Music is my religion.
I worship at many different churches; I’m a raging polytheist. I hit three different services this past week and each was blissful in its own way, a reminder to step away from the stress and anger of watching the news cycle and take a moment for myself and my friends, for the community that shows create, for dancing.
A week ago I wound up sitting on the dried-out late summer grass in Prospect Park, drinking box wine that smelled oddly like perfume and hiding it from the police that wandered around, listening to Sonic Youth’s glorious noise from right over the hill. It was a free concert but we didn’t go inside the fence to stand in front of the bandshell, preferring to let the music wash over us from just a few hundred feet away. It felt like childhood and what I used to imagine adulthood was like as a child, at once. A band as old as an entity as I am, a woman who’s been my punk rock idol since I knew what that phrase meant, and some new friends, and what seemed like half of Brooklyn surrounding us. Free concerts in public space are the best thing about summers in New York and it didn’t feel wrong somehow to just sit in the grass rather than thrash along with Kim and Thurston.
Tuesday night I returned to the park dressed in sleek black for the Dead Weather, Jack White’s latest incarnation and a band I described half-jokingly as a Goth jam band and my friend called “the love child of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Nick Cave.” For me the real draw isn’t White, for all his be-feathered hats and rolling virtuousity on whichever instrument he chooses; it’s Dead Weather frontwoman Alison Mosshart, wailing and whipping her thicket of black hair around, all skinny jeans and attitude. White stalked onto the stage as they got started with a flamethrower and lit Mosshart’s cigarette, and gave all music writers present the perfect visual metaphor for their onstage dynamic. It’s incendiary. Mosshart’s deliciously understated in her other band, The Kills, but with the Dead Weather she’s got all the fire of the most ostentatious rockers I’ve ever seen—reminding me of no one so much as Axl Rose, but fiercely feminine.
She and White played off each other so intensely that you could feel the distance between the two of them, whether he was behind the drums or they were sharing a microphone, the space contracting and expanding, electric. In pictures she looks like a skinnier, sexier Meg White, baby-faced and smiling, but onstage she’s the apotheosis of years of black-haired rock’n’roll goddesses. To the left of me a family stood, a young blonde girl sitting on her father’s shoulders staring at the stage, and I wanted to ask her what she thought, what possibilities opened up in front of her seeing a woman that wild on the stage. To my right, a woman old enough to be my mother was bobbing her head and rocking as hard as I was, and somewhere behind me drunk boys shouted until my friend snapped her head around and told them to shut the hell up. Other people are both the price of an amazing show and part of its bliss.
Thursday night I left Webster Hall dripping my own sweat and other people’s after two hours of dancing in place to Kelis and Robyn. Robyn, ten times fiercer in person than in videos, bouncing and twisting and shaking onstage, the only woman in the world who can pull off high-waisted flowered jeans and a half-shirt, delivering her pure pop bliss to a room packed with beautiful boys and girls, our hair and makeup melting off as we gave in to the command Kelis issued when she took the stage: Dance.
It took me a while to give in to Robyn this year but when I did the surrender was complete; most of rock’n’roll hipster NYC was at Madison Square Garden for Arcade Fire or a few of them back once again at Prospect Park for Metric, but no, I bought Robyn tickets the day they went on sale and drank a gingerbread bubble tea before the show because it seemed the right thing to drink before Robyn. And when she bounded onstage, declaring “Fembots have feelings too,” I laughed once again at myself and the years I spent writing pop music off as somehow beneath me. Fembots, indeed. The atmosphere at Robyn was ecstatically feminine, far too many straight boys still put off by sexist rockist insistence that pop isn’t Serious and Worthy of their time. Fine with me. More dance floor for the rest of us. More sweat and singing and smiles.
Robyn can make an exquisitely sad song into a celebration and maybe that’s what I needed her for the most this summer, the reminder that feeling sad sometimes isn’t something to fear, it can be something to celebrate. Feelings keep me going, after all. Keep me writing. Without them, I’d be dead.
Whether the temple is a spot on the grass or on the cement, sprawled out comfortably or craning my neck and balancing on tiptoe to see the stage, or just eyes closed dancing on my own, these are the rites and rituals I need to refresh me. If I could arrange for them to be weekly like other people go to services, I’d be a happier girl, but sometimes it’s worth the wait to have them all hit you at once, a sort of musical High Holy Days. And the only thing I’m left repenting is that I don’t spend more time on music.