I feel conflicted, at its origin is something about the internet and Instagram in particular; how being an admirer seems to gets escalated in a raw, blunt manner. It doesn’t help that I have been travelling too much, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, all business and therefore not really travelling at all, its more a clinical act now, precise and cold as a hospital visit. And this disassociation with the world at large (nowhere is as lonely as a Latin American hotel room) creates nothing other than a sense of vulnerability adding the fuel for any conflict.
Recently over dinner I discussed the topic of being a “fan” in the broadest sense with a friend of my wife’s and she told me about fan mail in the days before on-line chat, in her mind the days of civility, where letters were sent and a letter was received in return. She mentioned that if you sent a letter to the English Royal family with a gift of any nature the poor staff would write back a letter of thanks on headed note paper. She talked about her youth when it was common for fans to write to film or pop stars and get back a signed photograph with the tacit acknowledgement on both sides that the photo was really stamped, not actually signed, and that the star themselves would never actually know, therefore there was a necessary psychological barrier between the un-famous and the famous and thus, somehow, the natural order remained unchanged.
I was exchanging slight messages on line with a singer I admire and am weary, suspicious of my own motives but not the predictable one of a man making contact with a woman probably half his age; I don’t harbor such conventional mid-life desires. At the core of the problem was the question of my expectation which felt like a weight around my neck as I sunk deep into the Ocean, and finally on the sea bed all I encountered was my own grinning adolescent self. Ringing in my ear was the truism that we choose strange heroes which reveal more about ourselves than we might care to admit. But there is also a saying that you should never meet your hero’s, and I think I can add to that, never talk to them on Instagram.
That was much on my mind on a long drive home to New York from a small Hamlet in the Northern Catskills late one recent night, where the familiar roads suddenly were not; orange cones, flashing lights, road workers and alarming narrow paths to steer the hire car down all which added to my growing anxiety. There was a nagging doubt after seeing a young Irish musician called Brigid Mae Power play songs in a community center, someone whose music had admired from a long distance. I was, I am a fan in the old fashioned sense. As I drove back there was a radio show on NPR where Cyncia Nixon recited a short story (I think by Chekov) where an admirer of a famous writer demanded a brief meeting then went on to endlessly recite her entire play to him. A funny story well delivered but which talked to the irrational aggression and manipulation that some plot towards the targets of their admiration.
Despite these internal red flags flapping wildly in the wind, I took some poor photographs at the concert and the next day posted one with the following text:
Last night, in the tiny hamlet of Pine Hill on the borders of the Catskill Mountains, I went to a concert by Bridget Mae Powers, my favorite Singer, Songwriter whose album The Two Worlds is my most played, record of 2018 by far. I was trying to describe her music to a friend recently, and found this is as challenging as the music itself. I hear strains of Van Morrison, during his Astral Weeks and Veedon Fleece periods, a kind of minimal Celtic Soul, I also hear the bitter sweetness of the Cocteau Twins sometimes and even the risk taking of Mary Margaret O’Hara….but that also doesn’t do it justice, let’s say that it has one foot in traditional Irish music, one in Folk and (if we pretend for a moment she is from the Isle of Man rather than Galway) a third foot in Jazz and more experimental independent music, however, as she reminded us during the concert, all roads lead to Joni Mitchell, who was celebrating her 75 birthday that night.
When I arrived early at the event, I stood in the doorway to see a couple of guys handling wires and another sitting on a chair and I knew I was in the right place because a CD of one her best songs was filling the room, except after a short while I discovered that it wasn’t a recording but her sound check and perhaps a little impertinently I sat down to a one-on-one concert and it was a magical moment. The concert itself was terrific, not a single bad note despite jet lag and coughing concerns, the songs even more beautiful when completely stripped down to their essence, and when they are at their best, the earth stands still for a while, it is celestial music, effortlessly silencing a passionate atheist’s most dexterous arguments.
I left it there brewing on the World Wide Web, open for anyone to see for an hour until slowly I felt that shiver of the overly exposed. Then the a short reply that said something like “thanks for coming” slightly disparaging considering the overly effusive nature of my praise (or perhaps just plain wrong in my assessment; she might have never heard of these artists….) so I removed the post, self-dignity returned, if only for a moment. I thought about my post, I thought of Chekov’s play, I did nothing for a couple of days and then I looked at my first un posted attempt for answers :
My favorite album by far in 2018 is BMP “Between Two Worlds”. The CD arrived securely taped on the base of a giant Amazon box, at first I thought it was a hoax, just an empty box containing bubble wrap, but then I saw the CD strapped a little over securely, a purple face looking up at me, was it something wild (or radioactive) needing air, security and space? Later I ordered her first album, equally enchanting, equally as risky but this time disappointingly arriving in a flimsy envelope. Ever since I’ve been having trouble describing the music as it is both familiar and disorientating……
Like all albums I love, its hard at first to tune into, and it’s easy to be put off by the complexities of the melodies and the paths and turns her voice takes in order to re-find them. When I first played it, Mary would walk into the room and leave abruptly doing a kind of comical impersonation of a wailing ghost, but now her ear has learnt the songs and we can lie on the sofa, her head on my lap and she will whisper, oh, I love this one, with the first few bars of the piano introduction and literally nothing could make me happier.
