I find it remarkable how making this list involves two diametrically opposed problems: thinking of 10 works of art that are important to me and limiting the list to just ten. I can’t even muster up an explanation as to how that is happening in my brain, but I assure you that it is. Indeed, I’ve spent several chunks of time wondering if I can even complete what should be a very simple, even mindless, task. *sigh*
If you missed part one, click here. I should, someday, maybe, finish the final five. A real list of five. What follows, however, will catch many of the five that have rolled around in my head the last several weeks. As it happens, however, I couldn’t have finished this post without the events of last week. Well, okay, I could, but this allows me the benefit of only torturing my adoring (or, at least, patient) friends once. And allows me to wander into an aesthetic argument that normally exists only in my head. Here’s the crux: when I think about a “work of art” that means the most to me and to my development, there is none so important as the work behind art.
See, I had forgotten, prior to a blustery, cold day in Knoxville last week, how much I love the stage (my students, who are regularly afflicted by my quasi-theatrical foolishness in the front of the classroom might find themselves questioning the validity of that observation). And while I do indeed love performing, I really, really love the work of the stage–backstage, sidestage, racing around in the dark stage…
On January 26th, my ever-patient-partner-in-musical-crime, hereabouts known as Rikki, took off for an adventure to Knoxville. I had
asked begged pleaded for tickets to see Avenged Sevenfold’s “Nightmare After Christmas” tour, having missed their last swing through the Southeast when I went on that little run last September. I made her stand with me, surrounded by fleets of the high school brigade (and not a few who looked like my own students), in the freezing wind, waiting for the doors to open. Why? Hellbent for an old-school GA pit (that’s General Admission for all you heathens).
Poor, innocent Rikki had never been in one (*insert kitsch’s evil laugh*).
I took all of 16 photos on the night in question, primarily because I was having way too much fun in the pit to bother with my camera (or, for that matter, to risk the poor, innocent piece of electronics). Over half of those 16 pictures, even two of them that *shock* have members of the band included, are devoted to the stage. And thank you to Avenged Sevenfold for giving me all the stageness a girl could want.
So, for number 6, I give you: the stage.
Way back, when I was but a high school lass, I was a techie. A techie, for those of you who are not in the know already, is a breed similar to roadie, except the techie stays put, as does the techie’s stage, normally at least. My favorite role as techie, other than stage manager (because I love to boss everyone around, of course) was running crew. This photo captures the responsibilities of the average running crew: get shit set on stage, make sure the performers won’t be killed and/or maimed by said shit, and get the hell off stage. Typical garb? Black. Primary tool? Gaffer tape. Glow tape if you need to make sure the performer or prop lands in a specific place in the dark.
7. I love theatrics of all measures, but I am a sucker for fog. Every techie I
knew (save for one who was nearly choked to death by the stuff) loved the stuff. And, Avenged, kindly, provided some. I seem to recall knowing that they would–it fits the general level of theatrics that the band displays, but also I recall an interview along the way in which Matt* recounts a story about the “one time” (it wasn’t. He forgets the mace story when he tells this particular “one time”) Jimmy lost the beat on stage–when he was (drumroll, please) overcome by the fog. I guess this would not be the best time to recount the various times we tried to do that deliberately in high school, is it? Or that we could identify which fog variety we were dealing with by smell.
Oh, fog. Those were the days.
8. I wasn’t much of a pyro girl myself (and if Gwen is reading this, she is surely laughing her ass off), at least in comparison to many of my compatriots (yeah,
okay, so I lit a select few things on fire. On purpose.). Sure, I love a good fire pot, and I am a sucker for a well-choreographed explosion, and I even, once upon a time, knew how to rig all of that crap up safely. But I’ve never excelled in the art of arranging lights and pyro, so I am ever impressed by people whose aesthetic senses allow them to make all the light, color, and heat dance so beautifully. Give me a set design, pieces, and a couple of cues, I can make the changes happen before the audience has a chance to process that someone was there. That was my thing. Orchestration of people and pieces (and, occasionally, threatening a performer or two).
I’d like to note that the photo above is the first that has any band members in it (it was the second overall once the band hit the stage), and, more stunningly, I managed to get all five guys in this shot, though I noticed that only later (today, in fact, when I realized that Johnny was over on the side of the stage near Brian’s behatted shadow–well, and the owner of said shadow). In all likelyhood, getting all five was a complete fluke; I’m pretty sure I had my arm fully extended in the air to take this picture, and had nary a clue what was going to end up in the frame.
