I’ve been roving a long time, searching and sleepless, entrails and gown emitting weak light. Everything a puzzle or punishment, an opportunity to sink deeper, stumble farther, hoping to find some mud or muck to glom onto my pulse, deaden it. When I saw you, I wanted to be seen by you, and that was important, because it was the first time in a long time I wanted to exist. I don’t mean to be dramatic, this is the truth. I thought when I met love, it would be a certain way. Would light me up and look at me a specific way. But it wasn’t the way you looked at me, it was the way you looked away from me, into the world. And you don’t light my brain on fire, or contain the flames which always threaten to drown me. There is no fire… no low singe or steady burn. Rather, when I see you looking at your computer or studying an item of interest, when your hands are on my body and we lay in bed looking at each other, I achieve that beautiful blankness, that total rest, the moment of cease-fire in a Kusama infinity room of synapses firing and instead of searching, I find.
So I finally did it- the one thing I only ever do when there’s someone consistently important to me and I wanted to wait until a Sunday or a Monday because it’s just easier to keep track of everything that way and then it can be the “beginning” in a way that adds to all the beginningness of everything about you and about me and about us, but instead, the days just kept passing and I got confused and CVS was closed one time even though they promised! they would stay open for me. Anyways, for a million tiny different reasons, I was only able to start on Wednesday and that makes sense because it’s a small example of how my world has changed with you now in it. How even time has shifted since I met you. And not just time, but space- the way my mouth now opens to expel sounds of laughter- the way my body isn’t afraid of openness. Yes, in a way, it makes perfect sense that the beginning of a week would now be Wednesday in the same way that maybe the beginning of living began the day I met you.
I heard you knocking from a great distance, in my resin coated barrier pushed against the world, beached in a darkness of my own making. The sadness formed an armor of mucus which allowed me to stay inside, to keep shrinking, hollowing myself out, scooping myself out the way I scoop out jelloid face masks for others to sample. The cash register rings and another customer walks in, and still nothing registers, all the tears crystallized in an orb hung delicately between my breasts, spun from shattered shards. Still, you kept knocking and the me that lives in me, guardian of the orb saw a bright green light. I can’t look away, magnetized by the fierceness and puzzlement in this light, caught in a web of its subtle changes. A simpler way of putting this would be that when I met you for the first time, you were looking into the distance, and I realized I wanted to be there, where you were looking.
I think I’m getting to a kind of understanding with the you I have in my mind. There are lilacs on a wall and I can’t tell if they are real or netted fabric or if anything is real or just netted fabric and I stroke them a few times and try to feel the grids that fasten the earth together. I am my most me when I am curious in this way and alone, and I wonder if what you needed was just the ability to see something like lilacs on a wall and to be interested in it enough for the roar of the rest of the world to quiet down. But you are too permeable, the world and its desires passing through you, you aren’t a consumer, just consumed and it ravaged you to not have a center. Your changing shapes directed themselves at me but I can only see the netted grids of lilacs and that can help me, but it won’t help you the way you wanted, and anyway, you’re just an entitled male who is incapable of seeing how your obsession with being a good person is keeping you the worst, so self-interested in your goal to lack self-interest. We are all pawns for your performance of empathy in which you confuse being good for being better than being yourself.
Two nights ago, I saw one of the most beautiful and thoughtful performances I have seen in a long time and I wanted to write about the experience and how it spoke to me as a musician and human existing in this time of political and societal unrest.
The story goes (from the BAM website): The morning after the 2016 presidential election, singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane packed a suitcase and set out for a two-week train trip across the US with no phone or internet, embracing 8,980 miles of a reclusive Amtrak existence.”
(Kahane also wrote a beautiful article for the nytimes about the experience of writing this album which I recommend- certainly more than reading the rest of my post! You can find it- https://nyti.ms/2ieFCOL)
This album is perhaps one of my favorites in the recent trend of reinterpreting what albums can be. It is to music what Sarah Silverman’s I Love You America is to comedy in its attempt to start a personal dialogue with those we consider other. It is an ode to slowness and the experience of time as necessity for deeper enjoyment and understanding of music, landscapes, and people. There is almost nothing more like any music album and its many tangents than the equally fluid wandering of transitioning landscapes on a train. As a culture, we have begun to lose a sensitivity to the unfamiliar, both in thought and in place. With this album, Kahane continues his work in breaking apart the compartmentalizations of “genre”… the ones that hold classical music and other kinds of music apart from each other. It is only fitting that he uses his unique melding if genres to also break apart ideas, expectations, and limitations (his and ours.) And while different traditions and kinds of music speak to each other in his compositions and songwriting, so do different cultures and people in this particular project.
I think if I could have done something similarly after the election, I would have. But I know my desire would have been for escape- Kahane and I would have the same actions, but towards very different ends. He had dozens of conversations with people of vastly differing backgrounds and beliefs from his own. He became homeless for a couple weeks to find the greater shared American home. This was a project about rejuvenating our ability as a society to communicate; a project about connection, the kind deeper than our media allow us to have. I still haven’t recovered from this election in many ways- I check my Facebook at a maximum of one time a day, usually just logging on to post a haiku, afraid of what I’ll see, what I’ll believe. Afraid of the further polarization of our world, and the subsequent diminishing of understanding between disagreeing parties. There are many inspiring, wonderful, and hilarious things on the internet to be sure, but since the election, there has also been the constant unearthing of apathy and negligence for truth, lack of desire to understand, quick and often misdirected anger, and a troubling virtuous stench from both sides. Instead, I spend most of my time with things I don’t understand- be it reading books I deem too difficult for my understanding, or listening to music which has no prescribed way of listening. Classical music, with it’s (often) lack of words and thus, openness to interpretation is at least one certain antidote to the binary thinking Kahane tries to eschew with his project of meeting and listening to people from other cultures and societies. What better than the slowness of a train and the slowness of really getting to know someone to express the slowness of music which has been described as time unfolding? Because certain things depend on you to an extent- you can read faster or walk faster, but to enter an experience of music, and any kind of public transportation, is to surrender your control of, arguably the most important thing we have in this life… time.
