Thursday, June 02, 2005

spicy roots

"her music is an intoxicating gumbo of spicy roots and wide-eyed emotiveness..."

It was four-thirty in the morning. He sat there motionless, as if he brooded over the rugged terrain of some huge thought. In reality his brain was starting to sleep-stall and then shear across itself. After a few moments he managed to add one more phrase; it was about "after-midnight ambience"; then he stood up and went over to the window. It was deep grey outside, the world was so asleep that the thought of being out there felt deathly. Yet in a happier time you might at this moment be hauling your bags up the steps to the terminal, flying off to somewhere bright. He sat down again, lit up and scrolled through the whole feature; he found it distasteful to read what he'd written, he had learnt to pick out the errors at a glance. It was a bit long - better too long than too short. He sent it.

He got up and stretched, then gunned down the TV with the remote. He found himself watching grainy highlights of Argentinian football. The commentator pre-empted any stirring of interest by announcing the score in advance. 0-0, in this case. Someone shot up to the moon. He turned the sound down.

It was normal practice to take the words straight from the PR material, but because he'd seen her play he decided to say it in his own words. She was one artist among hundreds, just another person trying to work her market. What could he say? He re-captured an image of her; her body was bending, reaching for a beaker of water between songs. He could not express what any music was, in words. He didn't know. He didn't think anyone knew. Instead, he typed the words like "spicy" and "wide-eyed" that slithered and enticed the chosen market; every preview he'd ever sweated through was really just a variant on the same thing: something for everyone. The market in this case was professional couples in their 30s to 50s. She played small venues around the region, theatres in market towns where the foyer enticed you with images of the arts, of plazas and the great cities of Europe.

He had enticed the women because they were the ones who decided what to go and see; the men just tagged along, enjoying the feel of their own charitable smiles. In five years they would be with someone else. Afterwards everyone talked about the amazing musicianship, but no-one gave a toss about the back-catalogue. This age-group didn't stretch to fanzine completism, they went home chattering loudly and sometimes stopped for a drink depending on the sitter.

Between this commonplace audience and the life-weary singer who maintained her self-respect between songs by confiding her passion for the folk-music of Guatemala, grew the miracle that was still a miracle though it polluted the earth with its too-familiarity. A bassist pushed a fat note into the air - F#. A bossa-nova rhythm began to shuffle, her body search-lit the auditorium and her voice went hoarse and warm. In a year or two she'd give this up and move on; you could see she was already thinking it over. She would move into a coastguard's shabby cottage along the bay; do batik, complain about her children's schools. The garden would have burnet-roses, she'd smoke roll-ups and her boy-friend would make oak chests of drawers.

But going back to the window, it seemed that the miracle of music still hung in the prelude of morning, a shot-glass that was distilled out of the base swamps of the people. Every person alive was as unconscious and wretched as the numberless coffee-beans or chilli-peppers that happened to make a prize-winning photo. Sometimes a sweaty teenager or a wrinkled old man would be found crying over some imaginary volte-face in the melody that had suddenly gutted them; it was there in the music, the thing that broke them, as they supposed, by telling them their real name.

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