Indian Classical Music Performance Circa ’06, Backyard, Lacey, Wa
The Accord spun slowly through the rows of bland one story houses (ramblers), very safe looking, as though a concerned superintendent had a personal hand in rounding the edges and softening the impact. Children, faces contorted into a taut grimace, lips quivering, eyes darting around in search of some custodial face toward which their welling wail may be directed, can be saved and appeased if their trauma might be forgotten, if some force (“look, there`s an indian!”, or a saliva stiff Elmo, shaken to boogie by an infirm parental hand) may be employed to cause the source of their tears to fade indistinct into that haze which overwhelms them at other times, such as when they dully blink into a fat stranger mom`s puffed and grinning face, all grubby and blank and full on french toast triangles, a torpid half squirm in a corduroy and plastic car seat. Into such a haze the houses I was presently passing thrust me, suddenly the tot, and it was with a slipping comprehension that I blinked forward, doubtful, scanning the blur for the address that would pull one cul de sac forth from the background. They blurred by, the anticipation I had been nurturing toward this evening of Indian classical music began to seize and contract; my observations of the cul de sacs, witnessing the improbability of my satisfaction all around, was like salt on the embryo- my expectations withered and died, my heart beat at the same pace as my left hand turn blinker as I slowly parallel parked the Accord. Very well, it is said that ashes enrich the soil, let my expectations catch fire and burn, a roaring flame as I unwad a tendo note and thrust it into the palm of a distracted middle aged woman at a card table in the back of her garage, the scorched and fallow interior reflected in the eyes of the clean hippies who cluster cross legged in folding chairs and blankets on the yard grass in front of me, munching stoned wheat thins with artichoke dip, disdaining small tacos, sober, with slow heartbeats, quietly chuckling at nonjokes, forgetting what bored is, making space and brushing aside pinecone fragments; from this soil may the most nutritious corn rise, the most succulent elderberries grow, the stoutest potato dug. Expect nothing, that you might receive something, and, forgetting, call it much.
I had memories of dew dampness creeping through my pants as I sat down on the patterned blanket (the polite older set had called cowardice etiquette, and, plopping their khaki shorts around the perimeter of the stage, ringed us with squints as the we took the center seat, becoming the trashy old gourd, fake leaf and hornaplenty centerpiece to the anticipated cultural feast), I thought I might feel something akin to cold urine sticking to the contours of my pasty thighs. But it was summertime- the blanket remained dry, my equilibrium remained off and I looked blearily toward the staling treats on the card table. I had begun to adjust my hopes for the performance in accordance with what I perceived. A crude psychological trick; since I had felt no creeping dampness, since I had instead experienced the most mundane ultrarationality and called it “relief”, I was ready now for whatever normal thing this makeshift stage might squeeze out. Presently, nothing but two ornate sitars. The flyer advertising the event had mentioned a PANDIT performing, and thinking of Pran Nath (the only Pandit with whom I`m familiar) spiritualizing the sine tone, I picture a withered old man clutching the mic, moaning me to another realm. Scanning the faces of the human cheese snacks around me (you are what you eat), I detect a similarly exotic portrait dancing through their hopes as well. It is possible, it seems, to look both lazy and braced- the contradiction is resolved by stiffening the arms and thrusting out the crotch. Slack and stiff- they are the show, a rerun, with commentary. Eventually a bald man wearing a long flowing muted cornflower robe of neofleece, takes the stage and begins nervously introducing us to our environment.
“This is my home” And although he looks the most uncomfortable of anyone, though I feel awkward because the mic is not screeching with feedback as it seems it should be when he draws his lips near to it, I`m not surprised that this is his home. The soft robe flows down to his feet. Inside, nude muscles, slackened by frequent massage, quiver in anticipation beneath the garment. Clearly, he`s right. This is his home and the forthcoming show must happen within it. In this cul de sac: a deformed gay mulatto preemie clawing through white grandma`s womb. Onlookers, hearts filled with affection and pity stare disgusted at the writhing shape on the sidewalk. “I didn`t like it” “It was weird” everyone says afterwards.
After the community minded property owner graciously absconds into a ball of tension atop a stool in the back of the stage, another neofleece robe, this one beneath a floating bald mustachioed head, ascends the stage. Toward the tablas this decontextualized cop head sternly bobs. From a black fibrous polymer case he takes a golden mallet of a specific size and begins tapping lightly on the taut heads of his exotic instrument. When a person gets older, they tend to get self conscious tugging away at their ever limpening dick and turn instead toward a more sturdy tool to bang upon; the bald mustache had chosen the tabla as his source for therapeutic release, and he concentrated on the soft taps of the gilded hammer with all the vigor he had wasted on the memory of hard nipples in his past. His robe hangs lax in the limpid summer air. A tear wells in the corner of the audience`s eye. The bald head. The mustache. Boiling testosterone coursing through the pulmonary artery on its way from the balls to the head. The whiteness of his pate becomes heart wrenchingly symbolic; humiliation seems immanent. Performance of any kind is more than a touch disgraceful. It is as though you have encouraged your infirm father to “try, just try” to get out of his wheelchair. His knuckles whiten and his arm quivers as he attempts to lift himself out. Immediately you regret urging him. Regardless of the outcome, it is the effort he has expended which saddens you. So too does bald mustache refute the apparent essence of his being by concentrating so hard. His mouth closed, eyes looking down, the audience can`t help but see the emotions flitting across his face. Fine for any normal human being, but for bald mustache untenable- he is being devoured by eyes which thirst for temporary transcendence (and after thirty five minutes of sitting in backyard cul de sac land, have started to Need it) and his white face and cop look have elicited the kinds of associations that do not fare well when they are forced to struggle for their dignity. And while the expensive golden hammer comes gently down on the tabla head and the ear turns to hear indecipherable but presumable very important nuances in tone, the hammer of judgment falls heavily upon his cocked head and people to look politely away.
