A few months ago, after a Sunday afternoon at the dog park, I loaded up a dirty, happy dog into the back of the van, got in, and turned the ignition key. The radio came on and within seconds I could barely breathe, as I was pulled deep into a universe of sparse beauty: a color-smeared, upright piano; a lone and plaintive clarinet; single, contemplative bass lines; all supporting gorgeous harmonies and haunting lyrics. As I proceeded to make my way towards home, I moved with deliberate and gentle intention — putting the car in gear, pressing the gas pedal, turning the wheel — as if any jarring motion would scare this beauty away. The song had that kind of power on me.
At first, I didn’t believe it was the radio. I haven’t found too many terrestrial radio stations in our neck of the woods that consistently play the kind of music I want to hear. For this reason, we still have one of those big, clunky CD cases to carry at least a portion of the music we want to listen to in the car. I checked the radio’s monitor to see if perhaps Dennis had put in a new CD without me knowing, an occurrence that would be highly unlikely since we each are the first person with whom the other will share new discoveries. But no, it was the radio.
It’s only a five minute drive from the dog park to our house and so I had to sit in the car — the dog waiting in the back, her ears pitched forward in confusion and curiosity, wondering what we were doing – and listen to at least one more song, before I could get the name of the song, get the name of the artist, find out who had found a way to crack my heart open. Ghost Woman Blues by The Low Anthem. It was the weekend of Halloween, which explained the rest of the songs in this ghost-themed set.
When I got in the house I immediately looked up this band that my musical radar had somehow managed to miss. I found a video of the song and summoned Dennis, who was equally drawn in. And then I left to go play fiddle tunes at our local Irish session while he proceeded to get online and order their entire catalogue. Over a hastily eaten dinner that evening, sandwiched in between the day’s disparate activities of making music and bowling league, we watched their NPR Tiny Desk Concert and during the second song,This Goddamn House, both of us were transfixed, practically unable to eat, barely able to breathe (again), and damn near close to tears. Getting up to toss the dishes in the sink and head out the door seemed to be too much, too brutally abrupt, behavior unworthy of the impact the music was having on us. I think we were both a little rattled on the way to the bowling alley.
But that is how we like to experience music: we like to be left a little rattled or shaken or moved or transported or stirred up or somehow otherwise changed from having listened. We can be dazzled and impressed as much as the next person by someone whose competence on their instrument is off the charts. But speed and flashy playing and pyrotechnics, while fleetingly enjoyable, leave us a little hollow if they aren’t accompanied with at least a glimpse into someone’s humanity, the broken parts of their heart, the places where life has left its scars and maybe, just maybe, softened their armor.
That’s the way to win us over, whether it’s music or writing or photography or any other art form: break our hearts, crack them wide open, show us the wounded parts it took all the courage in the world, and then some, for you to bring into the light. Bring us into your world and, we promise, we’ll bring you into ours.
May 15, 2015