We saw mewithoutYou last night. They’ve been a favorite band of mine for eight years now (geez). My fifth time seeing them and probably my last considering the average lifespan of indie-bands, I was reminded, during the show, of a time when life was simpler, when good music was the priority and everything else was dreck.
It started in high school. My afternoons were spent visiting record shops and my weekends spent seeing concerts. It wasn’t just about consumption; no, the music-life was about discovery. I was a California 49er searching for gold—staying hip and ahead of the curve—perusing the used and new-release bins for the unknowns and the yet-to-be-discovereds, old-favorites and new.
When a good group traveled through town I’d buy tickets and request time-off in a second-natured trance. The live-show, you see, completed it all.
What I realized last night, while watching the opening acts (in a dark smelly club I’ve never been to before, and yet, have been to so many times), was that almost all of my favorite groups from the last ten years have gone away. They’ve just left. Soon, I’m sure mewithoutYou will sail into the fog too.
I’ve noticed it before. I mean, I get it. Groups come and go; not everyone’s favorite band gets to be The Rolling Stones.
But what strikes me is the perspectival meaninglessness. Does it all just boil down to a ticket stub in a scrap book, a CD case on the shelf? Is that good enough? I used to pretend it meant something more, the music, the experience, but now, when another favorite band bites the dust, I’m surprised at how little it affects me.
The lead singers, the drummers, the guitar players I foolishly idolized—I’m curious if these days they wonder about me more than I do them.
On the second shelf of my bookcase, here in Rochester, lies two stacks of CDs. There’s maybe thirty albums total, “Quintessential,” I guess. If a fire burned my building tomorrow and I lost them all, I’d be sad, but I’d move on. Sometimes, I wonder if holding on to them keeps me from moving forward.
When we were preparing to move across country, we sold and gave away just about everything that wouldn’t fit in the car. Included was a box of maybe a hundred CDs, a box I had been meaning to donate to the local public radio station but never could.
Finally the day came to move, and they had to go, so I dropped them off. I wanted the moment to be something bigger than it was, a Toy Story 3-esq ending where a young, inexperienced music lover discovers my box of give-aways, presses play and falls in love. With courage, I’d drive away and wave, “Goodbye, pals.”
But that didn’t happen. Instead, a grubby, uninterested hipster threw them in the corner and probably the trash after I left: “You want a receipt?”
Getting older is weird.
mewithoutMe Part 2
Thoughts of meta-meaninglessness and perspective aging filled my brain between every set and song last night, more distracting than a young couple making-out in the front row. Finally, mewithoutYou came on stage and tore into “The Dryness and the Rain,” one of my favorites. At this point the crowd moved, and so was I, remembering—if only for a moment—the key to it all. Music doesn’t need to make sense. It just needs to have feeling.
Maybe that’s a good enough reason for spending a life chasing it.
“The fish swims in the sea, while the sea is in a certain sense, contained within the fish! Oh, what am I to think of the writing of a thousand lifetimes could not explain if all the forest trees were pens and all the oceans ink?” –mewithoutYou
Dude. Yessssssss. MeWithoutYou is one of the best bands ever. Catch For Us The Foxes and Brother, Sister will never be surpassed by anyone. Sure, someone may somehow be able to reach those heights… But nobody will ever surpass.
… But maybe that’s a bit too geeky?
How about this, “Yeah, they’re pretty cool.” … There. That more fits in with my laid-back, non-commital West-Coast ideals. 🙂
Glad to know someone out there thinks the same way about those two albums! I actually really like “It’s All Crazy…” too, but I could never order them. They’re all serve different purposes.
Music and art are ephemeral by nature, but they are special expressions related to being made in the image of God. I don’t think being ephemeral equates with being trivial. God makes gorgeous flowers in the remotest regions of the earth that bloom with no human seeing them, and insects with a lifespan of hours, and he delights in their beauty. Sometimes artists seem to tap into nearly scriptural-level revelation and express things that are lasting. Other times it’s just catchy music or words, and really is trivial. I think Christian artists should strive to present truth in their art, and in that sense, I disagree with your statement “Music doesn’t need to make sense. It just needs to have feeling.”
On another note, it amazes me that a song written when a singer was 20 will characterize him the rest of his life, even if he has grown well beyond what he expressed. If I see James Taylor in concert, I want to hear Fire and Rain, and if Santana plays, I want it to be Black Magic Woman or Samba Pa’ Ti. I wonder how they feel about their standard numbers.
Thanks for the comment! I’m worried you missed the point of my finishing statement (or rather, my writing probably isn’t very clear). The statement was made not to explain music in a spiritual sense, but from the viewpoint of an aging music buying/concert-going fan (aka music fanatic).
Also, what you had to say about artists writing songs in their 20s was spot on.
Yeah, well, I still listen to the Monkees. But I get a lot more out of thoughtful bands like U2 or Pink Floyd.
LOVE Pink Floyd. U2 is a little hit or miss for me, but I like a lot of their stuff. Never really checked out The Monkees.
I just about flipped when I read this article! I love MewithoutYou, and I’m glad to see I’m not alone. My favorite songs by them are Messes of Men and The King Beetle on the Coconut Estate. I’ve never seen them perform, but I really hope that someday I will. Spiritually, many of the band’s songs are truly deep and powerful. I would argue, though, that you don’t have to care about the band’s religious influences to enjoy their music. Good and meaningful music is good and meaningful music- each individual connects to a song in his or her own way.
Ah, another mwY fan! Glad to have you aboard. “Messes of Men” is such a classic song. They played that one at the show. Spiritually, their songs affected me, it seems, in the same way they affected you. I also agree with your comment about a band’s religious stance.
I saw mewithoutyou back in January on the Underoath farewell tour. I was never a huge fan but I like a couple songs. It was nice to see an aging band like them play with Underoath, both being around for so long. Thy player an amazing set, can’t say the same for the opening bands though.
You need to shift your adoration to singer-songwriters like John Prine. He was embalmed about a decade ago, but he keeps warbling wonderful wisdom on a different stage every night. Here he is in somebody’s kitchen in the early 80s.