When I found out that I could download podcasts to my Zune for free it felt like my world was exploding. It was like I had just discovered the internet only the internet was people telling me interesting things on almost every subject imaginable. And true to my browsing habits I ended up only really listening to one thing: NPR’s All Songs Considered.
It’s a podcast featuring four music lovers, three fellows and a lady, who listen to tons of music and then talk about and play some of their findings. Last month they took the show to South by Southwest (SXSW), Austin’s giant music festival.
They did a series of podcasts on the whole experience, starting with listening to over a thousand songs by bands they could see at the festival – debuting their findings in a SXSW preview show – then doing late-night updates each night, and ending with a 45-minute SXSW show in review.
The veteran listening foursome guided the show much more like fans than like critics. It was a lot of “I loved this” and “I loved this” and “this was incredible.” And the tunes I’ve listened to because of their enthusiasm have had a lot to love about them. I’ve never before had such an onslaught of music that I have liked in my life.
They ended SXSW saying that above all the festival was a celebration. One talked about how teens and twenty somethings these days have a lot to be angry and unhappy about, and yet the musicians and the fans alike were overwhelmingly joyful.
A couple of days after their broadcast that earthquake hit Japan.
I wondered if they were ashamed at all. Is it appropriate for a bunch of Americans to migrate to Texas to have a festival of entertainment and beer drinking and staying up all night and frequenting the taco truck and the porta potties when there is utter destruction so many places in the world?
I listen to NPR: All Songs Considered on my 40-minute commute to and from work each day. A lot about my post-college experience has been pretty disappointing. I expected to explode out of Whitworth like manure out of a sick person, and instead it’s been more of a dribble. I’m not working a job that uses my degree – or my brain. I make minimum wage and struggle to scrape meaning and prospects out of the career bucket that I happen to be looking in.
Listening to music has helped infuse the monotony with some beauty, adventure, and discovery.
But on my gloomier days I reduce music – and most art – to mere entertainment. Something to distract the masses from the reality of a life that is dull and monotonous. Music as fluff. Not what it was hoped to be and not something one can do anything about. Music as an opiate.
But you should hear this stuff.
The band, Fang Island, is aptly described as “like everyone high fiving everyone.” A wall of male vocals and hand clapping and all the rest.
And Typhoon gave me waves upon waves of goose bumps when I first watched their Tiny SXSW Concert online.
Typhoon is made up of fifteen-ish members, they are all about our age, and it should sound like chaos. They have a guitarist/singer, two trumpet players, a bassist (who stands like Spencer Boyles), a cellist, two drummers, a violinist, a girl who plays on a dinky piano, and probably some other people. When Kyle saw the video of them he said he would give each member of the band a bottle of shampoo for Christmas. They sound incredible; they are balanced and passionate and sometimes whimpering and otherwise jubilant.
Their song, The Honest Truth, on their new album says, “Be kind to all your neighbors/ cause they’re just like you./ And you’re nothing special / unless they are too.” Which is a pretty bold statement because often times your neighbors (especially at this festival) are drunk crazies. It reminds me of Mumford and Sons’ line, “Love, it will not betray you, dismay, or enslave you./ It will set you free./ Be more like the man you were made to be.” Both are gutsy things to say in a world that seems insistent on one doing the opposite.
The celebration went to the extent that Bright Eyes closed out the festival with literal fireworks. He ended with the song, One for You, One for Me. “One for the breadlines. / One for the billionaires./ One for the missing./ One for the barely there./ One for the certain./ One for the real confused./ One for me. One for you.”
These bands played their hearts out for people. Colin Stetson on bass saxophone nearly blacked out. The lead singer from The Joy Formidable was puking back stage in between sets.
And on brighter days I think that musicians, through entertainment, connect with people, make their lives better. They create something new and beautiful even if it’s only an arrangement of overlapping sound waves. And many, lately, send a message reminiscent to “love your neighbor as yourself” and “whatever you do for the least of these”, which has always been sort of crazy to commit to.
Let’s help each other through this life… thing, whatever it is.