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October 6, 2011

"I was only trying to spell a loss..."

Kate Hart

bon iver kansas city marquee
credit: kelsey
A few weeks ago, I went to a concert.

Since then, nothing has been loud enough.

Not even loud. Loud's not the right word. Nothing has been chest-rattlingly amazing enough. Nothing has been bone-shakingly mind-blowing enough.

Something in me got pushed out of place and I can't push it back.

And I kind of don't want to.

So here's the thing. Maybe you like Bon Iver, maybe you don't, but hopefully you have a favorite band that shreds on stage and shreds your insides. Nine piece band, flashing lights, monster sound, and if you're lucky like we were, a super chill, super happy crowd that cheers at the right times and shuts up when it should. "His songs hit like a car crash, jolt at the core." "The entire concert had the fervent feel of a religious revival." "Listening to him is like eating rich chocolate cake, and once you’ve had rich chocolate cake, it’s all you want. At this point all the other music in my library seems bland, unoriginal, vanilla. Justin Vernon [the man behind Bon Iver] is like really fucking good cake."

It was amazing. Obviously.

Now I'm home with my two albums and an EP and a compilation and a soundtrack and some side project bands and some covers and all the YouTube videos and Tumblr posts I can find. I even have a live concert recorded by NPR, just a few weeks before the Kansas City show.

But they're not LOUD ENOUGH.

Recordings just can't capture live music. There's no way to replicate that dome of sound vibrating every blood vessel in your body. Whatever got moved left an empty space and I can't fill it and it's pushing into my perception of other things too.

Like books. (You knew that was coming, right? Of course you did.)

Some books just aren't LOUD ENOUGH. I don't mean "books with high concept hooks" or "books written by famous people" or "books so edgy that they're banned before they're even printed." I mean books that reach down and twist your guts around. You're walking along days later, minding your own business, and then you see something that throws you face-first back into the story, even though you've already closed the cover. Books that make you stop and stare at the bookshelf because you can't pass the title without thinking about the characters, the setting, the plot, the way he kissed her when he shouldn't have, the way the mom cut her hair and the daughter cried just like when you were thirteen, the way the banter made you miss friends from a long time ago, the way something moved something else and now you're not the same.

How do you recover from work like that?

More importantly: How do you even begin to produce work like that? 

The passion on that stage was insane. I want to channel it. I want to plug into Justin Vernon's amp and translate the chords into sentences.

Except I don't want them to be his sentences. I want them to be mine.

I'm not pretending to have a tenth of the kid's talent, but maybe we're a little alike. He rearranged his European tour around deer season; I combined our annual family fishing trip with my own redneck writing retreat. He has a tattoo of his home state on his shoulder, which happens to be where I keep the large chip about my own. He also played with Kanye, and Peter Gabriel covered one of his songs, and then he covered one of Gabriel's (and one of Bjork's. And this awesome 80s song. And Bob Dylan. And Bonnie Raitt.)

I... do not have any similar experiences.

credit: richard pepper
But you know how long it took him to write his second album? Three years! That's 1.2 words per day, with some margin of error built in for the nonsense words he throws in occasionally. Vernon says that "it happened so metamorphously, if that's even a word... slow and steady. It was all at once and all over the course of three years at the same time."

Every complicated layer was there... but also not there. Then it all came together and melted my face off.

It gives me hope for this project I'm working on. The one that feels like it started forever ago and keeps metamorphousing into something else about the time I think it's nearly done. I get so. freaking. frustrated.

But every day is another layer of sound. Come along, little story. Let's go rattle some bones.


Whose talent do you want to siphon off? Whose picture do you stick on the dartboard and purposely miss? Who do you blast at top volume or hang on the wall or relentlessly stalk on the internet when you need inspiration?  

And what's the best concert you've ever seen?


Post title is from "Calgary." 


  1. I feel like this about Sylvia Plath. Reading her work is simultaneously the most inspiring thing I can do and also the most likely to make me say "I will never write again because she's too good!!". It goes in swings and roundabouts and is probably connected to my mood at the time.

  2. "Let's go rattle some bones."

    <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

  3. My most recent favorite concert: Flobots! But that was probably 2 years ago. Thanks for reminding me it's been too long since I've seen a concert. And since my writing has been described as "too quiet," this is a great analogy for me to keep in mind!

  4. UGH. Bon Iver came out here when I just COULDN'T get to the show. I'm still really sad about it. But just reading this post prompted me to crank up my Spotify...that's the closest I'll get to loud for now.

  5. Best concert? Metallica as the headliner of the Summer Sanitarium Tour '00 (I think) in Dallas. 60,000 brand new seat cushions in Texas Stadium were ripped apart, set on fire and set flying through the air. AWESOMENESS!

  6. There is something about live music. It crawls into your very soul, takes root, refuses to emerge and growls territorially (let's pretend it's a word) when you try to coax it out. Because you can't be the same after seeing your favorite band live. You kinda want to--because you feel less without hearing that music all the time--but you kinda don't--because you're a more complete person at the same time, too. And so with good books. (Great analogy, btw.)
    Best concert ever? Hmmm ... Jimmy Eat World in 2005, Coldplay in 2007, Brandon Flowers in 2010, Mae in 2006. I try to use their music to inspire me. When I listen to a Mae song, I want to live in that song. (I've said that to other people, and they have no idea what I'm talking about, but I think you get it.) I want to write a book that someone wants to live in. The very kind of book you described. That's my ultimate goal.

  7. WriterGirl: Her poem "Metaphors" has been one of my favorites since I was 17.

    Sarah: <3 <3 <3

    Kristin: I went a long time without concerts too, and when we started going back I couldn't believe I'd let myself stay away so long.

    Jess: I LOVE you concert playlists on Spotify! I've actually been meaning to make one of my own from this concert.

    Catherine: That sounds... terrifying, actually. LOL

    Kris: EXACTLY. That is EXACTLY what I meant. I wish I'd said that in the post.

  8. concert? It would have to be Toby Keith. I took my daughter to it and we had fantastic seats. So much fun watching her. (She doesn't like country music now.)

    I would love to have a fraction of Cynthia Rylant's talent. She's my pb hero.

  9. I love this post. Joanna Newsom, Laura Marling. When I first saw Mumford & Sons a couple of years ago I think I got shivers. Books: The Sky is Everywhere, definitely. That's the feeling, of having my guts twisted around, as you say, I think I'm always looking for from music and books. *sigh*


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