photo by Tonya Vachirasomboon
I don’t know a better word than “lust” to describe the pull of experiencing great music from the audience. There’s such an ache to be on the other side of the sound, to have honed and crafted, to be the one climbing inside the notes and riding them out, cresting over and with the phrases—coming to a finish, alone, before snapping back into the room around you. I don’t know anything more mindful.
I’m getting better at it – at listening. At being in the audience. The hole in me is deep; I can’t fill it with a few stage-side concerts alone, so I go and I watch and I listen. It’s a different beast. You’re not in the music so much as following its hem. Try to linger, to turn it around and absorb its itness, and you’re already missing out. It’s already, always, a moment ahead of you.
It’s an exercise in acceptance, I think. Want the music hard enough, fight against its fleetingness, and it’ll burn you up like an adolescent.
But let that desire rip through you and set you back down, and you can start to ride it like the performer rides the sound itself. Still, it will always suspend you in the tension of a beautiful thing:
You cannot keep it.
Boswell Books brought Michael Pollan to speak at the Oriental Theater tonight. Boswell’s proprieter, Daniel Goldin, is just so plucky and great. He set a wonderfully conversational tone, after which MP shared some thoughts, read an excerpt from his new book (Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation), and took questions.
Pollan’s relaxed down-to-earth-ness (“I love french fries”) makes him really approachable. It must be hard to know that much and have such well-formed, articulate opinions without coming across like a snob. You can tell he’s a really good guy.
Ever studenty, I couldn’t not take notes in my back cover. (Soapbox: I do not think books or literature are sacred. Let your reading of them change you, and let you change them. Write in the margins, engage!)
The average American spends more time daily watching people cook on TV than they do cooking themselves. Why would we be obsessed with an activity we don’t engage in anymore? (Audience chuckle) Someone is thinking of pornography, and I think that is actually quite relevant! Why would we fetishize cooking? Because something in us misses it.
Cooking gave us the meal – sitting around the fire. It became a group effort. It needed rules. So around the cookfire came civilization.
The shared meal is the nursery of democracy.
The microwave is the Ayn Rand of appliances.
Cravings are very different from satisfaction. It’s a very different ethos, a very different aesthetic.
Fermentation is rot interrupted.
I think we need to bring back home ec, or a different kind of home ec. Teaching children how to cook is one of the most important things we can do for their long-term health and happiness.
Then I went for a beer with my dear college roommate, who also happened to be attending alone. That doesn’t bear on most of you, but it was a surprise and satisfying cross-section of our lives, as food so often is, so I find meaning in it. Plus, what’s an event in Milwaukee without good beer?
Takeaway: go cook!
Most people like music. But most people don’t do music. I hope I’m not stereotyping the whole of American society here, but whether the suburbs did it or the Internet did it or whatever it was did it – we’ve lost a lot of the shared experience of doing music together and are pretty much exclusive consumers of the stuff.
Think about the times that “non-musical” people do sing in public just for fun. They are almost always drinking or in junior high. In either case, they’re tapped further into their true messy humanity than the rest of us, and they are having a wonderful time. But we’re afraid to do this ‘in real life’ because A) someone might judge us and B) we at some point collectively decided that singing songs with friends or family is a stupid way to spend free time.
Folk music means music of folk, music of the people. But when we say it now, we usually refer to a specific kind of music associated with a specific group of people or a specific period of time. When we think of American folk music, we’re thinking of something very particular, and even though it’s pretty cool, most of us see it as a novelty or as a hobby of those in that particular musical scene.
But we like it.
Note the recent rock(ish) renaissance of the banjo. I don’t think it’s only because of hipsters (though they’ve surely helped). I think it’s because the banjo lets us access access a musical feeling that we don’t touch anywhere else (maybe some churches, but then you have to be on good behavior).
The banjo is approachable, inviting, humble, democratic. Would this happen with an electric guitar or anything autotuned?
Look how happy that crowd is! They are having a fantastic time. This is folk music not because of the instrument but because of the crowd. It does not matter at ALL how good of a singer you are. And I want more of it.
I want to revive folk music. Real folk music. I don’t care if it’s Seeger or Gaga – if you’re singing it in your house or your yard with people you know and like, then it is folk music and it is awesome.