Every Thursday, the theatre in our small town put on a variety show. Students from the college and local people who believed they could act or sing did ample numbers for the program weekly. The audience was treated to scenes from famous plays, takes on popular songs, spoken word poetry. The acts did not bowl us over as a rule, but most people enjoyed the evenings and felt entertained. I numbered among the few who went really hoping to spot talent. Brilliance shows up even in small towns like ours I believed. And I thought seeing or hearing some great, undiscovered singer or actor perform would be a magnificent event, that everyone would admire the talent revealing itself on the stage and raise no question of the artist’s greatness. True flare could do no less.
It is lifted away from the others and cradled. It is comfortable. One hand gently closes around its slender neck. Fingers press, politely adjusting the selected strings to the desired pitch, while the other hand strums once. It agrees. The hand strums more. An understanding begins.
Chords are chosen in the most workable sequences. These are the hands of one who will become a master.
If you want to make it in this world you need to speak: debate the rings around Saturn, discuss the sounds of northern soul, converse about Banksy.
Then just dance. Move. Move! Flex those glutes, tear off your Tommy Hilfiger t-shirt – in the club or as you freak out to the sounds in your souped-up Hyundai.
Bathed in red light, bodies move and pulse, arms swaying like sea-anemone-tentacles, washed by waves of electric guitar and drum beats pounding out “Zombie.” Center stage, Dolores O’Riordan plays her red electric guitar, the weight of that thing strapped to her, and she just rips it—just tears up that song, and it’s the most badass thing I’ve ever seen. And I want that. I know that a badass lives deep inside of me, but I must take baby steps first. I must learn to play the electric guitar. Then, I’ll buy myself a silver-sequined mini dress. That’s the badass dream.
Also, I have no job. I don’t have a Gibson ES 335 in cherry red, either. The moving expenses my husband and I paid to get from Ohio to the suburbs of Seattle for his job were the price of one Gibson ES 335. We’ll break even, but I should find some work too, to help out with some of the extras like room and board for a child we might have someday who plans on going to college.
Music teaches us that love can be a lot of things. Love is a battlefield. Love is all around. Love is what I got. Love is my religion. Love is hard—but I’m getting ahead of myself.
In 2007, Rob Sheffield published a book called Love Is A Mixtape and it was the worst. It’s not that the writing was bad or the story was tough to understand, but he appropriated a concept we all knew to be true and used it in the most dismal way imaginable. Love is a mixtape, all careful ordering and appropriating other people’s words and dissonant chords to make your own Frankenstein monster of kissing-in-thunderstorms and racing-through-airports and sex-in-dimly-lit-rooms. Even truer, a mixtape is love. It’s assembling the most personal collage of sound in the world, distilling the feelings from your head into some semblance of order so they can communicate a coherent idea, and maybe even a conception of love.
In the middle of nowhere, a room bursts into existence. Four walls, a ceiling, and a floor. A perfect square in a void. The room is bursting with noise. The sound of feet on wood. Of jazz singing from a speaker. The room moves to the noise. Around and around.
Inside the four walls, there are people and they are dancing. Arm in arm with a partner, they swing each other around. Almost colliding with the people around them but never quite touching. Their feet doing quick exchanges of balance. One hand balled in a fist, the other waving as they sweep. The partners stare at each other as they dance. Their faces vacant, like they are somewhere else.