I didn’t know what I was in for. I couldn’t have even comprehended it if I wanted to. Had I not been dating a guy who likes to rank his “must see before I die” acts, I honestly would not have thought to travel three hours to Houston, Texas to see Paul McCartney. It’s not because I didn’t want to, by any means. I think in my mind, I thought of McCartney as an almost novelty act. I knew he was incredibly talented, and even though my favorite Beatle person-wise is Ringo (yes, believe it), I knew he was a songwriting genius and still sounded solid at the age of 70. But if I’m being honest, I thought of a Paul McCartney show the same way I think of a Bob Dylan or Robert Plant show at this point. I’m always humbled to be in the presence of a legend, but it’s not their heyday. Two of the Beatles are gone, so I knew I’d never be able to see the whole unit the way I’d want to.
In fact, I hesitate to name the Beatles my favorite band of all time for that very reason. The live show is so important to me that it’s hard for me to conceptualize a band as my all-time favorite if I haven’t experienced the power of their in-person performance. Even though the Beatles are a band that literally helped me to grow up — Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour and, of course, Abbey Road were formative albums that forced me to move past my candy-pop-and-top-40-only stage — for some reason, the idea of Paul alone just didn’t hold the same weight as the idea of building a time machine and going back to the time of screaming, fainting fan girls and riotous excitement.
But then, I found myself buying tickets for Sir Paul as a birthday gift to my boyfriend, and as the date approached, I began to really try to wrap my brain around what was going to happen. I was going to go watch, live, in person, a man who is one of the most famous people on Earth, who has changed millions of lives with his music and his message, who has experienced the turmoil of the 60s in person, who has lived among legends, who has befriended people who appear in my mind more like book characters, because they are too famous to humanize.
Even still, as we drove on to Houston, I was in a haze. It was as if I was going to go watch some movie, or play, or show put on inside of a glass box, separate from myself.Read More...
A lot has been said of the narcissistic culture of the Millennials. It’s tough to get a totally clear picture of what, exactly, this culture means because we’re all still in it. But there are a few emerging trends that we can comfortably chalk up to the phenomenon:
- Talking at concerts. There have always been talkers at shows, particularly when you start to introduce booze into the mix of nighttime fun and dancing. But there is a self-obsessed, oblivious emergence of this concert sin that has become maddening for any fans of music. Concerts, apparently, have become an event that you must be seen at and attend for cultural collateral, not because you really love the band. Maybe it’s because those of us who really do just love the bands succumbed to the “crossed arms” method of passively enjoying shows that allowed these Chatty Cathy’s-and-Charles’ to move to the fore. Regardless, they are starting to take over, moving to the front rows and screaming over the sound about their days and relationships and whatever else comes to their minds.
- Short attention spans. Apparently, our “me, me, me!” generation needs constant stimulation or else they deem an activity unworthy of their time. This can lead to phenomenon number 1.
- Ever-present fashion shows. You never know when someone is going to finally “discover” you and make you insta-famous, right? YOLO, you guys, so you might as well dress like there’s no tomorrow that doesn’t include Lady Gaga! Everyone not only assumes they will became famous for no reason, they demand fame because they feel they deserve it. Entitlement at its worst. I blame you, Snookie.
In our first session together, the new therapist I’m seeing said, “I think you should focus on slowing down. You know — stop and smell the roses.” I felt like I’d just been read my own death sentence. I am petrified — that knot-in-stomach, headachey near-tantrum petrified — of slowing myself down. Not just in a literal sense, wherein I stop taking on so many projects (like freelance writing, putting in overtime at my event planning corporate gig, putting on showcases of local musicians, trying to take dance classes, trying to take drum lessons, trying to play my guitar…) Even more so, it scares me to let my brain slow down. My natural state is to let a barrage of to-do’s, self-criticisms and other discomforts swim around my head, in an effort to always be a little better, to never let myself off the hook, or “let myself go.” I am hyper-aware of my own mortality, and that coupled with a bad case of perfectionism forces me into a near-constant state of “Go!”
In my 25 years, I have found one antidote to my madness. One method to calm my nerves, slow my thoughts and begin to untangle myself, piece by piece. It’s the thing that everyone should find, that is their gateway into meditation or inner peace or just a really delicious nap. For me, it is Sigur Rós.
If you are unfamiliar with this Icelandic band, you are totally forgiven but must immediately get to know them. They have been recording albums since 1994, sometimes in their native language of Icelandic, on some rare occasions in English, and often at the beginning…in a language they MADE UP, called “Hopelandic.” Yep. They made up a language that includes the word “hope” and they sing in it. That was one of the first tidbits that really grabbed me about the band, and then the music began to take over. It is gorgeous, ethereal stuff, with bigger ambitions than any other band that I am personally familiar with.