Not to say this album is all wonderful connective tissue for the broken belief sys-limbs of Americans solely in a warm and fuzzy way. There is also much sadness and frustration about what it means to be an American now and in the context of history. One song in particular, “William Eggleston’s Sky” which used electronic loops and voice distortion started quirky, became beautiful, hilarious, and subsequently terrifying. Lights were slowly turning on throughout the song and by the end, the audience was suffused in a mass of different colored lights, lit up together. It was simple, but effective staging… I was, by the end overwhelmed by the music and the slowness of the attention of the lights. I found myself crying and felt so connected to my fellow citizens in the audience- all of us in this shared numinous experience. MASSMoCA wrote that this album is “A meditation on the beautiful terror of getting lost in an unfamiliar landscape” I would disagree and say it’s almost the opposite- a meditation on the beautiful terror of finding yourself and the others who are with you and creating a community in an unfamiliar and fractured societal and political landscape. In this way, it was almost a spiritual experience. The album has reinterpreted hymns with simple, devastating, and often very unexpected harmonies, infusing the experience with a deep spiritual and secular love for our shared humanity.
Kahane created a shrine to one of the most quintessentially American things, the train being a spine that historically shaped our country as much as it helped us navigate it. Nostalgia has been under fire for being one of the reasons we are in our current predicament, with phrases such as “Make America Great Again” at the center of that accusation. Kahane radically redeems nostalgia by using arguably the most nostalgic elements of American to show us the real greatness of America- this album is a survey and map of the American people as they exist now, in all their beautiful contradictions, complexity, and inability to be reduced.
I’m always looking for how art and public discourse can intersect better. Seeing this performance convinced me more than ever that Arts’ place is with the people. It is the job of the artist to meet people where they are and to talk about the things that are happening in the world, affecting everyone a massive scale. And as I cried and laughed and traveled everything in between, I realized that what I most value in Art is the balance between irreverence and sincerity. My favorite artists tend to be the ones who are their own biggest skeptics, be it Franzen finding his way in China as a way out of his prejudice, or Kahane finding his way in nostalgia as a way out of desperation. What I really learned is-
real musicians listen,
#brooklynacademyofmusic #gabrielkahane #bookoftravelers #MASSMoCA
I make my way in the lacquered night, under a sky of raw denim bejeweled by some teenage girl-god with too many braces and too few friends. The tree trunks do back bends, stretching their long boughs toward the earth, tired of their daily efforts to reach upward. My shoelaces slap happily, untied, on the shining pavement, wet with the tears of some giant happiness. The street lamps abruptly turn way from me with their yellow fever light and the mosquitoes continue their frenzied dives against the glass, music in the rhythm of their repeated hollow clinks. Children howl from their wombs, growing only fingernails to scratch a way out and your eyes are clouded over because you’ve been crying. I can’t understand your expression, can only understand the steadiness and necessity in my two feet moving forward. I have made my way to the narrows now, and I don’t know if they will open up. The air has begun to get shallow and the walls are damp, moldering with earth. The upturned cuffs of my jeans fill with silt and soil lines my auricula. My coat becomes heavy as the mud seeps into the pockets, nesting, belching. I listen to my breath as it gets labored, calmly register my heart’s panic. I crouch to keep going, my knuckles grazing the ground in it’s earthiness, stickiness, and sweetness. What I mean to say is; there is a path I have been walking for quite some time now, whistling, yelping, singing low and off-key. Full of rotted peach fruit and aborted stones, lavish with fungi and the eaten lace of decaying leaves. I reach the end and I keep walking, the fine skin on my forehead grating on the limestone, slowly rubbing my limbs raw on that giant rock, my body a fine paste, pestle to the earth’s mortar.
the one about the man who climbed a thousand fathoms down the rabbit hole, who trapped and released outside the house a hundred dragons just to get to the girl who lay there in an elaborate coffin pretending wakefulness? He pulled at her heartstrings and she giggled and appreciated all the same art and liked all the same coffee places, but her heart kept spilling out cotton in great wads, stuffed with old receipts and other miscellany- nothing of substance. He traversed all the Ntrails within her, leaping from one slippery blood cell to another looking for some surface or substance to hang his haberdashery on. Peeking through her femur, rummaging through the large intestine, circumnavigating her big toe. As he crept through the thickets of her body hair, stopping to rest in the webbed hammock space between her thumb and pointer finger, he shivered and realized everything was freezing, already frozen over. Underneath her on-trend oversized sweater, a thousand sweaters deep, was an ice block he would have to chip and chip. The princess is in another castle, of her own making, a web woven over and hardened into resin, a safe cocoon coffin cocoon. There is only room for one, and anyway, we only destroy what isn’t ours to love.