493 · 8 July 04
Abra Moore: Everything Changed
The wedding is approaching, some days through Belle and my own earnest efforts and some days just through the passage of time. Between us and time, honestly, time usually seems a little more focused. Belle and I procrastinate and digress and second-guess and sometimes have whole days in which we're temperamentally incapable of confronting logistics or etiquette or anything where anybody is going to need us to answer questions and then not change our minds later. Some days we need to do things that have to do with the marriage, not the wedding, and some days we just need to ride our bikes around construction sites and then come home and eat Chinese food and watch Annie Hall and lie on the living room floor taunting the cat and arguing about the relative land areas of Brazil and the US until one of us breaks down and goes and looks it up. Me, of course. Belle is better at tolerating uncertainty, or else surer of her guesses. The cat has gotten a little self-conscious in her distinguished years, and will only use Google when she thinks we aren't watching.
Slowly and erratically, though, the tasks are getting done. We have a few weeks to go, and that's probably long enough for most things. To be fair, there are very few tasks that we literally haven't begun. We haven't picked out our music, but our suspicion of record is that we'll probably put some things on an iPod, instead of trying to manage a DJ or a band. We've got plenty of songs around to choose from.
But choosing the medium is hardly choosing the message. I myself have a worrying amount of experience making lists of songs, but tend to be fairly terrible at choosing them for any functional purpose. I am a polemical anthologist, which sounds kind of cool until you try to dance to it. The real complication, however, is that our wedding soundtrack wants to be at least partly about us, together, not just a compilation of our individual unrelated affections. We are both incorrigibly opinionated lifelong music fans, and we only got together in our thirties. Even in the areas where our two sets of tastes have significant overlap, they are separate tastes, and belong to different stories from each of our lives. This is a consideration, not a problem exactly, but it might help explain how this, of all tasks, can have slipped down to the end of our list. I know a hundred songs that speak to me about love and promises, but they belong, nearly by definition, to my internal narrative of meaning, and thus participate more in my preparation for this moment and its associated future than they do in the consecration of it. As with anything you both bring to a relationship, you start with each of your experiences and gradually form a shared experience that belongs to both of you, but as absurd and cloying as this probably sounds, when we're together we tend to turn the music off and talk to each other. So we're ahead on several important counts, but behind on music.
We'll catch up. We usually catch up disconcertingly quickly once we actually concentrate on a topic. If we aren't trying to subsume our individualities in our marriage, it makes perfect sense that some of our songs should sing of our pasts apart, and if some of the ones we decide to say sing of our future together happen to have been brought by one of us or the other, then that's true of most of the other things in our lives, too. Some of the songs Belle loves will sing to me of her, not us, but that too is fine. Besides, enough of our friends are our age that we've got the whole decade of the Eighties to mine for history-proven safety songs, so how hard can a couple hours of programming be?
And yet, a piece of me stubbornly wants to confront this dilemma instead of obviating it. I want us to have a song. This makes little sense, since we are using our own words and inspirations for every other aspect of the event, but I want us to be able to choose somebody else's version of jubilant realization and pledge to make it ours. I want it to be a song we both heard for the first time while we have been together, and I want it to feel right both musically and thematically. I want to invest a perfectly self-sufficient song with our joy. I want to imagine two people driving in a car, five years from now, and this song comes on the radio and one of them lights up and the other one asks why and the first one says that the song reminds him of us. I want to find this song, and I don't want to find it by making lists, I want to find it by becoming passionately convinced that I know exactly what it is, and then playing it for Belle and finding out if I'm right, and I am willing to repeat this process as many times as it takes. I've got several weeks, and songs are short, and I can fall in love with them so fast.
Belle is out tonight, and won't be back for a few more hours, and I will begin by spending this time wholeheartedly believing that our song together will be "Big Sky", by Abra Moore, the euphoric third track of her long-delayed and cathartic third solo album Everything Changed. It begins with an easy, unhurried jangle that evokes Big Country's "Winter Sky" for me, which I've loved for twenty years, but that was a lullaby of shared pain and "Big Sky" is an anthem of redemptive self-containment. Belle and I wouldn't have written the words this way, but we've got the rest of our lives for the ways we will write the words. "You say you're tired of this circus life, / Tired of the freaks and the colored lights." These aren't our complaints, but I think we know what they mean. "Come on, come on, the night is young. / You only get one chance and then you're gone." We're going to try to prove that one chance is enough. "So high, so high, just you and me and the big sky, / That's all we are, that's all we are, it's all forever." We'd insist on putting it more intricately, no doubt, but the essential prayer is the same: to you and me and everything possible. That's how everything starts. That faith is what our combined courage will stem from.
