Low entranced a Birmingham, Alabama audience on Friday evening with a set of music spanning their 16-year history. The set list was magical, the sound full and melodious, the visuals, the drinks, the venue, all of it so right that I thought about how great it was to be alive. It was like childhood contentment, almost knowing something to be true, turning ahead, out of nothing, more real than metal, naked, science and math and art and language, all of that in their sound. (Click here or on the picture below to hear for yourself) And so, I was pretty excited after the show and tracked all of the band members down – Alan Sparhawk, Mimi Parker and Steve Garrington – and tried to explain it all to them.
I admit that I did go on and on and my wife tried to pull me away, realizing that I was acting like John Steinbeck’s Lenny, squeezing the beauty and truth out of a thing, but none of them seemed to mind too much. And then I wanted to thank them for that too.
Is thinking a specifically singular activity? Is existence utterly isolated? Is “to think and be” a thing to do alone? Is it at all possible that there be a “we” in this thinking, we as a collective of “I”s? Can we think of ourselves as a “we”, truly together, or do we just go along, watching the stupidity of each other and try to get away with what we can? Can we think – and be – together?
We certainly have a notion of a “we” in cities, laws, families and music. It is in the interplay between right and wrong, sense and chaos, lyrics and rhythm. Retribution Gospel Choir – on stage this week with Wilco’s Nels Cline at Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory – offered a number of connecting moments, long and straining, the guitars back and forth, Alan Sparhawk singing: Nobody put up a fight. Everyone out on the ice. You and I don’t lie. It is moments like these that there seems to be some sense to “we”, the intertwining sounds, like we’re going somewhere, wonder and excitement at every turn. Ragnar Kjartansson’s work The Visitors – at Luhring Augustine until March – develops this feeling of joy and unity as well. The communication between musicians, each alone in his/her own space, joined only by headphones, the music, flowing through crescendos and silence, until coming together, exiting the house into the wide misty expanse of what might come next. Hope looms. The same cannot be said of Andy Kaufman.Kaufman’s work – celebrated this week at the Maccorone Gallery in Greenwich – centered on the characterization of idiosyncratic individuals who didn’t fit in with the everyone else. Wide-eyed, smiling, Kaufman looked back like he wanted to be understood, waffling between child-like wonder and childish behavior, pushing us to reject him, which we inevitably did. “You could never like me. I always knew that.” That’s how he wanted it; if you weren’t in on the gag, so what?
As much of a cornerstone as the “I” might be in the work of Kjartansson and Retribution Gospel Choir, there is the invitation, a query as to what might be thought of next – not just the those on view – but the “we” in all of us “I”s too.