The Destination

Steel Bridge, part 3

By - Jun 16th, 2010 04:00 am
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Music exists as a wealth of possibilities. To those who love making it, it offers a concurrent spectrum of functions, from deeply personal symbolism to inclusive foot-stomping moments of communion.

At Steel Bridge, we covered the gamut of what is possible to share in song. As any writer can tell you, any moment or mood can become a song. When it happens, some combination of reality and subjective imagination sear together into a sound artifact, an oral (and aural) history.

In the experience of Steel Bridge Songfest, the goal was to coalesce into inspiration and into community. The festival itself hinges on a web of potent, small communities and their commitment to each other and the event.

From the Citizens For Our Bridge organization which heads the campaign to restore and protect the old steel bridge (a source of inspiration and funding behind this music festival), to the shareholders who keep up the snazzy Holiday Motel, to organizers Melanie Jane and Pat McDonald, to the swell of locals and tourists who eagerly volunteer, it is a big loving family.

We came together to raise awareness about the importance of preserving the steel bridge, but mostly we came together to create music.

It’s almost too obvious and encompassing to try to describe what songs have the power to do. When a song hits you — chills on your skin kind of moment — it’s because there is some combination of truth and confidence in the thing that makes deep sense to you. We’re all striving to know what is true.

We live the pattern. Though I am not operating exactly as many of the other Steel Bridge musicians (some who play the guitar so fast that you can’t see their fingers), who live on the road for hundreds of days (but still have gardens in California to return to), I am part of this circle. Some of the musicians I met this week live in costumes and wear hats with feathers or sunglasses at night. Their lives are doubled: there’s what they see and do and know, and then how it is played out under bright lights  in response to a constantly shifting chain of settings and faces, stories and stages, along with everything else that came before.

We are musicians: what we do is who we are.

Is this normal? What is normal? This high-octane lifestyle is acceptable for a musician. In fact, it’s practical. To “make it,” as it were, to produce and perform and sustain oneself financially as a musician, this model of living is essential. This kind of living is not for the weak of stomach (or liver): it involves constant leaps of faith, small and large.

Sometimes it’s very small…as small as trusting some chord progression that your fingers found; trusting that a harmony works the way you hear it working in your head, trusting that the bassist will show up when he says he will; trusting a stranger enough to go in the studio and make something happen that you can be proud of.

And sometimes the leaps are large. We tell each other our stories and  struggles, we hint at the weaknesses we carry, the narrative, at the interpretations of dreams that underpin our actions.

Developing into a powerful songwriter and performer comes down to the greatest leap of faith: not to doubt your style or your voice.

We have been rewarded for the trust we’ve placed in ourselves by getting to Steel Bridge Songfest (hundreds of musicians apply each year), and in being there were rewarded for the trust we placed in each other by becoming part of a tidal wave of song and performance that swallowed the town of Sturgeon Bay in music for four days. A huge stage erected on the closed Steel Bridge was our bright venue to showcase of what came out of the experiment.

We left the week-long construction zone and festival having created over 70 new songs, having performed on over 15 stages from the charming Company Store Café to the dark, moist and smoky Butch’s bar, and having exhausted and reinvented and performed surgery on the metaphor of the bridge in our writings. We left each other in a crescendo of embraces, kisses, declarations, making plans and promises to cross paths, to keep in touch, to take of each other whenever X comes to town.

This week I helped write a few songs. I sang on a number of tracks written by others. I played drums while the sun rose over lake Michigan. I shared in conversations that got right to heart of matters, performed my music and even joined the amazing Kim Manning on stage to sing the chorus of Wahnder Lust’s “Haters.”

It was a week of surreal delights, which I will be reveling in for a long time. Until next year, at least.

The only song that I wrote to completion was one of my own; I’m still new to the collaboration thing. It doesn’t have any bridge metaphors, but it is about the leap…

Careless Believer
He wears his gin-collar tight;
Neon hose to the baritone.
Well, he’s sucking down the spirit,
But where did it go?

He thought he had it
Some choruses ago.
He was a careless believer.

Pull a nighter, pull a nooner,
So you can sing what you mean sooner,
So you might know what you mean to her.

One for the vision, one for the dream.
Live in the hymn; live how you mean.

Once he had the spirit,
But where did it go?
He was a lonely believer.

(Crawled holiness back into the hole).

I said: Take the truth and rend it
Slowly. The mystery is for you only,
And only you can say what is holy.

I thought I heard it
Some choruses ago.
Was I a careless believer?

Mercy on the careless believer,
Who will follow holiness
Back into the hole.

Categories: Other-views

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