Sean Manning, Editor (Da Capo)
Everyone has one — that show. The show where everything changed… the way you looked at music, the way you felt about it, or it made you feel. Maybe it was when you started to see things differently, emerged from your youth or your parents’ or your friends’ perspectives. Whatever it was, though, you can still close your eyes and not just remember, but be there.
And so it was that Da Capo Press, purveyors of some of the very best books about music out there, enlisted New York writer Sean Manning to edit a collection subtitled: 50 Writers Relive Their Most Memorable Concert Going Experience. It is an eclectic, at times quirky, but always highly literate mix – and the shows that they capture span the gauntlet of Miles Davis and Jimmy Reed in the 50s through the White Stripes and Metric in 2005.
What remains constant – beyond genres, eras and – is the passion each evokes. Whether it’s novelist and longtime Newsweek critic David Gates capturing James Brown one blistering hot night at Boston Gardens, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore experiencing progressives Glen Branca, Rudolph Grey and Wharton Tiers at New York’s Knitting Factory, memoirist Rick Moody catching the Lounge Lizards at Merkin Concert Hall in Manhattan or scenester/icon Arion Berger’s sweat-drenched double-bill of X and Levi & the Rockats at LA’s Whiskey A Go-Go, this is a vast collection that creates unity in diversity.
There are the obvious: novelist Dani Shapiro seeing Sprinsteen at Madison Square Garden at the brink of his combustive ascendance. There is the quirkily obscure: fringe cartoonist Harvey Pekar’s memorable Joe Menari performance in Pekar’s living room in the summer of 1197.
There are his’n’her’s takes on the same show: Holly George-Warren and Robert Burke Warren’s experience at the Beacon Theatre when Van Morrison made a rare 1989 concert appearance. But especially there are the moments when the artist – as well as the fan – is in transformative manifest: Charles Cross witnessing Nirvana at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre.
Music is a potent force. Whether you get the artists or not… and in these deeply personal writings, some artists who may’ve evaded you could come into a whole new kind of focus… the alchemy will be self-evident. Even if not for you, the genuflection will be recognizable and, most likely, translatable into something personal from one’s own life.
Certainly the best writing does that: takes what has been beyond the imagination and grounds it in the reader’s reality. Be it David Bowie at LA’s Greek, Clarenace Carter in a post-peak gig at a Florida lounge called Bobby;s Hideaway, industrial noisemeister’s Einsturzende Neubauten, Led Zeppelin in Missouri, a demi-ungrounded Patti Smith as personal mirror or Nina Simone at the Village Gate in Manhattan, these are all articles of the faith. It is in living that a whole other kind of bible is created – and for anyone who loves and lives inside a soundtrack of their own choosing, this offers an insight beyond conjuring one’s own consideration.