Music, Monkeys, and the Art of “Where do I Start?!”

Last Friday, I went to a Nordic Cool 2013 concert at the Kennedy Center. The guy who sits next to me at work suggested it–or, rather, he smirked as he pointed to a picture of the evening’s band on his computer.

There was a monkey in the picture, you guys.  A monkey.

IBRAHIM_ELECTRIC_02
If I were a marketing director, I would probably put a monkey in EVERY picture.

No one was quite sure what to expect. I’m not used to that.  My fellow interns are uber-cultured musicians and ethnomusicology students (dammit, spell check, ethnomusicology is a word) who seem to know every nuance of every genre.

…though really, all I can confirm is that they know a whole lot more than me.  Which means I’m always learning.

Much like my own field (history), with music there is always-always-always more to discover. And the more you listen, the more you realize how much you have yet to listen to.

Like this band from Denmark with a monkey, for example.

And so we went. We took the metro. We filed into the packed Grand Foyer. We stood at the back, since all the seats were taken–clearly, word had gotten around that the Danish monkey-band was coming to town.  Inside our programs was this short description of what we were about to see:

ye

Oh, “of course.”

AFRObeat? C’est quoi ca? Can someone point me in the direction of their favourite soul/jazz inspired acid-power-beat song, please? And “almost-punk” just sounds like how I feel when I jaywalk or accidentally sleep through church. [Insert rebel yell here.]

In true millennial fashion, I googled the band before going. Specifically, I watched this mezmerizingly weird music video of a song entitled “Blue Balls.” The album is called “Absinthe.” And the music is rad.

(At least, it’s rad enough for me to try to bring back the term “rad.”)

Yeah. That. Don’t do drugs?

The show was fantastic. It isn’t that I didn’t expect it to be fantastic….just that I didn’t know what to expect at all. The music (whatever it was, exactly) was an awesome, awesome discovery.

I make lots of awesome discoveries these days.

Finnish tango. Hardcore conjunto. Underground folk revival. Central Asian pipa. Autoharp country.  Banjo masters. Those French Canadian songs that people assume I know (and I never do).

Took this shot at a Los Texmaniacs show last month.
Took this picture at a Los Texmaniacs show last month. Hardcore conjunto at its finest!

It’s almost overwhelming. Reading through the “Events in Washington DC,” trying to figure out what I can make it to…or what I should make it to…or what I can connect to, even just a little bit.  Finding that balance between learning new things and maintaining/expanding on what I’ve already got. Searching through the Folkways catalogue, working out what to listen to next.

You would think that the daunting excitement of “where do I start?!” would be second nature to me by now. History student stuff. Curator problems.  And yes, I have spent long days awkwardly navigating books, journals, and microfilm.  Having all this new music at my fingertips is no different, really. But for the first time, culture is my every day–my work, my play, my social life, my background, my foreground.

And I still don’t feel a sense of “competence.” Not in even a sliver of it.

How can I, when I have bands like Ibrahim Electric to keep me on my toes?

Oh, I don’t always do “new things.”  I still can’t seem to stay away from Ottawa. I even showed up to a Canada-US Relations event last week…and ended up being live-broadcasted on CPAC, asking a question about the Keystone Pipeline. Yeah.

“New things” can find you, though. They can creep up. It’s called “opportunity,” and it’s always hanging around–especially in a place like DC, especially if you make the first move. One “new thing” can breed familiarity with another. And another. And another.

Case in point: A friend and I showed up to the Kennedy Center to check out Finnish tango music (because, why not?) and some dude gave us his extra tickets to this:

photo2

We didn’t ask questions

Though to answer yours: It was one of the best plays I’ve ever seen. Seriously. “Bird in Magic Rain with Tears.” Who would’a thought?

Here’s to the art of “where to I start?!”

– – –

I Have Chosen My Word for 2013 (and it’s going to make for one interesting year)
I Have Chosen My Word for 2013 (and it’s going to make for one interesting year)
Welcome to America: Yes, I have gotten horribly lost. Already. Twice.
Welcome to America: Yes, I have gotten horribly lost. Already. Twice.
Non-boring, non-fiction. It happens.
Non-boring, non-fiction. It happens.

Advertisements

The Truth about Awareness

We don’t properly realize how things roll until they stop rolling that way…at least for a minute, at least long enough for us to gain perspective. I mean that in the simplest way possible. I never realized that most women’s washrooms were on the left until I accidentally walked into a poorly placed men’s washroom—twice. I didn’t know that my fingers automatically typed names of past friends (okay, more-than-friends) upon the first couple keystrokes, until I stopped needing to type those names. And who can blame me for thinking everyone everywhere would know what poutine is, or have the lyrics to “If I Had A Million Dollars” memorized?

(PS. Non-Canadian readers:  You should probably Google those cultural gems.)

My current life rolls along relatively untouched by too-soon death, something I didn’t really consider until these “Death & Grieving” articles came along. I shouldn’t be so surprised that reading all the articles made me feel so…aware. I also shouldn’t be so surprised that this awareness felt new.

But I was surprised. Caitlin Corbett (of “On Grieving”) and Niki Dignard (of “I am a Suicide Survivor”) are two of my go-to girls in Ottawa. Caitlin and a glass of wine. Niki and a new restaurant. We talk a lot, and we laugh a lot.  Sometimes their losses come up, and we talk about those.

So, how could I not know?  I mean really, really know what they had gone through. And what they were still going through.

Until they wrote it down, I’ll admit that I really didn’t.

The stories in the Taboo Tab hold a truth for everyone. For some, that truth is “Wow, I’m not alone.” For others (and for me) that truth is simply:  “Wow, there are people around me going through this stuff right now. [Insert prayers, love, and increased social consciousness here].”

Either way, we get to be aware of one another.  Awareness is a communicative art, one that we need to constantly work at. Why? Because awareness is AWESOME.

Eh? Eh?
Eh? Eh?

In my view, there should be two kinds of people present with any social issue you want to address: The storytellers, who have experienced an issue firsthand (aka the people who Know), and those who try to understand the stories (aka the people who Listen).

When it comes to loss, Caitlin and Niki are people who Know–and when things get rough, people who Know are the best.

Usually, when I talk about my own pain, I wind up trying to convince people that it’s actually really hilarious and I’m really, really “over it.”   These people who Know see right through that.

People who Know: The survivors, the brokenhearted, the vulnerable. The ones willing to let you be vulnerable right alongside them. The ones also willing to put you in your place, quietly reminding you of the could-be-worse.  They are more honest. Less judge-y. Keeping it real, because at this point, that’s really all they can do. And aware. So, so, so aware.

Me: “I have this loss. I have these feelings. I’m going to laugh/cry/be sick in front of you now, okay?”

People who Know: “LOSS? YES. Yes, that is horrible.  I Know. Chocolate? Hug? Awkwardly timed joke?”

They Know. They can comfort and relate to others who Know.  And by sharing their stories, they can help turn people who don’t Know into people who Listen…maybe, even people who Understand.

If the people who Know speak up, and if we let them–if we listen (unselectively), we share, and we try, try, try to “get it,” then we’ll know enough to build compassion and community. We will gain perspective. We will realize truths.

And that is the Truth about Awareness.  It is how we move forward together. Awareness is how we learn how to love each other better. And forgive each other better.

Read enough stories, meet enough people, ask enough questions, and realize: We’re all so different. But we’re all so, so, so the same.

– – –

Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”
Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”
Growing Up Without Direction: Yes, I Drink Coffee Now
Growing Up Without Direction: Yes, I Drink Coffee Now
The Taboo Tab: Death & Grieving
The Taboo Tab: Death & Grieving