Last week was a tough week for me. It started off amazing, then horrible, then nondescript, then amazing, then painful, then fun, then I got sick. The shows I saw were probably the most emotional shows I’ve seen since last summer. Sunny Day Rel Estate started it off with their amazing work at Hell’s Kitchen. And then, there was Grand Hallway.
The Fremont Abbey is a
church-run venue which I find hard to attend, but make exceptions for ridiculously awesome shows like tonight’s. It lives up to it’s name, by basically being a cathedral. The acoustics were pretty awesome and the sound was spot on as far as I could tell (I like house show sound, so take that assessment with a grain of salt). The lighting was a little dim, but everyone was visible, so I guess it got the job done. In my opinion, all that stuff is usually less important than the music.
(regarding the edit: The Fremont Abbey folks contacted me and would like me to tell the five of you that will read this that they are a non-religious, non-profit arts center that just happens to be housed in a church. I did about five minutes of internet research and could find no ostensible links to a serious source of church funding. So, this doesn’t appear to be similar to the Paradox situation or other churches that create non-profits to infiltrate youth culture. There is a church member or two on the board of directors, but I’m no investigative reporter, so I’m not going to spend all day worrying about this. Here’s a link to their FAQ that has a blurb about how a church owns the building and then leases it to them, so they are completely independent. You can do more research than that if you have time. Thanks to Ms. Peterson for the polite scolding.)
Picture yourself walking. Rough leather boots leaving exclamation mark footprints in the dust leading west. Eyes squinting against the setting sun as it wavers in the still hot air on the horizon. At your back, a plume of smoke lingers in the air. All that’s left of everything you built together. Black ashes against the pale sand. You slide your harmonica from your vest pocket and play whatever notes come out. A counterpoint to the wind that rushes across your face and back towards your former home. And your former family, who perished in the blaze. All you have left is the tinny sound of this cheap harmonica and the ability to walk. But that seems enough in this sadness. A song to get you through the long walk until you can’t walk anymore. The Maldives picked all the saddest songs for tonight. Because they fit. And tonight they made me smile at the beauty of life’s most painful moments. They were beautiful and forlorn at once, touching on collective memories of dark times and how we survived. How we continue to survive. With pedal steel and slow layers of stringed instruments. By embracing and letting go.
Before you go on to call me melodramatic, let me add a preface. The night before, I saw Sunny Day Real Estate. A magical moment of indescribable emotional power. And on this night, my emotions were still bubbling at the surface. And then, I heard a familiar laugh in the room as I arrived. I saw a familiar face. Instead of doing what many people think I should have done by sitting on the other side of the room, I faced up to every emotion and sat next to them with a high five, a beaming smile and excellent small talk. A familiar face and her new potential future. And as she pressed him into reluctant hand holding and awkward side hugs, I got to listen to the most beautiful sad songs. I got to celebrate my feelings and embrace them and accept them. Like some sort of AA meeting or something. Except nobody stood up and said their name. But in the end, it felt great to be alive.
Grand Hallway brought with them the Seattle Rock Orchestra. An amazing combination of an already large band with a whole dang orchestra. Their swelling choruses and delicate phrases added such intricate depth to the already multi-layered Grand Hallway sound that the whole audience was undoubtedly overwhelmed with the music. It felt like it was coming from everywhere. When the kids chorus from a local elementary joined in, it moved from amazing to otherworldly. Such heartbreaking beauty soaring around the room. The beautiful woman to my left started crying a little and I wanted us to look at each other and smile through our tears because we were the only two people that really understood what was going on. But maybe we don’t really understand anything at all. And all this sad beauty is probably just a beautiful way to become more alone.
And then they played “Sirens.” My favorite Grand Hallway song, since all but two of the lines are perfectly suited to my years of mourning. To my night of surviving. To my strengths and my weaknesses and my own beautiful sadness. I closed my eyes and sang along as quietly as I could. I let myself lose it a little bit, but kept my eyes closed, like I always do in my most emotional times, so that I wouldn’t see anyone judging me or ignoring me. So I could just cry a little bit in a public place and feel good about doing so. And that’s what Grand Hallway allowed me and probably many others to do. To celebrate all of life, including the sadness connected to grave loss. Including the joy of sharing life with another. Including the simple pleasures and the complex hopes we all share. Intoned through a sweet and plaintive voice over the top of an orchestra of a half-hundred other instruments and voices.
And as we filtered out of the Abbey after the last song, I was still singing. Even though I was quickly forgotten about and she left without saying goodbye again. Even though I decided to walk home. Even though I was sad all over again. Because the song is so beautiful and perfect. Because my life continues on even though I sing it. Because I accept the reason why it means so much to me. Because we are best at surviving no matter what.
I spend so many nights
wondering where you are.
Riding on your bike.
Doing what you like
Oh, can’t you see?
This house is very cold.
The floors are very old.
The neighbors walk and keep me up at night.
I spend so many nights
wondering who you are.
Every time you laugh,
who is making you laugh?
Cause it’s not me
and you don’t make me laugh either.
I’m getting much too old
it’s not funny anymore.
You think it’s so romantic, the life of a musician who is poor.
The life you think that you’re most suited for.
But I’ve been through that so many times before.
So I can’t go there with you.
I spend most every night
wondering how you are.