In the Clear- New Orleans
I went to see a band play in New Orleans once. Just once. It was Cage the Elephant- I’ve seen them eleven times. I’d like to see them about a billion more times. They are my favorite live band, one of my favorite bands ever… I never get tired of them. They are insane live. Insane. But seeing a rock band play a show in a relatively small venue in New Orleans is just… It’s a bad idea. It is a truly terrible place to go to see rock.
It was still a great show. I just wouldn’t ever go see a rock band play there again.
The thing is, though, that rock is perfectly at home in that city. Just like all the other styles of music are perfectly at home there. New Orleans is… for music, it’s just a big huge blend of sound and beats and styles and energy. There isn’t anywhere like New Orleans, for a lot of reasons, but the music is definitely something that sets it apart. I love that the music is so entwined in the culture. I don’t think there’s really anywhere else like that. A place where your roots as a person are the same roots that your songs have. There’s some really heavy magic to that.
This seemed sort of like the life and death episode. You play music to make life fuller, to feel happy, to make people smile. You play to tell a story or get something across. And you play when life is ending, when you’re full of grief, when everything’s dark. That’s what’s so amazing about music- most art, really- it’s not for one mood.
Have you ever heard the song I Should Have Known by the Foo Fighters? Go listen. Just… go. Anyone who’s heard that song could probably have guessed that Seattle would be sort of an emotional episode. Not that they’re not all emotional. But Seattle is… well. This was an episode about loss.
I think I was… six years old when Kurt Cobain died. I didn’t know who he was. My parents were pretty awesome about playing every damn thing they listened to for us, so I didn’t grow up on, like, Old MacDonald, but David Bowie and Green Day and the Rolling Stones and the Smashing Pumpkins. But Nirvana was not… my dad’s favorite, so I never heard them until I started listening to music on my own. And that was long after Kurt passed away. But when I did hear them it was just… the start of everything.
I listen to a lot of music, in a lot of really varied genres. But my roots, the thing my music is built on, is the Seattle music scene of the 1990s and 2000s- two very different scenes, but sort of… built on each other in a way. And that’s my music. That’s the stuff that influences me, that influenced the bands I love. It’s the stuff that made me want to play music and basically dictated a large part of how I lived my life. You could even say it influences my writing, since I feel like music plays a huge part in how I think and feel and how I translate that to paper.
I miss Kurt Cobain, and I wasn’t even… aware, when Kurt Cobain died. I can’t imagine what it was like for the people who were there. The people who loved that music and what it meant and represented. It must have been like the world was ending.
I love this song, Subterranean. It’s an incredible song from every aspect- musically, from both, conversely, a pop aesthetic and a sort of risky I-can-do-as-I-please rock angle. Lyrically, because… dear god. It’s so simple and so painful and so beautiful. And I love that the Foo Fighters had Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie sing on it. I think Ben Gibbard’s a genius. But here, it was the meeting of the two- the grunge scene and the softer Seattle alt-rock that came after- so very different than grunge but maybe… influenced by that time and the losses and everything that was happening around people like Ben Gibbard as they grew up? It was like my two Seattle loves, colliding. It’s gorgeous and it means something. This episode meant something. God. It made me feel, in a strange way, very connected. That’s really what this whole series seems to have been about for me- all these different cities and different genre and very different people, all connected by music. It’s amazing.
I Am A River- New York
I could totally talk about this episode, but it would just be me repeating what I’ve said about the other episodes—how amazing the history of music is, how fascinating it is, and touching, and personal, to hear that history being told by the people who were there. How beautifully Dave Grohl has created a space for these stories to be told. And by repeating myself in the last several episode conversations, I think I’ve probably lost anyone who was reading this anyway, so I probably could blather on about that and no one would notice.
But one of the things that really struck me about this episode was something President Obama said when Dave was interviewing him, at the end. He said something along the lines of how music is something that connects us more than any other thing. And I think that’s true. Anyone who’s ever been to a concert knows that when you’re standing in that audience, you feel connected to a group of strangers in a way nothing else really compares to. Anyone who’s watched Dave travel around the country and talk to people from different walks of life, in different musical genres, can see that.
I’ve been sort of struggling with how to finish this blog series, or whatever it is, up. It started out as just something fun and then I sort of… let it drag while I rambled… But truthfully, a lot of this show spoke to me, as a musician, as a writer, as someone who wants to be connected. And this last episode, with President Obama saying what he did, even though he was only interviewed for a short time, really struck me. I’m writing this just after inauguration day, 2017, two days after the Women’s March. And there are many, many things we can, and should, do to fight against the terrible things that are happening around us. We should call our representatives. We should sign petitions. We should march. We should stand with our neighbors, and we should donate time and money where we can.
But there are also smaller, everyday things we can do. We can listen to music. We can support bands and artists that create beautiful things, that fly in the face of convention, that connect us, that speak out, that put good into the world. We can read books—all the books. We can buy paintings. See films that tell the important stories, the stories that need telling. Buy an album or a movie ticket, or tell a friend. Pass along a good recommendation. Let art connect us, and teach us, and help us explore, because wow, we’re going to need all of that we can get.