Local Current Blog

Have you ever been to Paris at night? Neither had I

A folk band in Paros, Greece (Photos by Andrea Swensson)

This may sound oversimplified, but Paris is a long way from home. Technically it’s something like 4,203 miles, but once you get way up in the air and peer down at the ocean out of that airplane window it’s hard to think about things in terms of a distance that can be measured; the journey becomes more about hours, or portions of entire days, or who you were when you left compared to who you might end up being when you land.

As I watched the sun go down flying over Nova Scotia and then come back up again as we neared the easternmost edge of the Atlantic, I couldn’t help but think about that great big distance. Once I landed in Paris I would be as far away from my life as I had ever been, and in a few days I would go even farther away to Greece before I circled back and returned to Minneapolis.

I was heading to Europe for my honeymoon, and the trip couldn’t have come at a better time. To be honest, I’d been in something of a funk in the months leading up to my trek. There’s always been a concern burning at the back of my mind that choosing to work in and around music would eventually kill the passion that made me want to do it all in the first place, and as I’ve approached a decade of documenting music I’ve had more than a few What does it all mean? moments. Do we still need music journalists in 2014? What part should I be playing in this whole mess? And at the very least, is my work helping more than hurting the sensitive souls all around me?

One of the incredible things about writing about music is that it will invariably lead to writing about all kinds of other topics, from politics to psychology to the emotional ebb and flow that is at the core of the human experience. Music is so entwined with our lives that it would be impossible to try separating it from all of the other things we think about on a day-to-day basis, and it is so integral to our surrounding community that “the music scene” can take on a life of its own. It occurred to me that while I was spending nearly all of my time thinking about the music scene in some way, very few of my thoughts lately had actually been about music. I was whittling away entire days considering gatekeepers and tastemakers and equity and racial disparities and accountability and authenticity and scene politics and interpersonal relationships and Twitter followers and—I shudder to admit—even my own freaking personal brand. All of these thoughts and about a hundred others had become such strong swimmers in the murky pools of my mind that it was a wonder I was able to write anything at all; sitting down and attempting to eke out something as simple as an album review had started to feel like trying to jog through a waist-deep puddle of molasses.

And so, to borrow a Dessa metaphor, I was looking forward to cutting the kite strings and disconnecting from Minnesota and my Minnesota music-focused life. I was going offline, both figuratively and literally, for the first time in years. And it was going to feel so good.

I almost succeeded at doing it, too. That was until I gave up on my third attempt to take a nap on the overnight flight to Paris and plugged my headphones into the touchscreen monitor in search of some music. And what do you suppose I found there, on the second page of Delta’s “New Releases” section nestled between albums by Pharrell, Celine Dion, and Katy B? One of the Current’s most-played local artists, Jeremy Messersmith, with his album Heart Murmurs.

Resistance is futile.

I probably don’t need to tell you that I’m familiar with Heart Murmurs. It’s spent some time living in my car’s CD player, it’s been played a bunch on the radio, and Jeremy himself came in to perform songs off of it on the day it came out in a studio that is so close to my desk that I would have been able to hear him through the ceiling if I hadn’t gone upstairs to watch. When I came across the album on the airplane, I basically had no choice but to hit play, skip forward to my favorite track (“Hit Man”), stare out the window at the rising sun, and feel my heart swell up to three times its normal size as I wondered in awe about all the new adventures that were about to unfold.

That’s the thing about music: it doesn’t care who we are, where we’re going, or what’s happening in our lives. It exists out there on some other plane, free from the judgments and posturing and other nonsense that can muck it up back here on Earth as its making its way to our ears. Music—as the great Lester Bangs once said, and as Phillip Seymour Hoffman so lovingly repeated in Almost Famous—chooses us. It lives in our cars, in our headphones, on our airplane touchscreens. And after spending so much time agonizing over the choices I had been making with music, it was an honor to sit back and be chosen by a song.

On my first night in Paris I brought my husband to an Irish pub called Le Hideout to check out a young Minneapolis artist, Frances Priya, who plays in a group called Célosia. My husband and I had both discovered Célosia independently—me, through a press release that had been sent to the Current, and he through Bandcamp—and we were intrigued by the idea of seeking out a Minnesota native while wandering around all those miles from home. The show ended up being fantastic. Frances has a gorgeous, versatile voice, and her band has already picked up enough of a fanbase that the show had a festive and fun atmosphere. She is currently attending college in Paris and has recruited a trio of Parisian musicians to perform as her backing band, and they will accompany her back to Minneapolis in August to record their debut album.

Célosia at Le Hideout in Paris

The next night I paused in front of the lit-up Eiffel Tower to sing a few lines of Lizzo’s “Paris” (“Have you ever been to Paris at night? Neither have I, neither have I, neither have I…”) and headed to a crazy all-night Spanish cabaret called Aux Trois Mailletz. I don’t know if it was the jetlag keeping me wide awake or the thrill of being somewhere so different and so new, but my husband and I sat for hours and laughed ourselves silly as one singer after another piled onto the stage, shimmied down the long tables that lined the room, and invited drunk revelers to climb up on stage and dance. I had no idea what anyone around me was saying (my French is terrible) or anyone on stage was singing (my Spanish is only slightly better), and it allowed me to immerse myself in the melodies and the chaos and the sheer joy of the performance and let any other concerns fade away. By the time we made our way back to where we were staying the sun was coming up over Paris.

A few days later we traveled to Greece and settled into the relaxed pace of the small island where we would spend the rest of our trip, and by that point music was the farthest thing from my mind. But there it was, all around us—at the bar we went to on our first night in Greece, where a band covered the Clash, Social Distortion, the Ramones, and more than a few songs by Sublime and reminded me of singing along to my CD collection in high school. At the café a few nights later a local folk band set up on the patio and played for hours; most of the time the music was an accompaniment to the conversation, content to exist in the background, but every so often the entire patio would join in and sing the Greek melodies in unison.

And then there was the night I ended up DJing for a deck full of people and a birthday party at a seaside club, mixing in requests from a group of Australians with some recognizable pop songs (Beyoncé, Bowie) and a few Minnesota jams—Lizzo’s “Batches and Cookies,” which made the birthday party guests lose their minds, and Dessa’s “Warsaw,” which led to a few different young women running up to me to find out what I was playing.

While I was on the trip I didn’t think about the similarities between these different musical experiences (I wasn’t thinking too deeply about anything on this trip, which was kind of the point), but now that I’m back home I can see that the way I experienced these concerts and moments was a necessary change of pace. I had convinced myself that it was the music that I needed to get away from, but really it was all of the other worries that were running through my mind that had been dragging me down back home.

Something shifted in me on that trip: I gave myself permission to stop thinking about music so incessantly and suddenly I could hear it everywhere.

 

  • Kristen Berger

    This is such a great piece about renewing your passion for whatever you do! I think it translates to most professions. Fun to read–thanks, Andrea!