We watch a lot of live performances at my house. It can't match experiencing a concert in person, but those opportunities are rare compared to the endless catalog of shows available from YouTube, the iTunes Music Festival, and our hometown favorite, Austin City Limits. It's a great way to revisit favorites and sample new bands.
Plus, it's fun to compare stage techniques; how artists react to a subdued crowd or ride the momentum of a lively audience. There is the sing-along and the call-and-response; the exhortations from the stage — "Is there anybody out there?", "Make some noise!", and the reliable, "Let me hear you, city name!". I remember Elvis Costello introducing a song with "Seats are made for standing on!".
My favorite rock 'n' roll question is Bruce Springsteen's, "Is there anybody alive out there?"
When the moment arrives, the concert is already at a peak. The crowd is on top of the world, the noise louder than in the dreams of an average band. All of which makes the question even better. It's an exhortation to the audience and the band; there's something beyond this feeling, higher ground is within our reach. He repeats it again and again, as the response becomes deafening.
Is there anybody alive out there?<br>Is there anybody alive out there?<br>Is there anybody alive out there?
He keeps asking until even the most jaded can no longer ignore it.
I hear that question in my head often, especially when I see mundane routine where I once saw magic, and nitpicking negativity has replaced wide-eyed wonder. It's easy to narrow your focus to the point where you can no longer see what drew you to this person or thing or work in the first place.
For the ones who had a notion, a notion deep inside, that it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive. Whether a community of friends, kind stranger, or aging rock star, I'm grateful for reminders of the privilege that is life.
Last week's dispatch asked, What could a new friend listen to, read, or watch to better understand you?
30 Rock. I am Liz Lemon: I'm a little type A, self-deprecating, I love cheese, I have sweet (i.e. embarrassing) dance moves, blazers and jeans is my go-to outfit, the battle between looking cute and wearing comfortable footwear is creeping toward clogs, and I just want to be loved and appreciated for my work ethic and my brilliance. Behind the scenes, I'm a huge fan of what Tina Fey has done for women in leadership positions, and comedy specifically, all the while being way funnier than Sheryl Sandberg. Also, we once ran out of gas on the highway because we were so engrossed listening to the audiobook of Bossypants. I want to go to there.
To better understand me, a new friend could listen to the sound of rain on dogwood leaves and windowsills; they could read the smiles that appear inadvertently on my face and annotate when and where and how they manifested; they could listen to the patterns of speech that I use and the pitch and tone of my voice when addressing friends and strangers, and from the differences therein decipher whom I love and whom I fail to treat in the manner they deserve as humans and equals, and they may find that these are often one and the same person, giving a vantage point from which this new friend will see both the source of my confidence in my own living and the shame which constantly tempers it.
A great question! Trying to answer it, I realize just how scattered, unfocused and incoherent my story is on the web. And as I consider it more, I understand that human connections just aren't made this way—as much as I wish I could have just one story that shows my whole self, I realize just how trite it would be to show someone a video and say: "Here I am. Understand me!" This is where the curated list of "likes" and shares come in—they are a handy stand-in for that story. Instead of telling our own story and saying "this is me," we latch on to a list of movies, songs, books and other people's quotes (in nice faded photographic background) to cooly describe who we are at an arm's length.<br><br>But, if I met someone today, and as it is raining outside now (it's monsoon season where I am), I would tell this one story. It's a story from my childhood, an allegory about work and its meaning: A poor young umbrella repairman. A little girl, poorer, with a broken umbrella. He takes her to a garment store, lets her pick the fabric to make her a new one. She picks a gorgeous sky blue cloth. The umbrella he makes from it is beautiful, the best he's done. It becomes wildly popular. Every girl in town wants exactly the same one. He's successful. He also becomes busy. Overworked. One day, he notices a broken umbrella in the corner of his shop. It's the same one he fixed for the girl. She shows up in his dream, saying: "I came by a few times, but you were too busy."<br><br>I tried to tell it in video form here. Originally, I read it in a picture book as a kid in Japan. I can't read it again, as it's out of print, so I am not even sure if my memory of it is accurate. But I often think of this story, and I feel it is somehow connected to who I am, and what I'm doing.
There are a number of little snippets a new friend could read or watch online to better understand me. However, Greater than me, a piece I wrote earlier this year, captures what rests in my core and shares a bit of my story.
The Principia Discordia
I'd have my new pal read the book "Quiet", a great read on how introverts cope in an ever increasing, noisy world. Reading this book spoke to me like never before. In "Quiet", people would come to realize that I, along with many other introverts, derive a great deal of energy and stimulation from stillness, contemplation and introspection. Even close friends and family might now learn that if I want to be the vivacious, lively and outgoing type more often, I'll need my time alone, in order to recharge those batteries.
Something that people can watch to better understand me is the documentary about a Vancouver-based indie rock band I co-filmed and is now fully online and free. It's called Let Me Be Fictional and it has these quirky edits and long takes that reflects my film aesthetic. I feel emotional every time I watch it. I think of it as my child.
Bret Victor’s talk, Inventing on Principle
I inadvertently answered this one a few dispatches ago. I think I'll start sending this video to each new acquaintance :)
Spacious Effect by Erin Anacker:
Physical space informs the nature of the relationship. Large, open, empty spaces allow for too much space between people. Space for insecurity. Space for judgement. Space for disconnect. Small, quirky, intimate spaces cut through tension and circumvent superfluous and meaningless small talk. Small spaces cultivate closeness, elicit giggles, and replace social status with equality through forced, immediate group problem solving and team building.
Familiarity Breeds Content by Frank Bruni:
To be a regular is to insist on something steady in a world and a life with too many shocks, too much loss. The week can go off the rails. The month can go all the way to hell. Hill Country’s brisket is still there, forever fatty, a promise kept. To be a regular is not just to settle down but to grow up and appreciate that for all you haven’t tasted, you’re plenty lucky and plenty happy with what you have: Perla’s orecchiette, Empellón Taqueria’s chorizo-studded queso fundido.
What's your most memorable concert experience?