Oct 1, 2017
“First and foremost, we need to feel.”
These are the words of Dominican-American writer Junot Diaz, in an essay of his, commissioned by the New Yorker. Do you long to feel? Do you ache to engage, to connect? He explains, “Vulnerability is the pre-condition to contact.” So...are you ready?
What makes local music and art culture so...timeless, immersive, and magnetic, is how up-close and real it is. Unlike pop culture, this stuff...you can reach out and touch it, you can feel it around you. Nothing is too far away. But do we fabricate our own barriers to make up for this exposure, like curtains around our more intimate bodies? I mean, it’s incredible to listen to the stories shared on stage and on paper or through our speakers. You and I, we love being flies on the walls of our local venues, we like to listen through a one-way mirror, to our local universe because it is enchanting out there. But...what if you had the chance to speak, to share your world, this time?
I’m Tariq Shihadah and you’re listening to The Local Glow--and this week, we’ve got something a little different for you. As I write this, I’m actually on the road with the Champaign/Chicago, Illinois band Tara Terra, helping tour manage for them on the East Coast leg of their summer tour. And while I’m out here, I’m listening for stories…
One of the most exciting parts about traveling is seeing new faces, hearing new voices. Nothing makes you feel more human than letting go of your daily routine for a little while and tossing yourself into the hustle and bustle of a new city or community, diving into a tide of fresh experiences. And while I’m out here, I want to hear from you.
The Local Glow is an independent podcast out of Chicago, Illinois, about local music culture in the Midwest and beyond; the story of where it’s been and where it’s going. And right now, we want to hear your side of the story. We’re working on developing a series of episodes right now that turns our focus from bands, bookers, and backstage, to the people and stories going on in front of the stage, between the headphones, in the day to day. We’re collecting stories from showgoers, listeners, and singers along whose lives have been touched by the music and art being generated and shared by their community--whatever that looks like.
I want to hear from you, the diehard fan who doesn’t miss a show because hip hop has kept your heart beating. And you, the rebellious punk who found true love in the mosh pit. I want to hear from the teen who found the courage to step up and face their demons in the whispered lines of a spoken word poet; and the family whose memories of loved ones and years gone by live on in the bars of an old refrain.
We’ve all got stories to tell. I’m sure that if you and I were to sit down somewhere quiet, maybe on the dusty porch of a small town cafe, with mellow music and a soft breeze blowing through our hair, favorite drinks in hand, we could talk for hours. While I’m on the road, maybe I’ll get to do that with one or two of you. But for the rest, let’s connect online. I’d love for you to get in touch with me so we can talk--email me at email@example.com or on facebook, @thelocalglow--and share a story. We’re hoping to collect a whole bunch of stories from folks, around the Midwest and beyond, to share in an upcoming episode or two. We’ll select a few to record being spoken aloud, by you, the sender, or by one of our producers if you’d prefer to remain anonymous, and we might select a few more to share on our website as well. Sort of in the fashion of The Moth, for any big fans of that production like me.
I want us to celebrate the beautiful, chaotic humans that make up the hands and feet of our communities, and to take a minute to hear [...] from the listeners. If you’re thinking to yourself “This sounds interesting, but I doubt anyone would want to hear what I have to say”, I want you to know that’s exactly what we want to hear. And if you’re uncomfortable having your name on your story but you still want it shared, we will 100% respect that and keep you as anonymous as you’d prefer. Send us an email--one sentence or a whole essay, whatever there is to say, I want you to say it. And to show you that it’s not so scary to share your story with the faceless world of podcast listeners, I’ll share a piece of my own experience, being touched by local music.
. . .
I had never been an emotional guy growing up, really. I’m not sure if it came from my poor communication skills, the hyper-masculine gender role that I felt was expected of me as the “man of the house”, or the conservative and confusing religious context in which I grew up--or genetics for that matter...but when it came to communicating feelings, I just...sucked. I sucked at it. And consequently I just kept things to myself. And nothing could break my poker face. I remember hearing about tragedy and wishing that I could experience the reactions that my siblings experienced, to feel that bittersweet tinge of sadness and empathy that connects us humans; and watching heartbreaking movies I would long for just one tear to well up in my eye so I could feel the soft, cool stream roll down and hydrate my cheeks that had been so dry for years. But it just wouldn’t happen, and I was convinced that was just the way I was.
