One of the great regrets of my life is that I never learned to play an instrument. I feel guilty, as though there is some critical part of my brain that I am not exercising. I have crossed off my list most of the things that defined the kind of person I set out to be when I was younger (lived in France for a few years, flew planes, jumped out of them, got a great dog, learned to cook and bake well, rode through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in my hair, and made it into the New York Times, however small the column inches), but the instrument thing (that, and keeping plants alive) mark the places where I have fallen short in my own definition of a human being with a well-lived life.
I do love listening to music… and I have always liked to think my taste is pretty eclectic, spanning many generations and genres. I am a bit peculiar in that I tend to gravitate towards solo musicians rather than groups. I have a very extensive collection of singer/songwriters, music that is the result of one person’s vision: they write the music and the lyrics (which are often poetic), and perform it themselves, often with little or no backup. It’s not really a conscious choice (and I have lots in my collection that does not fit this description), but I think I tend to be interested in pure, undistilled personal vision over collaboration in my daily listening. I suspect it is yet another aspect of my control-freak thing: if I WERE making music, I would want to do it all myself.
As I have only known my husband for 3 ½ years now, one of the things that we enjoy sharing with each other is the music we do not have in common. We both LOVE blues, funk, classic rock, but from there, we diverge. We have spent the last few years trying to introduce each other to these divergent areas. Last night’s Adrian Belew concert was another traversal past my frontier and into the wilderness.
It must be said that my husband is a musician when he is not being a scientist: he’s been playing tenor sax for decades, but also composes on a combination of keyboard and computer. He worships at the altar of Frank Zappa. His attempts to introduce me to Prog Rock often leave me feeling ashamed of my ignorance and unsophisticated taste. I am certain that it is similar to the feeling he gets when we go to a museum together, and he points out a Renoir that he likes, even though he knows that I think it is pure bubble gum.
But I am making progress: he played some Frank for me when we first started dating, and I could not take it: too chaotic, discordant and shrill, too much like home for someone who grew up in a large, dysfunctional family. Later, he showed me some DVDs of his concert footage, and I began to appreciate Zappa’s subversiveness and genius. At that point, I felt about Frank the way that I feel about most sports: I would NEVER watch them on TV, but if someone had tickets for a live game, I would go and actually enjoy it. So, while I could see from the concert footage that he put on a great show and was a genius, I could not see going home and just putting on one of his CDs while I was painting.
When we went to the Adrian Belew concert last night, I was not unfamiliar with him: Kev dumped a slew of his stuff onto my Mac last year. I played and replayed a few of his more accessible songs and truly enjoyed them, but have not played the more difficult ones since. Obviously, I just wasn’t ready yet. My brother (the one who tried to introduce me to this same stuff two decades ago) loves to remind me of a time when I could not stomach Tom Waits, and now he is at the top of my short list.
So last night, while we were waiting in the rain at The Cat’s Cradle with two other people an hour before the doors opened, Kevin started to talk to me again about King Crimson and Adrian Belew. I recalled that, back in high school, when I was the only girl in the Mathletes club, most of the guys listened to King Crimson. Kevin responded that, funny I should mention it, his impression is that King Crimson fans, and prog rock fans in general, tend to have higher IQs than other audiences. We eventually got out of the rain, got our hands stamped, and went into the dilapidated black box of a room. Fans were photographing Adrian’s guitars that were already set up onstage.
In a real role reversal, Kevin liked the warm up act, while I, the connoisseur of lonely people with guitars and stories to tell, did not quite get the choice, despite his good looks, bonafide singer/songwriter status, and the emotional honesty needed to write a song about a blow up sex doll. But the obviously humble and down-to-earth, iconic Adrian and the dazzlingly talented Eric and Julie Slick (a.k.a The Adrian Belew Power Trio) blew me away. SO tight and on-spot with the most complex compositions (“duh”, I can hear my husband say), they expanded my understanding of what music could be: like the Grinch whose heart grew three times larger that day, the portion of Kate’s brain that processes music has been stretched, and will never be the same.
Apparently, Eric and Julie Slick were featured in the movie Rock School, a film we have heard about but have never seen (and have since moved to the top of our Netflix queue). They are brother and sister music prodigies, 20 and 21, playing drums and bass, respectively. I want to email their Mom, Robin Slick, who is a writer, and ask her what she did to/for them when they were tykes. I defy any audience member to keep from falling in love with the bass player Julie, blessed with Pre-Raphaelite beauty as well as soul, sinew, and fever.
Adrian seemed to be having a great time while he did mesmerizing things with guitar that I didn’t know people could DO with guitars. I felt truly fortunate to catch him in such a small venue, where I could really see and appreciate what he was doing. And after pulling out all the stops on stage in an amazing performance, this legend stayed after the show to sign autographs.
I’m no music critic, but even a sonic sophomore like myself could easily grasp that this show was not even a shade shy of brilliant. Catch it if you can, and take someone whose mind you love.