Previous month:
September 2008
Next month:
November 2008

October 2008

WE are James

Timsmiling

Me, txt: hey, guess where i am

Yahms, txt: where

Me: at the vic waiting for james to go on stage. just thought id let you know since the last time i saw them was with you, 15 years ago

Yahms: i wonder if you and booth will make eye contact this time

Me: im in the balcony. doubt it

Last year, I found out that one of my favorite bands from high school, Manchester-native septet James, had reunited.

I quite literally did a little jig of glee.

It was springtime when I got their newest record, "Hey Ma," and I first listened to it as I rode the train home after work. Oh my. As soon as I heard Tim Booth's familiar voice -- a rare comfort -- I smiled and smiled, first to myself, then at my fellow wondering-eyed passengers. And when I heard that trademark old-school James fanfare trumpet, I laughed right out loud. It was magic, it was home... and the music and my listening to it conspired to draw the season's new magnolia buds right out of their tight little fuzzy shells as my train wended its way through the greening treetops.

So when I found out that James were finally taking their new tour to North America, I marked my calendar and bought my tickets as soon as I could. I hadn't been this excited about a concert in a long time.

The last time I saw James, I was a senior in high school. Their 1993 hit record "Laid" and its ubiquitous title track were in heavy rotation on my Walkman and in my high school sweetheart's -- that's Yahms -- little yellow Prelude. While many people know James for their cross-dressing, dysfunctional-relationship song "Laid," what they may not realize is that that track is only one on an album of beautiful, mysterious, anxiously questioning and occasionally ecstatic songs. Even to a tender 16-year-old, its grown-up themes of mystery and religion were too seductive to resist, even if I could not understand them at the time. (Of course, at the time I thought I could.) And most people do not realize that this group had been together since the '80s and put out at least four great albums before their breakout record.

Imagine what it was like for my teenaged self when, in the pitch blackness of the theater all those years ago, I first heard Tim's ethereal wail, and the quiet crowd got even quieter. Then, from my place very near center stage, I saw the back-lit silhouette of a slight, curly-haired man wearing a long, loose, filmy dress, first swaying like a reed and later bursting into a shimmering, shaking dance.

Wow.

Of course I was immediately in love, but mostly in awe of this strange creature before me, probably the first person I'd ever seen who seemed so totally at home in his unique way of being. In high school, like many others my age, I was trying on every different hat I could find in search of the right fit, burning through the sleepy layers of childhood to get to my true identity -- so different from the man on stage, it seemed.

And at some point during the concert, as this singer looked directly into my eyes and sang a few lines of some familiar song (so electrified was I, I do not remember which song), I felt connected, momentarily completing a circuit of some nameless but exhilarating energy. Connected and seen.

Fast forward to September of 2008, at the Vic Theatre, having forgotten my ID so water was the beverage of (no) choice, sitting next to my own musician husband in the balcony, suddenly feeling too old to be jostled around on the main floor. I looked at the fans around me. This was my generation -- incomplete strangers reunited under the same circumstances as all those years ago: much older, some having had several children, spouses, responsible jobs, dressed in such a way that it was clear we no longer needed to define ourselves by our fashion.

And I am different in so many ways as well -- in fact having just three days before the concert undergone a private Autumn Equinox ceremony with Ima and a precious few others to formally recognize my progress on my spiritual seeker's path. This was the new self whom I brought to the performance, to the new music.

Our excitement built as we saw the (mostly) familiar faces of the band when they strolled out onto the stage. And then, of course, there was Tim: even thinner now, completely bald with a devilish goatee, wearing not a dress this time but loose clothes nevertheless, clothes that would allow and accentuate his sinuous movements.

The whole band were spot on, even better than I remembered. Perhaps it is my more-grown-up-than-high-school, slightly more sophisticated ears, or maybe it was my seat in the balcony which allowed me to see them as a whole from above, that led to an appreciation of the single functioning organism these men became when they played together, and how each contributed their own unique excellence that made the proverbial whole so much more than the proverbial sum of its parts. It reminded me of two of their songs, "Dream Thrum" and "Bubbles," both of which provide, in part, the recipe for the creation of a homunculus.

