Wednesday, October 3, 2007

When Bugs are Sleeping I Hear Voices

When I went camping last week, one of the things I was excited for was how quiet it can be late at night when the world winds down. I'll always remember when that first became real for me.

It was the last night of summer camp, and we were all packed and ready to leave in the morning, and for whatever reason I was content to lay out on a picnic table in the wee hours and listen to my Discman® (a Discman®!). This was in the days after I discovered Dave Matthews Band on a Saturday morning while lazing in the trundle bed at Will's house and listening to the radio—"Too Much" was indeed too much for my teenage brain to do anything with but reel—so naturally the album of choice that early morning was Crash by Mr. Matthews and his band. As I lay there in the perfect stillness, after men and even bugs had gone to sleep and before the early birds got busy, I began to hear new textures and layers in the familiar recording. I had listened to this thing dozens, if not hundreds, of times, but all of a sudden a space opened up in between the rolling bass licks and the shuffling drums. Matthews' original, percussive guitar playing didn't just barrel through my mind like a tour bus kicking up multiple tracks of violin, the whole thing propelled by the blasts of a bass sax—no, in the clarity of that stillness I could see his hands running along the instrument, scratching here and thumping there. I could feel the creation of this music I so admired, music that up to that point had mystified me, had come out of headphones as an immaculate progeny of talent rather than the coordinated effort of five guys doing different things at the same time.

It was incredible. I heard magnificent subtleties in the densely packed "Two Step" and recognized the marvel of its engineering, deft work that didn't bleach out the delicacy of the pizzicato fingerings or the eeriness evident in Matthew's falsetto. In the extended opening to "Say Goodbye,"1 a free-form tumble into the song's main action, I could for the first time hear the furiously controlled tension in those bars as each musician restrained himself until just the right moment. But the kicker was when I got to the ending of "Drive In Drive Out." After the song gets through the normal rounds of verse and chorus, things devolve into a staccato movement of pounding rhythm, the whole band riding the out the song's intense energy in a minute or so of repeated, thundering measures. This part I had heard before. What I hadn't noticed was that in the split second after the last resounding beat echoes once in the listener's mind and before the subdued pleading of "Let You Down" wafts in, someone in the band (I've always imagined it was the bassist, Stefan Lessard) hollers, "THAT is some BAD SHIT!" I didn't know what I was hearing for a moment—it was so clear it could've been spoken by someone standing at my right ear. I thought it was someone standing at my right ear for half a second; I had listened to this album uncounted times and had never heard that line until I listened to it in the stillness of a stolen morning. I probably laughed out loud.

I couldn't stay awake late enough last weekend to repeat the experience, despite being prepared with a recording of Bill Bryson reading his book A Walk in the Woods. I think I was discouraged by the just-waning moon rising and filling the sky with too much light to make appreciating the stars anew possible. Too bad: I was looking forward to Bryson's awkward accent potentially bringing the Appalachian Trail to life, to hearing things between the lines of his narrative I wouldn't have heard while walking on Court Street or across College Green.

I was reminded of all this tonight as I left my roommate in the dining room, our brief day-ending conversation momentarily lulled but not clearly ended. As I exited, I almost thought I heard him say something after me, but if he did I couldn't hear it over our creaking staircase, the iPod talking in my ear, and the skull-filling internal crunch of cereal-for-dinner.

1A song that clocks in at 6'11", for those of you who know what I'm talking about.


Amanda said...

Funny, that as I read that post I was eating cereal for dinner, unable to hear Katherine trying to get my attention from the other room.

TomO said...

Ha! Great album! In fact, it's the only DMB I've ever gotten around to purchasing (Dave's solo album doesn't really count).

Hey, I never got a chance to show you my latest blogging project! One of these days I might start another one that's a little bit more "me and my life" centered, but until then, you should check this one out.


Kirby said...

I read that Bill Bryson book a few months ago for a book group. I rather liked it.

Special K said...

Uh, I seriously had THAT discman. Woot.