Paris – A Musical Journey

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The setting is Paris and the main characters are musicians Rebecca Cavanaugh, Jason Domnarski, Florence and The Machine, Spector, Tom Waits, Presteej and the whole gang at Park Slope Rock School. The following will be a short story about music and myth:

Chapter 1: Tom Waits

Around this time three years ago I was working on something that changed my perspective of music, of the creative process behind it and the people who compose it. That particular “something” was my thesis for the American Studies Masters Program; a thesis entitled Images of Americana in the music of Tom Waits.

I had always been fascinated with this character and his unique approach to writing music and performing on stage so I decided to dedicate a year of study to the man’s work. I knew that I was going to learn a lot, not only about music but also art in general and life in particular. Old-man Waits proved a most capable mentor. I read dozens of interviews, three biographies; I’ve listened to all of his records and learned his lyrics by heart. I was so immersed in Tom Waits facts that I won a “Mexican stand-off” of Tom Waits trivia with my Professor, literary critic Mircea Mihăieș, who as I understand is pretty knowledgeable of music and who, to his credit, did not fail me for embarrassing him as a lesser (and more petty) professor might have.

Anyway, for an entire year the study of Tom Waits’ immense body of work was my life. The most important thing I’ve learned from the man is that there are many ways of creating music and even more ways of experiencing it. You only have to listen to Tom talking about how much he loved hearing music from a neighboring motel-room, filtered through the walls and hybridized with the plethora of background noises that thus gave birth to a completely new song. I thought this mindset was so fascinating that it changed not only the way I listen to music but the way I approach writing, art and life in general. That being said there is one experience in my life that I think best highlights the many types of musicians out there and the many facets of music.

The whole experience started in the cubicle I’ve mentioned in my previous article.  I was surfing the web trying to find concert tickets to Florence and The Machine’s Ceremonials tour. My one-year wedding anniversary was fast approaching and I was planning on surprising my wonderful wife, Ioana, with tickets to her absolute favorite band in the world. “I can’t think of anything I would love more than seeing Florence in concert” she had said to me once so what better anniversary present to get her, right? I settled on Paris, thinking that this way we could also get to visit our friends, Jazz musicians Jason Domnarski and Rebecca Cavanaugh. Jason and Rebecca were nice enough to invite us to stay with them for the entire four days of our trip which gave me an idea.

Chapter 2: Jason, Rebecca, The Boulevardier and Park Slope Rock School   

We ended up leaving for Paris on November 24th, incidentally our 8 year anniversary as a couple. It seemed like a great date to be flying to Paris. We arrived at Jason and Rebecca’s place sometime in the evening and were greeted with love, friendship, food and wine for what turned into our first and thus far only Thanksgiving dinner. It was a lovely and memorable evening and it gave us the chance to talk about how we were going to put into practice my aforementioned idea.

At the time I was writing for a magazine called The Boulevardier, aimed at the “modern gentleman”. Way before we ever thought of taking a trip to Paris I had already imagined one day writing a feature article about Jason and his work as a musician and a music teacher at his Park Slope Rock School. I had talked to Jason about it and he liked my idea so I was planning on using my time in Paris to chat with him, take the photos and work on the article a little bit (on Jason’s Mac which, as a PC user, I found entirely confusing). Since Jason is a musician and The Boulevardier prided itself on being a very interactive magazine I got the idea to film a music video. The ever-helpful Jason immediately agreed and, the next morning we were in their living-room, him ready at his piano, me ready to shoot him with my SLR camera and my wife ready to shoot me shooting him (because we’re weird like that). The décor could not have been more proper as Rebecca and Jason’s apartment is one of the most charming and tastefully decorated homes I’ve ever had the pleasure of being in. Sitting calmly at his piano Jason was the embodiment of a thinking artist. I gave the sign, the proverbial camera started rolling and what followed was the most beautiful, intense and original musical experience I have ever lived as Jason enchanted us with “Streamline” our favorite track from his album Here and There. It’s not every morning that you get you wake up in a lovely Parisian apartment, enjoy your coffee and then have a brilliant pianist play for you. So as Jason was playing, for the entire length of the song we felt outside of space and time. My wife was moved to tears and I was left thinking back to Tom Waits’ statement about experiencing music and how the surroundings and the moment of time itself become part of the song.

(You can have a look at the video we shot right here and you can read the feature article I wrote for The Boulevardier here)

Chapter 3: Kids writing music and Presteej at Sacre Coeur

We spent the next few days visiting Paris, with Jason and Rebecca as our guides and we were very glad to get to spend some time together with our friends. If you read my feature story you are familiar with the lovely dinner at Au Passage and how we ended up talking about Jason’s Rock School, the great work his kids are doing and some of the awesome songs they are writing themselves. When we got back home my wife and I found out just how great those songs really are. They were all wonderful especially given that they were written by children but there was one that especially stuck with me. It’s called “This is a Message” by the band Electric Lemons and it’s a song that should be on the radio and should be famous. If you gave it a listen you can’t tell me that you didn’t immediately press “repeat”. It’s more than a kids’ song, it is good quality music and brilliant songwriting and my immediate thought was: “This song is written by children. Adults have no excuse to bombard us with some of the shit music we are subjected to on the radio every day!”

The next day we decided to visit the famous Montmartre and stop at the Sacre Coeur Cathedral. We walked in and spent about 20 minutes taking pictures and just generally being in awe of the construction. When we got out our attention was immediately caught by this. That, my friends, is the band Presteej and that was the exact song they were singing that day. We immediately fell in love with their music and bought one of their records. I could have stood there, in front of the Sacre Coeur and could have listened to them all day and it was very difficult to move away from this great sound when our hectic schedule demanded that we continue our journey. With the concert that was the purpose of our trip still two days away we had already experienced so much wonderful music in so many shapes and forms.

Chapter 4: Spector, Florence, The Machine       

On the day of the concert we arrived in front of the Zenith about two hours earlier, just to make sure. We could already hear the band rehearsing with the thick walls of the venue no match for the powerful voice of Florence Welch. Fans were humming their favorite song and I was silently cursing that I had forgotten my notebook on which I had intended on writing snippets of thoughts and observations. When we finally got in and were preparing for the concert we had all but forgotten that there was going to be an opening act as well. They ended up being English rock-band Spector whom neither I nor my wife were familiar with. Experiencing a live concert of a band you love is something special but something can also be said about hearing music for the first time at a concert. Whereas we knew Florence’s songs by heart and went into the show with her imaginary voice in our heads singing along, in the case of Spector our minds were blank slates and we were completely immersed in every sound that was coming off the stage, making for a different but perhaps equally intense adventure. Then, of course, came Florence and rocked the house.

From start to finish our short trip to Paris was an adventure of song. From Florence on stage with glitter and bright lights to Spector with less of both but more self-deprecating charm (If you folks will be kind enough to clap…we will be kind enough to leave the stage), to Jason playing piano in his living-room, the Electric Lemons rockin’ it from Jason’s Mac and Presteej performing in front of the Sacre Coeur, Ioana and I got to enjoy such varied and wonderful music in so many forms. We have been incredibly fortunate to take what I like to call a complete musical journey and, as we now prepare to see the legendary Mark Knopfler live in Budapest (June 22nd) I can only hope that we will embark on a similar adventure.

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