ELWAYVILLE: It Goes To Eleven

Live music can set you free. It’s time to listen to your body, and stop taking yourself so seriously.

One recent warm spring day, driving down the road with the windows down and singing an impassioned backup to Brandi Carlile’s “Sugartooth,” I looked in the mirror and laughed at myself. I laughed at how good it felt to get lost in music. I laughed at how free warm weather can make you feel. And after a long, dry, dark winter, I laughed at how silly I was for taking everything—myself in particular—so seriously.

Music is one thing many of us seem to take far too seriously. You are sure to start a flame war if you should denigrate or praise the talents of, say, the Eagles in a Facebook post. I ceratinly take part in these fights: From disco to heavy metal, jam band to country, jazz to punk, rap to pop, there isn’t a genre I haven’t mocked ever since junior high (and often in this column). I take pride in getting all music snobby based solely upon the conceit that, at least at that given moment, someone else’s genre doesn’t appeal to me.

My snobbery is misguided, of course. So many of my favorite life memories are rooted not in caring about what music is the critical best but just in enjoying it: Those moments of seaweed swaying to the Grateful Dead with the tie-dyed hippies at Red Rocks, stage diving at the iconic Mercury Café when Black Flag took Denver by storm back in the ’80s or be-bopping to cool jazz at the storied El Chapultepec in downtown Denver on a cold winter night with an Avalung Pack on my back (alongside Doug Schnitzspahn, the editor of this magazine).

Whenever I need a way to feel good in a hurry, I find that music transports me to a place of calm confidence almost immediately. I get lost in it. In tough times, I’ve forgotten my own blues and discovered that alongside Jimi Hendrix’s legendary guitar work, it’s the warmth of his voice and genius of his lyrics that make his songs sound nothing short of celestial. Over the hectic days of Christmas, I incessantly clicked on Youtube to watch Eminem’s rap battles in the film 8 Mile. And every now and then I queue up Ryan Adam’s cover of Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood,” just to pretend the person playing that first strum of the guitar is me.

Yet the internal and external critics always seem to slip in: Polarizing music is something we seem to do instinctually. We love to say what sucks, or what rocks, after listening to just a couple of chords, or a medley. We have countless websites and rooms full of publications and books dedicated to arguing the merits of the greatest albums and bands of all time, trying to forever cement Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones, Michael Jackson, Prince, Kanye or Adele in their proper place in the acoustic hierarchy.

But why do we have to always make it so complicated? People have been dancing to sounds since the first time someone started pounding on a piece of wood with a rock. Music is a human necessity. All that should matter is whether whatever form of music you’re listening to makes you want to move your body.

All this raving about what is essential to music makes me remember Vern, one of my supervisors when I taught skiing at Jackson Hole way back in the day. A tall, ice-blue-eyed, snow white-haired, snow-white-mustached man with such a thick Minnesota accent that for a year I thought he had come straight from Norway, Vern had an impeccably smooth, graceful style both on the ski hill and on the dance floor.

During the day, Vern would help everyone from beginners to experts to young instructors like myself maximize their experience and efficiency on the snow with a minimum of words and a direct, patient style. Then at night, he would head straight to the Mangy Moose, where he would be one of the first people two-stepping below the stage the minute the band began to play. He would dance with anyone and everyone, working the floor all night with swiveling hips and a serene smile.

Unlike some of the other mentors who have been kind enough to share their time and experience—especially during those first formative years of true independence—I can’t think of anything in particular that Vern ever told me, only that he inspired me. Enough to decide that it was he, out of all the other free spirits in that ski school, who put the big red and black “Support Live Music” sticker on the toolbox in our collective tuning room.

It took me a while to appreciate the sentiment, preferring the peace of the outdoors and alpine isolation above everything else. But after observing the mantric, music-inspired moves of Vern, then losing myself in the rhythms of a persistent backbeat, and reveling in the unscripted communal joy of dancing with friends and strangers through the waves and pulsations of a blistering set, I began to take the saying to heart. I began to believe that “supporting live music,” is good for the soul—and necessary for the heart.

I don’t say this just as a call to keep a bunch of musicians on the job. I say it more the way you might ask your friends and neighbors to support their local businesses, and sheriff, and firefighters, as an ongoing way to bind together a vibrant, close-knit, more mutually supportive community.

Of course, music is also a way to help stay mentally healthy—which isn’t news to anybody with a radio. “Dancing in the Streets,” “One Love,” “Happy,” or whatever this summer’s feel good song turns out to be, it should be more than enough inspiration to dance more and stress less.

Now go shake your booty!

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