Last month, I watched a movie on Netflix that I hadn’t seen since high school. Jon Stewart was, sadly, about to leave The Daily Show and I was remembering how I saw him in the 1998 movie Playing by Heart, which I’d sought out as a teenager because Gillian Anderson, whom I loved on The X-Files, was in it. Pre-Daily Show Jon Stewart plays her love interest. It’s a pretty good movie, although not likely to be anyone’s favorite- an ensemble drama about love with a cast that also includes Angelina Jolie, Ryan Phillippe, Dennis Quaid, Sean Connery, Ellen Burstyn, and Gena Rowlands, among others. It was trying to do what Love Actually did more successfully a few years later– show a big group of people and their various romantic scenarios, although it’s more of a drama than Love Actually (there’s one storyline about a guy dying of AIDS). In one scene, Angelina Jolie is yelling at someone on a pay phone, which amused me.
The notable thing about this movie, though, is what it was almost titled– Dancing About Architecture. It was only changed because there was a movie out at the same time called Dancing At Lughnasa. But Dancing About Architecture would have been a much better title. It comes from a scene where Angelina Jolie’s character recounts how, when she tried to talk with a musician friend about his music, he told her that “talking about music is like dancing about architecture,” and she countered that talking about love was the same way.
I tend to agree. But for now, let’s focus on talking about music– though it might indeed be like dancing about architecture, I’m going to make an attempt.
I have the hardest time discussing music. When someone asks me what kind of music I like, I wince. There never seems to be a good answer to that question. Back in middle school, people started to define themselves by what music they listened to and would make judgments about you based on your own music taste.
Here’s the thing, though–it never ends. Even as an adult, people judge you by the music you listen to. You might not make fun of someone who’s bad at sports or isn’t into partying, but judgment about music never ends. When I read this post I wrote a long time ago, I cringe at how defensive I sound. But I feel that way because I can’t believe that even as we’ve grown up, we haven’t evolved beyond these petty judgments we made as pre-teens.
There’s much more music that I like than music I dislike and, ironically, I feel like a lot of people would say that means I don’t really love music, as if you can’t love many different things. It’s hard for me to talk about music to the kind of people who consider themselves music lovers by virtue of being picky about what they like, prizing the obscure and wanting to be ahead of the curve with popularity, and making a hobby of seeing live shows. I don’t think I’ll ever be a very picky music consumer, as my tendency is to go with my instinctual like or dislike without thinking too much about why. And while I get how it feels good to like something before it becomes popular, I seem to be missing the disdain-for-popularity chip.
I think I’m coming around on live shows, though.
I wrote about it a bit here and here— how I don’t like most concerts, at least ones in small venues, and how I don’t seem to get the high from live music that so many people seem to. I did go to a concert earlier this summer in a larger venue, and I really enjoyed it. Due to that middle-school judgment factor, I’m hesitant to say who the artist was–it’s a popular artist about whom people tend to have strong opinions, both positive and negative. But I started to understand that high-on-live-music feeling that people have described to me.
Then I got that feeling myself in August when I went to New York to see Les Mis again. Ramin Karimloo was leaving the show at the end of August and I wanted to see the show one last time with him in it. So I did, and it was fantastic. My obsession with Les Mis is well-documented, but this seriously put me in a good mood for the next week. It was actually kind of amazing– I spent way too much of this summer in absolute misery, and not without good reason, and yet the thing that made me happier than I’d been in months was the power of this show’s music. (I was brought out my misery by a show called…Les Miserables. Heh.)
This led to me spending a truly embarrassing amount of time watching clips of Ramin Karimloo on YouTube. I got really disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see him in Les Mis again–my new job (which I’m liking so far) started the day after Ramin’s last show, so going down for that was out of the question. But then I remembered that he was playing two concerts at BB King’s in New York the following weekend- and I was pretty sure I could make it down for the Saturday show.
So I did.
I have Ramin’s album and, like I said, have spent a ridiculous amount of time watching him on YouTube. He does these shows in a style he calls “broadgrass”–everything from Broadway to bluegrass, and sometimes Broadway in the style of bluegrass (like singing “Bring Him Home” on a banjo). I love, love, love this guy’s voice, and I was excited to see what he’d do at the show. (And, let’s be honest, also a bit excited to look at him.)
The show was at BB King’s on 42nd Street, which has first-come, first-served seating. It started at 7:30 with doors opening at 6. I got there at 5 and the line was already pretty long. I’d brought a book to read while I stood there. The crowd was, hilariously, about 90% female.
I was standing there in line when suddenly I heard screaming coming from up ahead in line…and the next thing I knew, Ramin was standing right in front of me. Because he’s freaking awesome, he’d decided to come out and say hi to everyone waiting in line. I said hi, and he shook my hand and said, “Thank you for coming.” I think I started to tell him that I’d come in from Boston, but he’d moved on by then.
So it was a pretty amazing night already. I had not been prepared for Ramin walking right up to me, so unfortunately, I didn’t have my phone out and didn’t get another picture of me with him, but I did get a shot of him with the people behind me. (Random side note: when I ended up sitting at a table with some random people, whom I talked to, they told me that a minute after Ramin came out, George Takei walked by! I didn’t see him at all and wouldn’t have believed it if they hadn’t shown me the picture they took with George.)
I settled in at the table once they let us in and talked to the people around me. There was an opening act, Jamie Cunningham, who told us about how he became the opener after connecting with Ramin on Twitter. And then it was time for broadgrass!
He sang all kinds of things- songs from his album, songs from shows he’d been in, songs from shows he hasn’t been in, bluegrass, Broadway in the style of bluegrass, original songs, covers, mashups, you name it. He also made me tear up when he sang “Bring Him Home” and dedicated it to Kyle Jean-Baptiste.
Most of the concert ended up on YouTube, and I’ve been rewatching obsessively. A few favorites: here he sings “Make Them Hear You” from Ragtime, a fantastic song that his voice is perfect for:
I wasn’t familiar with James Bay, but after Ramin covered his song “Scars,” I looked it up and…sorry, James Bay, but I think I like Ramin singing it better: :
And here’s “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma!, broadgrassed-up. Beautiful morning, beautiful man.
I think I get it now– how people get a high from live music, because while it had happened to me with musical theater before, this was the first time I got it from a concert. I don’t know how many artists could provoke this kind of reaction in me, but I understand now the feeling people get from live shows.
What I understand even less now, though, is looking down on other people because of their taste in music. Ramin’s music does something to me that I can’t even describe, but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. And there are people out there who have the same kind of experience I just had with music I don’t like or am indifferent to.
I wish I could do a better job explaining the feeling I’ve had since that concert last week. But it’s like dancing about architecture.