scales of the fractal of the song
Thursday, July 29 2010
Tonight Gretchen and I would be attending a show at the Bearsville Theatre benefitting those who (for obvious reasons) oppose the form of coal mining wherein mountaintops are blown up and and then dumped into valleys, taking what once was a forested hilly landscape and leaving it a despoiled jumble somewhat approximating level in cross-section. As always before such occasions, we'd be meeting up with friends and dining in the region's only vegan restaurant, the Garden Café in Woodstock. The band performing tonight would be Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore, a Kentucky-based ensemble that also would be including Jim James from My Morning Jacket. Our friend Jenny (who is originally from Kentucky) has become friends with JJ, so there was a chance that he might even be coming to the Garden with her, but in the end he couldn't make it. Instead Jenny brought her husband Doug, a lovely woman (TB) who had experienced brief pop music success in the grungy mid-90s, and a somewhat cantankerous woman in a wheelchair (and who never once did any tricks therein). Also meeting us at the Garden was our friend Deborah (who works with Jenny these days).
The food at the Garden Café is always tuned a bit wrong for my tastebuds. In the past I'd brought my own hotsauce, but today I brought a jalapeño pepper I'd grown in my own garden. In doing this I'd come generationally full-circle. When I was a kid, my father used to take his home-grown peppers with him to restaurants and I used to think it was crazy. But now I finally see the wisdom in it and am doing it myself. I'd also brought my own homemade knife to help with cutting up the peppers; it's a crude little tool with a wooden handle grooved to accept a razor blade; it dates back to when I used to shoplift and needed something small for discreetly slicing open packaging. Nobody at our table was interested in my peppers except Deborah, who added some slices to the savory pie she'd ordered.
My bringing my own homegrown peppers was odd behavior for those at our table unfamiliar with my quirks. But then Jenny got me to tell them about how I collect all my feces and urine and compost it for use as fertilizer for the garden. Though the woman in the wheelchair was momentarily disturbed by this revelation, usually the kind of people I meet in social situations are open to new ways of thinking about such things. For anyone with an open mind, it doesn't take much convincing that using your own biological waste products as fertilizer represents sanity and that what is crazy and makes no sense is the present paradigm where we take drinkable water, mix it with our urine and feces, and then spend money and energy to clean that water while also spending money and energy to dig up minerals and process them to produce fertilizer. If people could just get a little beyond the "poo-poo-is-nasty" idea implanted beneath most of their consciousness during their toilet training, a thin-but-appreciable slice of what is messed-up about America could be addressed.
Over at the Bearsville Theatre, the audience area had been outfitted with chairs. This was to be more of a sit-down-and-tap-your-toe folk experience than a stand-up-and-rock-out experience. While we drank our pre-show beers, we found ourselves talking to Ben Sollee, the cellist. He was a very earnest and mature gentleman (at least by the standards of most young musicians of the sort I've known). When he learned I was a computer guy, he told me about how he was training himself to use Linux, which is not the sort of thing many professional musicians attempt. But most of what he does seems to focus on getting the word out about Mountaintop Removal.
The music particularly suited Gretchen's tastes. It was quirky yet folky, energetic yet melodic. It tended to be a little sleepy and sparse for my tastes, though I have to say that Ben is an incredible cellist, making all manner of sounds come out of his instrument. Sometimes he provided filmtrack-style tonal fills, sometimes he was percussion, and then when he wanted to he could make his cello sound like a fiddle or even a stand-up bass.
Many of the people in the audience were obviously there just to see Jim James, and they went nuts on the occasions when the band relented and played songs from the My Morning Jacket catalog. James himself was a gracious celebrity side-project member, never stealing the others' limelight and often fading meekly into the background. This behavior might have been unusual among the rockstars of yore, but today's rockstars, raised in the egalitarian mileau of alternative rock, can actually do the humility thing. When, however, James performed one of his own songs, he'd turn into a frenzied rock and roll elf, banging his head and getting completely lost in various scales of the fractal of the song. Often it would seem that he needed to be alone with his rock and roll moment, and he'd retreat to the back of the stage and bang his head in front of the drummer.
By the end of the show, there were five or six nattily-attired young women directly in front of the stage, clustered mostly in front of Jim James. With his thick gnomish features, he's an unlikely sex symbol. But that's the power of rock and roll.
After the show, there followed a long and (for me) dull period of star-fucking. I'm never particularly interested in meeting the members of a band after a show; I figure they'd just as soon have their groupies sit on their faces and not be bothered by me. I've shown my appreciation during their performance, so what's left to do? But Gretchen isn't that way. She wants to bask in the glow of the artists. She wants to ask them questions and she wants them to sign her CD cover. She'd do other fun things with them too I'm sure, given the opportunity. But by the end there, she'd collected everyone's signature except for the drummer's. We'd even chatted with Jim James (who, after the show, had stuffed his puffy head of hair into a knit cap and was somewhat incognito). We'd also avoided being puked on by one of those nattily-attired young women who had nearly paralyzed herself with alcohol.
The night had taken a turn for the unseasonably cool, so much so that we rolled up the windows and ran the car's heater on the drive home. Eleanor and Sally had both eaten something unspeakably disgusting before we'd left for Woodstock, and now our car had a fragrance somewhere on the spectrum between cow manure and halitosis.
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