' Cinema Romantico: A Digression: Finding The Truth With Tift

Friday, August 06, 2010

A Digression: Finding The Truth With Tift

It's been awhile since one of my trademark insanely self-involved musical rants and, well, forgive me, but since this blog is my outlet as much as anything I am left with no choice this afternoon and so feel free to skip this post and check back tomorrow with our regular scheduled programming. Thank you for your patience.

For most of this year I've had a serious love/hate relationship with Chicago, leaning toward the latter. Now it is tough to say if I'm leaning toward the latter simply because of Chicago or because my own circumstances are being accentuated by the fact I live in Chicago. Again, I'm leaning toward the latter. Getting in depth would be ridiculous, boring and impossible but suffice it to say I keep feeling as if 1.) All my money is swirling down a toilet and 2.) I should have more things "figured out", as they say, at this age in life. Chicago is a fantastic place for young people but am I on the fringes of my youth? Or is my youth actually gone and I'm just in denial? Oh, God. But I digress.

Last Friday night my friend Dave and I attended a show at the lovely Lincoln Hall, right across the street from where Johnny Depp - er, John Dillinger, was shot, of the North Carolinian chanteuse Tift Merritt who would have been labeled "alt-country" with her debut album eight years ago but has since shedded just about any label any music critic could possibly heave at her. Being that this is Chicago and being that any given night there are two dozen concerts, possibly more, happening any given place, Dave and I had no trouble whatsoever attaining fantastic standing room as once the opening act concluded he and I and a few others simply walked a few feet forward and were right up against the stage. This meant that when Tift and her fine supporting band took the stage we were but two arm-lengths away from her, and a couple times when she rocked the guitar its neck swerved about an arm-length away from my face. (It also re-inforced the fact that Tift Merritt is really small. I mean, she is tiny.)

(Tift Merritt's handwritten setlist.)

They say you should never meet your idol. Now Tift Merritt is not my idol - that's this guy - but Tift Merritt has recorded some of my absolute favorite songs in the last eight years. She has recorded my favorite song of all so far in 2010, which is the song, quite frankly, my idol has been trying to record for the last ten years and hasn't. She has the #7 most played song on my cherished Ipod. She recorded the song that concludes a mix I have titled My Personal Book Of Hymns. When I could not make it home last Christmas Eve because my native state of Iowa had transformed into one giant death zone of ice I soothed myself that holiest of nights with her music. And so when you're this close to an artist who means so much to you I could not help but wonder all evening long what would happen if she and I made eye contact? This was a very real possibility. Are you allowed to make eye contact with your idols? (I am 97.4% sure if I ever made contact with Kylie Minogue my heart would just give out.) But I digress again.

I like music so much for the simple fact that my connection to music is entirely emotional. I am always watching movies with a critical, discerning eye and while I have become much better in the last few years, I think, at finding things to appreciate in films, even in many films that are not so great, and paying attention to more than just the technicalities, I sometimes I wish I could just have that visceral attachment to it like I do with music. On a nominal level I know nothing about music. Sheet music may as well be hieroglyphs to me. I can't play an instrument and I can't sing (which I re-proved implicitly the night following Tift when I sang Robert Palmer Wii Karaoke at my friend Kristin's birthday party and scored, like, a 22. And I was drunk! If I'd been sober I probably would have scored a 12!) I love not having to listen to music with an analytical ear and just letting my ears and mind and body respond, and so often it seems what I respond to with music is the music itself and how words are being sung, not necessarily what words are being sung.

(Tift Merritt's beer.)

Which is to say there are very few lyricists to whom I am intensely drawn but Tift strikes me as an amazingly earnest person (read her liner notes to "Another Country") and earnestness is a quality for which I have mad respect, yo. I never went in much for the art-rock "poetry". I prefer straight-forward truths expressed with maximum emotion. This is why I like Springsteen. This is why I like Tift. There is a line off her new album where she says: "Some days you got the blues/and other days you don't." I love that line. It recollects recent Springsteen candidly explaining "Hard times, baby, well they come to us all." Oh, perhaps the would-be Robert Christgaus of the world would take offense to these lyrics and then I'd have to throw bourbon in their faces but, you know, whatever. Pretentiousness? No. Earnestness? Check. Or consider the lines that open my aforementioned favorite song so far this year when Tift advises: "I don't know how to fix the world/I don't know how to fix myself." Again, the straight facts, but it's also that Springsteenian thing where he juxtaposes the large-scale with the intimate. Yes, the world is f---ed up right now, but, no, I can't fix it and, for God's sake, I gotta fix myself first anyway or the world's gonna eat me alive. But lyrics are not always about identity. "Laid A Highway" is about growing up in a mill town and I did not grow up in a mill town but I listen to that song and she puts me there, you know?

This was my second Tift Merritt show and at both of them many of the other Tift-tees (?) in the audience shouted out requests, none of which our host acquiesced to which seems to be because she has a concept for her concerts. She closed this one with "I Know What I'm Looking For Now." I am fairly certain I have no idea what I'm looking for now. I think this should concern me. But it doesn't, and it doesn't because what Tift can do is write songs that make you think "I have no idea what that feels like but she makes me absolutely sure that I will know what it feels like and I will know it precisely when it happens and I will like it a whole lot."

(Tift Merritt herself.)

I guess I'm all really trying to say is that for all I hate about Chicago I still really like living in a place that lets me see Tift Merritt from two arm-lengths away. And I think I'm still fine with being whatever that makes me. Maybe the pieces are here....if I just took a good look around.

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