Saturday, August 11, 2007

A theme recurs, in two parts

Part One: Contemporary Trobaritzes

I have several recurring themes on this blog. If I were better about applying labels to the posts, this would be more easily demonstrated. Anyway, one of the recurring themes is that sometimes I suddenly understand a long-listened to Indigo Girls song differently, and then I look at my life a little differently, and when that happens I must post.

I've been listening to "Center Stage" for 18 years. (gulp!) It's on their eponymous album, the first one released by their ooh-la-la major label Epic. (You know, the album that won the Best Contemporary Folk Grammy, while at the same time the Girls managed to lose Best New Artist to Milli Vanilli. God, I hate the Grammys.) I might add that I ONLY listen to "Center Stage" when I am listening to that album, as I have never heard them play it live. I don't think anyone has heard them play it live. It is seriously one of the most obscure of their tracks, and, I have always thought, for good reason, because what on earth is it about? And by that point on Indigo Girls (track #9) you're sort of fading away, or if you're sharing the album with a newcomer they're about tapped out on willingness to listen and they want to go back and hear "Closer to Fine" (track #1) again.

I don't mean to say I've disliked "Center Stage," but really. Have I mentioned no one has any idea what it's about? And it's not particularly rhythmically exciting either (no offense). It's a bunch of random imagery, kind of like if Grace Slick had felt a lot more mellow while singing "White Rabbit," and also had read some nursery rhymes instead of Alice in Wonderland. It is probably the one Indigo Girls song whose existence I most often forget.

But not anymore!

I woke up on Thursday morning and thought, 'Gosh, we sure drank a lot last night.' Wednesday night the pitchers of Hefeweizen flowed freely, as did the laughter and the text messages. So Thursday as I lay there contemplating how much water I'd drunk before going to bed vs. how much water I should have drunk, I discovered that I did not really feel like getting up to go running. Now, to be fair, or perhaps to try to defend myself, I will say that I had not been running in the morning the three previous days either, but rather had had to run in the evening after my long days at my convention temp job. So it's not weird that my body thought it wasn't running until the evening. However, I wanted it to run before writing group. But it said no. It barely made it to writing group. It took two coffees.

I don't really get hungover, much, really, and especially not the headaches, not for many years. It's all about staving off the headache. Water, bread, painkillers. The holy trinity before bed. But you can still get that just-plain-wiped-out feeling the next day. Oooh boy, can you ever. What I noticed on Thursday is that this felt different. Hence my lying there contemplating it for so long. (I'm getting to the Indigo Girls part. No, really, I am. Stay with me.) I was sharing these "this morning after feels different" thoughts with a friend, and I started hypothesizing that what with me being ten weeks into my running training schedule at which I am ever-so-diligent, my body is in such a different place than other times when I've been drinking more often than doing such fit and healthy things. Example, law school. Even better example, Korea. Like that.

So then I thought perhaps when one is feeling so good and healthy one has farther to fall into drunken debauchery. This made me think of the Indigo Girls lyric (see?) "The higher the leap, I said, the harder the ground." From "Center Stage."

And suddenly, eureka! Center Stage! It starts like this:

"Laughing in a crown of jewels
numbness from a scepter's wound
Toss and turn, I spin and learn
Catch yourself before you burn.
A joker's dance before the king..."

Then it gets into a lot of jangling beads and jokers and thieves, and one could get the idea we're on a drug voyage, but now that I've had this epiphany I think they are just drunk and playing cards. The chorus goes like this:

"Falling falling falling falling down
Look yourself in the eye before you drown."

Hello. Do those lines scream "I'm drunk" or what? Anyway, the king makes another appearance later, when he is "in the counting house counting out his money." (Yes, we know Amy Ray did not come up with that, I told you she was reading nursery rhymes. Mary has a little lamb in this song, too.) Right? The bar owner makes a mint off of our foolishness. And then, "you must dance the dance that you imply."

So now I think "Center Stage" is totally about how we get wasted and it's all a big performance, really, in which we get caught up. And at the very end:

"Your actions will follow you full circle round
Your actions will follow you full circle round
Your actions will follow you full circle round
Your actions will follow you full circle round
The higher the leap, I said,
the harder the ground."

Finally, what made me so happy about this alcohol theory is that "Center Stage" is an Amy Ray song (the duo write their songs separately, then arrange and sing them together) whereas there is an Emily Saliers song on that very album that also contemplates the drinking we do. That is, of course, the aforementioned "Closer to Fine," in which Emily...

"...stopped by the bar at 3 a.m.
to seek solace in a bottle or possibly a friend
And I woke up with a headache like my head against a board,
twice as cloudy as I'd been the night before,
and I went in seeking clarity."

So it's good to see that they were both drinking. And it's even better to see that while they were busily transferring away from their first universities back to Atlanta where they reconnected after knowing each other since elementary school and began playing guitar and singing together again and the rest is's even better to see that they can be all drunk and searching and then do healthy awesome creative artistic things and find the answer and have great lives. 'Cause then there must be hope for the rest of us, yeah?

Part Two: Amazingly Talented Rock n' Roll Gods

Continuing along with my epiphany-laden week, I woke up this morning decidedly less hungover but no less ready to enter into philosophical discussions online. This time, the site of choice was MySpace. I was clicking around some friends' pages, and then to some friends of friends' pages, and suddenly on the page of a girl I've never met but of whom I've heard tales through her friend I do know, I heard the strain of Led Zeppelin, specifically "Going to California." And I stopped in mySpace tracks.

Led Zeppelin. Man, those were some talented folks. Well, are/were talented, you know what I mean. I will direct you to what I wrote about on my actual MySpace blog this morning, rather than attempting to duplicate the moment here. So, go read that and then come back here for the final summing-up paragraph. Paragraphs.

The point is, how purely solidly joyful it makes me, even if it's a bittersweet thing, to listen to certain Led Zeppelin songs. And certain Pink Floyd songs fill me with a similar bursting hurts-to-be-this-happiness. And many of the songs are associated with life moments I've had, but also bring strong associations of their own, of course.

I can think of two particular days in Korea when I was utterly, completely, 100% aware of that heart-bursting life goodness. One was the day we traveled to Pusan for the "English Work Club" trip. Me, Bryan, JJ, Charlie, and BK. And the live baby octopus. Oh, what a day. My cheeks hurt from laughing just like my heart hurts from the bursting. All the pictures you see on MySpace and Facebook involving me and a large frog come from the Pusan Aquarium that day. What bliss. That was early in my Korea time. Later, as I was nearing the end of my indentured servitude, we had a cast party after the last Speak Truth To Power performance in Daegu. Simon and Greg played guitar and we all sang and drank beers and I for one danced and whirled a lot. But I sat, subdued, for many of the songs, and at one point the song of choice was Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here." I actually stopped singing and closed my eyes and listened to the people who had come together for this play -- expats from the U.S., Canada, England, Wales, New Zealand -- sitting in our scrappy arts space in Daegu, Korea singing:

"So, so you think you can tell
heaven from hell
blue skies from pain...
How I wish, how I wish you were here
We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl
year after year,
running over the same old ground

What have we found? The same old fears
Wish you were here."

It was nothing short of amazing. I was fully aware and fully alive, and I knew I never wanted that moment to end. But I also knew that it would end, and I would leave that room and leave those people and leave Korea and go on to the next stop on the journey, in search of my life's next moment.

I think the important thing is to carry the song with you. So that you don't have to wait to stumble across someone's MySpace page full of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, although it's nice when you do. I don't believe I will ever think of the phrase "a song in my heart" in quite the same way; turns out that's not a cheesy phrase at all.

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