Frank Bruni over at the New York Times is busy getting all worked up over how few professional athletes have openly admitted they are gay. This makes no sense to me. Why do I care what an athlete, or anyone, does in private with another consenting adult? My political philosophy would probably be tagged libertarian, which mainly means I just wish to be left alone. The implicit political covenant embodied in my philosophy is that if others will leave me alone, I will leave them alone. I’ll keep my sexual proclivities to myself, and won’t ask anyone else about theirs. Ah, you say, but, you’re married, so that means you’ve already “outed” yourself as heterosexual. No. Anyone who thinks sex and marriage have much of anything to do with each has either never been married, or if married, has not been for very long. Marriage is a business partnership. It sometimes includes sex, but that’s not its point. Its main point is the rearing of children, but it can simply be a partnership for living life. That’s also why it befuddles me that a) anyone would oppose two people entering a marriage who are of the same sex, but also b) that anyone would voluntarily enter into such an arrangement if all they wanted was a life partnership. If a tree falls in the forest, but the state does not pass a law acknowledging its fall, does it still make a sound? Is a life partnership still meaningful if the state doesn’t afford its imprimatur of approval and sanction by the codification of its contours?
I’m pretty sure that my wife and I were of the minority sexual orientation at the Indigo Girls concert last Friday evening. I’m also pretty sure that the two girls of the group, Emily Saliers and Amy Ray, are lesbians, as they have publicly admitted as much. And I’m pretty sure, as I’ve been to more than one of their concerts, that some few of the crowd in attendance probably like the Indigo Girls because of their sexual orientation. I imagine that going to an Indigo Girls concert might be something of a rite of passage for young gay women by now. But I don’t care about the girls’ sexual orientation (or for that matter, that of the audience members). I just care that the girls are brilliant lyricists, creative and talented musicians, beautiful vocalists, and most of all, that their whole serendipitously adds up to a bunch more than its parts. With the Indigo Girls, synergy doesn’t mean one plus one equals three. It’s more like one plus one equals six or eight. Even when it is just the two of them alone on stage with their guitars, their music seems too good, vocally and instrumentally, to have been the product of just two people.
In some measure, for me, time is draped on the posts of the Indigo Girls music. I discovered their breakthrough CD browsing a book and music store in Seattle back in the late eighties, a place where I’d sometimes hang out on those long grey Puget Sound weekends when I wasn’t deployed somewhere else as a young Army officer. I’d sing along with them then, trying to learn a bit about what makes harmony work, while driving my little Toyota four-wheel drive pick-up on exploratory jaunts around the Pacific Northwest. Later, when my sister came out to visit where I lived in West Texas in the early nineties, we harmonized in the truck along with girls while exploring the desert and mountains of southern New Mexico. And there was the time shortly after seeing them in the “All we let in” tour in 2005, after I had finally reconnected with the place in my soul where they live, and my daughter and I spent a summer night lying in the back of my pickup truck, searching the sky for shooting stars, listening to the girls sing about “fresh boys playing football”. I can’t listen to that album now without wistfully thinking of me and my little girl that night, just enjoying the night sky and their sweet singing. It is the most trenchant of memories I have of her childhood. The Indigo Girls helped me to connect with myself, and in an apparently deep and memorable place in my soul.
The girls are fairly political in their music, and their political views are very much libertine (in the classic sense of the word) and pacifist, much as are mine. It’s a part of me that I kept mainly hidden until the last decade or so, as I felt revealing my heart might impair my quest for some ephemeral American Dream. I didn’t even get that the American Dream, or really any dream worth pursuing, is about being who you are, without compromise, not about having a fancy house in a leafy suburb with 2.1 kids and the properly hulking SUV. But I get it now, which should give everyone hope. If I can figure it out, anyone can.
The girls were backed by the Alabama Symphony Orchestra Friday night, mainly playing songs from their latest album, which I hadn’t yet heard at the time, so it wasn’t sing along fun. But their harmonies and melodies are so intricately woven, no matter what song it is, that getting to hear them sing and play anything seemed good enough. They are like honey to the taste buds of the ear. Their music is a metaphor for what you hope to find upon passing through the cultural wasteland of popular music—the promised land of tight lyrics, compelling arrangements and sweet harmonies.
The music is not easily categorized, but could perhaps be described as a fusion of Southern church-camp guitar music with a fair dose of gospel in its vocalization, and Appalachian hillbilly porch music, i.e., bluegrass, with a shot of rock’s three chord pounding grinds thrown in for good measure. The accompanying lyrics are sometimes as soft and delicate as a butterfly on the wing (usually, Emily’s), and sometimes as edgy and plaintive as Lou Reed in his solo days (usually, Amy’s), but are always insightful about some aspect or another of the human condition. Amy’s deep, almost baritone, voice provides resonance to hits like “Kid Fears”, while Emily’s lilac sweet alto grips the heart on tunes like “All we let in”. Together, they’ve got a goodly portion of the range of human emotion covered, along with the ability to poignantly vocalize it.
The other times I’ve seen the girls, it was just them on stage, with two guitars, or perhaps a guitar and mandolin, to provide all the accompaniment, so it was quite unusual to see them backed by a full orchestra. I’d say the orchestra didn’t add much to the show, but neither did it take much away. It just provided a more robust musical backdrop for songs that should have been inherently easy to score for an orchestral arrangement. I like occasionally attending the orchestra’s live performances, so it was something of a treat to hear them in this setting. But I decided upon attending the concert because of the Indigo Girls, not because the orchestra was playing.
Now if you follow this blog you might be wondering if the person writing this Indigo Girls concert review could possibly be the same person who wrote of his love for smash-mouth football just two posts ago, bemoaning the NFL’s pansy-ass playing to the casual fan by tweaking rules to enhance scoring. Indeed it is. Human beings, of which I’m reasonably sure I qualify, are curious and inexplicable creatures, and all the more so when they reject being pigeon-holed by cultural mores and expectations. It is perfectly acceptable to like the Indigo Girls, and to even share the same libertine and pacifist beliefs as theirs, while also loving the quasi-controlled passion and violence of an NFL football game. A man is many things. I abhor the dehumanizing idea of killing people, but I was formed at birth, like most other men, innately programmed for doing battle. Unfortunately for today’s male, still carrying the warrior genes of his past as a protector and provider in hunter/gatherer clans, modern society no longer needs so much of what he’s been genetically programmed to do. In fact, it needs almost nothing of his talents, as even the hard work of combat is done through technology these days. Accordingly, I think it a better thing that men find expression of their innately violent character through mostly harmless games. The simulated hand to hand combat aspect of football is why the game is fun, and why it won’t be fun anymore if its latent violence is ever rule-tweaked to extinction. How much fun could watching a bunch of guys play flag football possibly be?
And I believe in freedom, including the freedom for people to believe and do things I don’t agree with, which is, I think an attitude perfectly commensurate with the idea of football as a means of harmlessly expressing innately violent tendencies. People should be as free as possible to live according to their visceral impulses, to indulge when they can the animating urges that make them human. So long as what they do doesn’t hurt anyone, let them play, let them love, let them live. There is no inherent conflict in simultaneously loving NFL football and the Indigo Girls.
I enjoyed the concert. More so, I’m sure it will become another post I’ll drape time upon. For reasons I don’t quite understand, the Indigo Girls touch my heart in ways not many other artists have.