McNamara'd into Submission)." 

Perhaps folk rock is no longer the sound that draws crowds, wearing tie-dyed peace signs and smoking pot, into open fields. Perhaps that hasn't happened since the sixties. It's too bad. The music is so good: lyrical and thought-provoking, harmonic and disruptive, like disappear fear's music today.

Though there was a small crowd, the musicians were talented. Four of them, the lead singer, guitarist, and harmonica player, Sonia (from Baltimore), Lauren on harmony (from Austin) Don on a second guitar (a singer-songwriter from Taos, New Mexico) and Katie on the box drum (from Devon, England); played beautifully together. 

It's true that the crowd was small, but I know that a small crowd is largely an indication of marketing and doesn't necessarily indicate a group's quality. 

When I was first teaching in a Dallas suburb, teaching friends and I sometimes went to a local bar to see "Blue Light Express," a band featuring two students from our school. Later our students would play at a slightly larger and lighter venue for a bluegrass band that called themselves The Dixie Chicks. Wednesday nights, my friend Rick and I would go to the Italian restaurant to have dinner and hear them play. When Emily, the younger sister in the group, was graduating, she told me that she thought the band would turn from bluegrass to country, and when I asked why she said that bluegrass didn't make money: country did. When the two sisters joined with a new lead singer, Natalie Maines, they wore old-school country flouncy dresses and sang in hot spots like the produce section of a grocery store. It was only when they hired a manager that they turned big and started selling out stadiums full of screaming teenagers. (And then they pissed off the country music establishment, and moved to rock before splitting up, but that's their story, not mine.)

Sometimes in Dallas I would go to an area called Deep Ellum, a dark neighborhood full of music and pierced and tattooed people wearing dark leather before that look was in vogue. One night I went to a stage where about six other people and I listened to Edie Brickell sing, "What I am is what I am. Are you what you are or what?"(The next year, she'd be selling out large concerts and then she'd marry Paul Simon.)

I've also listened with my partner Ann to our talented friends Pea and Ally playing and singing on our couch. That was one of my favorite concerts ever. As Dad said after Pea played and sang for our commitment ceremony, "I knew Pam (Pea) sang, but I didn't know she could really sing!"

So the fact that the crowd was small today didn't bother me, especially once the band started playing. I know that great music happens in small places. 

As we entered the auditorium, the items for sale made the group's politics clear: t-shirts with peace signs and GLBTQ triangles and so forth. The opening song, too, made a political statement: "My name is America. Most people think I'm rich, but I'm mostly poor."

Most of the music, though built on a progressive platform, wasn't political. It was just good. 

In the song, "Don't Let Go" about her dad, who seems to have died from something that gave him headaches (maybe her father had a brain tumor like I did), she sang, 
"When I was ten, he gave me a guitar.
I said, 'Dad, I'm gonna be a big star.'
Keep your heart in a song."

I wondered if she felt okay playing for our small crowd, something that I imagined a big star wouldn't do, but she and her group smiled and laughed and seemed to put their hearts into the music.

In another song, a cheerful song about depression, she sang:
If I'm gonna be blue, it's gotta be the perfect shade.
If I'm gonna be blue, it's gotta be custom made." 

As we left, we bought two of her cds: one called "No Bomb is Smart" that won multiple Grammy nominations and one called "Broken Film" of the group we heard today.

If you need a big crowd to think music is good, then I'm not sure disappear fear is for you (though I would guess that they get larger crowds at night at different venues). If, however, you just like good music, go hear them.  Not because they're famous. Because they're good.

My neurosurgeon once got me thinkin' about fame. When I was impressed that he's friends with the poet Wendell Berry, I told Dr. Rapport that my sister sometimes drops conversational morsels about famous folk she knows. 

She told me once, for example, that George Clooney thinks pigs make great pets. Susan Serandon and Tim Robbins live in her neighborhood. So does Martha Stewart (whose home is guarded in a way that makes me wonder if she still thinks she's in jail.) There's another actress that Sister Jen thinks is beautiful but spicy  I can't remember the actress's name, but you would have heard of her. (After all, I've heard of her, and I don't know hardly any famous pop stars.)

When I commented on this to my neurosurgeon, he said, "Tell her that fame is a chimera, like everything else." 

How great is it that my neurosurgeon would note that fame is a "chimera"? I wonder how many neurosurgeons use that word in addition to all of their medical vocabulary. He was the right guy to be messing around in my brain.

And then to make it a philosophical statement: "like everything else."

I'm still thinking about that one. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please comment: I'd love to hear your thoughts!