Concord | Karen Solie


My boyfriend dropped me on the Greyhound station in Nice Falls, Montana. A January afternoon, already darkish, and he had an extended drive north forward of him. I purchased my ticket and sat close to the gate with my guitar and lime-green cardboard suitcase, certainly one of a set Mother had been given for her honeymoon. I’d deliberate on being in Austin for 4 months, and took astonishingly little. This was a very long time in the past, the Nineties. No laptops, then, for one factor. No passport. In a shoulder bag I had vacationers’ cheques, a mickey of vodka, Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Child, Stevens’s Chosen Poems, a Penguin version of The Full Poems of William Blake. I’d justified the journey as analysis towards an unbiased examine on Blake as half of my undergraduate English diploma on the College of Lethbridge in Alberta. I couldn’t inform you now the main target of that paper. However the College of Texas at Austin holds a group of Blake’s drawings and prints, and no matter my thesis was, I’d pitched these holdings as central to it. 

Actually I used to be going to Austin to play music with my pal B–, who’d moved there a 12 months or two earlier to make his title. It was an open invitation, no guarantees however for the prospect, to paraphrase B–’s letter, to start out my life. I believed it had began. After graduating from group school with a journalism diploma, I’d labored as a reporter for The Lethbridge Herald, coated the canine exhibits and bake gross sales of mid-market dailies in addition to the humanities, native disasters, rural politics, and courtroom. After I obtained my first demise risk the newsroom applauded. I cold-called the mother and father of a younger man who’d died in a office accident, and the identical day argued with the proprietor of a furnishings retailer over an promoting characteristic he thought-about underwhelming. A gradual author who disliked battle, I wasn’t, as they are saying, an ideal match. Assigned to put in writing up a couple of folks membership occasions, I fell in with B–’s crowd of musicians and visible artists, which additional eroded my already porous curiosity within the scoop. 

You’ll discover your individuals, we inform the misfits. My early comrades got here from my mother and father’ bookshelves. Flannery O’Connor and Shirley Jackson, Gogol and Steinbeck, two of Dad’s favorites. After we returned to the farm this February from Regina Normal Hospital, his books have been open to the pages he’d been studying. He at all times had a number of on the go. From the time he was a baby, Dad farmed the southwest Saskatchewan homestead his Norwegian mother and father made, however he educated additionally as an engineering technologist. Alongside Richard Flanagan’s Gould’s E-book of Fish and Anna Burns’s Milkman, a reference textual content titled Energy of Supplies: “The maximum value of the bending moment is under the load.”

My new artwork mates learn too, and most extra broadly than I had—philosophy, drama, essays, even poetry, of which I used to be woefully ignorant. Working jobs within the CP railyard or as carers for adults with mental disabilities, in grocery and liquor shops, as handbook laborers or within the bars had made them diplomatic and collaborative. This being southern Alberta, a number of have been at the least partly Mormon. A job on the paper had been the closest commerce to literature I might consider, and in some ways it was good coaching, the best way firefighting is nice coaching for arson. After practically three years on the Herald, intoxicated by new affect, I went again to high school.

B– taught me to play guitar and in return I paid him in groceries, principally whiskey and cheese. He was a great musician and songwriter, and a born frontman, charismatic and sort, an uncommon mixture. I used to be none of these issues. However I performed and sang with B– and with the revolving cohort of our mates for years within the bars, at festivals and events, within the thriving scene of Lethbridge in these days of overseas movie sequence and peculiar artwork exhibits, of listening to Townes Van Zandt, Gram and Emmylou, Neil Younger, The Band, honkytonk and Delta blues, sitting on the flooring of low-cost flats with shared bogs. I’d began to learn poems by that point and had come to acknowledge that the subset of excellent tune lyrics which might be good poems—and vice versa—is vanishingly small. The subset of writers who can do each is even smaller. Because the poet Matthew Zapruder and others have identified, the distinction is contextual and subsequently structural. The phrases of the poem are accompanied by silence. Track lyrics are in dialog with different parts: melody, instrumentation, the singer’s voice and elegance. I used to be beneath no phantasm that I used to be a musician. I wasn’t a lot of a author both. However when it got here right down to it, I merely hadn’t been wherever, and when my boyfriend selected an abroad internship I noticed in B–’s invitation my very own journey.