Soon though, reprieve arrives in the form of the brown musicians. Thick and coarse eyebrow hair. They mount the stage and grab the shiny sitars from their plastiform stands. A younger man and an older man – one presumes a relationship between the two. Will a bizarre familial dynamic complement the unfamiliar scales and slippery rhythms of their country`s exotic music? The cold senior glowers calmly at his drawn and pliant backyard audience. The son begins stretching tones with his wooden pear. Bald mustache tinks away, attempting to retreat into his nutsack, but the Pandit catches him and begins making directing his confused tuning. Because the Pandit`s english is presumably weak, no discreet words can be uttered, instead come a series of exaggerated gestures at which bald mustache looks in confused horror. Up! Down! Trembling in his neofleece, the deaf ear submits to the confused eyes and the trembling hand. Meanwhile, the younger of the two Indians is letting long, dry notes writhe around in the Washington air. Soon, harmonized moaning accompanies them, and the gawkers begin to feel a sense of contentment- this is sufficiently musical, we can all relax (some people get too relaxed, their lax eyelids drooping over their eye balls reminds me of genital skin, and soft meditative moans don`t help), bask in the foreign sun. Ahhh, shimmering scales. Then it stops and they explain that that was just a warm up. Anticipation builds.
It begins to get weird when the concert begins in earnest. The songs are very long and consist almost entirely of wild orgiastic soloing. They begin with synchronized sitar, the bald mustache tapping cautiously on his apparently poorly tuned tablas (between every number the father looks toward the white infant and makes frustrated gestures which serve more to degrade the poor man in front of his lazed out peers than to make any discernible difference in the sound) for quite a few minutes, during which the audience alternately stares in throbbing expectation and looks dumbly at the grey siding on the back of the house or at a pill bug struggling over a few blades of grass. The effect is like Acid Therapy class in high school, Mr. Harviston putting on some Bach and dimming the lights, encouraging you to feel the cork, you not being able to take it and just looking at the asbestos bumps in the ceiling, getting restless for a second before really hearing the fugue for a second and thinking about Ginsburg, getting it and then pulling out a piece of paper and drawing a crude spiral that turns into an eye. The bizarre context throws people off. When the solos begin about halfway through the numbers, the look of the performers changes abruptly. The long gray hair of the father begins flying around and his face contorts into a purposeful grimace. His eyes open very wide, and he stares at the audience with an intensity that`s difficult to take. He`s unbearably hammin, and the solos look really easy. The concept “Indian classical music” dissolves into the more familiar and potent image of desperately busking bum. The father, wildly enthusiastic, smiles and tensely nods, craning his neck around to meet every sprawled out member of the audience full in the increasingly embarrassed face. The music during these solos no longer seems mythically complex, but very crude and improvisational. It`s too much. I have to turn away, much as I would mumble and trot from the hoarse aggressive pleading of tin can man in pioneer square. No one really wants to engage the contorted face, not simply because it transparently reveals the clenched kegels deep beneath it, but because there`s more than a little hint of angry sarcasm. The blankets become the focus of attention instead. Looking over into the neighbors yard, two children play obliviously with soft foam whips, hitting each other in the shrunken balls. This is not the transcendence that was expected. It`s a totally different kind. Instead of escape it`s imprisonment. The environment becomes painfully visceral, people struggle not to look towards the stage the same way they would avoid looking at a video of themselves masturbating. The confused intentions are very unpleasant. Children in the neighbors yard squawk and it`s painfully inappropriate to laugh, unless it`s in the form of a stifled chuckle into a sweaty palm, disguised as a very quiet cough. The son takes it all in stride, inscrutably competent, less aggressively forthright than his non english speaking dad. This goes on for a very long time. “Here I am, here I am” is all anyone is thinking. Finally it stops, and once more the father and son go into the harmonized singing that, being much more resplendent of their ruined expectations, eases the gawkers back into the fantasy world in which this excursion seemed appropriate and in which they normally dwell. The applause is hearty, far from rote. People hastily get up and attempt to dust the dampness from their jeans, unsuccessfully. The unpleasant residue will have to remain.