Music as Medium

Well, we did it. Neither the blizzard nor the resultant gridlock were enough to keep us, our equipment, or 400+ people from showing up last night at the Coral Room for our first gig as PTV3 – and my first real gig as a keyboard player.

Predictably, a few of the people writing listings for the event assumed that I was on the roster as an author, and announced that I was doing a ‘reading’ on the same bill with a music performance by Psychic TV. Sorry to anyone who came expecting that! (And sorry to the guy who brought Media Virus for me to sign, that I didn’t have time to talk. Do send an email if you like.)

It was quite a profound event for me. On the one hand, PTV and its associated industrial scene is a little removed from my own aesthetic sensibility. When it comes to music listening, I’m more Neil Young and Boards of Canada than Throbbing Gristle. And some of my friends were a bit freaked out by seeing Genesis P-Orridge perform up close and personal – gold teeth, d-cups, and mania. He’s an acquired taste.

Luckily for me, though, the set list emphasized Psychic TV’s musicality more than its industrial roots. That’s partly because those of us in the current line-up are there as musicians first, and quite focused on songs and sounds. So it has more of the quality of Genesis singing with a rock band than a traditional PTV or Throbbing Gristle performance.

But to play in a band, and a tight band at that, for an hour or so, for several hundred enthusiastic PTV fans, was a peak life experience for me. Really. Giving a talk to a thousand college kids and answering questions is definitely a high – but it’s not the same. (If doing rock gigs was a regular thing for someone, and she had the chance to do one big lecture to a thousand college kids, would that feel as special to her as the rock show felt to me? Maybe.)

Chalk it up to early mid-life crisis if you like, but whenever I played piano as a kid I imagined myself actually *in* one of the bands I was pretending to play along with. Although playing alone gave me pleasure, it was at least in part the pleasure of anticipating the day when I’d do this for other people. Chalk it up to the principle of social currency, but it’s the connections that matter. Playing a particularly intense organ section last night, I felt the reality of what I’ve been talking about all these years: the music itself is just a medium for interaction. It’s an excuse for a kind of intimacy between the members of the band, and between the band and the audience.

In a sense, it doesn’t matter what the music sounds like or what the lyrics say. These are just the agreements we make in order to enter the state of consciousness and connection, together. (That’s why we want our rock or hiphop stars to have some sort of integrity or hipness – so we feel safe letting go. We don’t want to find out they’re sold out or molesting babies.) For some, I’m sure the music we were playing was, no doubt, too dark or loud or perhaps even too gentle for them to take the leap into sharing that space with us. Not every invitation is right for everyone. (Chances are they wouldn’t have braved the storm if they weren’t already committed to this scene in some way.)

But for pretty much everyone I could see from the stage last night – fans who had more of a history with this music than many of us in the band, even – it is Genesis’s very fierce, self-indulgent depravity that gives them permission to let go and join with us in the reverie. And that’s all that matters: access to one another, by any means necessary.