Stoic. Sweet but stone-hearted. I just didn’t understand...
A few years back, I wanna say Spring 2014, my eldest sister shared with me an obscure indie band she had stumbled upon just days before. She did this a lot, and has introduced me to some of my favorite music over the years, but this one was different. They were local, from somewhere in Illinois--honestly, I’m not sure where, but I think it was a small rural town, lost in the center of the state--and listening to their music, it sorta sounds that way, you know? I can hardly find anything about them anywhere, apart from the ambiguous bio and the John Steinbeck quote on their 800-like facebook page which hasn’t been touched for years.
Lonesome Animals--that’s the band. It’s a soft-spoken, whirring, ambient folk project, with the voice of an anxious, uneasy angel. And their music fit my taste well, ‘cause it was beautiful and delicate, and it sounded like heartache. Music like this was a drug to me, ‘cause it somehow gave me a peek into what I imagined it was like to live through the depth of emotions that I wished for, the compassion and longing that daily escaped me. It could lead me over all my mental blocks to glimpse a distant emotional self, like a mirage, just for seconds at a time. And I longed for that, so I’d collect playlists of songs that had this sort of power over me. Like little pin pricks in a curtain, they revealed to me that there may actually live sadness, joy, fear, compassion, and reaction, somewhere inside.
Now, at the time, my life was pretty okay. I was in college, studying Civil Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a carnival island in the vast sea of corn-belt fields. I was loving life. I had everything I could need--plenty of friends, daily buffets at the dining halls, and more fun and exciting events each week than I could ever go to. I was living at Allen Hall, my favorite place to be, working as an RA--kind of a dream job for me. My days floated on--stressed and exhausted by a rigorous academic program, and a family life that shifted unpredictably under my feet--but things were good.
It was around this time that my then girlfriend, now wife, Laura and I are started getting serious.
Laura and I would talk--we’d talk and talk, and talk for hours. We’d talk ‘til the sun came up. And she would listen, unlike anyone before. I always felt that listening was a commodity I could offer, but at the time I could count on one hand the number of times in the recent past that I felt that commodity was offered back to me. And Laura...she listened. Every time. I could talk to her about anything, and I don’t think I ever felt that freedom to explore myself so deeply before, but she was my guide, and no matter what I told her, she would be there ready to listen, just waiting to love me. And I guess, it turns out, I actually am an emotional person, after all.
And maybe I talked too much too quickly! Those months came with a comprehensive awakening of my empathetic self, agitated by newly uncovered spiritual traumas, family crises, and years of backlogged anger and sorrow. That season brought a deluge of depressive thoughts that left me reeling, as I came nose to nose, basically for the first time, with a world full of disappointment, animosity, and turmoil. And it was a lot to take in, a lot to abide, all at once. My reactions were intense and confusing and a little out of my control. I felt like a runaway train, shaken off its tracks by the rumbling earth below, barreling along wherever its momentum leads.
I spent days at a time, in bed or on my dorm room floor, racking my mind for a reason to get up and move or a reason to eat something--anything. I’d wait all day for Laura to finish her work and to be able to come be with me and guide and protect me through my long, arduous night. And by then, we usually wouldn’t talk much, we’d just wait, and wait, and wait...
I felt shattered, and not much would help. Religious texts that so comforted me before couldn’t uplift me, TV shows that had never failed to make me laugh couldn’t shake me out of this...darkness, and I could hardly touch my guitar, an old, reliable escapist talisman of mine. We dug around for something that could help carry me back to the railroad tracks, and as I became more desperate things didn’t really become any simpler. I tried journaling sometimes to help me think, but it was hard to get anything out. I’d sit at my desk, pen limp and ineffective in my shivering hand, as tear drops scrawled their own desperate missives onto the pages. Until, one overcast and starved afternoon, I pressed play on a pensive and melancholic playlist that I’d been compiling over the years, of songs that had before given me a pinhole view into the soft, visceral space inside my chest. A playlist I had titled “The quiet”.
