Come back, Lilith Fair, come back

August 3.  The last night of the 2010 Lilith Tour.  Many would argue it is also the final curtain for Lilith Fair altogether.  Perhaps I am a wishful thinker (it’s been known to happen) or still high off my own amazing Lilith experience a few days ago, but I believe Lilith will return.  I believe it must.

Thankfully, as I spent my afternoon hours surfing (the Internet, not the local waves) like any other self-respecting summering teacher, I discovered that there are plenty of women out there who believe the same.  I even spotted a survey from the Lilith Fair producers, polling fans on which artists they should line up for 2011.  I will take that as a good sign and, of course, am already working on a list to submit (Jonatha Brooke, Imogen Heap, Ladytron, Alison Krauss, Joni Mitchell, Bjork, Annie Lennox, PJ Harvey—and, aha!, what about a reunion of Siouxsie with her Banshees?). 

For me, it’s simple.  For one day and evening, Lilith Fair creates a magical world in which women—and our music—come first.  A respite from the realities of a world in which throngs of women continue to suffer, struggle, and frequently place second.  A fantasy land in which women gather together for several hours to do nothing but revel in music and one another.  Between work, commitments, and life, like most women, it’s been a while since I’ve “reveled” in anything—so thank you, Lilith Fair.

One of the biggest thrills for me was watching Suzanne Vega perform.  Clad in her usual black attire (trading black boots for pink Converse Chuck Taylors this time), she sang some of her greatest hits, including “Blood Makes Noise,” “Caramel,” and, of course, “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner.”  The most powerful, though, the one that gets me every time, was “Left of Center.”  Though the venue was not even close to being full at this point and I seemed to be the only maniac cheering her lungs out, I leapt from my lawn chair, listening to every word just as I used to all those years ago from the tiny stereo speakers in my bedroom back home.  God, how I used to cling to those words of hers, as though they were rosary beads.

There were also the exciting “surprises” that sprinkled the day: Sara Bareilles singing the breathtaking “Gravity,” prompting me to squeal, “I know that song!…I love that song!” or hearing Jill Hennessy belt out in a beautiful voice.  (Permit me a side note: many years ago, I shared an elevator ride with Ms. Hennessy in the apartment building on Bleecker Street in which we both lived.  For those three minutes, I fidgeted and stared down the elevator buttons like a gawky fool, an avid Law and Order viewer.  She, on the other hand, greeted me as though we were old friends with a warm, cheery “Hello! How are you?!” Needless to say, I have been a huge fan of hers ever since.  I was even more thrilled to learn that the woman can sing).  Discovering new female artists like Butterfly Boucher and Priscilla Renea made my time spent at Lilith even more rewarding.  And I guess that’s one of the best parts of music, isn’t it.  The mutual giving and receiving between artist and audience.       

The most poignant moment for me, though, was when The Indigo Girls (joined by Sarah McLachlan, no less) sang “Love’s Recovery.”  I still remember the first time I ever listened to the song (too many years ago now).  A close friend had lent me her Indigo Girls cassette tape (see what I mean about too many years ago?), and so I casually popped it in my player and lay back to listen.  Before the song had even finished playing, it grabbed and shook my insides, then left me wanting to hear it again.  And so I rewound.  Again.  And again.  To this day, there are not many songs whose lyrics continue to affect me so profoundly as this one.  And so I stood there at Lilith Fair a few nights ago, loudly singing along under evening’s blanket, recalling my younger days of star gazing and painting picture perfect maps of how my life and love would be, vowing this night, however, to never miss any more miles of road I should see. 

Sarah McLachlan closed the show with an unbelievably powerful performance.  There is no mistaking that hers is a voice from somewhere beyond.  A gift.  Sexy, strong, and smart, she sang her greatest hits and sheepishly asked permission to sing some new ones.  She spoke of living with “good intent” and shared with us how separating from her husband led her to write a country song.  I got more soul than country from it, but no matter.  Again, the music of Lilith Fair was uniting women across boundaries, drawing us closer, enabling us to relate to one another and to feel an empathy and connection through our similarities and our differences.  Damn, even the $13 beer tasted good.

I can recall thoroughly enjoying the original Lilith Fairs back in the 90s, but somehow this year’s experience resonated on a deeper level with me.  Could be I’ve just grown older, more appreciative, but I suspect it’s something more.  I’ve been carrying around some of these women’s songs for years, pulling them out at different stops along my own stretch of road.  They have sung to me of travel, of hope, of pride.  They have sung to me of that ache for love, for sex, for the next fix and the warm, comforting rush once you get it.  They have sung to me in poetry and inspired me to write my own.  They have sung to me of activism and provoked me to act out.  And in the lowest, darkest moments, when I asked, Why am I like this?  Why do I feel this way? Am I the only one? they have sung to me and answered, No, sweet thing, you are not alone.

