In the deserts of what is now Morocco secret events were once held to showcase musical and dancing abilities. For most occasions the abilities of the artists were profound at best, their abilities on par with the best musicians of their day, their choreographed pieces played with precision and skill.
But occasionally there was a moment where the experience was so profound, so completely consuming for viewers and artists alike, the audience would rock back and forth, hands in the air, proclaiming the name of god. It was said that in these moments it was the finger of god that touched the participants and became the energy, the life force that controlled their every moment. These moments were inspired, a gift.
Last Friday I had the privilege of viewing The Lone Bellow perform at the Fillmore Theater. I went to school with two of its members, in what seems like a different life ago. The Fillmore Theater hosted some of the most important bands of the last 50 years: Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Doors, Frank Zappa, the Allman Brothers… It is one of the great musical spots in the US and the very wood resinates with the years of sound like a well aged violin.
I have forgotten what it is like to see raw emotion poured out on a stage. In this moment it was there, able to be cut with a knife as though the inspiration for each song was still present, somewhere in the room on view like a curio cabinet or documentary film. Each song sung with intensity, voices throttled to a fever pitch, the audience responding and feeling with the coming and going of each movement.
When I pay for a show I don’t pay to be just entertained. I can entertain my self for hours with a never-ending stream of songs and movies on any number of devices I have on hand every day. I want to be transformed, consumed in the way that only music can do so, caught up in a moment that is not manufactured for shock and awe but wholly real and fully present in that very second by second alone. I want my very being to be picked up and merged with that of another, or that of the room. It is in those strange, ecstatic moments, our experiences entangled with those around us, that we are able to look at our own lives in the way that the artist might: with intensity, honesty, emotion. We borrow these emotions from the artists and take them home for a few days after. We connect the pieces of our own narrative through the music. We see in the stories how our outcomes might play out, with hope or despair. But we get to be present with it, if we are lucky enough to be present with the artist who is also present and not just performing an act.
At least this is how, at times, music effects me. I might begin to differentiate between music, the collection of notes, and Music, the consuming experience of connection brought on by the illicit display of emotion shared with those able and willing to be consumed in kind.
The musician giving all is left with a part of his or her heart unconscious and in recovery. It is no wonder so many musicians and actors wrestle with depression and drug problems. If done right everything is consumed, night after night.