Also, seven musicians are a lot of personalities and styles to get to gel well, by rock and roll standards.

But of course I really only had eyes for Tim, like so many of the fans there. After all, we were welcoming him back, prodigal son or no -- it was his exit in 2001 that ended James as we'd known and loved them for years.

Like his bandmates, Tim did not disappoint, triumphantly returning to our stage with his mercurial presence. Throughout the duration of the concert, I found myself experiencing the band in shades of the four classical elements. Tim could be quite firy, but more often than not he was the picture and sound and energy of Air, while the sound created by the instruments was almost always undeniably Water.

Sometimes Tim was the barely perceptible breeze stirring the surface of a glass-calm lake, and we were lilies slowly opening in the peace. Sometimes he was the precious line of air sustaining us copper-helmeted deep sea divers as we bobbed in slow motion amidst ghostly vegetation on the ocean floor. And sometimes he was the gale force wind agitating the ferocious briny waters, and being agitated in turn, while we clung to our tiny ship.

Boothdancing

Some people reading this may have seen Tim's ecstatic style of dancing. This, too, to my mind, illustrates the supremely changeable element of Air. Slight as he is, his body gives a lighter vehicle through which the music/Qi can travel, from the feet, gaining purchase on the stage, through the legs to the pelvis, swinging from side to side, rocking the belly chalice, gaining more movement through the torso, firing through the heart and animating the arms, elbows, wrists and hands, tendons and ligaments straining, every joint forced to its full articulation, muscle fibers grasping one another, pulling forward and back... And above all his brain sloshing around in that bright white cranium, bathed again and again in its own fluids as his body submits to the sound, becomes it.

Ah. Take a breath.

And Airiest of all, no matter what personality of the element he embodied, you could understand every word he sang. Really. Just listen to any James record and see if you can't understand clearly almost every single word. This is an uncommon phenomena in modern rock music, folks.

In magic, the tool representing Air on the altar is the blade -- the blade which cuts only air, dividing space into mundane and sacred parts. Like the blade, Tim's voice did just that, cutting air from air, sharply slicing a channel for some even more rarefied communication to come through.

Tymamid At one point in the concert last month, Tim came forward into the crowd, standing on the dividers in front of the stage -- horselike wooden structures meant to do just that, divide the band from the audience -- and clasped tightly the hands of lucky nearby fans for support. He sang an entire song this way, and while doing so, he looked purposefully all around him at the faces in the audience, including up at us in the balcony. The spotlight illuminated his giant smile; and indeed, I felt like he was seeing me, seeing us, all of us.

Later on, as the audience, tribe-like, joyfully sang every word of one of several James anthems, drowning out Tim's microphone, he once more looked at all of us and I could feel the circuit again, completing, going round and round, an exchange of energy and, well, love. The line from one such song goes, "Sometimes when I look in your eyes I can see your soul." Tim let us sing it over and over again by ourselves and we never got tired, so the band had to stop us to keep the concert moving forward.

During one of two encores, Tim disappeared from the stage only to reappear in the balcony directly across from me, to sing the haunting and heartrending song "The Top of the World."

Timbalcony

Eye contact, this time for sure.

And this fleeting connection was even better than I remember it being when I was 16. I don't know if it's partly because he had more to give in that tiny moment, but certainly I feel that I had more space to receive it.

What is "it"? Just because I'm older, do I claim to know? Not really. But I do know that I walked away from this performance with a lesson in how to connect to others, a lesson in the marriage of the elements, and exposure to a rare, spark-throwing charisma that may only come off those individuals who express themselves with every kind of truth accessible to them. As St. Teresa of Avila said, "When we are whom we are called to be, we will set the world ablaze."

At 31, I'm less inclined to hyperbole but I have a better vocabulary and sense for energy than I did when I was 16. So you'll have to take my word for it -- my own nostalgia and inner fangirl notwithstanding, this was no ordinary concert. And it reminded me that none of us ever have to be ordinary people.

James: Thanks for coming back. Thanks for reawakening those sacred connections.

Oh! And thanks for taking pictures of us! I'm proud to be a flesh-toned blob in the balcony in the panoramic audience photo on the band's blog for the Sept. 26, 2008 show.

Check out James here.