The Grown Up Show (Frankie – 2008)
I was speaking to a friend who’d gone to see U2 on their ‘Pop Mart’ tour. She felt mixed emotions of loving the gig, but feeling oddly underwhelmed at the sight of “just four blokes up on stage.” For her, the juxtaposition of antlike men representing the mythological superstars of her childhood was, to be precise, ‘smaller than life.’ The experience of U2’s music, a pollination of studio perfection with her own imagination was now a crude reconstruction where freaks shrieked over stampeding frequencies and Bono sipped water between songs like some guy at the bus stop.
When I was thirteen I woke up on Christmas morning to feel the tantalising weight of a pillowcase full of goodies on my feet. That year Santa had donated a ‘Bonzai Pipeline’ backyard waterslide set. A few days later I overheard Mum telling Nan how she’d found it on special at Kmart. Rather than being disappointed, I was fascinated to have caught a rare glimpse behind the red curtain of the Grown-Up Show and contemplated the people pulling the strings.
This sentiment was expressed more intimately as I passed into manhood. I reached the stage of ‘realising your parents are people too,’ or, for want of a simpler term, empathy. Christmas is the empathy Olympics. The dinner, the presents, the tree, it was all a heart warming yet high maintenance gig that my family worked hard to pull off, especially for me. My Mum, though not a well woman, would go out shopping. Nan and Pop, with a myriad of stresses to contend with, would find and decorate the tree, and produce the meal with a strength of character determined to shield me from any unrest. While my mind recorded the performance, my heart later reconstructed the behind the scenes documentary. The memory of these vulnerable people doing such sweet things makes my spirit weep.
While the idea that my family were ‘just people’ had enlightened and enriched my love for them, the same reality about U2 had deflated my friend. My own musical hero is Beck. In 2003 I could have seen him live but opted not to, paranoid that I too could suffer an underwhelming fate. I likened it to meeting my Dad for the first time, and justified that all the circumstances would have to be perfect to avoid being disappointed.
TONIGHT! Johnny Ridiculous & the Flawed Arguments!!!
Last year, while in the middle of recording my own album, I discovered musical empathy. Until that point I had been joining in with the chorus of dissent from fellow Beck nerds about recent albums being sub-par, blaming scientology and his recent switch to family man. How dare our eclectic ramshackle pioneer deliver anything less than groundbreaking. How dare he appear comfortable, or happy, or subscribe to his own spiritual beliefs, when on the other side of the world his musical efforts were no longer enough to pierce the disillusioned crust of a few pale muso’s having a moan.
Having known the intense difficulty of making an album; the relentless juggle to keep a hundred plates spinning; I realised, with a sense of relief, that Beck was just a guy, and not some omnipotent construct. As it had done with my family, the thought poured through my memories like honey, coating them in sunburst warmth. What would I find behind the curtain of the Beck Show? What monumental pressures must he face, to still produce critically and commercially successful music. Just like I don’t need so much from my family anymore, I don’t need quite so much from my idol. I am just as complete as he is and capable of making fine music. I am an adult just like my family, and able to understand, love and give just as much as them. Maturity is finding beauty in vulnerability. If we were more empathic perhaps we wouldn’t need quite so much and be able to just enjoy the gig the world is trying to put on.