Thursday, April 21, 2016

Why the music still matters

In June 1994, my teenybopper self headed on down to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia to see Pink Floyd. It was a last-minute thing. The show was sold out, but a late cancellation meant three tickets ended up in the hands of a friend's mother who was a fan. Friend's mom obviously took her daughter and, as luck would have it, daughter called me to take ticket #3. I don't need to expound on the experience of seeing Pink Floyd live as any number of superlatives you could use apply.

What I will note is walking out of the stadium, when I overheard a few fans go "now, we just have to wait five years to see them again."

We're on year 22 now. From the sound of it, David Gilmour has plenty of money and no desire to cash in by doing some manner of abbreviated tour reuniting with Roger Waters.

The point is, I had the chance to go and I did. If I hadn't, plain and simple: Pink Floyd would be in the "wish I had seen" category. This fact seems particularly relevant as I got my old butt moving the past two nights to see shows by bands that people much younger than me champion. And then today, we had the news about Prince (never got to see him).

Music has been a part of my life since about age five and has been a top hobby of mine since about age 14. This week has reminded me so much of why this is the case:

  • Still discovering new music - I had heard Wolf Alice at some point on KEXP here in Seattle, but hadn't really listened to a lot of their stuff. It's impossible to hear every band out there. But, when I saw they were opening for Chvrches this week, I figured they were worth checking out. This was a good decision. One of the best opening acts I've ever seen. I was stoked to see their album is available on Amazon Prime Music. Couldn't download it fast enough. All these years later, hearing something fresh is still a great feeling. In fact, the two headliners I saw this week - Chvrches and Grimes - are hardly old hat. I don't care if I'm the oldest guy at the show (I wasn't); new music has something to offer all ages.
  • Seeing bands at their best - Chvrches and Grimes are in a moment right now. They're not the biggest bands in the world, but you could make an argument that they're each hitting their strides as musical acts. It's very hard to maintain exceptional levels of creativity for years on end. I mean, no one is going to say the Rolling Stones are a bad band, but is someone going to contend their albums since the 1990s are the best of their career? Radiohead is the most recent example of a band that just seems to keep delivering. Seeing Chvrches now, compared to two years ago, is a revelation (you can take someone else's word for it here). Grimes is in a similar spot, coming into her own as one of the top acts in music (she headlines Coachella, after all). I'm never going to get to see Prince, but the people I envy are the ones who saw him in the 1980s.
  • A retreat - Counting watching opening acts, there were 2.5 hours this week where reality just stopped. In a fractured society, suddenly, I was in a room with ~2,000 people who were all there for the same reason. You can talk to strangers and know you have something in common. The lights go down and you can dance your face off without worrying how someone thinks you look. The stress of work and life is forgotten. And when the lights come up and you head back into reality, it's almost always with a smile. I've never talked to someone who has felt that time with music has been time wasted.
Anyhow, this week has reinforced why music is and hopefully always will be central to my life. I'm lucky to live in a city (and to travel to places) that let me indulge in all sorts of sounds.

Seeing the reactions from folks about Prince's death drove it home for me: music isn't for the kids. Music isn't anyone's but your own. But music is something that does reward us for letting it physically occupy the space in our lives that many of us have for it sentimentally.

Hope to see you at a show soon. I'll be the oldest guy close to the front.