The album that changed my life was Takk… which translates to “Thank you.” It was their fourth full-length album, and they toured on it. I’d heard a few songs from it because I was a student DJ at the University of Texas at Austin for KVRX, so I decided to see the band when they came to town. As I sat in my seat at a university concert hall, still only a freshman in college, I expected a beautiful, but somewhat sleepy and shoegazey concert, so I settled in and relaxed. They opened with a song called “Glósóli.” This song starts with piano chimes and what sounds like a line of soldiers marching gently out in a field. Then, lead singer Jónsi Birgisson’s angelic falsetto floats into the song, adding a childlike, sweet mood as the marching gets louder. As the band performed this live, they were all set up behind a large white curtain, so that you could only see their ghostly shadows stretching out, as stage lights flashed in different areas to the rhythm of the song. Something was building, and my eyes widened as the drums got deeper and louder and more urgent. Suddenly in a burst of fast-flashing white light we found ourselves drowning in a crashing, wild sea of raging guitars and insistent drums and howling vocals. My eyes wet, and I was on the edge of my seat for the rest of the concert.
Since that concert, Sigur Rós have popped up in my life periodically, always in these magical moments of the universe seemingly doing all of the work for me. When I studied abroad in Freiburg, Germany, I trekked up to London for a quick visit with relatives and friends. I visited Abbey Road, and there, on the gate, where hundreds upon thousands had scrawled their signatures along with their favorite Beatles lyrics, Sigur Rós had signed their names. They had recorded a track on their then-new album, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, at the famed studio, and must have felt compelled to participate in the tradition. I signed my name next to theirs, and they became the soundtrack to those magical six months spent studying in the middle of the Black Forest.
Jonsi toured on a solo album that was in English, and his concert was one of the first dates I took my boyfriend to. We held hands and got swept up in his theatrical and moving presentation, as the silhouettes of forest creatures leapt through a post-apocalyptic world he had created.
A week after my new therapist told me I needed to slow down, Sigur Rós had a worldwide listening party for their new album, Valtari. Each host space played the album in its entirety starting at 7 p.m. local time. I headed to my favorite local independent record shop, Waterloo Records, and climbed up into the makeshift stage area where bands will sometimes come and play short in-store sets. I sat there, on the funky blue carpet, and breathed slowly in and out as this new, anticipated music filled my ears. I watched other shoppers quietly move around, but mostly closed my eyes and tried to experience the album. This was the quietest, most subtle record I’d ever heard by the band, demanding a patient listener, and whenever I felt my muscles twitch, trying to break free of my trance and let my mind race with worry, Jonsi’s voice would pick up at that exact moment, soaring into my head and collecting anything that wasn’t just helping me to be present. Listening to Sigur Rós is the closest thing I think I’ve gotten to the kind of peace I believe will come when I’m dying. I know that sounds morbid, but it’s one of the most comforting things, to feel for some fleeting moment that everything is working together and so ultimately, when I do have to go, it will be time.
When the album ended, Waterloo announced the winner of a giveaway, including a Valtari poster and a test pressing of the record on vinyl. They called my name over the speaker system, and my heart just filled with happiness. Unbeknownst to this record store, they were giving me the gift of meditation and peace, and continuing on my strange and beautiful relationship with a band that speaks to me in some quiet place that I cannot otherwise unearth.
I felt somewhat guilty about attending Arcade Fire’s talk about Haiti. I had always felt happy that a group of artists I admired so much were so passionate about what seemed to be a worthy cause, but I’d never really researched into Partners in Health, or read about why Haiti needed so much assistance, or tried to understand on a deeper level what Win Butler, Regine Chassagne and their cohorts were up to. It was merely a feel-good fuzzy moment at each concert, and kinda ended there for me.
So when I found out that my amazing friend Lisa had managed to score tickets to a lecture on Haiti by the band, I knew I wasn’t going because I was jazzed to hear about this little country. I was going because I am so in love with the music of the group, and how Win and Regine come across as people in interviews, that I wanted to do anything I could to learn more about them and get closer to them. It made me feel embarrassed, almost — knowing that these people I admired so much were hoping to talk about something they cared about, and I’d just have to nod along, not really savvy on the issues.
Luckily for me, Win, Regine, Will and Marika knew what they were up against, and they were OK with it. During their lecture, Win explained, “I don’t know if you’re here because you’re interested in Haiti and want to learn more, or because you’re a fan of the band, but either way that makes us connected and that makes us grateful, and we’re glad you’re here.”
As couple’s songs go, I have to admit I feel like mine and my boyfriend Zack’s is at the very top of the heap. We bonded over LCD Soundsystem’s “I Can Change” the day we met, and it’s always been ours, ever since. I wrote him a bit of an opus over at our shared blog, Rock Love Austin, and for Valentine’s Day, I also had some of our favorite local musicians cover our song for us. Here they are, in all of their fantastic, tear-jerking glory. Thanks for showing us the love, Austin!
Since the Thanksgiving holiday is fast approaching and many of us will travel all around the countryside to meet up with family and friends, there will likely be a lot of road trippin’ going on, and road trippin’ means my very most favorite thing in the entire universe – driving music.Read More...