C Mintaka/Wikimedia Commons

Nice Falls bus depot, Nice Falls, 2013

My reminiscences of Austin, already fragmented and unreliable, really feel much more distant now within the speedy aftermath of Dad’s demise. He appreciated numerous the music we have been into—bluegrass, folks, basic nation, and a few of what occupied the newish class of alt-country. And he valued the independence and curiosity my half-baked plan represented, whilst its sensible points involved him. Many particulars of the journey are like small elements rolled into the darkish, beneath the damaged machine of significance they’re essential to. I don’t know the way it all provides up. What has been assembled may be taken aside, Dad would say. What’s taken aside may be put again collectively. To stay is to fly/each high and low. Within the farm store that was, that’s, an extension of him, certainly one of my jobs as a child was to carry the difficulty mild. Possibly now he’ll maintain it for me. 

I see in on-line pictures that the Nice Falls Greyhound depot is the form of vaguely deco public constructing I’m keen on now. My lingering impression of its inside casts it in a frugal palette of browns. Tile, plastic chairs, fake wooden. Brown as a sensible philosophy. A merchandising machine bought me the primary bottle of orange juice for my vodka, a cigarette machine’s lever pulled was the mechanical sound of irrevocable alternative. Goodbye to all my mates/it’s time to go once more. Behind a kiosk, a middle-aged girl hardened by gratuitous dispute. A chilly static of intuition switched on when a pair of shoes appeared inches from the place I sat with my nostril in a e book. He stood till I appeared up at him, whereupon he requested the place I used to be going. I advised him. He opened his ticket in entrance of my face. Waco. 

He pestered me relentlessly over the three days on a bus, however not solely me. As a pest he was versatile, a pure, lived and breathed it, was both pestering or asleep. In all probability he was lonely. However there was a unfastened wire in it. I’d recognized individuals who have been pleasant till they weren’t. You keep well mannered. You retain to your self. You don’t need to give them any concepts.

To journey by Greyhound means fifteen minutes of believable consolation adopted by the determined pursuit of unconsciousness. The journey to Austin reappears as a picaresque lit by noon or studying mild, streetlights of nameless primary drags, neon, blowing snow, moon a frozen chook’s eye, then blowing mud, the bus both full or near-empty. The phrases have been spoken as if there was no e book,/Besides that the reader leaned above the web page. I attempted to fabricate round myself a Stevensian capsule of summary calm. Endeavored, like Ondaatje’s hunters and assassins, to return to chaos impartial. I washed my hair within the toilet of a Texaco in Cheyenne. After we reboarded the motive force mentioned, Smoke ’em should you acquired ’em, I’m certain as hell gonna, and the half-dozen of us rolled via the evening as in a coach to the Underworld, over the mountains and into Colorado. 

Are you excited, we’re nearly there, requested the pest in Amarillo. Throughout a layover in Dallas I found a room reserved for moms and infants, neither of whom mentioned something; I stayed and sipped my screwdrivers. At Waco the pest advised me he was fairly certain I ought to change for the direct path to Austin. The one I used to be on was a milk run. Takes perpetually. He knew the buses round right here. I ought to comply with him, and hurry. A retaining wall crumbled inside me and I mentioned to the motive force I’d must get my issues, that I’d been advised the opposite bus to Austin was the one I wanted. He narrowed his eyes, leaned ahead, abdomen in a white shirt over his belt, and mentioned Miss, you go ask on the counter. This bus received’t depart till you come again and speak to me. And there may be there the identical stress as with stars,/the one altered transfer that may make them maniac. It wasn’t the one time in Texas a stranger got here to my assist. Thought so, he mentioned, after I returned. The pest had made himself scarce. Indignant climate in my head, too.

Luck, likelihood, destiny. Stevens’s important, smug, deadly, dominant X. As if it have been Rome, all roads appear to guide there, to the middle of the labyrinth that the legal Scharlach in his delirium, in Borges’s story “Death and the Compass,” acknowledges because the world. 

            Ondaatje: I’m unable to maneuver,/with nothing in my palms

            Stevens: That’s what distress is,/Nothing to have at coronary heart.

            Van Zandt: I didn’t see nothing, I didn’t hear nothing/I stood there like a block of stone realizing all I needed to know.

Coincidence stacked within the vertical dimension of a chord. Dad’s medical doctors, helpless and defensive. Every part that would go unsuitable went unsuitable. My anger a nothing that confuses previous for current, rattling the door that has locked behind it. 


