Thursday, December 31, 2009

just waitin for some peace to come

One of My Kind documents a better world. Since my pre-teen years, the beat generation’s artistic process has inspired a kind of pseudo-nostalgia. Beat poets’ raw observation of the world and human emotion (e.g. Allen Ginsberg) and classic rock and folk collaboration (e.g. Greenwich Village) has been resuscitated by the greatest modern songwriter: Conor Oberst. He’s nostalgic of a time when people celebrated life and did more than “memorize nine numbers and deny we have a soul.” This film shows his reaction to the disconnection from the world’s beauty—even in darkness. However, to deal with this disconnection, Oberst creates his own alternate reality in Mexico and on the road for a spontaneous nine month tour with The Mystic Valley Band. His alternate world normalizes the artist’s idiosyncrasies: booze, poetry, weed, late night jam sessions and an encouraging entourage of musicians. Oh wait, was that my summer?

Beyond the Last Waltz-esqe film style, I’m fascinated by the way Oberst and the boys surrender themselves to the creative process rather than forcing song structure. Conor Oberst went to Mexico to record a solo album and like creator Phil Schaffart says, “He accidentally formed a band.” Perhaps it’s because I’m trying to figure out my own path as an artist and I want to create a selfless art community, but watching this documentary gave me hope that communal creation is possible in an age saturated by media and electronic distraction. It’s possible to harvest a new world where people listen to one another, share ideas and openly contribute talents to the creative process, even if that world isn’t true reality. Life is what you create for yourself.

That’s how I feel at home. There’s this little house of Victorian magnificence and love, so much love. This house is in the heart of downtown, it has steep stairs that are dangerous after too many beers and each room has a plethora of instruments. The floors are hardwood, perfect for dancing and for sitting around listening to acoustic jam sessions at midnight. It’s effortless and accepting. It’s drunk and loud and high and disturbed and peaceful. It’s inspiring.

But back to the movie, what I especially love is the insight into Oberst’s songwriting process. (He writes a lyric then rolls it over in his head building and crafting a melody, verses and a chorus. It’s never forced of course.) For any fan, it’s his lyrics that seem to strike the truest chord of human emotion, cueing sighs of that’s-exactly-how-I-feel. Despite his own troubling past and depressed tendencies, he conveys the world in universal truisms that are never cliche. It’s effortless.

This film is not outspoken or glamourous; it’s honest and organic. One of themes that I like is learning how to let go. After a year and a half of touring and recording together as contemporaries and friends, Oberst talks about what it is like to move on from the Mystic Valley Band. They mention how although their experience has been satisfying and exhilarating, it can never be recreated. (Something I have to come to terms with after last summer). I wonder if the inevitable finality hanging over their project sped up the MVB’s writing process?

I also enjoy how although Oberst holds the most celebrity, it isn’t just his show. Nate Walcott, Jason Boesel, Nik Freitas, Macey Taylor and Taylor Hollingsworth write parts and sing together, contributing their strengths and stepping in when others need support. Even Schaffart (guitar tech) fairly showcases all members in interviews, footage and live performance. Their selfless inclusion and mutual respect is most admirable. And enviable.

All members learned to play their instruments with their hearts. They make music for art’s sake, not for money and fame. Oberst is portrayed as humble and collaborative. That’s what I want for my friends. Hell, that’s what I want for myself too. Yes, as a woman, I’m looking for an excuse to travel the world creating art with my friends and following my heart. Where time ebbs and flows in a world racing for capital success.

Maybe one day, I too will be so lucky.

In the mean time, Oberst shows no signs of slowing down as I was privileged to witness Oct. 13 with his Monsters of Folk tour. This folk superband is another example of his collaborative genius. Oberst, M. Ward, Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes) are the epitome of modern folk superstardom. (Although friend and contemporary, Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie) or Zoe Deschanel (Gibbard’s wife and member of She & Him with M. Ward) would also fit in just fine.) See, they’re all connected. They’ve formed an unstoppable community. That concert was the first time I saw Oberst after listening to him faithfully for five years. I saw it with my best friends and it changed my life, for sure. It still doesn’t seem real.

As the Kamloops scene (and even some of the Island scene) threatens to pull apart as players compete to get on certain bills with certain bands and start battles forcing people to pick sides, take a look at the successes sparked by collaborative efforts. Sure these bands have real deal management with real labels and world-wide tours, but they’re also a music generation ahead of us. And whatever happened to a little DIY? You don’t need to become famous to make friends. They’ve taken the right steps and created a music community where acts lend to each other and share in the process. You can’t shit on everyone to get to the top. If bands put on shows for each other, pool their connections and support one another on the road and at home, then their chance for some real success is increased. And ask the MVB, that sense of community is one of the most enriching parts about engaging in the world of art and creation. Be fans of each other; don’t compete for a second in the spotlight.

We’re all capable of taking the journey together and everyone is an artist if they believe in what they create (be it music, drawing, sculpture, street art or the written word…whatever you like). It’s about taking the risk to slowdown the stress of day-to-day monotony and make time for creativity. We don’t have to retreat to a Mexican desert to create a masterpiece—although, that would be really badass.

You know a lot can happen after everybody falls asleep
Ask the forest fire, ask the cop walking on the beat
And do right by them, work a little in your dreams
Don't let time rob you, hold onto your memories
In the glass houses, in the pages of the Rolling Stone
I get a sick feeling, like I'm rocking in a little boat
Hear the big church bell, it's ringing like a mobile phone
Such a long Sunday drive, and I'm taking it all alone

I want to belong to a reason
And cut a new key to the kingdom
And if anybody asks me, say I want to belong
If anybody asks me, say that it won't take long
If anybody asks me, say I'm going to get this done
If anybody asks me, say I got a reason

Now go watch the documentary One of My Kind for free at and then you best check out The Last Waltz. Get on loving music and loving each other, because in a world of concrete and disconnect, that’s all we have.

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