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Why is live music making me feel dead inside?

July 26, 2011

“If my senses fail, stay with me ‘til they go because I don’t want to be alone.” – Blake Sennett Greetings in Braille

The Elected – Greetings in Braille MP3

That song guts me every time. We all want to connect, to not be alone, but it seems so impossible to make that leap. It is a sentiment that is one of the deliciously bittersweet ingredients of pure pop bliss. A lot of The Elected’s songs are like that. They’re a great, overlooked band and after a seven-year hiatus they’ve got a new album.

They played The Tractor in Seattle a few weeks ago. I should have gone, but I didn’t because I was pretty sure that as much as their songs may leave me emotionally reeling, I didn’t think that connection would happen in their presence.

The fact is, I just don’t enjoy live music as much as I used to. While it’s tempting to reduce this emerging trajectory to the cliché calculus that the older I get, the less appealing live music seems to be; the real question is why?

It may be that I’ve set the bar too high. All I’m asking for is transcendence. I want to lose myself. I want to be part of something bigger than myself. I want to be in the moment. These are the effects of live music that I crave, but are becoming harder to achieve. It still happens (The Black Lips just last month), but more and more I’m left cold. Songs that I love on the stereo leave me checking my watch when I’m at the show. Sometimes it’s the performance, but sometimes it’s just me.  I’m easily distracted. The chatter in my head is harder to muffle. How is that I can go see Leonard Cohen and be unmoved, yet be brought to tears from watching him on YouTube? While mellower, less rocking tunes still work their magic on me when I’m by myself, frequently when performed live, they lose their allure. It seems the louder the music, the more drenching the guitars, the better chance I have of forgetting myself and surrendering to the present … but then someone like Gillian Welch slays me with her sweet, slow Elvis Presley Blues (like she did last week in Seattle) and I’m back where I started.

On this self-imposed exile in the Puget Sound, live music seems so far away – a three hour round trip to be exact. I really need to be motivated to go (although I’ll never pass up a chance to see a baseball game, even if the Mariners are the worst team in the league). With my baseball affliction in mind, perhaps it is unfair to blame the limitations of time and space on my current musical malaise. It already started when I lived in Los Angeles. Just a short walk from Spaceland, a premium independent music emporium, I’d frequently stay home and listen to the headlining band on the stereo instead. Now, I am willingly caged by the trappings of domesticity. I’ll tell myself it’s almost too beautiful to leave; these dogs that surround me are too hypnotizing. Look! I can listen here, in a chair and watch the ferries pass by through the trees. I can have it all! Why deal with the messy mechanics of leaving, of being somewhere else?

I’m grateful for my life here on this island, but at forty-three, fifty feels like it’s coming on like a Sam Peckinpah bullet … it may be in slow motion, but there’s no doubt where it’s going to land. While I am surrounded by a lot of space, the walls of life are closing in (and I’m letting it happen). Live music used to be an escape from my insular tendencies, but now it only reinforces them.

So many of The Elected’s songs seem to be about wanting to escape. About starting fresh. About leaving and the impossibility of going back home. But where to go? Their narrator never seems to get release and while their music hits the emotional notes I crave, I tell myself that maybe it works its magic best in the comfort of my solitude. I tell myself that The Elected is a band that speaks to my failures; they bring artful, buoyant relief to the clouds of a sad day. They sing of the people who slip out of our lives, people we loved, who don’t give us a thought when we’re gone. Maybe it’s just best to enjoy them alone.

Most of my life has been geared toward avoiding the slow grind to maturity, so the fact that live music, such a fundamental element of my youth, has become less and less enjoyable is an alarming and depressing development. On nights like when I didn’t go to The Elected, I’m torn: I want to escape the seemingly inevitable fate of the downward slope, but I feel like I’m swimming in warm cement (it’s almost comfortable as it solidifies). The gnawing notion that any given show won’t be worth it becomes worse than a self-fulfilling prophecy. It becomes an excuse to not go at all.

I was just looking for a video of The Elected to spice up this post. I suppose it is fitting that there is not a good one to be found. Perhaps this is really a band where it is best to use your imagination, to close your eyes and let the music take you where it will. At least that’s what I told myself before I went to sleep that night, well before they took the stage.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 2, 2011 11:41 am

    greetings in braille, an overplayed staple on many of my most repetitive mixes. it never fails to make me feel.

    funny, I see that same slo-mo bullet but it’s a lot closer and I think it just sped up

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