A definitely not poem, as hinted at by Genevieve, as best I can remember.
I want to tell you the story of a ghost I met at a bar – a spirit tied helplessly and hopelessly to a successfully creative life she could never cease to haunt.
There’s no good reason to stay out late on a Wednesday. It’s cold outside, even for late January. Money isn’t free, and neither is wine. But the wine is french and the mood strikes me right (despite my pretentious standards for moods) in this neighborhood place where the music is live and local, and the other patrons seem to me to be a lot cooler than I’ll ever be.
I take a seat toward the door-end of the bar, just before the bar curves toward the wall at a circle’s take on a perpendicular angle. If I were to look straight ahead, just to my right with the tilt of an eye corner I can see someone tending to an amount of wine that I will henceforth refer to as a carafe. They have another word for it at this place, but it escapes me.
There’s no good reason to stay out late on a Wednesday, and if you’re going to do a bad thing, you might as well do a bad thing well. A “carafe” it is, red, French, I think it might have been Pinot Noir but I really don’t remember, and I thank her in my head for the suggestion.
I look up from Tropic of Cancer to mumble “bless you” politely. She sneezes again, multiple times, an absurd number of times.
We exchange those awkward pleasantries implicitly demanded of us by our culture when one sneezes more times than tends to be expected. Thinking of it now, I still can’t quite remember how I so quickly sussed it out of her that she’s a musician…
How long have you played, I asked her? She doesn’t know.
What do you like about being a musician? She shrugs.
“Nothing. I never liked it.”
She just does it. It’s a discipline.
This pulls me, like a bite from a horse-fly; like an itch. I ponder what to say.
The ghost in the corner of the bar sips its wine.
“I would stop right now if I could.”
Why don’t you?
That shrug, this time almost a smile. She almost didn’t hear my question, or rather, she heard a bit of wind in a hurricane.
“It’s a waste of time, waste of money. I don’t believe in it.”
“I would do anything, almost fucking anything, to not do music. But…”
And again, like Homer’s chorus, that hopeless shrug.
Something about this conversation was striking a strange and sympathetic chord in me; the refreshingly brazen manner with which she so freely admitted, emphasized, insisted such antipathy toward a discipline that so many others are so eager to call their own. You can see these people often, depending where you look; they reek of a preacher’s faith that Music is some kind of Platonic Form of a life made interesting to which they can hitch their entire sense of self. This urge, or insecurity, or whatever it is — this desperate belief that there must be something more interesting than ourselves to which we can cling to find some kind of meaning or self-respect — may well have served as a guiding muse to many a brilliant artist, but for those that lack chops it can quickly become an insufferably desperate mix of cheap self-branding and fragile self-therapy. Like those unlucky souls that claim not to recognize their own reflection in the mirror when they don’t have makeup or jewelry on, these people need you to know that music is their everything. They need you to listen…
I made some remark along those lines, and immediately felt borderline bad about it. Any statements that she regarded as even vaguely complimentary seemed to pain her.
The band was digging into covers, their own spin on “Get Ready” by Curtis Mayfield at the time of noting. We clapped as loudly as we could without being conspicuous. Nothing fuels an artist, nothing after tips anyway, more than support, so we supplied both where we could.
“I don’t have kids, but if I did, I’d hope they don’t do music.”
I laughed at this. She speaks of music like her children, like a young mother that never saw her life going quite this way until it was far too late to turn back; and here she was, out for a night away from the responsibilities she never really thought she’d be tethered to forever. But much like a mother, her love is a shackle, unbreakable and cold to the touch if you try to tug against it. That same maternal bond that inspires such love and unspeakable joy when it’s a choice, without consent it can feel like drowning, or so they tell me.
“And yet you don’t stop,” I press her.
This isn’t a conversation anymore, it’s a pleasant interrogation. I feel this strange compulsion to understand her drive, what haunts it. Maybe it was just that tug you feel sometimes toward the gravity of legitimately creative people that drove me to keep asking questions. Or maybe it was just me being a little obnoxious and a little tipsy from the wine…
…somewhere around here I look up at the bar in front of me mildly surprised to find I’ve ordered another carafe, which is still not what it’s called…
“I’ve often wondered why that is,” she says of why she doesn’t just stop. “It just has to be egotistical.”
At this I laugh the noisy smile of a fellow emotional masochist. I laugh a talentless sort of empathy with this local stranger, the patron saint of art for its own sake, cursed forever to fly and hate wings. She didn’t need any of this, she didn’t even ask for it, though others gladly would have; but here it is, in any case, so what else is she supposed to do.
Jeremy Danneman. Turns out that was the artist that we’d been clapping for. He was good, and so was his band. “Pretending to Believe You,” an original, was the song they were playing when she unassumingly stood up, said goodbye, and left, presumably to haunt some other stage, or perhaps be haunted by another melody.
It’d been about a week since this strange and fleeting conversation took place. I finally sat down and listened to the artist known as Lauds. Rather than take my pretentious stab at waxing poetic about the range of music she produces, I’ll just say I’m glad I did listen. Perhaps you might enjoy listening to her music too, though I suppose we all listen to Lauds at the risk of reinforcing her attachment to a discipline she claims to really wish she could find the strength to leave behind — like handing a chainsmoker another cigarette.
As I find myself writing about ghosts, it occurs to me that in all those old stories about haunted houses, we tend to sympathize with the living who are tormented by spooky spirits. Rarely do we consider that we’re the ones marching into the dark corners and ancient spaces that these souls appear powerless to leave, and we seem to rarely notice that while we’re the ones screaming, the ghosts rarely appear much happier about the prospect of their intrusion on our lives than we do.
So the next time you find yourself haunted by a melody, perhaps you’ll join me in reflecting, for a moment, about those rare souls that float around that space where the music meets the madness, and about all the living that is sacrificed to create something supernatural – the sounds that do indeed make our lives so much more interesting than they’d be without them, for reasons we’ll never fully understand.
The Ghost in this story was Genevieve Fernworthy, “an elemental practitioner, writer, artist, and multi-instrumentalist who performs under the solo moniker LAUDS.” You can find her work on Bandcamp, or on learn more on her website.