Thursday, April 16, 2009

Musical Transcendence

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There are three things in life that inspire complete happiness in my soul. One is reading someone else’s words—whether in the form of a novel, essay, poem or story—and feeling the landscape of my life shift as those words penetrate, affect, impress or change me. Another is seeing and hearing live music, being in the presence of a singer or group whose music improves my life. Last night I went to the Indigo Girls concert at Highline Ballroom; I’ve seen the Indigo Girls about a dozen times, and I’ve attended each of those concerts with Steven and Nick—we are the ultimate Indigo Girls fans triumvirate. Sometimes others join us—I remember a Central Park Summerstage concert with Aaron and Jessica, and another NYC concert with Nicole, and a Radio City Music Hall concert with Aaron, and The Bardovan concert with my ex—but the three of us have yet to waver. The IGs release a new album about every two years, but they are quite cognizant that while fans embrace their new songs, they also feel attached to older ones; thus, their concerts are an excellent combination of new and familiar songs. Their current tour is an acoustic one, and their new album, Poseidon and the Bitter Bug, is great. For some reason we didn’t see the IGs the last time they were in NYC (I think it’s actually Madonna’s fault, since we spent a fortune on good seats for her concert), so I was really craving this concert. The IGs typically play Radio City Music Hall, the Beacon Theater or, in warm weather, Central Park Summerstage when they hit NYC. The Highline Ballroom is a new venue for them—and it’s a fantastic venue! It’s small but comfortable, General Admission, with a bar and clean bathrooms. We stood maybe 10 feet from the IGs (Amy and Emily), and I had a clear view for the entire concert (rare for my 5’2” self).

I’ve heard/read many musicians state that NYC is their favorite city in which to play concerts, and the IGs clearly agree. They seemed to be having a blast onstage, which only added to the buzzing energy in the room. Their set list was loaded with the best songs from the new album as well as amazing older songs. Part of why I love seeing the Indigo Girls is because their repertoire is fairly huge, and it’s always such fun to guess a song from the first few notes, and then predict the next song . It reminds me of seeing the Grateful Dead—I experience that same unfettered, joyful vibe whenever I’m at an Indigo Girls concert. I love their music, too (except for the occasional Emily song that’s just too namby-pamby for me), and I admire not only their tenacity but their independence—they’ve never sold out in any manner, and they consistently encourage their audiences to participate in life, whether environmentally, socially, politically or culturally. They are responsible for launching many independent singer-songwriters—opening for the IGs on tour is essentially a seal of approval from two of the music industry’s most benevolent arbiters of indie talent (check out Girlyman or Brandi Carlisle). They also invite non-profit groups on tour with them, to help raise awareness and visibility, which I love. And, of course, the IGs have fought long and hard for GLBT rights, loudly and consistently, not only through their lyrics but also their actions.

This was also the first concert after my novel, CLOSER TO FINE, was published last July. Yes, the title was inspired by what is probably the most well-known of the Indigo Girls’ songs. Since titles cannot be copyrighted, I didn’t need their permission, but as a writer and therefore a fellow artist, I wasn’t comfortable using the words they had created without letting them know. So I asked my publisher to send them a copy of the manuscript—officially I was requesting a blurb from one or both of them, but unofficially I just sought their blessing to name my novel CLOSER TO FINE. What I received, less than a month later, stunned me: an email from Emily, raving about how she loved reading my novel, she inhaled it in two sittings, and wished me the best of luck with CLOSER TO FINE. It is, by far, the coolest email I have ever received! So to hear the song “Closer to Fine,” ten months after the publication of my debut novel and one month before the Lambda Literary Awards ceremony (my book is nominated in the Debut Novel category), was f*#*ing cool!

But my favorite part of the concert—it’s always my favorite part—was singing and dancing and screaming and smiling with my friends Nick and Steven. Last night reminded me that often, it’s the simplest, purest experiences that elevate us—emotionally, physically, spiritually—and remind us to enjoy the extraordinary moments life offers.

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