I started looking to see if she played live and began to connive a trip for us to Europe; Copenhagen perhaps or Dublin, but was astonished to see a tour date in the tiny Hamlet of Pine Hill in the northern Catskills, just 30 minutes from our house Upstate and an irresistible excuse to prepare it for Thanksgiving, not that one was needed. If I had a single concern was that she would be playing songs alone on Guitar, as those songs I liked most were piano based….at the concert this quickly changed and I loved the assurance and command of the instrument….I left the show with her music following me, haunting the night drive home through Phoenicia, Woodstock, and Kingston and onto the throughway, overly alert to flighty deer, intoxicated drivers and low sulking police cars in dark corners. It wasn’t until the outline of the George Washington Bridge appeared at last bathed by the urban, amber glow from New York and then minutes later the city itself, tiny and translucent seen from the upper level of the bridge, at this distance small enough to hold in your hand: the wide expanses of the projects in the Bronx, the new finger like skinny skyscrapers and the gold tipped art deco apartment buildings, cathedrals for our time, reveal themselves one by one, crystalline, perfect.
I didn’t post this one either, why? like many I live with one foot on the solid ground of reality and the other in the swamp of fantasies and anxieties. One of the worst of these is a self-belief that I have good taste in music, but there is a thin line with this pride which borders on the point of totalitarianism and like all strong willed opinions it is ultimately becomes a liability. Growing up, my father played classical music persistently, our house was engulfed in the fog of the nineteen century, suffocating every available space, every molecule, and providing me a lifelong aversion to his milieu; the more romantic, lyrical and bombastic output of Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky, all strings, drama and rapidly changing emotions. But I was only marginally put off, and in truth it was mainly the institutional nature of classical music that I pushed back against; in time grew to love Bach and Mozart for the formality and restraint, Stravinsky and Mahler for their modernism and the Impressionist meanderings of Ravel and Debussy. It’s not a boast, in fact the opposite, but recently I went to a music store to buy the new Jay Z album and exited with Handel.
It’s not just music I am drawn to, but it is also art and particularly photography. In the same month I made another overly revealing post, in this case the brilliant English, Berlin based, photographer Saul Fletcher, which is self-explanatory:
It’s that time of the year when New York galleries put on their best shows and sometimes I’m taken reluctantly by Mary which was the case with Saul Fletcher’s show at Anton Kern’s because in my jet lagged mind I muddled the name Saul Fletcher with the images of Peter Saul. So it was a surprise to find myself walking around this show, slowly falling in love with these tender, intelligent photographs. And when my thoughts fell into place, of course I had heard of the artist, his name whispered reverentially by friends whose opinions I trust.
There is something in the nature of the work which reminds me of Peter Hujar, on the surface a raffish individualism but belying a sensitive eye and humanity, how else could his subjects have so much naturalness and faith? The new Monograph which I’m keeping on my desk gives such broad insights into his work, I’m drawn to the bleak English landscapes, deeply familiar, evocative but hard to capture, as they are typically seen with hands on a steering wheel in a hurry to get nowhere, and the simpler the image, which is the case here, the more powerful the work.
I’ve been to the show five times and each time leaving the gallery aware that my heart is beating slightly faster than when I arrived, its partially envy I suppose, but it’s mainly inspiration and I make several secret resolutions which are never likely to be fulfilled, so I’m also a little melancholic; heavy with the burden of unrealized ambition. Still I tell myself brightening there is no better indicator of a great exhibition than when you walk out renewed into the cold, crisp streets of the city, full now of fresh possibilities.
This first version of a post which was later re-edited and again I received a nice reply from the artist even if the post is a little bit more about me than it should be. He has the good manners to also follow me on Instagram, although I imagine it will become a little tedious. What is this impulse in me to praise, what envy lies behind it? I have to acknowledge it is not all one sided generosity of spirit, as I’ve learned recently with these blog posts, any creative endeavor no matter how tentative and modest requires some wind to drive it forward, to fill its sails. Yet somehow a balance must be struck, we fans need to provide a breeze to creativity otherwise it dies, but perhaps not a gale, and that is maybe my mistake.