Concert: Linda Stout, Joe Crookston, Cold Greetings, and Death

In the spirit of doing more together, overcoming inertia, engaging reality and the community, and mostly because I’ve been wanting to see these two in concert and here they were in a double-bill, the husband and I went out last night.

This weekend is the Ithaca Festival, a weekend of music and other entertainment, crafts and food and other stuff for sale, a parade, a sort of circus, and so on. Saturday night is also the night for Crossing Borders, a live show broadcast from the Carriage House Cafe. Last night’s concert was part of both events.

I met Linda Stout at a jam session but didn’t know who she was at the time. Later I saw her CD at Ludgate Farms, which also carries mine, and I just loved the picture on the cover — her face, eyes downcast to one side, laughing. Beautiful photography. I also noticed the title of the first track was “Falling,” which I found interesting because the first track on my latest CD is called “Fallen.” Anyway, I listened to a few of the clips at her website and liked them. She’s jazzy / folky with a delicate but substantial voice. Nice.

I met Joe Crookston when I was playing on the Commons earlier this spring. His little girl was intrigued by the dulcimer, so they stuck around and listened a while, and we talked a bit, too. As I wrote at the time, I envied Joe’s presence — friendly, secure, not at all awkward or defensive or boastful. I looked up his site and listened to some clips, and loved one called “Mostly,” which has a great melody line, interesting lyrics, and some sweet wild guitar licks. I was also pleased to discover that he’s got a song inspired by one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott.

When we got to the cafe, we saw people standing or sitting around tables and in chairs. As we moved to enter, one of the women standing around accused us: “Can I help you?” Her tone made it sound like we were intruders. Perhaps if the cafe had uniforms or logo shirts or pins or something, we would have realized she was a hostess (or was she acting more as a bouncer?). It turns out that there was what seemed to us a hefty cover charge, which wasn’t mentioned in the email I’d gotten about the show. Not that we weren’t planning on spending money this evening; we’d figured we’d get dessert and also contribute if there was a tip jar for the musicians. It was just the cover charge that was a surprise. I’m not the most adaptable person when it comes to the unexpected; it took me a good half hour or more to really get over the hostile “greeting” and the surprise cover.

Linda’s set was first, and featured a lot of music from her CD, including “Falling,” plus some newer originals and a really nice cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You Tonight.” Linda’s voice was lovely, and her trio blended together very smoothly: one fellow on drums or bass or occasionally both together, and the other guy adding light low vocal harmonies and sparkly keyboard. Nice light, folky-warm jazz. (The cafe’s almond sticky bun was nice, too.)

Then there was Joe, along with a young drummer and an upright bassist. I love his guitar playing. “Mostly” was the first song he did; it has some weird, wild notes in the guitar part that are really compelling. He had a few sweetly humorous pieces, like one about breastfeeding (“Grand Tetons Cafe”) and another about the game “Rock Paper Scissors.” There was a blues song in there, a cover of Supertramp’s greatest (only?) hit, the spiritual “Poor Me,” and for an encore, the Dylan song “She Belongs to Me.” I haven’t heard much Dylan, but I loved this song, even though a lot of the verses don’t make much sense to me. It was still going in my head when I woke up this morning:

She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist;
She don’t look back.
She can take the dark out of the nighttime,
And paint the daytime black.

Here’s a bit of the title cut from Joe’s CD, “Fall Down as the Rain”:

And if I get to heaven, I will not stay
I’ll turn myself around again and fall down as the rain.

The poetry is beautiful, and so is the melody and the whole arrangement. The song is a lovely expression of this philosophy of death. (Remember “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant?)

I can appreciate that life comes out of death in a natural cycle. (In fact, I think there’s something weird about caskets… why not let the body decompose and be incoporated into the ongoing life of the earth? I believe in a bodily resurrection, but I think God can give us our new bodies without us needing to keep the old ones in good condition.)

I can appreciate the appeal of this philosophy in contrast to a modern culture obsessed with self-gratification and alienated from nature, too.

But I like the song less if it’s intended as a final statement about what happens to us when we die. For one thing, the rain — beautiful and nourishing as it is — is no longer me. While the physical particles of my body go into the rain, I — as a self — don’t; I am either annihilated (dissolved, absorbed; call it what you will, but the self ceases to exist), or else I continue in some kind of afterlife. Joe seems to go with the former; there is no heaven, or if there is, it’s to be rejected. I don’t know to what extent the song, and that line about heaven in particular, is a serious statement of belief and to what extent its language is merely poetical or suggestive. Interesting.

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