And so this is why Lilith Fair must return.  Here we all are, each of us on her individual journey, tuning out our worlds together for one brief stretch of time, transcending the music to celebrate our triumphs and struggles, the stuff that makes us awesome.  We are laughing, chatting, singing, dancing, making out, making believe, eating ice cream, reading pamphlets, texting someone, speaking up for a cause, sneaking photographs, holding hands, holding each other, sharing a beer, sharing a joint, wishing, hoping, dreaming—realizing our compass has led us to the right place tonight, realizing we are all okay.

then you know it’s alright and you feel it’s alright (each life has its place you say each life has its place) it’s alright

– “Virginia Woolf” The Indigo Girls

A Little Bitta Music Goes a Long Way

               Berthold Auerbach coined music the best when he said, “Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”  So here I am, knee-thick into the stickiest June I remember, after a winter and spring that trudged on months past their welcome.  One major breakup, downsize to a walk-up apartment, and broken nose (freakish attack by a porch chair in a windstorm) later, I’m able to enjoy tonight’s beautiful moon, lightning bug show, the first breezes in days, and admit to myself, Life is good. 

            What really helped me dust myself off and start to enjoy summer’s embrace, though, was getting out and seeing some live music.  Virago, a fierce female guitar/percussion duo, to be exact.  As I’ve written before, I am a music nut.  I listen to music, talk about music, download music, buy music (yes, in a store), explore music constantly.  Whenever I flip back through certain chapters of my life, I reaffirm the strength, hope, and nourishment music has provided me. 

             Sometimes, however, I forget the power of live music and why I miss it so deeply when I haven’t experienced it for a while.  I still remember my first concert, which in some ways will always be the best show I’ve ever seen: Tears for Fears at Radio City Music Hall.  Lights dimming, colorful strobe lights dancing around on stage, the first strains of their opening song slowly leaking out to us in the dark.  My goosebumps throbbed for days.                

                And then, of course, there was my first stadium concert: U2 at the Meadowlands.  Followed by my first music festival experiences with Lollapalooza and Lilith Fair.  (I still drool over the documentary Woodstock any chance I get, believing somehow I must have been there in spirit, though I was not yet of this earth.)  Living on my own in New York for close to a decade, I sucked in as much music as that city has to offer, and still didn’t catch it all—subway stations, bars, lounges, cafes, pizzerias, Irving Plaza, Bowery Ballroom, Central Park, Washington Square Park, street corners, the front stoop of my four-story apartment house—music buzzing from every crevice, corner, and alleyway.

             Tonight adds another show to my list.  And we’re not exactly talking New York or a stadium spectacle here.  Yet burrowed in a cozy cafe near the ocean, sitting with a group of warm, welcoming women, I enjoyed some of the best music I’ve heard (and seen) in ages.  In fact it was hard to believe at times that such raw, kick-ass music could possibly be spilling out from only two women, a guitar, and a drum.  Amy and Maire beat, strummed, and sang with passion and intensity I haven’t experienced in a long while, connecting with every one of us for every minute of the hour.  No matter that the cafe blazed from lack of air conditioning and summer’s swelter—the duo played music as though each of our lives depended on it.  Heat be damned, they seemed to say, stealing occasional swigs of water, we’re gonna give you all we got.  Well, they sure got me.  From the first notes on, I was hooked.  And, yet again, music proved the restorative, empowering value it holds in my life.  Two women, a guitar, and a drum.  Sounds simple, yet proved to be anything but. 

http://www.viragomusic.com

24 June 2010

My Relationship with Music (& My Top 10 Albums of the Decade)

I’ve been thinking about music a lot lately.  Well, let me clarify.  I always think about music.  I live for music.  I breathe music.  My recent surge in musical musings, however, has been sparked by all of the end-of-the-decade music lists being published.  Spin. Rolling Stone. Paste.  Best Albums.  Best Songs.  Best Bands.  Etc.  Etc.  Of course, unsurprisingly, I’ve read every one, cross-referenced against my own collection, made lists of new songs and albums to check out, already listened to such samplings from iTunes, purchased some new stuff, crossed out certain items from my lists, made new lists.  And so on.

I realize now that this crazy, obsessive relationship with music has been going on for decades.  Frightening.  I suppose there’s help for this sort of thing, but I don’t want help.  I’ll even take that “first step” and admit I’m an addict, but that’s it.  No apologies. 

Growing up in suburban New York, I came to cherish Saturday evenings.  Though we were only a small family of four, we rarely spent time together.  My father worked on that strange, foreign isle of Manhattan and then in his home office most evenings and weekends.  My mother had other things to do.  As inseparable as Emily and I were, we would also occasionally scatter off to separate corners.   On Saturday nights, however, the four of us would hang out together, watch an old movie or The Love Boat or…Listen To Music.

