Thomm Quackenbush, author

Carnies | 2009 | Skate Like a Pirate

05.31.09 10:24 p.m.

I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think.  

-Rumi

 


Passion Plays

Kevin

On some level, beyond knowing that Kevin has played in a band, I was aware he is actually talented. He exudes a presence that suggests he knows he is quite good, but I have bought into this sort of subliminal advertising before and been let down. Kevin, however, makes good on a claim he never made. For those that have known him for any length of time, it is easy to pick out from his performance various influences - Nick Cave, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen - because he is not shy about crediting them.

I appreciate music as can someone whose only experience creating it was an elementary school drum pad. The creation of music is beautiful, but unapproachable. I note things like lyrics, rhyming, stressed syllables, allusions (of which there are no lack when Kevin is composing), and so on because these are things I can do. Beyond this, I know only that his guitar sounds good and nod when he speaks of chords. I know enough casual science that I could fake my way through talk of acoustics - of the room, of the vibrations of the strings producing sound - but I wouldn't go out of my way to contribute to the discussion.

At his show at Androgyny - a salon/gallery - in New Paltz, Kevin commits to the passion of playing, so much so that he falls to the floor after one song to use his whole body as a kind of final percussion. I stifle a laugh, not sure if this is a parody or the genuine product. As no one else seems to find Kevin's collapse of funny as I do - not even the little boy darting around with the yappy dogs providing background vocals - I'm grateful that the applause drowns out my half-uncertain snort. He later pauses in a song so he can hit the high hat of a drum set with the neck of his guitar and, then, everyone knows to laugh. I would like cue cards at concerts, so I could blend in despite my philistinism. Jacki and Kevin

It seems anyone (but me) can play guitar, does, and - generally - should not. It's all very special to be that guy on the corner, busking a Dylan tune for spare change to buy the cigarettes that will turn your voice a notch closer to Tom Waits or Thalia Zedek, but it doesn't justify the instrument. At times, it almost insults it, like using a surgical scalpel to cut your McDonald's cheeseburger. Guitars are put through rough treatment by their very nature and so should be respected through proper use all other times.

As an example of this, midway through the set, a man in an unbuttoned neon orange dragon shirt and long, graying hair partly restrained by a bread bag twist tie enters. Kevin immediately gets a look of polite concern as an out of tune acoustic guitar materializes in the man's hands and, as though this were a sing-along, the man begins to strum with increasing volume to a song he is hearing for the first time. Before the next song, Kevin leans over and politely quashes this strumming, leading the man to stammer that he didn't know and was sorry. Kevin takes pains to preserve the purity of what he and his friend Eric have set out to do, and will not allow anyone to obscure that vision by misusing a guitar.

Kevin later introduces me to a man who had been at the show, stating that I write a blog. He then says that I rarely write about music, which is true, but I find odd. Music, like katydids and fireworks, is something I am eternally grateful is in the world but tends not to be the focus of my written attention (because, as is clear, I lack the conviction to convey it or mind a chord with more fervor that the glittering of light though a woman's hair). Kevin does write a more music-oriented blog, which adds balance to the universe; he is welcome to my Music Writing chit. But music, I gather, is how the man to whom I am being introduced filters his world and I must be applied in context, even if it means labeling me as an exception. Jacki and Kevin will later tease that I write extremely intimate and irrelevant things about my life, the two charges seeming to cancel one another out, saying my writing almost rises (or lowers) to posting about my bowel functions "but that [I] draw the line at posting photos of poop," perhaps taking my idea of emotional catharsis a touch literally. As - aside from the conditional and purely figurative threat of a biff in the snoot were Kevin to ever blow things with Jacki - I generally glorify them, I don't think they have much cause to complain. Besides, the amount of poop I do not write about would astound you.

Over a conversation of her setbacks and successes as a somewhat avant-garde playwright, Jacki mentions coming to a crossroad when she began college. She was equally skillful at visual art, writing, and music, but she could only formally anoint herself to one. Even then, just entering her adult life, she knew that whichever two she did not pick would be relegated to the back burner for the duration of her academic career and, possibly, forever. For whatever reason, but likely a bit more talent and natural inclination, she chose writing and literature. The rest is history, or will be when her biographers come to realize it ought to be. While her choice was far from capricious - she is not the sort to do much without weighing the options - there was a fair chance that she would have selected another of her passions for her major, drastically altering the course of her life. It nearly goes without saying that I would more than likely have never met her, as I did only through a mutual associate in the English department at SUNY New Paltz. Likewise, Kevin met her when she was reading poetry one night, possibly in a cave. But, vaster, she would be a different person, having been shaped by experiences she lost in favor of bettering the art I can most easily digest. Even on this beautiful day, with her fiancÚ and friend, I can't fault her wondering with a certain pause what might otherwise have been.

I was blessed, in this way, by a lack of options. I sketched a bit in middle and high school, but my skill never rose above the quality that would imply. My voice, though versatile, will never be melodic nor, as covered above, do I remotely understand how one makes music. I can read runes and phonetic transcription, not tablature. I started my college career as a communications major, with vague notions of working in television production, but liked no class so much as screenwriting. My decision was made by my utter lack of talent in all other creative venues but writing, so I can feel fortunate the Good Fairy saw fit to grant me sufficient aptitude there. I spend the better part of Kevin's show taking pictures and recording songs on my digital voice recorder, conveying memories and observations as my whetstone and art.

From what I know about Kevin, he plays as an end in itself, not in an effort to be a professional musician. He followed Jacki's path though the academic world, even to the point of TAing freshman composition to make ends meet until graduation. Music certainly doesn't need to be anything more than an outlet for that which cannot be expressed in words alone. And, of course, one will draw far larger crowds for one's reading by playing the guitar as one sings the poems.

Soon in Xenology: When I was a girl. Making friends out of clay. Jess. Hannah leaving.

last watched: Tiptoes
reading: Loose Girl
listening: Carbon Leaf

Carnies | 2009 | Skate Like a Pirate

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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