I wrote the following piece on 21 May 2014, the day after my mother and I finally saw one of our very favourite bands, Elbow, in concert in Minneapolis. I didn’t post it right then, so now that a year has passed, one full of new and intense experiences, it seems like the right time to revisit the piece more publicly. Also, it’s been ages since I’ve last written here, and I wouldn’t mind restarting this blog. So here we are…
Some parts of medieval Christianity revolved around the power of relics. The use of relics suggested that someone could be so good, pure, holy that being in the presence of even a piece of them, a part of someone long gone, can be a sacred and otherworldly experience. Perhaps as a echo of this, or from some other source, maybe even older and more pervasive, trace presence still remains holy to us, though its focus has shifted. A famous artist’s mark or an autograph from a celebrity measure the authenticity of a meaningful connection, even if it is meaningful only by being direct. For people who immerse themselves in a fandom, there is usually a Mecca, the saints, and some ascetics. Fandom is a form of worship, and with that comes the necessity for sacrality and loci for faith.
I find faith in much; I am a devout believer in humanity’s power to create and hold onto beauty. Cultural, creative artifacts— video games, film, music— capture those, present them in sometimes neat, sometimes chaotic expressions. Those expressions are from creators, and the more beautiful the expression, the more it seems like the creator(s) must have something truly beautiful about him or her or them. I find that thought most irresistible with music. Music can be so personal, warm, intimate, and richly full of everything that humanity is in an accessible format. It can wash over and colour one’s mood without settling in. It can be listened to deeply while soaking in each note as they build the delicate interplay between instruments and sounds. There is music that demands one’s attention, either through being loudly competitive or being quietly arresting. Sometimes one runs across a song that stops her— stops her activity, her multitasking business, even briefly her breathing. She must listen. Sometimes the whole record has that effect. And rarely, every record an artist or group releases does that.
For me, that band has been Elbow. There have been others, and I’d be hard pressed to choose a favourite. But Elbow has been there for so long, in the right place and modes every time. Six albums (and other releases) over the course of thirteen years. I have been listening for eleven or so; I have only lived for twice that. Half of my lifetime I have been listening, arrested. Their music lent warmth when my family was looking for ways to come back together, as ourselves and with each other. My voice has been molded to softer, deeper, richer tones in constant hopes of matching Guy Garvey’s. Every time I have fallen in love, the words were already there in the songs; after awhile I realized that the words always fit because I wanted to love and be loved as seemed possible in them. I always knew that when I felt heartbroken or alone or doubting everything I could do or was, I could stop and listen. Listening brought them there, like old friends playing with a few instruments until it comes together into something beautifully unexpected. That feeling was there for rainy days of boredom, snowy days of awe, sunny days of singular elation, weak days of searing anxiety. Otherwise mundane, profane days could become sacred while singing along. Sacred days could be consecrated with songs that I know better than any others.
But it was always recorded. It may still have an intimate sound (a mark of potent production), but these were tones and performances that no longer exactly existed. By being removed from the change of a decade, my experience of Elbow was removed from their humanity, despite that experience always being in step with my own humanity. Eleven years passed before I could finally merge that humanity, before I could exist in the same time and space as the band. It’s a fallacy; just because many of the most pivotal moments of my life were underpinned by their music, I neither know nor am known by Elbow. So their performance somehow wasn’t my focus in going to their concert; I really sought that sacralizing presence. It was almost as if I wanted to show them what their music could do in helping shape a person.
That being said, their performance was wonderful; they played several newer songs but reached back through their discography as well. Craig, Mark, Pete, and Jupp play effortlessly skillfully; Guy Garvey’s voice is as consistent, powerful, and warm as it has sounded on every record since 2001. Songs were as we knew them but were rejuvenated. The crowd was certainly entertained. Between the variety of the set list and Guy’s immediately comfortable, friendly chatting, the crowd was there and present. But sometimes I would have to fight myself to listen there, to make new memories rather than falling into the old ones held in each song. And I could feel that even more with my mother there; we wrapped our arms around each other and sang along to songs that once might have stopped us fighting during our toughest times. The concert ended with Guy’s voice merging with and being overtaken by the audience’s. It was a beautiful, moving finale that lingered in the air after the band left the stage.
When I go to concerts of artists I really enjoy, I can’t help but try to be noticed. Right after extending the connection to a mutual one, I can savour that trace presence, the relic of a smile. I caught Guy Garvey’s eye a few times during the show. He looked over; I raised my fist high and grinned. He returned both gestures. Later he looked over; I changed my clap to a wave. He winked. I was beyond elated. This may have looked like a fangirl swooning; perhaps in part it was. But to me, it was more so the knowledge that someone I admire so wholly and have for so long, who has been in some way part of several of my passions and thus the course of my life, recognized for that moment that I was there to share in that space and that performance. In those quick interactions, the connection between myself and him and them that I had felt for so long, though distantly, had been authenticated, had been made real.
Thus today, the day after is a strange one; I waited months for that particular performance, but I had waited years to attend one of Elbow’s at all. And greedily, it felt like those few hours were not enough after that long a wait. I want to sink back into that feeling; I want to perpetuate for myself the idea that they might know how much their art and all that it has meant to them have meant so much to me too. I had to venture back too quickly into the profane world, in which some people want much from me and others don’t care at all about what has made me. As soon as I can, I want to go back to where it is sacred, where the performance of those people— very talented and very human people— condense my life and self into moments and sounds and where that performance makes strangers friends, known to each other infinitely distantly and intimately.