To this day, my parents have a record collection that would make most audiophiles drool.  Back then, I would sit for hours just tilting my head to read the titles, alphabetizing if necessary, inhaling the woody smell of cabinet and vinyl.  Nina Simone.  Dave Brubeck.  Harry Chapin.  Chris Connor.  Paul Williams.  Wings.  Bread.  I’d beg my mother to let me sing along to some of them while wearing headphones the size of saucers and banging wooden spoons against the Sears-Roebuck catalog. 

Saturday Night, however, meant we would spin records, let loose, rock out together.  Dance.  Lip-synch into our fists.  Laugh.

As time stretched forward, Music and I moved to my room for a little more privacy.  And this is where the magic happened.  I slipped The Smiths “The Queen is Dead” record out of its yellow Tower Records bag, and fell in love with Morrissey.  (I am still in love with him after all these years, though have cheated along the way with Dave Gahan, Peter Murphy, and Michael Stipe.  I have also taken turns loving Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith.)

And then there were the women.  I remember as though it were yesterday the long, sweltering summer I hung out with Suzanne Vega.  Well, not actually, though it did feel as though she was the only one who “got” me.  There was a time I figured if I could be as raw and beautiful as Chrissie Hynde, I’d hold the world in the palm of my hands.  The Indigo Girls, Ani DiFranco, Kate Bush, Annie Lennox, and Liz Fraser each took turns touching me, stealing my breath, ripping my heart out.   They still do.

I moved out of that two-story suburban saltbox long ago, but Music has remained with me ever since, the one standby, loyal friend and lover.  Stumbling around campus on my very first night of college, I heard “How Soon is Now?” blaring from a crowded dorm window and felt my breathing slow.  I’ll be okay here, I thought.  Years later in New York, PJ Harvey and Jonatha Brooke kept me company in my cozy walk-up on Jane Street.  They reintroduced me to Joni Mitchell, whom I introduced to Björk and Siouxsie.   For some reason, one of the only songs I could listen to as I huddled in my apartment during the days and nights after 9/11 was Sheryl Crow’s “Safe and Sound,” which she performed live on one of the televised benefit concerts.  It’s a beautiful, crushing song I find difficult to listen to now.  (I’ll leave all the songs that have moved me for another day’s musings.)

A couple of months ago, I enjoyed taking an intensive meditation class at a local community college.  I listened intently to every word of my teacher, a calm, pleasing woman, highly experienced in a variety of meditative practices.  She had me hook, line, and sinker.  Then she dropped The Bomb.  In order to achieve a complete state of reflective calm and peace, one must create pockets of silence.  Tune out loud, vexing people.  Avoid turning on the television upon returning home.  Take pleasure in preparing a meal without the evening news blaring in the background.  Try driving in silence without music.  Screeeeeech.  Halt.  What?!  Drive without my music?  Is she nuts? I thought.

I huffed and hmph-ed for one week straight, resisting the teacher’s advice.  Then, deciding to test her theory (and wanting to get my full money’s worth out of the course), I drove to and from work one day in pure silence.  In both directions, I felt as though my iPod glared at me from its dashboard jack while the pile of cd’s buried in the armrest fumed in muted anger.  Even so, my teacher was on to something.  I marveled at the vanilla strawberry swirls of a sunrise, slowed to admire the deer grazing in a field, felt calm and relaxed behind the chain of school buses trudging along without a care in the world.

And so I betrayed Music, turning her off that day, and many subsequent others, to foray into hushed stillness.  Yet I’ve realized something from my betrayal.  While the quiet does me good, I’m incomplete without Music.  I’m hopelessly hooked on her.  She knows me, cradles me, gives me kindness when it’s hard to find elsewhere.  And when I leave her for some silence, she is always waiting for me when I return.

MY TOP 10 ALBUMS OF THE DECADE

(I could tell you the exact moment I first listened to each of these, how much they’ve meant to me and why, but a woman needs to retain some mystery about her, doesn’t she?)

1.  Radiohead – Kid A

2.  PJ Harvey – Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea

3. Coldplay – A Rush of Cold Blood to the Head

4. Death Cab for Cutie – Plans

5. The White Stripes – Elephant

6. Various Artists – Garden State

7. The Boxer Rebellion – Union

8. Imogen Heap – Speak for Yourself

9. The Weepies – Say I am You

10. Interpol – Antics

Runners-Up:  Björk – Björk’s Greatest Hits; Muse – Black Holes and Revelations; Snow Patrol – Eyes Open; Foo Fighters – Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace; Madonna – Confessions on a Dance Floor