9. While I was enthralled throughout the show, tons of energy traded off between audience and band, I can’t fail to mention the part of the show, the first encore, that struck the most wonder in me, and, I suspect, for the greater
portion of the audience. First, I was dumbstruck that they even did “Fiction” live, for various reasons, not the least of which were emotional. But the way Avenged staged and performed it was just breathtaking. Matt stood more or less stage right (though, I grant, he was fairly close to the center). He was joined on stage by Arin (the touring drummer) and Syn (see, there’s me trying), who stood about as far to stage left as was possible. If Johnny and ZV were on the stage, I never saw them. The stage remained mostly dark, save occasional spots on Matt and Brian and for the constant spotlights on the drums and the piano that the roadies carried on stage. In the dark.
See, that’s one of those stage things I love. Imagine: the band is offstage, the venue dark, the audience screaming for more, and here come four roadies, stealthily carrying a white piano out on the stage and lining it up just so. Dude.
The astonishing part was yet to come. “Fiction” is a piece that is emotional enough as a recording–the ways in which the band chose to preserve Jimmy’s voice–effectively turning the piece into a duet between Jimmy and Matt, is striking enough, but the ways they chose to orchestrate his presence on stage was all the more so.
See, toward the end of the piece, the spots on Brian and Matt went out. Matt, who was in front of me (I couldn’t see to the other side of the stage to say for certain what was happening at stage left), stood stock still, hands at his side. The venue, for the first time in hours, was silent.
And then…Jimmy’s voice.
For all the orchestration, sampling, and lighting choreography that surely went into the production of the song live, there was, in those moments, something, be it emotional or spiritual or both that transcended the artifice. If I were to put my aesthetic hat on, I’d say that in them, Benjamin’s aura was made palpable. And had I to argue what makes art for me, what defines any of my own profound aesthetic experience, it was the aura what moved me–the spiritual connection between artist, audience, and art. And, my god, did they manage to find it that night.
10. Lest I leave on a note that too closely approaches the academic (though, aura isn’t academic. It’s too much a moving spirit for that), I’ll list my tenth item as the “art” that drew me to the concert in the first place. Before I was a professor who ranted about aesthetics and literature and theatre and punk, I was a and avid concertgoer and techie, who ranted at performers who were in the way and other techies who thought they were gods. Before I was that preciously obnoxious techie, I was a dancer. My world was defined through movement–the manipulation of the body in space and time. I was, because of my build, primarily a tap dancer–I was taller than most adult male ballet dancers by the time I was 12. And though I walked away from dance when I was fifteen, in favor of music and theatre, I never really left being a dancer. I still experience music as movement (which can make me terribly annoying, I’m sure, to stand next to at a concert); I move–constantly–when I’m listening (I also, as it happen, use music in the same way I used dance–to isolate myself, so it wasn’t all that dramatic a departure).
So, the night. I wanted to go to this concert because I’d never seen the band live before. I’m pretty sure I’ve noted this elsewhere, so I’ll spare you the GnR fan joke. And, I wanted to be in a pit that would remind me of those from my youth–particularly the more aggressive ones of my youth–and for that one needs a solid metal band, a younger crowd, and, yes, General Admission.**
As with 20 years ago, I loved every second of the pushing, the foolish-drunken moshing attempts, the camaraderie you have no real choice but to form if you want to remain standing (and in order to help those poor ones who faint mid show–to get them out of harm’s way), and the energy that is generated between artist and audience. So, while on the one hand I could have slapped Shadows for the command for a giant circle dance at the end of “Unholy Confessions,” I could have kissed him for it too–I grinned the whole time as we hung on to each other, Rikki to my right, anchoring herself on young Mario, and Travis to my left, who managed to (how I can’t begin to say, given how we were twisted) anchor himself to the rail as we whipped around in the furious frenzy (apologies for the alliteration there–I was thinking how much the scene reminded me of Neil Gaimen’s images of the furies in Sandman, a connection requiring a special kind of geek). We’ll never see Travis nor Mario again, but they, along with the other kids, young adults, and other thirtysomethings in the immediate area, helped to create the beautiful energy of the evening, every bit as much as the band.
And, so help me, I’ll get back in the pit again, where, for me at least, exists the most visceral expression of the aura, where music becomes its most physical.
*For all of my love of theatrics, for some reasons these guys (save one) don’t operate in my head under their stage names. I’ve no clue why. I end up switching back and forth when I try to use the stage names any way, so I’m just skipping the pretense. I *think* it’s because as years have worn on (and particularly so in the last), they’ve been wandering back and forth between them.
**Rikki and I had pit passes to a Crue concert the last time they came through Atlanta, wherein the pit inhabitants paid more for the privilege of being sweat on by band and fan than others at the concert, whereas GA pits are more like Shakespearian groundlings, who paid less, expect more, and get far more riled up. Let me assure you that the two are very different animals. Say it with me: poor, innocent Rikki.