These words and melodies that had captured my attention before with their incantations, now took me to a place where, all of a sudden, I didn’t feel so lost, and I didn’t feel so alone.
And there they were.
Lonesome Animals. Their self-titled EP, like anointing oils, poured through my headphones and over my body. These neighbors of mine sang for me, songs of their own grief, of their own pangs for a listening ear. That day their words reached out and grabbed my hand, and I don’t know how or why but it made more sense than anything had in weeks. It stole my attention and it tore the curtain surrounding my heart, and bathed me in its soft light.
“I am still here,” she sang. “Come back down.” And as each song played through, I slowly dissolved into the sound. Before long, I had vanished from the room altogether, and only my pen remained, earnestly scratching stories of anguish and feeling misplaced on a page now stained with bitter water. But this music, before my only pried insight into what it was to feel sadness, enmity, and dread, the pages of my plagiarized affection, somehow spoke through my thick skin to explain that this new and overwhelming season wasn’t my last stop on this course. And that the language I had for years longed to learn, the fervor I had searched for in the bleeding tones of heartache-music, was still ahead.
“Thoughts in Soft Light”, February 3rd, 2014
Think about giving into the crazy
It’s not losing it that’s exhausting but holding onto it. If I were just to let go of being normal think of all the weight that would fall off of my shoulders. If every day that I’m in my right mind is a day of fighting to stay in control, maybe letting it go would be the best option. Alone with God and my art, seceded from whatever culture is, stepping back from what I’ve been tempted and encouraged out to, pulling back into the dark and quiet cave that I think about when I close my eyes, like a first home. I seem sometimes to wish that I had never fallen in love with anyone or anything because how could I ever let go? But in between it seems that nothing has any charm so what am I doing?
I like the idea of watching myself from the third person as if I were a glowing 3D television screen so I could enjoy and see but not have to feel it--I’ve lived like that at times, haven’t I? So when I need to put on myself it feels like too much. To experience the strengths and forces of a heart of flesh, I’m feeling its weight. God, please help me bear it
Sometimes I think, is Laura another God or art? Or a replacement God or art? Is she something new that I can’t understand? Maybe she’s more than an analyzing mind can contain, opening new space for God.
. . .
Thanks for listening, friends, I appreciate your ears.
And now it’s your turn. Come talk to us. Send us an email, send us your story, to firstname.lastname@example.org. We can’t wait to hear from you.
This episode was produced by me, Tariq Shihadah, and featured a ton of phenomenal tunes. Today’s intro music was by Columbus, Ohio Dream Rock band The Dream Masons. You also heard lots of beautiful music by Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania experimental folk band, String Machine, as well as Chicago surrealist drone-rock project, Naal. We also featured the song “Where You Are” by the elusive Lonesome Animals. Please go listen to all of their music and pick up all of their merch, support them however you can, they’re all fantastic. And Lonesome Animals, if you’re out there somewhere and you hear this...please get in touch, I would absolutely love to meet you--it would just make my year.
Want an easy way to support The Local Glow? We’ve got just the thing, folks. Please go on iTunes, the Apple Podcasts app, or Stitcher, find us, and rate/review us! It really, really helps us connect to new listeners and gives us momentum on the podcast charts. We would greatly appreciate your time! And while you’re at it, be sure to like us on facebook and share this episode with your friends. If you feel like taking your support of the podcast to the next level, consider supporting us through Patreon, at patreon.com/thelocalglow.
And of course don’t forget to send us your stories! The email is email@example.com! Do you know someone who may have a cool story to share as well? Feel free to tell them about this opportunity, the more the merrier!
Thanks for hanging out, friends.