I went to my first concert just over a year ago.
I had gotten tickets for my brother for Christmas and the plan was that I'd take the bus to Boston to visit and we'd go together.
I remember that Saturday night: our late dinner ordered in, the cold air blanketing the city, the feeling that i had not a single thing to wear--what does one wear to concerts? I finally settled on a black shift dress and my Frye motorbike boots. We entered the small venue--standing room only--and found a spot close to the stage. Connor got us drinks and then we waited, remarking mostly on how lucky we were to be tall (tall is good where no seats are concerned) and how we were not the usual hipster crowd (in a sea of beanies our heads went hatless).
We were there to see The Head and the Heart.
Now, I can just imagine readers all over, nodding their heads, of course, of course, The Head and the Heart. But just over a year ago they were virtually unknown. Just over a year ago they were the opening band for someone else. And when we saw them, just over a year ago, no one knew the words to sing along--no one had heard of them. But their music was heaven. And so Connor and I stood there, drinks in hand, bobbing and swaying, as the music moved through and up, as the air was charged with the sound and the guttural need of those voices.
And that was it. I was sold. Hook line and sinker, or however the expression goes.
When I returned to New York I began buying up cheap tickets for fringe (I use that word very loosely) bands playing smaller venues. I saw Noah & the Whale at The Bowery Ballroom. Beirut at The Wellmont. The Lumineers at The Mercury Lounge. Slowly and surely over the course of the year I refined my taste in music and began to chart the city as i did so--venturing into downtown neighborhoods and once foreign boroughs--mapping city and self, unfurling New York and my place in it.
At some point it became very clear: I was made bold by a year of listening to live music.
But how or why i was made bold by this was still unknown--well, maybe not unknown, but certainly beyond words.
It was just about a week ago I went out with some girlfriends I hadn't seen in quite a while and I was explaining all of this and what bands I loved and why and what about their music made my weary heart thrum when my friend Vivienne took a deep breath and said, All of the music in my library was given to me by friends and ex-boyfriends--mostly ex-boyfriends.
Ah, ex-boyfriends. I've come to realize that in every relationship I've ever had--first loves, half-loves, reluctant flirtations--music plays a part. The passing of the mix-tape might as well be a relationship marker. Music and men. To this day I can't listen to Nick Drake without feeling a sadness and longing for one Sunday in December in which I both lost and found the very best parts of myself on the couch of my first love.
I'll never forget sitting on the floor of my first boyfriend's apartment. I was just out of high-school, new to New York and terrified by nearly everything. I sat on his floor surrounded by record sleeves and pictures of him and I was quite sure that I wasn't actually keen on him, but I had yet to really wake to that though. He picked up an Ella Fitzgerald album: Ella, she's the one, you know? She's my one. She's my music. She sings and it stirs something low in me. Something i hardly know how to place.
Who's your ella? he looked right at me and asked.
Who is your ella?
Who is my ella?
I hardly knew what he was talking about. I don't know. I don't think i have an ella.
Oh man, i can't wait for the day you find yours. Finding it is the best part.
Sometimes I wonder how often that question hung over me. How often I was aware of the presence and immediate need of that question.
It took six years, but I now know.
I figured it out this last year in dark and crowded concert halls amongst nearly perfect strangers.
I found my Ella in the sounds of the folk movement coming out of London and the Pacific Northwest. I found my Ella in the broken voices of Charlie Fink and Kristian Matsson. i found my Ella in the sublime dissonance--that perfect space between the Avett Brothers' voices. In the ferocity and haunting vulnerability with which Laura Marling sings and Johnny Flynn plays the fiddle. I found my Ella in the lyrics which call upon Bukowski and Shakespeare and Hemingway for their piercing (and humblingly simple) wisdom.
I found my Ella. And in finding my Ella, I found myself.
And I did it all without a man.
My music library is made up of those songs that I love. Those songs that stir that low unknowable, unnamable part of myself. The songs that upon listening to I can't help but move and laugh and sway my hips, putting socks to wood floor. Those songs that grant, when I least expect it, a perfect, quiet moment, in which I stand just as still as I can and cry--because someone else has given voice and melody to my great triumphs and deep tragedies--because someone else has unwrapped what I thought singular and secret.
And in those moments I am not alone. I am never lonely. I stand listening to the chant of the human experience.
It's that knowing I'm not alone bit--that knowing that others have gone before and others will follow after--that vulnerability that makes for this human experience. That's what made me bold.
Well, that and the music.