ABBA, Beyonce, Bizet, Bowie, Brixton Academy, Dave Grohl, Eek A Mouse, Heloise Lettisier, Iggy Pop, John Foxxx, John Paul Jones, Kraftwerk, Landscape, led zeppelin, Les Negresses Vertes, Listening, love, Madge, Michael Jackson, Morcheeba, Patti Smith, Pretty vacant, Puccini, Rocky Horror, Schubert, Sinead OConnor, System Of A Down, The Cramps, Them Crooked Vultures
I experienced an epiphany last night. A small one.
Yes, bright lights from above were involved. Choral throngs. A shift in the cosmos. But so was a small French chanteuse. 3 musicians. 3 male dancers. Some sparsely choreographed neon tubes. Some Somersby cider. And few thousand people.
Christine & The Queens quietly smashed through the musical panic room I have patently been living inside.
It wasn’t until half way through the gig that I realised that the mesmeric and seductive nature of her and the music was actually relentlessly delicately tap tap tapping against the walls until smash. Revelation. For various reasons, some particular to me and the recent years of my life – others universal and just to do with age, I had forgotten how to listen.
As a man, especially a 50 something white one, that will come as no surprise to many. We are apparently renowned for our inability to listen.
But clichés aside, I have always had the deepest and greatest love for all forms of music. From the velvet of Puccini to the Twin Tenor Aria of Bizet’s the Pearl Fishers, to reggae blues parties ting a ling-a-linging to Eek A Mouse, the rocky horror psychobilly of the Cramps, smash in some black country Led-heavy rock, season with System of A Down, Move On Up to disco, cross the White Lines of Hip Hop, turn left at ABBA, drink in the pretty vacancy of punk and back into deep folk, all rounded off with some heavy house and a little drum and base. Nenah Cherry’s Red hot and blue Monday. Hoagy Carmichael to the power of the killers.
And I hadn’t even got to Bowie, Pop & Reed, and the art fag beauty of shape shifting artists and icons in bleeding light landscapes. And then there’s the expanses of Ode to joy and Trout Concertos for cello and violin with a little Gregory Parker and Ella Fitzgerald for the sheer hell of it. The colour is endless.
I just love music. And I can find the delicate cadence of a Gregorian chant in the heart of Face A La Mer by Les Negresses Vertes.
But therein lies the problem. Listening too much becomes Not Listening. It becomes interrogation.
I am also a drummer which means that the musical verticals are cut with the horizontal of particular musicians (always a tricky word to use when talking about drummers). The interrogation is not just genre. It’s now cut by skill set and value judgements. Not only am I interrogating the vibe and output of Crooked Vultures, I am also listening to the relationship between Jones and Grohl in comparative terms – given the seamless fluid and world shaping nature of Jones’s previous relationship with John Bonham.
Listening too much and having too much of a back catalogue in your head and heart in one way is divine and defining. But it is also a tyranny when applied in the wrong way.
As Christine, real name Héloise Letissier, moved through her set, I did what all over music-ed under feeling people do. I started cataloguing every nuance and inspiration. Mining every song for influences and steals. Creating collisions and comparisons, like some dreadful two penny film pitch. In her physicality she had the punk animalism of Iggy Pop fused with Michael Jackson; with a smattering of ‘Madgey ‘Vogue for good measure.
She had the fractured roar and vocal soar and musicality of Sinead.
The musicians that back her were like someone had taken Daft Punk and sent them to a musical un-finishing school run by John Foxxx, Landscape and presided over by Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider, two discrete computational Professors from Dusseldorf.
The pulsing and strobing of samples was text book White Lines – and the tip toe keyboard of Tilted was pure Einstein a Go Go rolled in a little sparks with some deep house and Morcheeba for good measure.
Stop. Whoa. And the whole Bitter Pill Alanis moment cannot be ignored. Which bled into a Red Dawn landscape of Peter Gabriel like making.
The elegantly choreographed neon installation dancing above her head – and I am remembering Gary Newman and the Tubeway Army’s bleak black and strip lights.
And then the soaring above all of the others: Patti Smith rushed up into my head.
But as the gig went on the snippets, influences and collisions came thicker and faster, speeding through my head.
Trying to stay focused on each one of these flashes became akin to watching a subway train pull out of the station. At first each window, each carriage and the people inside them are distinct but as the train speeds up they begin to smudge into each other faster and faster, until they are a strobe of light a roar and a feeling: a feeling. Until they just ‘are’.
And that was my epiphany. The Broken Beyonce. The Half Woman. Became my Jean D’Arc.
As the music overflowed it became impossible to keep interrogating. And I started to listen. I slowly remembered what it was like to just listen and feel. Stop thinking stop talking.
I realised that I was trying to control the emotion of the music and her through the deconstruction of it. And the falling away of that felt transcendent.
I don’t mean to put too much on her shoulders. Perhaps I was also overwhelmed by the LOVE in the room. Because it was LOVE. All these people calling her name. It was kind and generous and messy. It wasn’t obsession, or trending or fetishizing. She seemed very very LOVED.
So unusually, even for this whiter shade of male, I found myself listening and being moved once more. And feeling exhilarated by the feeling of that.
I remembered how I feel about music. Not what I think about it.