I'm still processing it all, but it seems important to get something down before my memories of the last couple of days slip away.
I've spent the last two days listening to music and conversations that were, unintentionally, related to one another . When Thomas Maupin, the 74 year old buckdancer from Middle Tennessee said the words, "I become the song," I was struck by the depth of what he was after. Now, let's not "exoticize" the old guy from Tennessee who can still boogie. It's tempting, but that's not the point. He was trying to tell us something about how the common problem of dancers being just a hair behind the beat when they dance with a band (a great way to irrritate the band, apparently) can be overcome.
One has to become the song. This is not "loosing onself" in the music. No. It's "owning the music." Maupin says that you have to "make it yours." This is something we have to will. It's something we have to practice and learn to do. It's not the loss of self, but the filling out of self, the full expression of oneself in music and dance.
Of course, this is challenging in a live performance. A thousand variables come and go in every instance. Bands aren't computers with static metronomes. Tempi move and shift. Strings break. Babies cry. People forget tunes that they have played for years. You can skip a beat. One has to listen deeply, entrain onself to the other musicians, how they play, what they play, where they are, whoever else is in the room participating in some way (say, by listening) and somehow produce this song, become the song. One has to embrace the ambiguity. Music is not a static field of sonic order. It is a dynamic shifting mess of variables created in the moment and then dissipates left only to memory...and little cameras.
Susannah Cornwall was also in town and it's her work with Intersex people and the pastoral concerns that arise when such "gender ambiguity" reveals itself that is fueling my own eschatological musings about music. Cornwall suggests that eschatological bodies (a Christian notion of human createdness, the Imago Dei) are better understood as ambiguous rather than "fixed" as our more common understandings of, say, gender might suggest. Eschatology is, perhaps, Holy Ambiguity. The violence of the apocalyptic vision is not about the vengeful Deity (This is me, not Susannah) but our experience of the Ambiguity of God. The otherness of God leaves us weak-kneed, lost, terrified, because all of our categories and fixed understandings (see: dross) evaporate in God's presence.
So it is with music. Music is an ambiguous practice and a sonic symbol (I still love that term) is ambiguous by its very nature. Its boundaries are porous. It's meanings, even when augmented with a particular text, are varried, expansive, and fleeting. Music is ambiguous theology. This is, in one sence, how music, in the production and in listening, is an eschatological practice.