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As long as there's life

Dedicated to Astrid Swan

I didn't really think about it - I just felt that I won't write more than a few words about Astrid Swan gig. And today I changed my mind - that's because of reading comments on my previous blog entry. As, thinking of how to reply to those comments, I realized that I often avoid contact with other people, because of fear. I'm afraid that what I say or do somehow unintentionally annoys other people, so it safer not to say anything. So, then, let's turn this completely upside down, and do exactly the thing I'm afraid of doing. Here goes:

It was about a year ago, when I happened to hear Astrid Swan interview on the radio, and a piece called Yearning to Hold Still. The music was unique and special, and touched something deep in my soul. And the interview gave some hints about what it might be that makes it so special to me. It was not only the clever and interesting lyrics, not only the pure simple honest beauty of the composition and performance. There was also something which I couldn't quite identify.

I bought the record, and have been listening to it since then. Reading the lyrics, reading Astrid's blog - and dancing to the music in my solitude. Well, the lyrics touch the themes of birth, life and death. And they come with Navaho-style animal symbols. Listening to interviews and reading the internet I understood that she is not only singing about those themes. While making the record she has been actually living through the very process, and unintentionally finding those animal symbols popping into her mind. And I feel that comes through in the way she plays, the way she sings, the way she is silent. It is there, deeper than the words. Yup I know there are plenty of other songs about these same themes, but maybe the question is to find the ones which manage to touch ones own deep personal experience.

And not only that - soon after the record was out, Astrid found out that she has breast cancer. A healthy, talented young lady in her thirties, with a diagnosis which isn't exactly typical for people of her age; against all the odds. She had to cancel her shows, and for a while she kept low profile (which is very understandable). Later on, as the treatments were progressing, she wrote about it in her blog. Towards the end of summer she was performing again - of course not with full schedule, but a gig now and then. When they announced that she is coming to perform in city of Jyväskylä I decided to go. I was bit tired after a week of work, it was one hunderd kilometres of driving to get there, and I knew I'd better to drive back the same night. But I didn't doubt it for a second - for me this was not one of those things which can be postponed for later.

It was a smallish festival-like thing, with many band performing. When one band finished dowstairs, an another started upstairs, and most of the crowd kept moving up and down, dancing, listening to music, drinking booze and chatting. I liked all the bands I saw, but most of all I came to see Astrid Swan live. They performed with a band of three; a drummer, a bassist and Astrid singing and playing keyboards. Maybe my location was not the best possible, or then there were some minor techincal problems with mixing, which occasionally made the sound break a little. But for me that was not an issue, as soon I got just immersed into the music that the surroundings and techical details just faded into the background, and what was left was pure stage presence. They didn't try to prove anything, they didn't put up a spectacular show, they just were there honestly doing what they do - playing beauty and mystery in music.

I have hear the pieces so many times on my home stereo. But to see it live; Astrid whose hair is only barely started to regrow after the heavy treatments, with elegant and upright posture with no shame, no fear, not asking for consolations - every note she played was like life itself running in the veins of everything that lives. And occasionally the bass tones and drum beats felt like all those animal hooves and claws, running just behind my back. And such is life - there are things we can't always fully comprehend, yet we hurl our minds and bodies into the dance and music called life. And such was their live interpretation of this music - thrilling rhythms, clever and agile tempo changes, and melodies summoning dream-like images.

And this - exactly - is the point where I feel the fear. I'm writing about my own perception about band members playing. But what if I'm completely wrong, what if they themselves felt the opposite, and if they read this they will feel alienated and annoyed by this kind of stupid misinterpretation of their stage presence? And anyhow, I've already sent few words of positive feedback to Astrid, so that should be enough? Too much writing easily feels like begging for attention, spamming her mind with vague ideas of a random fan. Sure the record company guys, the band members, Astrid and all of you reading this blog - sure you all have better things to do than read me making silly misinterpreations about other people? Actually, maybe everything I perceive is just a misinterpretation - it is always so dangerous to honestly say how I see things, it is safer to remain silent... Each deer / to their own fear - what the heck, I'll write this anyway.

Also, Astrid hosts a program on radio, where she talks about life with the guest of the evening. It is in Finnish, here. I've been listening, again touched by many of the feelings, ideas and impressions they share on air. Inspired by that, from my own personal point of view, one more try to understand what makes the record Astrid4 so special for me. As far as I can remember, my childhood was somewhat traumatic. I grew up with feelings of alienation, void and nearly insane meaninglesness of everything. It always felt that I'm carrying inside me a dark mass of pain, which I don't know how to get rid of. But in my teenage years I was reading not only about eastern philosophies, but also Finnish translations of Native American Indian poetry. I used to spend hours strolling out in nature, some of those poems echoing in my mind - and I was struck with awe, with a powerful sense of freedom, unseen spirits of life rising from the soil and dancing in the spring air. I joined the dance, closing my eyes I could feel the energies running through my body, connecting my finite soul to the Mother Earth and Father Sky. It was pretty much those experiences which kept me alive through the heavier times which came after that. For now, I call it depression, as I don't know a better word. I struggled for years, and one of the central feelings was that no one is able to understand how I feel inside. Most of the professionals working at the mental health care were able to rationally classify and explain some of my feelings, but I was always longing for a sense of connection - presence and sharing. During the past years I've been recovering quite a lot. I'm beginning to feel energetic and back to life. Yet there is this strange eerie feeling of looking at my feet and not seeing ground - yet now falling down. All of my questionable humour, silly videos and funny daily pictures and personal writings - they are all based on this strange feeling of not actually seeing the ground which supposedly supports my weight. I only have to assume that there is something which keeps me not from falling down into the abyss. I'm not talking about some sort of fancy gods, but more like plain ordinary soil. (Again, it is this metaphor of navigating in the mist. Imagine there is a knee-deep layer of thick mist on the ground. I can't see the ground which is hidden behind the mist of depression, yet there is nothing supernatural about the ground being there. And at the same time, things like soil, birth, life and death appear mysterious and beautiful.) And somehow, I feel that the same something which is present in Astrid4 record. And the moment I saw them on stage, I didn't doubt.

Uh, OK =) I'm still alive, after writing out these things which made me feel fear. Reflecting on this, it is easy to see that this process bears a lot of similarities to what I've been writing about Mariska's art. Which brings me to another source of self-doubt. I hear a voice in my mind saying: "Oh, that's just Erkka. He keeps on repeating that same stuff again and again. All this has been already said, he just ruminates on these issues like a cow - hey man - don't you realize that you are not even seeing the artist you claim to admire, you are just so occupied by your own personal thoughts which you keep on iterating through and through." But, this is just another version of "maybe I'm delusional, maybe my sense of reality is all wrong, maybe all the contact to other people is just a stupid dream of mine, maybe I'm pemanently trapped inside my own mind. This is what I learned as a child - to protect my inner soul, to withdraw from all the real communication. And now I'm just failing to find any contact with the other people." Blah. I remember this voice used to me much more louder, with a panic-like effect on my mind. Now I can still feel that feeling, but I can choose to ignore it... this is how it is to recover :)

All that heavy stuff being said, I'd like to finish with saying that yes I do relate to lot of other things in the lyrics. Like; being too heavy to be carried in the pocket of the rabbit catcher. Listening to the loon singing. Spending years to get the armor right. And never reaching ten. - What an incredible record! So, no picture today, but once again a link to Astrid Swan song.

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