I won’t lie to you. If it were up to me David Gray would be put into a perfect room with a piano, a guitar and a small group of devoted fans. That sweet, true voice would fill the room and we’d hear every word he sang. We’d move up and down the scale of emotions, from despair to joy.
Instead, Gray sang last night at the FirstMerit Bank Pavilion, a huge outdoor amphitheatre, with a full band. As far as I’m concerned whoever ran the sound board was deaf. There were times when Gray’s voice couldn’t be heard above the racket coming from the speakers, a thumping, reverberating blur of sound.
Two rows in front of me, a woman spent the entire night talking to a friend, which required some energy on her part in order to be heard above the music. She did not draw breath until she stood up to leave, 20 minutes before the concert ended.
Dozens of folks around me surfed the web on their phones, texted friends and scanned Facebook.
But that sweet, true voice still rose above it all sometimes. And some of us heard every word.
My friend and fellow blogger, Teppi Jacobsen, When You Put It That Way, was one section over with her husband, and I know she was listening. Her father died recently from brain cancer, and she had spent the day with her family packing up his apartment. Her loss is raw and her passion for Gray is deep. I hope last night was a tonic
Music is a kind of holiness for me, a way to commune with life. Somehow the words and the chords, the repetition and the melodies make a bridge between souls. The ineffable power of songs can meet your pain and your joy and give it expression.
It would be a fascinating project to talk to performers about what their songs mean to them and then to talk to several fans about those same songs. My feeling is that we bring our stories and needs to the altar of the music.
When I hear “My oh My,” I think of a particular moment in my life, of a particular set of struggles, of my own idiosyncratic angst. Gray’s love songs are about my love. They’re very personal. It’s not that they were written for me or my life, it’s that I find understanding of my life within them. They offer a kind of peace, a buoyancy that helps me rise above.
So many people around me felt the same way. I could see it in their swaying bodies, the intensity of their faces as they looked up at the stage, in their lips murmuring every lyric.
There’s a lot of a pain in this world. I know that Teppi’s life is filled with it. She has suffered so much loss. As she wrote yesterday, she’s an adult orphan. Even for adults the loss of parents threatens to unmoor us.
It’s impossible to listen to David Gray and not believe he understands these losses. And yet, he offers hope to us all.
He sang one of his bitterest songs last night and my brother’s favorite, “Nemesis.”
I’m the manta ray – I’m the louse
I am a photograph they found in your burned out house
I’m the sound of money washing down the drain
I am the pack of lies baby that keeps you sane…..
Just give me something that’s more than this
One shot and I’ll never miss yes
I’m the babe that sleeps through the blitz
I am a sudden and quite unexpected twist
I am your one true love who sleeps with someone else
I am your nemesis
Baby I’m life sweet life itself
As cancer steals from us, our parents, our children, our health and wellbeing, leaving grief and fear and anger behind, the line, “Just give me something that’s more than this” hit home for some of us. But that last line, “Baby I’m life sweet life itself” asks us to reach past the loss.
If we can’t reach past it during that song, then maybe we can when we hear “This Year’s Love.” Gray’s voice singing, “Won’t ya kiss me on that midnight street / Sweep me off my feet / Singing ain’t this life so sweet” is enough to carry me over.
In the end, I didn’t care about the rotten sound mix, the mush of electronic sounds and reverb, all I heard was David Gray’s sweet, true voice. And, Teppi, I hope that voice carried you over from a devastating day into a place of hope and peace.
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