Jay Meehan: An antidote for the age of anxiety
There are those moments during live music shows when instrumentalists and vocalists are trading riffs with such a high degree of virtuosity that the emotional returns reach a level where you think you might need to report your net-total-euphoria as income when you next file your taxes.
It’s that place where the sacred and profane switch union cards while putting a little hitch in their giddy-up. It’s the event horizon between hardwood floors and the oral tradition of poetry. And most importantly of all, it’s therapy for the pillaged psyche – an antidote for the age of anxiety, as it were.
Getting such a “fix” on a semi-regular basis has become mandatory for my addictive personality. Not that I don’t fail to refill my prescriptions in a timely manner, but when it doesn’t come calling, manifestations of estrangement begin to appear upon the landscape. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,” as Yeats would say.
Lying in the dark next to our old Kenworth-sized Hi-Fi console with the vibrations of Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Clyde McPhatter, and Jerry Lee Lewis bouncing off my head were just what the doctor ordered back in the day. The sounds themselves empowered me to shrug off any residual teenage angst.
An epiphany is what it was and it led me directly through space and time to here and now. I’ve never been able to truly articulate the psychological depth of those grooves other than that they were bottomless and achingly beautiful. From then on, music became my “church.”
And so a couple of weeks back some friends from down the road saw to it that I entered outpatient music therapy sessions both in Salt Lake and, over the weekend, up in Boise. I can’t thank them enough. It was like the laying upon of hands. Healing arrived with a rim-shot.
Sustained grooving along with a bit of head bobbing to the hybrid rocking country band Reckless Kelly got me figuratively in the swing of things at the new Commonwealth Room down in the valley. As an opening round of therapy, it worked wonders.
They cook, these guys. Catching those Braun dudes from up in the Salmon River Valley country of southern Idaho musically bonding with their Texas sidekicks from the Austin scene always turns my crank.
A couple of things knocked me for a loop this time around, however. Having not caught them live for a spell, the first was the manner in which they currently orchestrate their arrangements. They’re still just as rambunctious as ever but a subtle refinement has crept into their shtick.
Then came their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” which they not only blistered but made their own. Although I can’t really say I recall another cover of the tune (except by bluegrass outfits), this one came out of the chute wholly enough realized to, Salinger-wise, raise high the roof beams.
Then there were my sessions in Boise. I’ve already used up my quota of superlatives when discussing the Famous Motel Cowboy Reunion held annually up in the Idaho capital for the past 15 years. Although this go-around was only my third time partaking of its revival-like raptures, it certainly was a charm.
Although they changed the venue this year, one thing can be said about these gatherings. Both from the stage and from the ever-testifying congregation, there is a lot of love in whatever room they see fit to assemble. And therein lies the therapeutic aspect of attending live music gigs.
Pinto Bennett, the King of Elmore County and the patron saint of these Famous Motel Cowboy shindigs, is the keeper of the vibe. A legendary songwriter, over the years he has shepherded a whole slew of younger performance artists in his wake. Like Clayton Delaney, he even taught some of them how to drink booze.
It’s the devotees of the art form, however, who show up in throngs each year to pay homage to the scene that seem to sustain the event’s passion – which is pretty much off the charts. There’s this knowing look in their eyes whenever you cross paths at the bar or on the dance floor that recognizes you as one of them.
I suppose the entire experience wouldn’t qualify as “music therapy” per se, but you certainly could have fooled me. Having left each of the three quite therapeutic sessions with a little bit more spring in my step than I demonstrated upon entering, I say, “What’s not to love?!”
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