I know that you will be surprised to hear from me so soon, after I wrote in January
and you didn't reply. Let me hasten once more to assure you that I largely write for my own edification, and not yours, and do not believe that Michael J. Fox is our secret love child, or any of the other odd things that fans who write too often believe.
But you see, something has changed in the situation since last we spoke (or rather, since last I spoke, and you didn't listen). I've just arrived home from the Granada Theater in the lowest Greenville Avenue part of Dallas, you see. This bit of my travel trivia matters to your life in that you were the second artist on a three artist bill playing the Granada tonight.
We arrived after an eventful day at the Granada, an art house/concert hall at which I once saw the most fascinating Tibetan Buddhist documentary, with subtitles about mandalas which riveted me and visuals of obscure funerary ceremonies I need not describe. But we were there for a different type of riveting. We were there to see three strong women perform.
I know that it is bad form to spend too much time in which I could be talking to and about you talking about me. But you see, I am not some swain seeking to win you over through fan mail, but instead a rather prosaic person who likes to give context and setting for descriptive material. Let me tell you, therefore, that I had driven to dinner and a concert after a long day running a chess tournament. I suspect, without evidence one way or the other, that I was the only person who came to hear great music after running a day of chess, but I am open to persuasion to the contrary.
My event, by the way, went swimmingly, as an unprecedented eighteen people showed up to play. Given that my prior two tournaments had drawn only four players each, eighteen is rather like having a gold record. I wonder if anyone makes a profit on a gold record anymore. Let's skip, by the way, the part in which I lost a won rook and pawn endgame against an 1800 player, thereby excluding myself from contention for the twenty dollar first prize in my section. Suffice it to say that a long day produced a good time for all, except for that young newbie player who appeared to leave without explanation after the first round.
I was in a mild euphoria, albeit a "running a tournament with 18 people and trying to play in it, too, is a mind-numbingly stressful experience" kind of mingled euphoria. I find so often that things intermingle, though, like a melange of spices, only not those spices in that science fiction novel that make people see the future, because if we get lost on that topic I'll no doubt be holding forth on my suspicision I am some suburban middle-aged version of the kwisatz haderach, despite it being only a novel. We all have our delusions of grandeur, you know, but that does not mean we need feed them pancakes. Suffice it to say that I was happy--and could even overlook that the paper printed a photo of a checkerboard rather than a chess board with the feature about our tournament.
Speaking of feeding, by the way, let me commend to you the Greenville Avenue restaurant Nuevo Leon. This northMex place always does us right. I had this garlic shrimp whose "real name" has lots of mojo or ajo or ojo or something like that in it. Let's settle for "sauteed garlic shrimp, with rice". It was Heavenly. So you can imagine what a good mood I was in as we approached the "will call" to get our prized "up front in the balcony" seats.
Then the woman who performed first came on stage. Let me be the first to say that I have a weakness for a particular kind of strong woman. I don't mean the kind of strong woman who has supreme and endless self-confidence, or who is literally fearless. I mean instead the kind of woman who has fear in measured abundance yet she puts on an immense "game face" to look as if she has conquered fear. To restate--if you'll pardon the repetition--I like people who try really hard. The first artist,
Susan Gibson, proved to be someone who plays that Austin-tinged Texana with a strength and simplicity I found energizing.
When you've been trying to figure out the Swiss pairing system on the fly all day (don't ask), on little more than two corn dogs and good will, you can take all the down-to-earth Texana you can acquire in good order. I am glad that Ms. Gibson could not hear me, up there on the balcony, when I, without my glasses on, suggested she and her guitarist were the roadies. I know she will forgive me for not knowing that one of her songs had been covered by the Dixie Chicks, because I'm sure she and I remember when the Dixie Chicks wore chaps and lariots and had a singer who sounded like a sweetheart of the rodeo. They were much more fun back then--but weren't we all more fun back then?
It must have been daunting, to hear us bring Susan back for an encore--a rather rare situation for the first of three artists on a bill. That cute twentysomething girl who sat by my wife and I, confessing her love for the Cure but ultimately abandoning us to get a better digital camera angle, said she had never seen it happen--but Abra, I've seen a few moons circling this ringed planet, and let me tell you that such things do happen.
Speaking of fearless, let me say that you showed that you wear the Purple Heart of earnest abandon on your sleeve with dignity and grace. I like that you plunged right in, without intro or cute patter, and went into one of those songs which shows that your voice is rather an offbeat force to be reckoned with by all who hear it.
