The Friday Morning Listen: Dar Williams – Many Great Companions (2010)

When it comes to music, and art in general, I’m driven by the “butterfly effect” as applied to aesthetics. My main purpose is to introduce people to what I like in the hope that their new found joy will in turn influence others in their own sphere of influence, extending the music out into the future. My dislike (and avoidance) of negative evaluations of music is related to this: it’s impossible for me to know how somebody is going to react to a new piece of music. So if they try it out because of my thoughts — and they don’t like it — then it ends right there. No harm done. On the other hand, a purely negative review may dissuade a listener from giving an artist a try. There’s a chance they might have enjoyed the music. It’s a missed opportunity, one that I’d rather not be involved in.

It’s been a week since the official start of Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball tour. Per usual, the first handful of shows (all two of them) saw the Internet flare up with reactions from both ends of the spectrum. While I have no problem with people disliking something, it’s more than a little disappointing when the artist’s motivations are called into question: especially since all of the evaluations seem to be based on nothing more concrete than pure conjecture: Bruce doesn’t really have a passion for the music anymore. It’s all about the message. It’s all about the money. He’s phoning it in. He’s ripping us off. Don’t be fooled. And on and on…

This past Monday, childen’s book author Laurel Snyder posted her reaction to her first Springsteen show. The essay, entitled On being a serious fan, described how it felt to be there in Atlanta and how that indeed changed her life. It’s a heartfelt and inspiring read.

On waking up the next day:

But then, when I woke up, and looked into my normal work-day, it didn’t feel the same. I was haunted by this lingering sense from last night — that I just want to make better art. Suddenly all the obnoxious parts of my author-brain feel wiped clean. Worrying about the fact that some of my books aren’t good enough … or that some of them aren’t selling well. Blah blah blah.

No, no. That’s not what art is. Art is when you put some ideas or sounds or words or colors together, and they add up to more than they did before, or they make something new, and they touch people, teach people, maybe even make people cry in public.

I’ve chosen Dar Williams’ Many Great Companions both for the implications of the title and for the fact that “I’ll Miss You Till I Meet You” has a certain effect on me. My (highly) sensitive self is moved to tears over these lines:

It all goes by so fast
Like waving hands
You want to capture things
Find someone who understands…

Why? I do not know. There’s more beauty there than I can stand?

And that’s the power of art. It can change things for the better. I feel sorry for the people who seem to have forgotten that. Maybe they never knew.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.