I didn’t want to go but I had promised a friend I would. A concert in the house of local arts promoters. A wonderful thing to support, but I’d been jangly all day, obsessing about my neuroses that refuse to grow up and leave home no matter how old they get. I would have preferred to brood alone.
Rows of uncomfortable looking chairs filled the main room of the vintage house but we had arrived early enough to hijack the slip-covered couch. I took a corner of it and folded into myself, looked around. The room was stuffed with objects placed with whimsy and not a whit of pretension: a ceramic cat trapped in a bird cage suspended from the ceiling with a bright blue stuffed bird looking in on it; an assortment of candle sticks lining the fireplace mantle; framed photographs perched on the edge of the walnut panelling; stacks of magazines; shelves of CDs; a bottle of colourful stones; plants, plants and more plants — a large one on a tall stool draped with a tasselled scarf of pink, turquoise and black.
The audience filed in. Seasoned souls like me. Men in shorts with black shoes and socks. Women in various stages of decay. I busied myself with a note pad.
The younger fedora-wearing performers were from the States. Paul Benoit, singer/songwriter/guitarist, from
When Chris came on, Paul continued to play, inserting his voice occasionally like a Greek chorus (They’re gonna have a war, don’t need a reason. If you don’t like it, they’ll call it treason) into Chris’s ruminations about life in what he calls the United States of Generica. One was a brilliant satirical piece on the attempt to “banish all uncertainty” — padlocks and car alarms, gated communities, product labels and warnings, airport and border checks, Homeland Security. Others: how marketers are already capitalizing on global warming and energy-depleted doomsday scenarios (“Buy your ticket to the end of the world”); how we left the primordial soup only to achieve the greatness of Pringles; how the U.S. has no vision — “Mr. Magoo is sailing the ship of state off a flat earth.” U.S. imperialism drew his strongest censure and his intensity transported me back to the days when I still believed that ideals guided my birth land. A piece on Iraq called up a few tears as it yanked me back to Vietnam and the sorrow that will not go away. When I see Second World War vets wiping their eyes at Remembrance Day services, I understand. It’s been more than thirty years since “my” war ended, and it doesn’t look as if I’ll ever be over it.
More than 58,000
Chris ended the performance with a plea for change and Paul sang, Where are the strong? Who are the trusted? Sometimes it seems as if we’re space walkers whose life lines have been cut, adrift with the stunning recognition that we only ever had ourselves after all.
“Take care of yourself,” my friend said when I dropped her off at her home. “You seem a little fragile right now.”