Around noon on Saturday I found myself in the water, off the coast of La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico with the musician Joseph Arthur and a 35 foot whale shark.
My mind immediately went to the last time I went fishing.
I caught a trout I believe, and was surprised and how energetic the fish was as it was reeled in and put on the boat. I threw it back. That fish weighed in less than a pound and was about a foot long. It fought hard enough to be hard to hold.
On this Friday, I was swimming three feet away from a 35 foot fish that weighed around 13 tons. 26,000 pounds. As I watched its tail – taller than myself – slide back and forth I thought about that energetic trout, and swam over to the side.
Michael Stipe was smelling an accordion.
Josh Kantor, the organist for the Red Sox, had brought it to dinner. Michael recounted that it was the first instrument he learned, but no, he couldn’t play it anymore. Other musicians then started talking about their first instruments. Second hand guitars, their older brother’s or a Christmas present. Everyone had a story.
Michael sniffed the accordion again, shook his head as if to clear it and gave it back.
Everyone returned to their wine and iPhones.
Alejandro Escovedo was hagling with a street merchant while wearing a white leather jacket with his name printed on the back, under a drawing of a skeleton playing a guitar.
Later that night he had a new bracelet on.
Peter Buck, resplendent in a shirt purchased after the last ever R.E.M. show in the US in Dallas, cradles his chihuahua Carlos as he walks around his house while a 45 – mono – spins on a turntable.
Joseph Arthur sits on a balcony ledge playing “September Baby” while a large cockroach perches on the lip of his bottle of Mexican Coke. The song extends by five minutes as everyone – musicians and non – join in with “yeah yeah, yeah yeah… yeah” while the moon rises.
In a dusty and disused government office, Ben Gibbard and Mike Mills rehearse “Near Wild Heaven,” while Mike writes lyrics in Sharpee on his hand.
We so often take for granted what it means to create while we debate the relative merits of those that enable and spread that which is created. Behind every line of text in every app that can and does play music, behind every video, every album cover, ever PR plan is some guy or girl who at some point in their lives decided to externalize what they felt through song.
In Mexico I was often asked, “what do you do?” I was a decidedly “non-musician” person with an “Artist” badge, more often than not walking around quietly with my camera or phone out, snapping photos and talking to people.
I have many stock answers. In the end it always ends with, “I was 16 and started this website…” The origin story of passion and love rather than a job. The musicians always nod and understand, even though I do not play.
Since 2005 I’ve been “in” the music business at a label and now an entertainment company. I’ve seen the ups and downs, and the changes as the role of music in the lives of the public changes with the method of access. The aura of the artifact diminishes as we covet the things that represent more than the “original.” Our iPhones are thirty-three 33 1/3’s.
It’s easy to become jaded as time goes on. I find myself not looking forward to SXSW. I’ve still never been to midem. I’m often bored or hostile just talking about the “future of music,” mostly because it seems like such a pedantic debate. Music has always lived outside of time, its just the mechanisms that represent and convey it that have changed. Why are we discussing the “future of music” if we still have never reconciled its past and present in any meaningful way?
Music is and always will be mysterious in its ability to move and effect. To bracket it within chronology implies that it lives within the narrow confines of cultural evolution. Music is the backbone of culture in its most fundamental form. It has no more future than speech. No less of a past than the Cave.
I found myself in Todos Santos for a music festival put on by two dear friends, and in the company of many other current friends and now new ones. It was here I found what I love in music again.
There is a song by a band and a line that I love in it.
“I see the beauty of the light of music.”
And I did.
It looked no different to me than the sunlight glinting off the back of a 35 foot shark.