My ability to be complimentary has been faltering, fading fast. After it, all that will be left is to analyze, to criticize, but not to enjoy.
Ask me about the last good record i bought. I’m not sure, but i can tell you about the last bad record i bought. The last five bad ones, actually.
This is just a small example. Actually, I am unconvinced that i will be able to like anything anymore in the very near future. As for my example, I’ve all but given up on buying records (one of the few true pleasures of my life; ask anyone) because all i seem to be able to do is dislike them. Going to a cappella concerts has become a sort of critical duty, as i am almost assured to whisper nasty things about them the entire time to whoever deigns to sit next to me. Riding elevators inevitably leads to a lengthy internal monologue about ugly hair styles, lamentable posture, and why some people even bother to get out of bed in the morning
My newfound inability to enjoy much of anything is infecting my free time. Why see a movie? Why eat at a new restaurant? So insidious is it that it has crept into my own art. Why record a song if it won’t be perfect? Why write at all if your words are not fully-realized and crystalline?
From there it is only a few steps to complete self-imposed isolation. Why talk to your friends if you have nothing nice to say? Why care what i’m wearing if i’ll be ugly anyway?
Have i spent all of my compliments already, along with my self-esteem? You’ve met me, so surely you’re familiar with both – at some point i’ve probably told you how wonderful, or fabulous, or beautiful you are, and you’ve surely witness me in some act of supreme confidence and hubris. Have i spent that all before my quarter-life crisis? Splurged, even, so that there is nothing left but scant ‘decents’ and ‘it was okays’?
After last month’s a cappella concert at Drexel i spent an hour or two mercilessly outlining the indelible failures that each group displayed during their performance. In the middle of this assured diatribe Maggie or Ed (i forget which; perhaps both) looked right at me (through the back of the seat or from the corner of his eye on the road, respectively) and said, “I enjoyed it because we saw a bunch of people doing what they love to do. It doesn’t matter how good they were.”
I spent some time thinking about that tonight. We saw a fun, decent mixed acappella group whose guest performer was a local singer-songwriter. Leah Kauffman. In the program she described her influences as “Laura Nyro, Fiona Apple, Joni Mitchell, and Elliott Smith.” I was first excited to hear her, and then almost immediately afterwards hostile and skeptical – how could she do anything but let me down.
She was pretty, shy but not slight, and told us she would start with a cover from Blue. Her “A Case of You” stuttered, as she plucked chords rather than strumming, and faltered slightly on that riff that traverses the length of the guitar neck. She allowed the song to taper off after the last chorus, muttering that she messed it up. After three more songs (two at the piano, and another on guitar) she slipped off stage, and the lights came up for intermission.
I am known for my ferocious reviews of singer-songwriters, but after the performance i could say nothing bad about Leah. She is 19, and she is not perfect, and she meant every word she sang to us.
She made me think of Maggie/Ed’s comment, and how i have lately lost that wonder in my life, and about something i used to say to explain why i liked singer-songwriters rather than big-voiced artists like Whitney or Mariah. “The art is in the imperfection.”
It is strangely-shaped in my mind as i mull it, unfamiliar in my mouth as i tongue its shape. If it wasn’t for Leah, i fear i might have never remembered it at all.
Leah told me that her website was broken, but took my email address she so could send me some songs.
I am glad still have the capacity to like something.