Sunday, July 21, 2002

Come back baby, Rock and Roll never forgets . . .

Just returned from a concert by Bill Mallonee at Jammin' Java in Vienna, Virginia, about 65 miles from home. It's the type of thing I did without a thought in my teens and twenties. I find that forty-seven is a little old to be up past your bedtime, traipsing up and down the road for a little live music. Nonetheless, it was a good time. Small club, great band, good sound. I discovered Mallonee's music last year and have been listening ever since. He is my age, and I can hear in the background of his music all the bands and artists I grew up with; Lennon-McCartney, more than a little Dylan, Neal Young and Crazyhorse, Roger McGuinn and the Byrds, the jangly Athens GA sound of my college and law school years as well as the folk sounds of a hundred high school and undergraduate coffee houses -- good stuff. It may be fatigue, but I swear I could even hear some Freddie and the Dreamers run through the blender in the more British Invasion pop influenced songs. What makes all this more than a classic folk-rock rehash is the bite and beauty of Mallonee's lyrics. They are grown up stuff, notes about the kind of pain and joy you only get by living for a while, succeeding, failing, falling in love, raising kids, wondering if the new dreams measure up to the old ones. Mallonee is also a Christian, which puts him in a kind of pop-music no-man's land. He is too interesting and honest for CCM (that is, the Contemporary Christian Music industry) and too concerned with sin and redemption to ever fit into a corporate music marketing niche. It makes it tough for him, but it means the rest of us can see a world class artist in a small club for what you would pay to park at a bigger venue.

As I said, the show tonight was a good time. Acoustic solo pieces mixed in with electric numbers backed by bass and drum, played loud. As a would-be agrarian pursuing an Orthodox spiritual life, it is a little embarrassing to admit the pleasure I get from feeling the kick of the bass drum inside the ribcage when the band is cranking. Folks my age and younger seem to have an inescapable urge to turn the knobs up to "11" on occasion. I remember reading once that scientists who study acoustics have found ways to cancel out noise by playing an equally loud sound just out of phase. Maybe rock turned up loud has the same effect on the mental noise the tensions of modern life leaves inside our heads. Between the two clashing rackets, there are sometimes moments of equilibrium. Like making an eye in your own mental hurricane. If so, it serves as a poor man's pasteboard imitation of hesychia, the stillness sought by Orthodox spirituality. I'll have to think about that, and think even more about how to attain the real thing.