Saturday, July 15, 2006
What's To Be Done When You're Not Into It?
This past week, I heard Terri Gross' interview with Radiohead lead singer, Thom Yorke.
Gross asked Yorke about a famous "crackup" her guest experienced during a tour with his band. Yorke apparently told an audience one night that he just wasn't into being there and proceeded to turn in a performance that reflected his boredom. To have denied it, Yorke said, would have been dishonest.
I suppose that Yorke's feelings are understandable. I once heard Eagles drummer Don Henley say that anyone intent on making a life in music needed to be prepared for long stretches of boredom. Yorke would seem to agree. By the time you finish an album, Yorke told Gross, you're sick of the songs and then you have to hit the road with them for a year-and-a-half. For artists who, like Yorke, tilt toward the right sides of their brains, long stretches of playing and singing the same songs over and over again must feel like consignment to the most unpleasant reaches of hell. (No doubt exacerbating Yorke's issues with the grey redundancy of touring is his lifelong battle with depression, something that must surely arouse anybody's sympathy.)
But, in the end, I'm little moved by Yorke's honesty. The fact is that whenever he and his band tour, they go to venues filled with people who have done day-in and day-out slog-it-out left-brain jobs to make livings, portions of which they set aside to buy Radiohead CDs and Radiohead concert seats. And if the concertgoers themselves aren't the ones who do their daily work to make the attendance of Radiohead fans possible, there are parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, or friends who pay for those tickets. Each concert ticket is a trust and the shifting moods of the artist are irrelevant.
About five years ago, my family and I attended a concert by a Christian rock band which, for the most part, went unnoticed by the public. That's sad, because The Waiting, which experienced early success, was a fantastic band combining great musicianship--one of the best lead guitarists I've ever heard--and terrific songs. They were at an outdoor venue in rural southern Ohio. We had traveled about two hours to hear them play. Shortly after we arrived, something like a monsoon kicked up. The show was delayed for over an hour. After the storm passed, we returned to the concert site. There were only about thirty of us still on hand for a fantastic show that lasted about an hour-and-a-half.
That night, I sent an email to The Waiting, applauding them for continuing with their show in spite of everything. Had they decided to cancel, I told them, nobody would have blamed them. After the band had gotten off the road, one of the members wrote back. We decided a long time ago, he said, that we would put the same intensity into every show, no matter how big--or small--the crowd.
Martin Luther once was asked how one could discern the will of God. First, he said, consider the question, "What is my duty?" When we do our duties, whether it's in our work or our relationships, we fulfill God's will for us. We also define our places in life which, even in the boring patches, can be fulfilling.
Yorke and Radiohead have proven to be extremely innovative and interesting. But life isn't always drama and the excitement of creation. As a right-brain person myself, that's been a hard lesson for me to learn. Yet, the people who swallow the fleeting mood swings that can derail them from doing our duties, build something even more valuable than a new song, a new column, or a new experiential high. They build characters.