So I went to a pop concert last Friday night. I couldn't help myself. I'm a music junkie. I need music in my life.
A few summers ago, I had the great pleasure of discovering one of the most entertaining, quirky bands on the planet, Walk Off The Earth (WOTE). My guy (Steve) and I had popped down to a free night of music in Charlottetown in celebration of Canada's Sesquicentennial (I'll do the math for you - that's 150 years). From the opening hum that completely energized the rambunctious crowd, til the last note died away, we were both held captive by the harmonies and on-stage antics (y'all know about the viral video featuring five band members playing one guitar). I vowed to try to see WOTE again whenever possible, so when Steve and I started planning a trip to Vancouver to visit my son, Christopher, I was happily surprised to find that Walk Off The Earth was playing in the city a few days after my birthday. The trip got booked the second we knew we could get concert tickets.
Walk Off The Earth is an incredible stage act. Their music is fun, intense - a bit poppy, I suppose. Their stage presence is choreographed the way Shakespeare focused on the use of words. Every step is weighted and sure; every movement is precise and intentional. Add the music and you've got some sweet entertainment on your hands.
The band was not the headliner. Vancouver's Marianas Trench was. Now that's a pop band, although I see they bill themselves as Emo-pop-punk (there's a handle...). I've heard many of their tunes and I like the band okay. But I was there to see Walk Off The Earth, to celebrate my birthday with music I cherish and a stage act I love; a band whose songs often inspired certain sections of my Drifters books, in fact (the Seattle concert in book eight? Rule The World. Hold On (the break)).
I knew what to expect from WOTE but I was humbled and surprised at the impact Marianas Trench had on me. It was unexpected and actually left me somewhat suspended.
The second surprise of the evening was a young artist by the name of Kieran Mercer. To my knowledge he wasn't on the bill when we booked the tix but I enjoyed his music and was happy to hear some new tunes by an up and comer, as a sort-of added bonus, I guess you could say. My son's comment about Kieran's act was that he liked his voice. As a drummer, Christopher speculated that the guy behind the skins likely had some serious jazz training, which was evident in some cool riff the guy played near the end.
"That guy has talent," Christopher said.
There was some real musicianship on the stage that night. WOTE blew us away. Marianas Trench actually left us speechless at times. MT lead singer (and writer) Josh Ramsay even left Steve humbled. Josh gave everything he had to give. And by this I mean a raw energy that I know everyone in attendance appreciated on a surface level, but I'm not sure the young girls in the crowd (yep, lotsa those) had a clue that what they were witnessing on stage was some guy pretty much bleeding on stage.
Think about it - pop music is, in many cases, swept under the rug as superficial fluff. Surely Josh Ramsay (and Kieran Mercer and Gianni and Sarah and the rest of WOTE) are not putting the poetry of Leonard Cohen on stage. Hallelujah? Don't kid yourself. I can't compare the three acts I saw Friday night to Cohen or to any other artists. But I don't need to. Each was its own special act. Everyone poured their soul onto the stage and shared, with an arena full of appreciative fans, what hurt the most. What made them tick, what made them bleed, what made them suffer.
What gave them hope.
WOTE's Home We'll Go ("You've seen the darkest skies I know") breaks my heart every time I hear it. ("Let your soul shine bright like diamonds in the sky"). If you've read my books, you can guess that when I hear this song I think of Jessie singing to Josh. I can see her reaching a hand out to him, begging him to trust her, to let her care for him. To give in, to just let himself be loved by her. So...I can't help but wonder who WOTE is singing about. Who wrote the lyrics? Who are these poignant words meant for?
I want to reach into the heart of the song and spread light and hope to whoever needs it.
Marianas Trench...well. Personally, I don't know a lot of artists who pour such angst into their music. And by this, I mean the lead singer, Josh Ramsay. Apparently he's the main writer - the other guys in the band add the icing and trim to the music Josh sends their way. And it's Josh who bleeds all over the stage. So...at the concert I sat back and soaked up the 'pop' songs I knew, but as MT continued to perform tune after tune, I found myself squinting in curiosity. And cocking my head to better hear the lyrics (no easy feat in a big open arena like Pacific Coliseum). A wave of energy swept over me when I was finally able to settle down enough to realize that Josh (and the band) were more than your average pop band. Disguised (?) in their lyrics were depths of pain and angst communicated via music that, on some levels, actually had me concerned for the singer. Sure, he was all over the stage putting on a show that included more than a few F-bombs (I cringed - my characters swear, I occasionally curse, but there were young kids present), and he did that whole 'take off his shirt and run around in leather pants' thing.
But he was revealing a nakedness that went beyond merely removing clothing.
The thing is, we need to pay attention to art, no matter how it's disguised or communicated to us. In a painting, in a book, in music. We expect to see pain in art, in the lyrics of artists who make no pretense about sharing a deeply seeded angst in their music. But we don't always look at popular music in quite that light. We bring our thirteen-year-old daughters to these pop concerts and watch them sing along. They know every word to every song. But do they get what they're seeing and hearing? Do they know this guy - the lead singer in MT - was on his knees in the dark in a Downtown Vancouver apartment for two months because his mother got sick and his mood decayed and his wedding got called off and, well, he hurt so deeply he couldn't even find the wherewithal to write songs for a while? Which, by the way, are his salvation? His creative outlet? His way of releasing his pain?
I'm not romanticizing the music of a band I didn't expect to touch me on any deep level. I'm just telling you to pay attention. Don't discount music you might think is fluff until you consider what may be behind it. Don't allow your children to listen to lyrics without teaching them to think about what they are hearing.
I get that I see and feel things on a very deep level, especially when it comes to music. As I said, I'm a music junkie, and I'm a sucker for pain. Maybe I look for it, I don't know. But I left that concert Friday night feeling suspended, changed. Concerned. Worried for an artist who, it's clear, suffers, and yet has the guts to open himself up to arenas filled with fans who love the tunes but likely rarely think beyond surface level about what's behind them. What fuels them. It brings to mind The Beatles. John Lennon apparently wanted to stop performing in large venues because 'nobody was really listening.'
Go forth. Go to concerts, big and small. But do me a favour. Pay attention. Listen.
To Kieran Mercer, Walk Off The Earth, and Marianas Trench...Thank you for having the guts to share your hurts with us. You're letting us know it's okay to hurt too, and that we don't always have to keep our pain inside. You're teaching us that our 'art' is valuable far beyond its creation. That our vulnerabilities are real, can be acknowledged through our chosen art without fear of rejection, criticism or reprisal, and that no matter which medium, genre or discipline in which we choose to create, it's okay to just be authentic.
It's up to us to choose to listen to others. To look beyond the outermost layers. If we don't, it's our loss. I was humbled by the show the other night. So let me just give you musicians a great big hug, and let you know that I heard.