Concerts and Spiritualism

I’m trying something a little different today. There’s a good chance it'll end up a train wreck. But we’ll see…

All is healed in the cleansing fires of live music.

I’ve talked about this before (my first post on what eventually became this website, actually), but it’s true enough that it needs reiteration.

Music is undoubtedly the single most important source of entertainment that culture has given us. Understand that when I say ‘culture,’ I don’t mean American culture or Western culture or modern culture. I mean people. Being people.

It is indeed true that when you look back at the history of culture, the written word is what persists. Homer’s epic poetry. Plato and Aristotle. Beowulf. Shakespeare. Descartes. This is what we remember. I wonder how much of that is by choice. The first time music was able to be recorded and reproduced independent of its source was in the 1850’s. Even the classical works of music from Mozart and Beethoven exist today to be enjoyed is because of hand writing allowing sheet music to exist.

But who was arguably the most important and influential philosopher in our history? Socrates. Who never wrote down a word.

Epic poetry was like seeing a concert. Homer would stand in the square and perform The Iliad. It wouldn't be the same poem twice.

I wonder if it would have at all been different if, somehow, phonographic technology existed either before or was achieved alongside the revolution of handwriting. Would we be a musical culture even more so than we are now?

Part of the reason I’m so attached to Friedrich Nietzsche’s writing is his palpable obsession with great music. It permeates all of his writing. You see it from go in The Birth of Tragedy. His love (and eventual extreme hate, tantamount to personal betrayal) of Wagner. It’s everywhere. His writing was lyrical. It was musical.

Nietzsche wrote about the immediacy of music, or more specifically hearing. His basic foundation was that you could close your eyes to avoid a poem, book, painting, etc. You couldn’t close your ears to avoid music or oratory. It forces its way into your perception whether you want it there or not.

This is why I’m so passionate about trying to go see movies in empty theaters. I can’t ignore other people talking (and they almost always talk, especially at prime time screenings on the weekends), and it drowns out the movie. It disrupts focus.

There is a similar dichotomy between recorded music and live music. There is an element of control with a record/CD/MP3 player. You have the option of pausing the song when distracted. You skip songs you don’t like or don’t want to hear at the time. You repeat tracks that have meaning or significance, or are just too damned catchy.

You don’t have that option at a concert. The band plays whatever they want to play. If they go for that song you hate from their new album, you can’t stop them or make them skip it. You’re beholden to their whims. Maybe you’ll find out you like it. That’s the power of not having a choice. They’ll do little things, add a guitar solo, change a bridge; and it’s all about that immediacy. You don’t know what’s going to happen next. It’s chaotic and anarchic and real.

The worst live bands (Disturbed is the best example) are the ones that take all the surprise and joy out of the musical medium and just predictably play. That’s not what we want. That’s not why we pay money for the privilege of watching artists peddle their crafts in person.

Emotions are heightened. You feed off the swell of the crowd. Everyone is a giant, undulating mass completely in the thrall of (somewhere in the vicinity of) two to six people with some instruments. A collective unconscious acting as one. That’s power.

Everything else fades into memory. A bad day at work. That fight you had with your girlfriend. Financial woes. Worries about the future. The political climate. Nothing penetrates the wall of sound.

Tomorrow and Wednesday night, I will be at the Wilbur Theater (or is it Theatre?) in downtown Boston taking in a two night celebration of all things Dresden Dolls with back to back concerts.

In two weeks, Grinderman plays a show at the House of Blues. I’ll be there for that one too.

Mid-December, Rammstein will be playing a one off show at Madison Square Garden, their first concert on US soil in nine years. I managed to sneak in tickets before the whole thing sold out in about ten minutes.

Six weeks. Four concerts.

Prior to this point in the year, I had been to one concert. TOTAL. In eleven months. Butch Walker and the Black Widows. I had a shitty day. It was pouring out and I walked a mile in the rain to get to the venue. Almost didn’t go. By the time I got home, soaked again from the second walk, I couldn’t have been happier.

This is what I’ve missed. And now, I have concerts falling out of the sky.

I live for this (not baseball). I am not spiritual, nor am I religious, but for a few hours, I almost get the allure of it all. Concerts are a religious experience for me. I don’t need gods. Just a guitar and some drums.