Al Clayton/Getty Photos

Townes Van Zandt recording in Jack Clement Recording Studios, Tennessee, 1972

I need to return via that door, restart time with Dad speaking out an issue on the kitchen desk. What to seed and when. What and find out how to construct or modify. How a lot water would want hauling to place two inches on the ball diamond to inexperienced it and maintain down the mud earlier than the sportsday, as a result of when the fellows on the town had an issue like that, they referred to as Dad. Given sufficient time, he mentioned, he didn’t assume there was something he couldn’t determine. It was a course of that started most frequently with the phrase What a man might do is . . . My query right here is clear. I think that, generally, Dad loved the issue as a lot as having solved it. 

In Lethbridge we performed numerous covers. To cowl a tune it’s worthwhile to examine it, perceive its phrasing and modifications. You must dwell in its caesuras, hear how your voice may carry there. The quiet was a part of the which means, a part of the thoughts. The method is intuitive and technical, and what I discovered from finding out songs is that approach and instinct develop collectively and may’t be separated. Inside this relationship you be taught your vary and, with it, your limitations. In case you can’t, say, decrease your voice on its rope right down to the place the primary phrases of “I Fall to Pieces” stay as if on the backside of a nicely, and should you can’t, on the apex of the primary verse, permit its confession of failure to flee with the excessive word out of the aperture, comply with it together with your voice nearly the best way you’d together with your eye—then it is best to stick with it working towards awhile longer in non-public, out of respect. You be taught respect for a way tough it’s to make a tune appear easy, for the mechanics that make potential an immediacy of feeling, and also you be taught to like the issue. I can’t discover it, we’d say, trying to find the word, the timing, the tone. I can’t fairly get there. The apprenticeship of covers by no means ends. It’s not about imitation, although might have to start there. You’ll be able to’t get artistic with the issues songs pose till you possibly can determine these issues. You’ll be able to’t create your individual songs, your individual units of issues, till you may get artistic with the issues you have already got. 

The perfect I’ve been capable of do in a band as a participant is to fill in some fundamental acoustic guitar and keep out of everybody’s manner. The perfect I can do as a songwriter might be to not do it. I do know this as a result of I’ve performed it, have written songs that handle to be wordy in only a few phrases, each overthought and unfinished, and missing good rhyme’s simultaneous inevitability and shock. I’ve even carried out them. Not in Austin, although. It wasn’t worry or self-consciousness that restrained me, it was motive and fundamental human decency. I had not dedicated to the artwork among the many many individuals who completely had dedicated to it. Austin taught me you could be good at one thing, even nice, and by no means make a dwelling at it, a lot much less be well-known (there may be ample proof that the obverse can also be true). Ready on the bus cease with my guitar on the best way to follow, I used to be approached by a person who mentioned if I used to be a musician I ought to take into consideration promoting my plasma. Actually, he mentioned, I simply got here from there, and gave me a card. 

I appreciated follow finest. The fellows in B–’s group have been variety, at the least to my face, which was just about all anybody needed to go on then. I appreciated arranging and figuring out the vocals. Even when my half was minimal or nonexistent I discovered from listening to the others do it. I’ve described my most well-liked place in a band dynamic as “happy second banana,” however in Austin I used to be third, fourth, or fifth banana. The additional banana. I loved the privateness of the complement whereas I explored my fascination, my topic of examine, which was concord. My place, as I noticed it, was at an interval.

I can’t keep in mind a time when concord wasn’t as pure to me as singing itself. In a really early reminiscence, adults drink round a fireplace within the yard, Mother performs guitar, and he or she and her pal sing “Tom Dooley,” “You Are My Sunshine,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” and I sing the third above with out enthusiastic about it, the structure of chords in my thoughts’s ear, the intervals between pitches, having been constructed by information: Peter, Paul, and Mary, the New Christy Minstrels, the Hollies, the Byrds. I studied classical piano via elementary and highschool, discovered the rudiments of principle, sight studying, and ear coaching. A thriller developed between what I felt on the within and discovered from the surface. The primary time you hear your voice via a monitor will educate you. There isn’t any denying then whether or not capacity is ample to feeling, whether or not feeling informs capacity. However the thriller is greater than the sum of those elements, the best way that concord is greater than intervals. 

There’s in concord, the Austrian composer Ernst Toch writes, a “desire, leaning and tendency.” In a dialog with Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris acknowledges the magic of sibling harmonies—she references the Louvin Brothers, the Everly Brothers—however says, “I love singing with somebody else who’s totally unrelated to me because then you really are coming from different planets in a way. And so this third voice that you create is like nothing that has ever existed before.” When Emmylou and Gram sing “Love Hurts,” within the lengthened second syllable of “togetherness” this third voice rises like a phoenix from the ash of loss. Crowell says {that a} single voice “calls out to you in the night. But then when there are voices raised together, there’s some kind of joy that comes into it.”

