Monday, July 30, 2012

music makes the people come together

I saw Fiona Apple in concert Saturday night at the Fox theater in Oakland. I've loved her music for so many years that she'd long since acquired a kind of far-away-ness in my mind which meant, somehow, it hadn't occurred to me that someday, I might see her perform. 

When her new album came out, "The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do," I did a flip. Fiona Apple's lyricism, her smart yet raw emotional language, her often catchy, haunting, aggressive melodies and incredible vocal control shoot an arrow the size of Cupid's Span straight through my heart, every time. 

So, housemates John & Kristin & I BARTed over to Oakland to see the concert. We had tickets for standing room, at the front. I was happy about this. I like going to concerts when I can see the facial expressions of the performers. I am not excited by massive crowds, with giant screens projecting the show for the people in the back. If I am paying for a live performance, I want to experience some physical closeness, some sense of reading a real person. I was happy to be standing. Fiona Apple's music isn't stuff I dance to, really, but I figured at least I'd get to see her play the piano. Neat. 

She ran onstage with a painting of her dog I recognized from the photo accompanying this New York Times interview, which she flat on the piano, parallel to it, and did not interact with for the remainder of the show. When we'd entered the Fox, there had been signs warning about strobe lights. At a Fiona Apple show? I'd wondered aloud. It was true. This was a very rock n' roll Fiona Apple. That was fine. I actually quite enjoyed the lighting design, although some of the guitar solos were a bit too much for me. I would have preferred longer solos of Fiona on piano. Still, I wasn't really there to complain, I was there to be mesmerized and have a big emotional experience. And to some extent, so was the rest of the crowd. To some extent, but in a different way than I was. A way than was drunker, shoutier, pushier, and far more raucous than mine. Now, I know that I cannot dictate how people behave at concerts. But just for fun, I'm going to pretend I can. Ok? So here we go:
Rules for Concert Behavior
  1. Put away your damn cell phone. Yes, I know: This is an incredible experience, and you want to remember it forever, which is why you're using the shitty, low-quality camera on your cell phone to take bouncy, shaky video that you'll no doubt later upload to YouTube. Let me take this opportunity to tell you I don't care. Your cell phone is getting in the way of my incredible experience. It is a little glowing box in my line of vision, and it is filling me with rage. Put it away before I smack your hand and confiscate your phone. Thank you.
  2. Shut up and stop singing. I know all the words too! I love this singer/band! That's why I bought a ticket, to hear them sing their songs. Not to hear you sing them, shouting, screaming in my ear. You are not a good singer, actually. Please stop. Also, all of you sing-screaming at the same time like this makes me think we're at a fascist rally. It's creepy/scary. Let's all be quiet and listen to the beautiful music together, ok? (Note: I am fine with you singing under your breath, softly. But not so loud, please, as though you are trying to drown out the artist we are all here to see. And not in my ear.)
  3. No shouting at the singer. This is so rude. This is like the rule that (maybe) your parents taught you about interrupting people: Don't do it! For example, when Fiona Apple is singing a beautiful song, and it's a soft, gentle, sad part, her voice low and full of an ache that, for a moment, we all share, we all feel pulling at the base of our spines and the soles of our feet, this is not a good time to get together with your two BFFs and shout in unison, "WE LOVE YOU, FIONA!" because that is rude. She is showing you her art, and you are shouting at her. That is a bad kind of love. Go sit in the corner and think about how to be a better, more supportive, more respectful lover. Corollary: No song requests! The artist has a set list. They will play the songs they want to play. Now stop shouting.
  4. Stop talking. This is so obvious, I can't believe I have to say it. But really? Stop talking. Go outside or something. Jeez. Sure, sometimes there are logistics to sort out. But if you are catching up on the gossip or whatever, at least move yourself out of the front area which is largely populated by people who are excited to be where they are, experiencing what is happening.
Hey, that's it! Only four rules! Basically, they could all be summed up under one rule: Enjoy yourself, but not at the expense of other people. Which I tend to think of as a good life-rule. Apparently, though, there are a lot of people out there who disagree with me.
In the end, it was one of the most isolating concert experiences I've had. I was in a place with so many people, and we were all watching the same performance, and I would even say we were all enjoying it, but the ways in which we were enjoying it, in which we wanted to experience it, were so different. Am I the problem? Should I just sit at home in my bedroom listening to music in private? If I hadn't so many other, positive concert experiences, experiences of joy and dancing and connectivity, I would unreservedly think the problem was me. But here, I don't know. There was a disconnect so engulfing, between how her music makes me feel and how it made so many other people feel Saturday night, and I don't think it can be explained away by alcohol and/or drugs alone. I'm not interested in making the case that I understand or appreciate her music "better" because of the way I wanted to experience the concert, and I am glad she has so many fans. I am especially glad there are so many dude-y looking dudes in polo shirts who know all the words to her songs, her songs that to me are so emotional, and so female. Way to confound my expectations of you, dudes! Now if we are ever drunk together and waiting for a bus in North Beach and I somehow feel obliged to make conversation, I will ask you about Fiona Apple!

I suppose what I am trying to get at is that all of this brought home for me the intensely private nature of experiencing art. Duh, I know; but I'd never had it hit me in quite this way before. I was really happy to have gone, but at the end of the evening, I felt alone. The next day, I sang her songs in the shower and then listened to "Extraordinary Machine" and it felt just as real and near and impossible as always.

Do you have any Rules for Concert Behavior you would like to add? You may submit them here for the committee's consideration.

the rest is noise

"Probably, the young Reiter answered himself, music would just be noise, noise like crumpled pages, noise like burned books. 
 At this point the conductor raised a hand and said or rather whispered confidentially:
'Don't speak of burned books, my dear young man.'
To which Hans responded:
'Everything is a burned book, my dear maestro. Music, the tenth dimension, the fourth dimension, cradles, the production of bullets and rifles, Westerns: all burned books.'
'What are you talking about?' asked the director.
'I was just stating my opinion,' said Hans.
'An opinion like any other,' said Halder, doing his best to end the conversation on a humorous note, one that would leave them all on good terms, he and the conductor and Hans and the conductor, 'a typically adolescent pronouncement.'
'No, no, no,' said the conductor, 'what do you mean by Westerns?'
'Cowboy novels,' said Hans.
The declaration seemed to relieve the director, who, after exchanging a few friendly words with them, soon took his leave. Later, he would tell their hostess that Halder and the Japanese man seemed like decent people, but Halder's young friend was a time bomb, no question about it: an untrained, powerful mind, irrational, illogical, capable of exploding at the moment least expected. Which was untrue."

2666, Roberto BolaƱo
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