I spent last weekend hanging out with my best friend from high school. He's in the process of a somewhat-sudden martial separation and career transition, with no job and most of his belongings stored in a rental garage. I wouldn't say it's the easiest time for him. But I was amazed at how unphased he seemed by at all (as opposed to my reaction, which would have been to shrink into the fetal position somewhere in an alley for days).
And while his troubles are utterly adult, as soon as we heard Madonna on the radio we were 17 again, making a Slurpee run with no worries in the world (until I again started nagging him about possibly getting a job or moving, and then feeling guilty for saying it).
Such is the power of music: It calms, it evokes memories, it takes you on a journey. And while most music achieves those things through standard formatting, there are some types that thrive on the unexpected, each note standing totally separate from the last. And while experimental music isn't as easy to find (this isn't exactly Cubby Bear material), performances are often free to attend and feature lots of explanation via programs or post-show soirees. (These are helpful because even though I have friends who live and breathe this stuff, I'm often left scratching my head like a monkey.)
Last Thursday I attended a performance by the MAVerick ensemble, which is dedicated to performing works by composers, artists and filmmakers of the past 50 years who created works outside the artistic norm. The performance featured several pieces, a small wine reception, a chance to chat with the group informally and my friend Jan on saxophone.
It wasn't a group she had planned to be in; she met them at another concert and was surprised to hear they didn't have a saxophonist, which is apparently a key ingredient in experimental music. Though Jan is frantically busy with teaching, performing and then, for a break, some more teaching, she agreed to play with them now and again. The concerts are mostly free (some feature a small donation) and held frequently in pretty unique places around the Midwest (the one I caught was at a chapel in the University of Chicago).
Those expecting a rendition of "Feelings" are sure to be disappointed: Experimental music is based on unpredictability—one song would move within a few notes from a high pitch to dissonance to a totally different rhythm. As I sat in the room, listening to the music move in the strangest of motions, I thought about structure, how some people (like me) expect it and how others (like my friend) don't. How carefully I schedule all major purchases, vacations, laundry nights, social outings, gym visits, sleep, whole weeks.
After Jan's concert, the group retreated upstairs to the Renaissance Society room, where they again performed the first piece, spread out in different corners. Listening to the musicians, I suddenly noticed the guitarist: Up close, he looked familiar. Oddly familiar. I looked at my pamphlet … and realized it was Indie Rock Jim, who I had a crush on for a brief period in college.
I stood there trying to remember when I had liked him and, more importantly, why. Was he brilliant? Was he hysterically funny? Was he kind to animals and the elderly? But all I could remember was that he had this really cool coat...and something about getting Mexican food at one in the morning.
There was, apparently, a time when I was not so carefully thought out. Because I didn't remember a huge analysis of why I had liked him (certainly nothing compared to the missives I mentally compose to qualify or dismiss my current dates), and I can't recall when the last time I went out for Mexican food at 1 a.m. I don't even really like Mexican food.
The concert ended, I had finished my free wine, and Jan was starving, so she and her husband Rob embarked on a Thursday night date. And me? I went home, happy to have remembered that at 21, I was a little less thought out. The next night, I stayed out much later than I had planned to. The day after that, I skipped going to the gym. And, in a few minutes, I'm going to buy myself something totally extraneous. I may be 30, and I may reek of responsibility, but I can still drag myself out for a late-night quesadilla every once and awhile...even if I don't really like Mexican food.
Want to check out the MAVerick Ensemble? You can find a list of its upcoming performances (most of which are free to attend) here.
Erin Brereton is our resident urban cowgirl on a bi-weekly search for life on the cheap. If you have an on-the-cheap favorite, do clue her in.