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20th September 2006

this moment now. and this moment, now.

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(Author’s Note: Trying something different. Don’t know if it’ll really convey what I want it to, but this was the way the words were coming to me.)

At just half past 7, the sky has already darkened to black, the street-lamps glowing a hazy yellow. The air has taken on the crisp chill of autumn and I am grateful that I had ignored the calendar and now wear a warm sweater and jacket.

The neon sign above the nondescript building glows white, contrasting black letters. “In concert,” it proclaims, “Vienna Teng, Sept 19.” The building is one of those relics from the sixties and seventies, when local bands found music clubs to perform in, little more than a bar with a stage at the back of the room. Or at least that is the impression they are trying to create, as I read the history of Shank Hall papered on the walls. The fictitious music club from the documentary “This Is Spinal Tap” brought into existence much as a self-fulfilled prophecy. I’ve never seen the movie–perhaps if I had, being in the building would have had added more significance to the evening.

The walls are brick, painted red, covered with scrawled graffiti and posters of past musical acts. The guy behind the counter–bald, with a bright red beard–manages not to gape in amazement when I ask nervously if the show is sold out. I am used to disappointment–find out about opportunities the day after the occur, and I still can’t believe my good fortune at discovering that she would be performing in my city, a week before she was scheduled to tour. But lady luck is with me tonight (would luck be male in this case?), for there are only a half dozen people scattered across the room.

One of them is a coworker, a nurse whose office I inhabit in the mornings, furiously writing down laboratory results and medication changes. She doesn’t remember my name, which since I had to sort through my memories to place her, doesn’t bother me. Her companion is a radiologist and we soon fall into comfortable conversation, passing the time, until the lights dim.

I’m sitting at a table, just mere feet from the stage–front row seats. The stage is small, with a keyboard and guitar stand, just two chairs. By now, the room has filled with another twenty people, still far from the three hundred that could fit into the hall. A man who sits next to me grumbles about the idiots of Milwaukee, how the performance in Illinois had sold out in days and states that it is a “disgrace” that the place is so empty. I can’t give him a satisfactory answer–personally, I am relishing the intimate setting, the sense that it is almost a private performance.

The opening act is a duo, Ellery, a couple from Ohio. She’s on the keyboard; she sings while he plays the guitar as backup. The lyrics are stirring, she has a sweet, ethereal voice, but I strain to understand all of her words. Dictation is not her strong point, but I enjoy the performance. There is something charming about a wife and husband touring and creating music together, and their love for each other is evident. “We’ve learned to forgive each other quickly” she states wryly. He smiles at her with that remark, and I am caught again in the desire to one day possess that–the shared communication of just a glance. I have gotten used to the idea of being alone, but the extended weekend of being around my best friend and her husband has awaken the realization that I still wanted more, a partner with whom to share my life and more.

The break is short as the team moves the keyboard around on the stage, adding another chair, replacing the guitar rack with a viola and violin. The nurse, her companion and I spend the time discussing the music and the other concerts they have seen; I am relieved to discover that while Milwaukee may have atrocious radio stations, there is a high selection of bands and artists who tour through the city. I resolve to keep my eyes open–perhaps there is the possibility of catching other favorites.

Vienna enters the stage without any fanfare or introduction. She and the other two members of her “band” sit and begin playing and I am instantly immersed. She is unassuming, warm and human on the stage. Her fingers fly across the keyboard, effortlessly. Every song seems to have personal meaning, meaning that even in my multiple listenings I have never discovered before. Her speaking voice is surprisingly deep and husky, in starch comparison to her fragile voice in song that soars in height.

Many of the songs are new; chagrin spreads over me as I realize that the reason she was on tour was because of a new album release. It is not long before the new songs seep into me.

it’s the quiet night that breaks me. I cannot stand the sight of this familiar place. it’s the quiet night that breaks me, like a dozen papercuts that only I can trace. all my books are lying useless now. all my maps will only show me how to lose my way.

oh call my name. you know my name. and in that sound, everything will change.
tell me it won’t always be this hard. I am nothing without you, but I don’t know who you are.

it’s the crowded room that breaks me: everybody looks so luminous, and strangely young. it’s the crowded room that’s never heard. no one here can say a word of my native tongue. I can’t be among them anymore. I fold myself away before it burns me numb.

oh call my name. you know my name. and in your love, everything will change. tell me it won’t always be this hard. I am nothing without you, but I don’t know who you are.

The two hours slip by too quickly. Once, she stares out and asks the small crowd if we were familiar with her music and which songs would we like for her to perform. She seems stunned by the avalanche of requests–we may have been small in number, but devoted. She manages to play all of our favorites, many of them as solos, others joined with the haunting cello and the souring violin. Each song is introduced with a small insight into the writing process, the inspiration behind the lyrics.

Lullaby (my request) is her encore, followed by an a cappella performance of a Chinese lullaby. As she stands away from the spotlights, without a microphone, it doesn’t matter that the words are in a language that I don’t understand–I feel comfort, as if I found my home here.

I approach Vienna after the show, as she stands by the little stand of merchandise (my plans of buying the CD and getting her autograph are lost after discovering that I was seven dollars short in cash), conversing with the patrons. I try not to be a celebrity seeker, but I can’t resist the opportunity to express how much her music has meant to me. She hugs me , and I leave the music club, slightly heady at the experience.

The street is even more deserted as I make my way to my little car, wrapping my jacket closer. But there is music running through my head, and, at least for a little while, I have forgotten the loneliness.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 20th, 2006 at 2:30 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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