I often want to touch things I shouldn’t: in particular, sculptures and molten metal and glass. Scolding museum docents and third-degree burns are sometimes all that keeps me back. I am fascinated by the red-hot glowing of metal and glass and I have stood watching glassblowers and blacksmiths at work on their craft.
And that is particularly what I was reminded of on Thursday night as we sat in the audience at the Molson Amphitheatre watching Gotye. To most people in North America, Gotye is a one-hit Somebody I Used to Know wonder. I first heard of him last spring, described as being like Peter Gabriel and Sting mixed together: I had to investigate this further. The chorus of Somebody led me to find his other – in my opinion better – music and I was hooked. I watched a short YouTube documentary in which he talked about coming across a sound fence in the Australian outback and how playing it had inspired his environmentally apocalyptic song Eyes Wide Open (my personal favourite). The day his North American tour was announced, I bought tickets without checking my or Dave’s schedule: we were going. I felt fortunate that Dave didn’t think this was one of Those Singers that women like and men loathe. We were both excited to go.
We’ve been busy about the business of children and soccer and work and concerts have fallen low on our lists in the last, um, couple of decades. We have enjoyed concerts by friends, but the last big concert we remember going to was Ashley MacIsaac, about sixteen years ago.
There were parallels. What I adored about MacIsaac was how the man shredded his bow as he fiddled. He plays with such intensity that he literally must replace bows as he goes along. It looks like curls from a wood plane or tangles of hair coming off the bow.
Gotye moved around the stage with energy, singing, playing various instruments, but as I watched, I knew that primarily, foundationally, the man is a percussionist. Because I knew the music well, because we were sitting in a cloud of pot smoke, because we weren’t close to the stage, it was actually easy to watch the clever videos and to sing along to the music, losing sight of the excellent small performers on stage. I kept reminding myself to watch the musicians themselves.
But there was one sight that imprinted itself on my mind: Gotye, de Backer, himself, joining the drummer on his own set of drums, raising his arm to full height and bringing it back down to hit the drum, over and again in a rhythm that reminded me exactly of a blacksmith hammering at his forge.
And that, I think, is the key to the beauty of his music: that molten quality, that too-hot-to-touch danger, that between states of matterness.
I wondered as I watched whether such vigour took or created physical strength: did he have to work out in order to be able to play, or was the act of playing the workout?
At one point, he confessed to having had a frog in his throat that evening. It was hard to hear but after he announced the last song and after that song was played, Dave stood up to go while I cheered for an encore. “Let the man rest,” Dave said, but Gotye came back on stage for three more songs, possibly the best of the night. We talked about this afterwards, that probably a rest was what was needed on one level, but the passion for the music, the love of performing, the ability to create such raw power was that much stronger.
I was inspired. I want to bring that same kind of energy – the bow-shredding, anvil hammering passion – to the work that motivates me with that kind of passion. It had occurred to me before the concert – not with any kind of worry – that we might be the most ancient people there. This was not true – there were people of all ages (elderly to very young), genders, races, and economic abilities all enjoying the music. It was perhaps the most diverse concert I have been to. What made me feel really glad was that while drumming may require physical energy I don’t always have, what I do does not. Writing fiction is a quiet interior experience of shapeshifting and molten transformation. Physical fitness helps – typing is hard on the neck and shoulders – but it’s not necessarily a young person’s game. In fact, sometimes the skill and passion grow with age.
I see Gotye’s arm poised, fully extended above his head, ready to slam down with precision at just the right moment. That’s the picture I carry away from the concert. That’s what I want to be able to touch when I sit down to write.