Thursday, July 16, 2009

I Miss the Innocence Part 2: When Did It Break?

When did my ability to purely enjoy music for what it is break? When did I become shut off, closed off enough that the pure, magical beauty of a musical performance more than often failed to get through to my soul? When did it break?

It's repairable, that's the good news. This last weekend I was at the Woody Guthrie Festival in Okemah, OK (city of Woody's birth). Let me be clear about something: by the standard established by the new generation of music festivals (Bonnaroo, Pitchfork, Coachella), Woodyfest is NOT COOL. You won't find a bunch of hipster kids in skinny jeans and those absurd haircuts hanging out at Woodyfest. Let me be clear about something else: I couldn't give LESS OF A CRAP about how uncool Woodyfest is. So much of the last 10 years or so of my life has been given over to the idea that in order to gain a fanbase, or create a place for myself in the music world, I at least have to have some sort of perceivable relationship to the "cool" music culture at large. And I am DONE. (This is all going to bleed into another post I am working on right now as well.) I am done pandering to the idea if I'm not somehow in touch with the "new thing", whatever that might be, that I am somehow disqualified from making any sort of commentary on the culture, or on the music. If you start to adopt that attitude, and you're all about trying to somehow connect with the culture at large and not about just enjoying (or attempting to enjoy) the music, it's going to damage you. It's going to harm your ability to purely enjoy music for what it is. Enjoying music, LOVING music, has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO with popular culture. Trey Anastasio said it best: "Rock & roll, on some level, is bullshit, but music is the realest thing in the world to me." If you get caught up in the bullshit at all, it will hurt your ability to enjoy the music.

At Woodyfest, I caught a set by Mary Reynolds, Louise Goldberg, Elyse Angelo and Simon Dick. This ensemble is known by the moniker Miss Brown To You most of the time, and has been for almost 20 years. I used to go hear them play in high school all the time, because Louise was my music teacher when I was in junior high. They are all fantastic, fantastic musicians, and it gave me a lot of joy when I was younger to hear them play live (Simon was not their bass player at the time...he wasn't even a teenager yet). It broadened my horizons musically, and gave me an appreciation for music that didn't fit into the rock & roll box. They helped make my ears jazz-friendly, female vocal friendly, etc. They effectively produced in me (and I can only assume many of their other listeners as well) the joyful experience of hearing really good musicians play. If I hadn't heard them do what they do so well all through my teenage years, it's hard to say whether I would have appreciated some of the students and faculty I heard play in college or not. Anyway, all of this to say that I went in to Woodyfest feeling like absolute crap. I had been having a few quasi-miserable weeks at home (for a number of reasons I won't go into here) and had really started to feel pretty cynical about music and my ability to enjoy it (there were a few things here and there that were breaking through the wall, but not many). I wanted to hear Mary, Louise et al play, partly because I hadn't heard them in a while, but also because I honestly would have felt bad for not being there (it seems like most of the time when they have a gig in OKC, we're already playing somewhere else and can't go). In short, the wall came tumbling down during their set. Listening to them play brought back all the reasons that I enjoy music (especially live music), and made me want to be a better musician (it's been tough to find things lately that inspire this aspect of my being as well). It felt like a real privilege to be there, and to have heard that performance. Mary & Louise are encyclopedias of the history of popular music, they know so many songs in so many genres...They didn't play a single original composition, but it didn't matter because every song they played they made their own. They played Bob Dylan, the Isley Brothers, the Indigo Girls, the Beatles, and that was just the tip of the iceberg.

And thus ends my attempt to describe what it was like. What's the point? You should just trust me that it was awesome and go and listen to it for yourself. Ultimately, I think that's true of all the music I talk about on here. If it's worth talking about at all, it's also worth the time it would take for you to go and listen to it yourself.

Coming soon...New mixtape (about damn time...what's the name of this blog again?), an entry on the uncomfortable subject of TASTE WARFARE (if I can ever collect it into any sort of manageable form), and some reviews. Of music. Imagine that.