Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Love Letter to the Audience

“Every work of art is one half of a secret handshake, a challenge that seeks the password, a heliograph flashed from a tower window, an act of hopeless optimism in the service of bottomless longing. Every great record or novel or comic book convenes the first meeting of a fan club whose membership stands forever at one but which maintains chapters in every city—in every cranium—in the world. Art, like fandom, asserts the possibility of fellowship in a world built entirely from the materials of solitude. The novelist, the cartoonist, the songwriter, knows that the gesture is doomed from the beginning but makes it anyway, flashes his or her bit of mirror, not on the chance that the signal will be seen or understood but as if such a chance existed.”

This is the opening passage to Michael Chabon’s essay “The Loser’s Club”, one of the first pieces of literature that enabled me to recognize that my relationship with art revolves around my search for connection.

I grew up relying on art in all forms: books, movies, but primarily music to soothe me. To be my parent, my friend, my advisor, my confidante, my security blanket. Some look to art for amusement, for escape, for entertainment. I have always looked at it as my gasoline, my life force, a necessary crutch for when I cannot walk on my own.

My first musical connection came from listening to the Beatles, particularly their later, darker stuff. I played my “White Album” on white vinyl until the cover disintegrated from being pawed by my greasy 11 year old hands. That was followed by Stevie Wonder’s “Songs In the Key of Life, Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors”, Led Zeppelin's “Physical Graffiti”. These were my first lessons on love, on loss, on loneliness, with flashes of belonging.

As I grew older I surrounded myself with artists, aligning myself with those who I considered to be superior to me as they were creators. Seeing myself only through the lens of being the guitar player’s girlfriend, the writer’s significant other, or the “fan” caused me to devalue the connection between the art and the audience. I resigned myself to forever being on lesser side of the equation, to being merely the receiver of the gift.

When I began writing and performing, I saw the fluidity between the creator and the spectators. Writing is such a solitary activity, often causing me to feel immensely isolated. I was compelled to create my own accounts of love, loss, and loneliness, but it was in the reveal of those materials that I experienced a similar reaction as when I would hear a song that resonated with me, when I was exposed to a piece of art that made me feel understood. In the case of telling a story to an audience or publishing something like this blog, I feel a drive to do so to reach out to those who also feel alone. There is little difference to me experiencing it from the other side of the transaction. Even when I receive feedback that is negative or confusing from others, I respect and appreciate that they took the time to try to understand my point of view. All I ask is to be considered, to be heard; that the art opens the door to a possible connection.

My curiosity surrounding the relationship between art and its audience was recently reignited by watching HBO’s “Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends)", a documentary about the 2015 terrorist attack on Paris’ Bataclan theater. Jesse Hughes, the lead singer of Eagles of Death Metal, who is a compelling mix of Palm Desert rock scenester and tent revival preacher said in reference to their audience, “I don’t look at it like they are our fans. I look at it like we’re all rock and rollers here, I’m just the monkey that shakes his dick for you while you dance.” It struck me that he saw the space between the performer and the audience as highly permeable, rooted in a belief that the monkey would be nothing without those who dance. I truly get that.

I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who say and show me they love me unconditionally all the time so my stories revolve less about loneliness these days. In my writings about connection now there is an implied belonging, a sense of feeling I live inside the circle more than ever before. I finally fully appreciate that nothing I create will be understood by everyone. I'm satisfied that the more authentic I am, less people will connect with me and that is as it should be. I am only attracting people who belong with me, those who deserve to walk beside me now.

For those of you who say you are not creative, know that I see what you bring to the table. Perhaps you don't recognize it, but I urge you to pay closer attention. Feel that there is art in every exchange if you put your energy into it.  In the way you dress, in the way you walk, in the words you choose, in the company you keep. I would contend that no activity is soulless if you attempt to do it with your own sense of style, knowing it is your chance to flash your mirror for those who are meant to see it.

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