Whenever you discover the interval together with your voice a tuning fork is struck inside you, you turn into a resonator, and the second expands. The vertical dimension of the chord widens to accommodate fashion. Concord attends to melody via the horizontal dimension, as counterpoint over time. “While the notion ‘chord,’” Toch writes, “carries much more the flavor of something solid, static, substantial, measurable, the ‘harmony’ notion implies the aspect of the fluid, unsubstantial, immeasurable. We may say chord is to harmony as body is to soul; or harmony is the soul of the chord.” The soul is a physique in time. Concord is a perceiver. Alongside the route of the tune concord accompanies melody—through which Schopenhauer sees mirrored humanity’s “most secret story”—however concord accompanies much more so the singer of the melody. Concord falls again and converges, crossing the trail of the result in take the excessive street or the low, gauging how its singer feels contained in the tune that day, anticipating variations, and also you lean towards one another. The American musicologist Edward Lippman writes that “the basic prerequisite” of concord is “the existence of two or more distinguishable entities somehow capable of mutual adjustment.” You’ll be able to follow a tune a thousand instances and nonetheless its first word sends you into the unknown. When the acquainted and unknown coincide in your voices you’ll seldom really feel as shut to a different human being. 

I used to be onstage a couple of instances with B–’s band or with B–, simply the 2 of us, taking part in for ideas. However principally—hanging out on the Continental Membership, the Gap within the Wall, the Austin Outhouse—I listened to different individuals: Junior Brown, Kelly Willis, Blaze Foley, Jimmy LaFave, Alejandro Escovedo, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and dozens of native artists and bands whose names time and Shiner Bock have erased. Raised up on Canadian high-test, B– and I might drink numerous Shiner Bock. Invited alongside by a pal of B–’s to a home social gathering, I discovered myself in a circle of musicians warmed by long-standing friendships and alcohol, and thought, in a match of excessive romance, that that is how individuals get faith, these voices, the double bass, six-string, dobro, mandolin. A clearing inside a lineage, a wellspring, Blake’s Eternity in an hour. Via raging nerves however nonetheless largely harmless of the corporate, I sang with B– the outdated songs we’d discovered in Lethbridge. Heartbreak, homicide, coal mines. Towards the tip of the evening our host took up her guitar and mentioned she had a brand new tune she wasn’t certain about. It was referred to as “Jackson.” The subsequent time I noticed Lucinda Williams she was accepting a Grammy Award. 

Enamored of Austin, of my mates by proxy, I used to be persistently distracted, at instances fantastically inept. Having simply cashed my traveler’s cheques, I left my pockets with $500 in it on a metropolis bus. Panicked and humiliated, I advised no one, discovered the tackle to the principle depot on the east aspect, and caught one other bus. A number of, really, earlier than I boarded the fitting one. By the point I arrived, so had the pockets. Each greenback was there. Jesus loves you, mentioned the lady on the misplaced and located, and proper then I believed that he did. In a fog of elation I left the station to seek out the cease for the bus again downtown. It was nightfall. I used to be catcalled from a transferring automobile that circled the block and drove by once more, slowly. When unsure, ask, Dad mentioned; however ask somebody who is aware of. I don’t keep in mind if I heard his voice then, however I’m listening to it now. I hightailed it again to the depot, to Jesus and the lady on the desk. She despatched me out on a shift change in a gauntlet of burly drivers who noticed me to my cease and waved me off. 

In the present day Austin is likely one of the costlier cities within the US. Solely a decade in the past, it was one of the inexpensive. Within the Nineties there was money and time to go to exhibits, to eat out, to have little road-trip adventures. That I completed that examine on Blake appears outrageous, contemplating all we acquired as much as. In the home B– had organized for me to lease a room in, I sat on the couch surrounded by notes and photocopies made at UT Austin’s libraries, wrote longhand as my roommates’ three golden retrievers lay on the ground at angles like fallen directional indicators, and the odd rat out on enterprise scurried by. Lots of people I knew in Austin had rats. Cockroaches have been in all places. The massive flying variety. It appears there are two methods to get used to one thing: in a short time or by no means. Waking within the white rooms of Texas after a foul evening have to be like heaven I feel now.