And the music feels like I want it to feel, and there will be plenty of time for conceding that a marriage cannot be conducted entirely, or even mainly, in tiny magical moments, but the wedding itself is one of those moments, and the song should be another. Producer and co-writer Jay Joyce plays most of the instruments, and there are guitars everywhere, like warm ocean waves, sweeping us along the edge of the air. "So high!", Abra sings, leaping into delirious falsetto, pulling everything chimingly aloft after her. The drums accelerate like heartbeats, the cymbals crash like everything we don't need anymore being smashed for the mosaic potential, the chords ascend like we suddenly have all of Parc Güell's stairs to ourselves. The verses exist so we can breathe a couple times, and to make sure there are a thousand choruses instead of just one. We could sing it on road trips, we could shout it in snowball fights, we could stage it on Broadway, we could float weightlessly in its embrace. Belle will be home later, and this is what I feel like when I see her again, and maybe this is the song we will choose to sing that feeling to us and for us and on and on.
And if it isn't, it will be one of my songs of how delicious it is wondering, and that too is part of faith. Everything Changed is a magnificent, haunted, transcendent, heart-wrenching album no matter what you fail to make it symbolize. Sing, Abra's solo debut, circled between Alanis Morissette and Donna Lewis, maybe not sure whether it wanted lucidity or translucence. Strangest Places seethed between Dar Williams and Maria McKee, perhaps trying to reconcile fragility and power. Both now sound to me like workshop exercises next to Everything Changed, which comes closer to recasting the emotional intensity of Beth Nielsen Chapman's Sand and Water in a willowy, semi-reticent waifishness like Nina Gordon simultaneously channeling Aimee Mann and Mary Lou Lord. The ringing piano exhortation "I Do" is a commitment song as rousing as anything Hunters and Collectors ever declaimed. The bleary "No Fear" plays languid elegance against a collage of scratchy static, sighing horns and sputtery drum loops. Mike Mogis's fondly crinkly arrangement for "If You Want Me To", banjo and glockenspiel sparkling over mellotron and strings, could be the Magnetic Fields song in which Stephin Merritt finally eludes his self-consciousness. "Taking Chances" sounds like Tirez Tirez haunting some lost desert town, and the shimmery "Melancholy Love" crosses Edie Brickell and Everything but the Girl.
But love is the power that drives us through pain, not just elation, and this shell of a surging pop record hides half of an album of quiet sadness and chastened resolve. "Family Affair" is a harrowing piano elegy for Abra's late father, and a promise for his children, and Belle and I need that, too. "Pull Away" is a whisper of hope at a relationship's tension point, and we will have those. The guitar-and-voice solo "The End" is a spare breakup-survival mantra, and we will test ourselves against these to remember where the edges are. "Everything Changed" tolls a moment of surrender, and we will have those. "Paint On Your Wings" is a terrifying lullaby of release, and we too will have to learn to let go, one day and every day. "I Win" is about losing, and what we lose, from now on, we will lose together, and if we choose a wedding song that sounds like it has forgotten this, know that for a day we are gathering strength.
And Abra knows this, too, and has left one more hymn of wonder for the end. The last note of memoriam fades patiently away, and then "Shining Star" twangs and hums and soars and brings us back and carries us away. "What if I traveled around the world / And only see your face?" Finding each other is not a victory, it's the definition of a new impossible constraint on an already hopeless task. There are so many things we want to see, and so many ways in which being together will complicate exploration and experimentation and obsession. As we vow to do the rest of this together, we are accepting each other as challenges. We understand that this will be hard. We are marrying because we believe that our life together will be harder because it will be greater. We are marrying because we are ready, or close enough. We are marrying because our joy is bigger than our fear, and we look up at the sky and believe that nothing less awaits us.