The Silence of the Butterflies
Peaches En Randalia #61
It comes over in a bit of an unwanted wave, but unlike the ocean, the feeling seems to stay. Never one to just put away an emotion; rather, I often explore its depth and meaning without shying away in any way from its vast and potential negative complexity. Wallowing in those legions below the surface, one can feel trapped by the unknown. And that isn’t always the exciting place it should be—the unknown, always waiting, always present, often friendly, often showing one things one doesn’t want to see, but should.
That’s a fancy-pants way of saying that I occasionally get stage fright. It can come in the form of a noticeable feeling of anxiety that something will go wrong. Perhaps, in my early cinematic exploration days, I watched too many Woody Allen films. Perhaps, I am too much the mensch trying to please the Powers That Be whom I respect and admire. Perhaps, I am just a natural worry wart: “well, those ten things were done in fine fashion; but…I am sure I will screw this one up.” You know—it’s the Fear, with its dark implications of failure and doom, and not so much the Loathing, with its contempt for any one person or process to complete a task, that appears to strangle the process.
Alas, this weird little feeling is always present when I sit down to discuss an artist’s current preoccupations with a side dish of some heady past accomplishments. I try to write out a setlist of questions, and then, those questions, like a setlist, often never see the light of day within the truth of an actual conversation. I find it better to engage the subject with the line they are currently focused upon, rather than hook them with some preconceived notion of who they are, and what they try to do.
All of this comes into play in the standard Q&A feature format, which I craft for our site. I have interviewed over 120 musicians in the last six years for Jambands.com, and most of them have been worthy of electronic print, and some have become very minor classics, which I turn to when I want to remember how to let go of the process, and listen to the moment at hand. But, most of the time, ironically, like a musician, I rarely go back and review old work unless there is a specific purpose. And, let’s face it, who has the time? One is usually focused on the horizon as one should be, not the view over the shoulder.
I find my winged ethereal friends, floating throughout my stomach, to be especially prominent prior to a conversation with a rather illustrious musician. What happens when one gets to speak to a musician that shaped an entire body of influential work and inspired a lifestyle? How does one interview without fawning? Can one fawn, without too much flattery, but, also, float with the gab, without too much fluff? It is a delicate balance, but that infamous timeframe right before the phone is dialed or the phone rings can seem like the lonely walk to the gallows: “CRAP. I’m going to blow it. I don’t know where to start. I’m over-researched on this subject. No, I’m under-researched. I’m having a brain fart. I can’t remember English. Se habla? Shit. What’s my name? What’s his?”
There are exceptions to every rule, and sometimes, the subject can ease the tension down a notch just by displaying a set of normal human qualities. I always think of a Sunday afternoon phone conversation with Trey Anastasio, hastily organized I might add, where the Phish front man chose to do the interview at that point in time because he had a rare spare moment to indulge in such a task. Like many others, Trey had been a huge influence in my life, and, although, I had several conversations with him in the past, we had never gone on record, and, I, of course, was extremely anxious before the call. I had turned into the fan boy, and was about as far away from being a journalist as I could be.
Well, Trey called fifteen minutes before our scheduled time, and said that he was spending time with his daughters before they left for an afternoon outing, so could he please call back in 30 minutes? And he did. My guard dropped, the fan boy went away, and I locked in to what Big Red was saying for as long as we had the time. Ironically, his wife and daughters returned home after their outing, and we had taken up all of his rare spare time with our conversation, but that is Trey—generous to a fault.
Recently, the butterflies were my companions for a full 24 hours prior to a talk with one of those cats that pretty much determined how I breathed, what I ate for dinner, listened to, and whether or not you can introduce a cowboy song into a passage of deep space exploration. But, it’s interesting how the Fear just seems to go away if one just…well, listens. Listening is such an integral part of improvisational music, and, yet, it is not always a trait that is easily understood or practiced by some people. Listening is not an acquired taste as one can occasionally witness in some segments of the population at a gathering, or in a one-on-one conversation where one party is not concerned with the other’s POV. In the Q&A, it is vital to listen and feel where the subject is heading, rather than leading into some line of conversation that appears forced or unnatural. In the end, if the conversation ends up in an unknown place which has been heretofore unexplored, that’s great; but, it doesn’t have to be The Way to circumvent the subject: “Aha…GOTCHA!” This isn’t a theatre piece, or a trial, or an attempt to sound-bite a subject; it’s an interview, a conversation, a talk between two people. And, sometimes, that talk can lead to an interesting place, can lead one away from the friendly little butterflies—which, rather helpfully I might add, remind one to pay attention to the moment and don’t be too prepared, too practiced, too aware of oneself—and into a peaceful place where, if one is lucky, a bit of truth comes out for all to read and ruminate upon. In all humility, that is why I write—for that rare moment of honesty when one can see things clearly and in full view, an epiphany in a sea of murkiness.