My wife leaned over to me, right as you were in one of those shouts that is one third Dolores O'Riordan in yodeling whoop, one third Lene Lovich, and one third Forbidden Planet, and whispered "it's a fine line between singing and screaming", but she meant it in the nicest possible way, and I assured her that this vocal style is not only your trademark, but ultimately quite lovable.
Sure enough, she came to love you by the end of your set. As she said, who could fail to love such earnest eccentricity? I don't know what appealed to me more.
Was it the way that you played with your pigtails between songs? Was it the way that your set list seemed to be improved in part, with hushed whispers, as you went along? Perhaps it was when someone asked for one of your previously recorded songs, and you asked what was its first line. For me, it was the realization that Will Sexton, that Austin wonder who did your guitar work tonight, would rather be Durutti Column than Ry Cooder (although we all love Ry Cooder). I like the way you can be sharp and it seem so right. I love the yodels, pops, and the way that you sometimes sound like you are sonically assaulting some imaginary fort. You have a way with songwriting I really admire. You can make a melody hum and do your bidding. But for the line of people waiting to get the star who followed you to sign CDs, I would have bought your product and struck up a conversation with you in all your eccentric wonder. After all, anyone who refers to her predecessor act as really "groundly", as in "grounding" gets extra points in my book.
I want to assure you, Abra, that you should not take disheart from the fact that
the audience did not beg you for an encore. Some birds are too rare to roost on the common perches, and some experiences are too unique to repeat. You captivated my wife and I, and I'm sure you captured many another heart with your waves of sound emanating from guitars and voices.
Similarly, although I truly enjoyed seeing Suzanne Vega perform again, I'll not bore you with the descriptions of how I was comfortable that she didn't play "Solitude Standing" but a bit sad that "Soap and Water" got scrubbed. You have Will Sexton on guitar, while she has Mike Visceglia on bass. You need an edgy song similar to "Blood Makes Noise", I think, because after all, Beavis and Butthead never made a parody of any of your songs. Maybe you should do some clever cover--may I suggest, though, that neither "God Only Knows" or "Cherish" would work? I see you as more the
Cocteau Twins type, although you're perhaps insightful enough to understand a word Elisabeth Fraser is saying, while I am stuck in the comprehension ranges of the common herd. I will say, though, that Suzanne Vega always impresses me, because she tries really hard, and because she uses self-possession as the ultimate megaton weapon against obvious insecurity. She's real people, so to speak.
It makes me feel good that I can spend a Saturday running a chess tournament and
then Saturday night being enveloped in the disparate styles of three different artists. You own a big part of that. You see, sometimes it's not important who is the most popular girl. Sometimes it's the girl that has that extra quirk that make all the difference. You have quirks in abundance. I have a firm intention to
buy that CD that I asked you about, you know over from the Goodwill?
It's funny, though, all these dreams and fantasies. Here I am, writing you as if you will read this, which you never will. Suzanne Vega offered to autograph CDs people bought, but I could not see wading through the dozens surrounding her table. After all, if I could say one quick phrase to someone whose music I like, what would I say? "We are both such dinosaurs, I saw you twenty years ago"? "I wrote a good review of your album and your book on amazon, you should like me"? Surely not "just like in your song, you don't have to be my Maggie May, Suzanne, but, by the by, I also won't be your Maurice Chevalier, either"? Even "gee, I really like marlene on the wall' rings flat. Let's face it, Abra, we only really interact when talented people like you put out something to provoke thought and interest in untalented people like me. There's a fascism in that, if you'll pardon the stark language, which intrigues me, but I am not writing to you about theory tonight.
Really, when it comes down to it, we're all, like you, assailing the barricades with our own somewhat strident voices. Sometimes the walls come down--and it turns out that Jericho is not so bad when it's got a little light shared through targeted demolition. But sometimes we cry out, and all we hear are the echoes of our thoughts. I don't mind that you soundtrack those echoes, though. I rather like the ringing of your guitar and the way your voice commands something or other, but nobody is quite sure what. I love the way you sound like art rock and Hawaiian traditional music all at once. You are one Austin folk popper who sounds like you are not from Austin, the folk tradition or the pop tradition. Rock on, Abra, you crazy diamond, in a world gone too far rough.
I'll close now, with thanks, and please do not worry if you don't have time to respond. I'm off on other quests now, and I'm not worried one little bit about such matters. Just think of this as a kind of chess game--only I am the only one at the board, and the endgame problems I solve are too abstract to interest you. But believe me, when the patterns align, they are high art. I wish you luck in finding your art, too--like that four leaf clover in your song, I want it to stare you right in the face--in a high decibel yodel, if possible.
My best to you,