Friday, September 17, 2010

Through the Looking Glass

The Zurich Openair Festival is perhaps the muddiest festival I have ever been to, which is saying a lot, considering the meteorological reputation of such events. Lucy and I have been in Zurich for two days, and thus far, we have been, by all accounts, very good tourists. We have been to the Kunsthaus Museum. We have seen the geode-inlaid stained glass windows of the Grossmunster. We have saddled round the lake to one of my spiritual homing points-the Le Corbusier house, and we have even made time for a purely platonic dalliance with several Dominicana dancers in Zurich’s red light district.

This new scene (the festival one) couldn’t be more different. For me, Zurich is a kept jewel, rich in both beauty and little silver coins, unchanging and solid like some antiquated, luxurious material, perhaps like ivory. I have been imagining the festival will continue very much in this lavish tradition, but upon arrival I am immediately thrust into a realm of chaos and quicksand, somewhat reminiscent of Waterworld. Thin wooden planks provide the only form of transport between vast, hungry mud oceans, and in effect, festival-goers are reduced to ants, trailing one another in single file.

After much maneuvering, Lucy and I reach the stage on which Belle and Sebastian will be playing. To say I am a “super-fan” would be somewhat of an understatement. Having already inadvertently followed the band to Glasgow (and staying for three years), my fandom has now led me to Zurich, which, let’s face it, is not exactly a budget destination. The only difference is that, at this stage, I have the good fortune of being quite a good friend of several of the band members, making my access into Fan Babylon somewhat easier. A journey such as this one to Zurich requires a partner stocked with equal obsession, and in Lucy I have found my match. Over the course of the previous two days, the two of us have collectively hummed, recited, reminisced upon, and generally exhausted every song in the Belle and Sebastian catalogue, including side projects and rarities.

Waiting in the audience, I regret to confess, I feel a slight pang of irritation. For the past five years, I have been touring on and off with my own band, Voxtrot, and during that time I have become very accustomed to being on the “other side of the looking glass.” Now that I am in between active musical projects, there is some notion of failure, that I have left my gilded seat in the backstage and am now standing, caked with mud, alongside the best of them, glinting nervously towards the side of the stage, hoping for the blessed emergence of my musical saviors.
The instant that said saviors do in fact appear, all negative notions of superiority and disappointment dissolve and I am instantaneously thrust back into my teenage mirth. They say that, when people fall in love, we produce chemicals within that brain that cause us to behave irrationally, and over time, these chemicals decrease in presence, bringing us back to our original, dismal pragmatism. In this musical moment, I am defying science, for every rational thought (particularly those pertaining to cold, trench foot, the need to urinate, and general bodily discomfort) has left the building.

Throughout the entirety of the set, Lucy and I are bopping in unison and successfully mouthing every lyric, spoken like true hymns. As Stuart, the man himself onstage says, it’s as though “I was a kid again.”

And so comes the obvious realization: when you make the choice to turn your passion into your profession, you must put some effort into ensuring that the profession remains passionate. If you begin to measure your worth as an artist in terms of exclusivity and having the most toys, you will inevitably foster feelings of jealousy towards other artists, and henceforth create work that aims at increasing your toy count, as opposed to making someone’s world a little brighter. And if we’re dealing with adages, let’s face it, you might even throw the damn things out the pram.

After the show is finished, we are completely elated (due to aforementioned amorous mood enhancers) and have somewhat forgotten that we must now go about the process of actually making contact with our sung heroes, so that we may further bask in their presence. Telecommunication is not plentiful this afternoon, but eventually the universe works its strange magic and Chris (Geddes, keyboards) appears by the side of the stage, bin liners firmly adhered to his feet, and whisks us into the refreshingly mud-less realm of the backstage.

The majority of the band is here, and they are incredibly gracious and full of life. Stuart (Murdoch, vocals/guitar/piano) brings Lucy and I a Cinzano and within twenty minutes I am back in friend mode, forgetting the out of body adoration experience, which has occurred only minutes before. Around midnight, we caravan to the hotel in which they are staying-a nice, large modern one-and several of the band members, along with Lucy and I, engage in a bit more drinking and dancing. I am determined that I will somehow lead everybody, like the pied piper, into Zurich proper for further platonic dalliances, but alas, my affinity for fermented potatoes gets the better of me and within two hours I am effectively rendered immobile.

At this juncture, Stevie (Jackson, guitar/vocals) enters like a knight in shining armor and drags me to a flat surface where I can sleep off my abundance of good feelings. When I awake ten hours later, I am reminded that, age withstanding, Belle and Sebastian will forever be my true heroes.


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