Feel free to skip.
So. I spent all of yesterday still feeling elated, but today I feel that I’m being dragged back to reality kicking and screaming. I knew this was coming, and I know that this wistfulness is part of the whole experience, but right now it’s just so hard to care about anything at all. There’s so much else I’m looking forward to this year, musicwise and beyond, but… it’s hard to remember that at the moment. Right now I just desperately want the past two weeks of my life back.
My way of coping with this feeling is by doing what I always do: by overthinking it. I kind of want to puzzle out what this whole experience meant to me. The music is obviously what it’s really about, but I don’t need to make much of an effort to make sense of that part of it. It wouldn’t be quite accurate to say that these shows rekindled my relationship with music because it hadn’t really gone way, but they certainly did drive home just how much it matters to me, how much it adds to my life, and how freaking alive live music in particular makes me feel. I could write about this at length, but that would be the subject of a whole other post.
What I’ve been thinking about is the personal aspect of it. Why does it matter so much, to stand there talking to Sufjan for ten minutes? The answer is both completely obvious and not really. He’s said a few times that he doesn’t think his music really is him, and several artists over the centuries have expressed pretty much the same sentiment. This is something I completely agree with, and obviously the music and not the guy is what I really love. But. It’s equally obvious that there’s a personal side to it too. So yes, actually I do love him, but what does that even mean? Nobody in any art medium even begins to compare with Sufjan in terms of how drawn to them I feel (and I mean this in a you-seem-so-awesome-and-I-could-watch-you-forever sort of way), but I can think of plenty of favourite artists of mine – Joanna Newsom, Matt Berninger, Aaron and Bryce Dessner, Owen Pallet, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, John Green, Patrick Ness, Margo Lanagan, Ursula Le Guin, etc. – that I do care about as human beings.
Obviously I don’t know them beyond their art and whatever aspects of themselves they choose to reveal in interviews/the internet/other public platforms. The image I have of them may well be inaccurate and is surely very limited, but this doesn’t make the emotional relationship I have with said image any less real to me. We all do this to some extent, regardless of how much we believe in The Death of the Author. So yeah, it may be one-sided and entirely different from what getting to know a fellow human being is really like, but I nevertheless do love these people for making art that adds so much to my life. This affection or regard or whatever you want to call it is very real to me, and I appreciate it in the same sense I appreciate loving things in general. It makes the world more interesting. It makes life better. It makes me feel alive.
The complicating factor here is that this whole loving a perfect stranger thing can be awkward and very vulnerable and make for some very strange dynamics if you ever find yourself in front of said stranger. This is the elephant in the room – they know it, you know it, but the best thing to do is probably to pretend it’s not there. I imagine that knowing that something as trivial and inconsequential to you as chatting to a stranger means the world to the other person can feel quite burdensome sometimes. John Darnielle said as much in a really interesting article about his relationship with his fans from a while ago. I’ve been thinking about that article a lot for the past 24 hours or so, even though the dynamics it describes are actually quite different from Sufjan’s case. Still, regardless of how he feels about it, what Darnielle said applies – it must be consuming to have these fleeting encounters with strangers who desperately want to connect with you, who bring the full intensity of what actually IS a real emotional tie to them to the five minutes you spend with them, and who want you to give them… something. It must be especially difficult if you’re a very private person, which both John Darnielle and Sufjan really seem to be.
I’d never blame anyone for acting that intensely – I find it very human and even moving – but this is actually the reason why I was so glad for the complete ordinariness of my short conversation with Sufjan. I think I managed to put what I wanted on hold, which when all is said and done isn’t even anything. I guess that in my dream world he’d be my friend, but in reality I’m perfectly content to listen to his music and watch him and experience this vague sense of longing that doesn’t really mean anything other than that I’m alive and I love something and it’s actually a wonderful thing.
Does any of this even make sense? I guess my point is that as wonderful as it would be to exchange thoughts about Life, The Universe and Everything with these strangers you’re emotionally attached to, it’s not really going to happen in a situation like this. It’s not going to be possible to establish a meaningful connection in the ordinary sense of the term, and it’s useful to (to paraphrase the always brilliant John Green) imagine the other person complexly enough to realise it’s not really fair to expect that of them. So failing that, you get the next best thing – an undemanding interaction that in is nevertheless still a meaningful human exchange. The elephant is still in the room, but if you don’t demand anything it can be a nice, nonthreatening sort of elephant. You care, and they know how much you care, and there’s still a considerable amount of vulnerability involved. But caring in itself doesn’t have to be creepy. So you chat like ordinary people, you get to briefly watch them in a non-public context, you say thank you, and then you go away and treasure the memory.
I know I haven’t made any sort of point in this whole post, and I’m not even sure how much closer I am to figuring out how I feel. Just… we’re human and we fall in love. Sometimes with other humans we know intimately, and that’s a wonderful thing; other times with music and the glimpses we get of a stranger with a guitar or whatever, which is different but actually wonderful too. This happens at both seventeen and twenty-seven, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I swear, this post was so much better in my head. Less blabbing and more uploading videos and photos, I know. I’ll be doing that now.