I continued in bands, in duos, after I returned to Lethbridge, and even periodically in Victoria, the place I went to graduate college. After I moved to Toronto, I made mates who would collect often to sing and play. Music felt so vital to writing that it was a shock when, after a tough private loss, it left me. This occurred cruelly, casually, one other slow-blooming flower in a backyard of break. My voice dried up. So did my want to be taught songs, the place as soon as I practiced for hours because the room darkened round me. I couldn’t even take heed to music anymore, at the least to not something of magnificence. It isn’t an unusual expertise, I collect, and could be linked to Aristoxenus’s thought of musical understanding within the Elementa Harmonica: “For we have to perceive what is coming to be and remember what has come to be. There is no other way of following the contents of music.” In a depleted current, the perceived fullness of the previous could trigger ache. The road between what provides solace and what requires it may be very nice. 

At an public sale in Victoria, Dad purchased a basket containing a pile of elements that had been a four-string banjo. Within the farm store he rebuilt it, then taught himself to play. He typically inspired me and my brother to carry out the devices. That I pleaded callousless fingerpads, that I had forgotten all lyrics, couldn’t sing, now appears egocentric. Flip away no extra:/Why wilt thou flip away. However within the last days earlier than Dad died, within the room the employees had given over to us, my brother having introduced from the farm his Nationwide Metal guitar, we sang John Prine, Johnny Money, Hank Williams, Townes. Nothing like sibling harmonies, Dad mentioned, absolutely current for all of it, lower than every week earlier than his birthday in a winter of report chilly, and we sang and laughed and cried by turns previous the time we have been often advised to depart on the evening they didn’t make us depart. 

The Pythagoreans believed that the identical mathematical ideas that govern the relationships and actions of the cosmos reveal themselves to us in concord; that mathematical and pure ideas are each other’s voices. That is why, they thought, music regulates its listener’s temper and character, the best way the moon regulates the tide. The spirit, ever suspicious of the boundaries of its mortal container, affirms in concord its sense of scale, of itself as present in extra of these limits. It’s reacquainted with, as Toch writes, an “inborn urge to move.” Shake the mud off of your wings/and the tears out of your eyes, Townes sings, whilst we will hear in his voice the tears accumulating in his personal. 

Considered one of my final gigs with the band was close to La Grange, me and the boys within the van out to some form of social gathering in a wooded space midway to Houston. Low-cost beer and biker colours, evening gathering within the timber, fairy lights and folding tables. All the time I used to be nervous, and nerves made me tentative, have been a noise I needed to battle via to seek out the interval. B– advised me I wanted to be braver, and he was proper. A lot of life depends upon deciding how a lot disgrace to have. Possibly it was a mix of the partygoers’ inattention, the anarchic woods, and the temper of the band, however I felt good onstage. By the primary refrain of “Dead Flowers”—the Stones’ model, not Townes’s unhappy, shattered cowl—my ft have been beneath me. When it goes nicely the power to anticipate and adapt is an athletic feeling of physique reminiscence. We tore it up, train-crashed the ending, and B– circled and hugged me. When within the crowd a battle broke out we didn’t care to stay round for, we threw the gear within the van and drove again to Austin.

We acquired the sky to speak about/and the earth to lie upon. Dad wasn’t a non secular particular person. He met spirit within the land, household, music, in determining find out how to make issues work and find out how to have enjoyable. On the high of his listing for his memorial have been stay music and liquor. The group corridor in my tiny hometown crammed up with individuals I now not acknowledged. Most of those that spoke about Dad used the phrase “methodical,” even when the tales have been about stepping into hassle. In her eulogy my sister recalled A small job for the farm store as certainly one of Dad’s signature sayings. I sang concord to Townes’s “If I Needed You,” a tune Dad cherished, my brother on the Nationwide Metal. He needed to tune right down to accommodate my narrowed vary so I might sing lead on a verse, as Emmylou does in her cowl with Don Williams. That was all it took to resolve the issue, to tune down somewhat. And also you’ll miss dawn should you shut your eyes/and that will break my coronary heart in two.

Concord is the sound of construction. It’s additionally a deeply intuitive expertise of sample recognition. “Given a world replete with internal relationships,” writes Lippman, “music can easily account not only for the mathematical meanings of harmony, but for the entire generality of the term which develops as part of a progressive musicalization of every aspect of experience.” I don’t know if the metaphor of expertise as music can ease the issue of expertise; however music because the voice of inner relationships may permit one to really feel a part of the world, inside the net of relation that, just like the spirit, appears to exceed bodily boundaries. Concord is simultaneity, and it comforts me to think about Dad as concurrently right here and never right here, as if he weren’t gone, however at an interval. The thought is a little bit of a attain, however that’s what discovering any consolation appears to require. 

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