Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Randall's Island 3: The Saturday Show

After a great brunch with family, I actually opted to put my feet up for a while.  One week of New York trekking was reminding me that I had not packed the appropriate footwear.  Oh well, no matter.  It was a good excuse to rest my over-stimulated mind, body and soul.  Besides, the next thing we knew it was four o’clock and time to be heading to the ferry.

On East 34th Street, we found our ferry berth and pier, ready with tickets in hand.  Having lived on a Maine island for over 10 years, I have a deep understanding of how one can already be “on island” without having left the ferry terminal.  The entire community surrounding you is heading to the same place, and it becomes more than an occasional community in that regard.  This was a celebratory ride.  Indeed, it may have been one of the highlights of the day.

Vuvuzelas, odd whoops, cheers and giggles, the repeated “Have your tickets out and ready!” all provided the giddy soundtrack for boarding the ferry.  On the water, a cool breeze only fed the anticipation.  A little dude in a faux Sioux headdress bounded around from spot to spot, stopping only to holler, “Whooooooo!” as loudly as his larynx would allow.  Every jolt of other vessel’s wakes resonated through the hull as a gong would, and each side-to lurch and roll elicited laughter and smiles.  Strangers bumped into strangers, only to shrug their shoulders and say, “Sorry, man.”  The occasional community ensured, though, that we were not strangers, entirely.  We all had some form of insight into the same secret knowledge.  This being a Saturday combined with the energy of the ferry, we could immediately tell that this was the fiesta of the three-day run.

(image courtesy of NY Public Library)

Unlike Friday, the audience stretched more than three quarters the way back on the lawn.  It was crowded, well before show time, and we returned to the spot behind the delay towers.  While some might take that to be an obstructed area, for us, it served as a great staging area.  We were able to meet up with some friends from New Jersey, and suddenly we were a group of eight and growing.  Many hijinks ensued, and the overall feeling was that of a family reunion piled on top of a family reunion.

Musically, I was glad for the eclectic first set.  It included many songs which agree with my significant other’s sensibilities.  She is not necessarily a fan of the open ended jam–be it Coltrane, Grateful Dead, Garcia Band or Phish.  Eight out of the twelve songs in that first set qualify as some of her favorites.  This was great because I could see her react with joy, and we could celebrate and dance together.  One of the challenges of this set, for me, was that the flow of foot traffic never slowed.  People could not seem to find their way to their spots, or they were just milling about for the spectacle of it all.  As a result, the crowd vibe was unsettled. (Saturday shows.)

The second set was to be a little more of what I find enjoyable at a show, and it proved to mesh well with our whole group.  The jammy and danceable suite of songs scratched many a yen, and we were happy.  Then came another special moment for me.  Winding down the Ghost jam, as usual, I had no idea where this band was going.  When the opening riff to Wingsuit clicked in, once again I shuddered in recognition.  This is another new favorite of mine, and I will stand by that no matter how many of the online cognoscente see it as a throw away or “energy suck.”

It is difficult to explain why a song will grab me this way.  Jeanette Bicknell summarizes research that suggests music which causes such recognition, the “chill response,” needs to be bittersweet.  Furthermore, “music that is familiar to the listener is more likely than unfamiliar music to elicit strong responses” (65).  The recently released Fuego was one of two complete recordings on my Kindle as I traveled in late-June and early-July, and I was deeply familiar with every note.  That, however, is only half the story.

While Nietzsche and Schopenhauer may have argued that lyrical content can be sublimated into the music itself, I feast on lyrical content as a part of the bargain. Wingsuit contains lyrics that I have been coming to terms with for years.  Losing people close to me, losing things that I hold dear, there is a Zen-like refrain which I find to be a haunting reminder of mortality: “Nothing lasts, nothing stays, / caught in this procession / of unchanging days.” The tedium of our one dimensional, Marcusian reality hurts all the more when things we love are gone.  “What’s new is old. / What’s old is gone. / You’re pushed up to the edge / so put your wingsuit on.”  Again, as with many of the newer songs, I find a message of the only time being now.  

This sentiment is as cliché a concept as ever captured in Basho’s best haiku about impermanence.  The notions are as cliché as Shakespeare detailing the ravages of time in his sonnets.  However, the longer we live, the heavier those “clichéd” concepts weigh on us.  There is very little time to continue the work or the goals we intended, “pushed up to the edge.”  When the exalting lyrics come – “And gliding away, / you glide where you chose. / There’s nothing to say, / and nothing to lose” – it all makes sense to me.  It is time to create your own path.

One cannot plan when the lightning will strike.  When it does, I am grateful, and I am often being reminded of the “things are true that I forget.”  And I relish those moments when “I feel the feeling I forgot.”

(Thanks again to fromtheaquarium for the great audience recording.)

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