“Let’s have a horrible fucking time tonight!”
Lydia Loveless’ first words to the audience during her Saturday night show at The Independent captured well my feelings up to that moment, with the weight of both world and personal events hanging heavy over my perspective. As a way to greet her audience, the gesture nodded towards an awareness of the incoherent juxtaposition of attending a rock concert on a night when human rights were being set aflame. But the knowing intonation didn’t serve much as an answer to the questions that bogged me down all evening, most significantly why I was even here — and not either at home to restore my mental health or at the airport to proactively vent my frustration — in the first place.
This doubt became increasingly pronounced as the show went on, as I couldn’t help but lose myself in all that was going on inside my head rather than the music being played on stage. As I tried to simply enjoy the many songs from Loveless’ catalog that I’ve grown to cherish, I instead burned with anxiety over the fate of those detained around the country as a result of shameless, democratically-elected xenophobia. I was disengaged before I even arrived at the venue, and no artist was going to be able to dislodge me from my headspace of fear and guilt, the latter of which had me fixated on the donation pages for the ACLU and CAIR rather than the lights or sounds or energy beyond my phone screen.
The only times my thoughts resettled on the performance taking place in front of me was when I unconsciously picked out a lyric or two that seemed to frame my own feelings outside of the context of the actual song: “I want to be somewhere else tonight / I want to be someone else tonight,” Loveless trembled through the title track from her third full-length, eliciting a shudder in me as I reflected on how helpless I felt in my own body, in that room. I spent the weekend with my parents in my hometown, and all I could think about was how badly I wanted to be with my friends. Then when I returned to those same friends, I couldn’t help but wish I was alone. But now that I was finally alone, I wanted to be anywhere else — mostly home, but also SFO. I should have been anywhere I needed to be to take care of myself, and once I found that strength, where I could be to take care of others.
Art is meaningless as an objective expression; its worth is derived from the perspective that processes it in whatever mood or setting its experienced in. Every word, lyric, and melody Loveless emitted, they felt duller, sharper, more resonant, or hopelessly irrelevant as I tied them into my own narrative for the evening. While her band displayed, without a doubt, excellent musicianship — the bass sounded whole and warm, the guitars consuming the crowd in reverb and twang — I couldn’t process it properly and therefore it didn’t reach me as intended. Loveless’ voice was as forcefully emotive as on record, and by all means she delivered it with complete conviction and care, but none of it could shake me loose — none of it could lift me out of my head and into the crowd.
There’s been a focus among my loved ones on how to be professional at a time of such great duress — how to carry forward with routine when not a single day goes by without a new profound horror to dwell on. Lydia Loveless and her band carried on with courage and grace on stage, so there is a way to hold oneself resolute whilst dreading systematic injustice (as many vulnerable minorities in this country have done long before this administration). What instead I couldn’t make out was not how to carry on with routine, but rather how to enjoy new experiences. How to watch one of my new favorite artists while the country collapses outside the venue. How to enjoy my own life when I have family suffering in theirs.
I didn’t find the answer last night, and truthfully, I didn’t expect to be able to find it anytime soon. Maybe that makes me a pessimist, or possibly a pragmatist. Looking back, I realize now my dismissal of the experience was a disservice to the cause. You can’t fight a war reprimanding yourself for inaction, and you can’t fight a war if you simply let yourself waste on the battlefield at all times. “I’m really fucking angry at everything right now,” Loveless finally broke out at the onset of the last third of the set, and her sudden transparency tuned me back in. She didn’t preface her frustration as an excuse for not being in the moment as I had been, but rather for why we should be taking such performances more seriously than ever. “It’s really important to support art right now,” she declared, both as a means of self-care in these troubled times, but also because “It’s more important to speak your fucking mind right now.”
She was right — guilt doesn’t advance causes. Survival doesn’t simply mean living to experience the next day, it means living the days you deserve to live. And art needs to flourish under evil in order to prove to such forces that they have no will on the people they hope to subjugate. In my aimless indignation, I lost that battle last night, no matter how hard Lydia Loveless tried to keep me in the fight. I owe her better, but most importantly I owe myself better. I’ll continue to see you all in the streets, demonstrating the strength of our moral conviction and protesting regression, but also I’ll catch you at the next show, resisting being demoralized out of our values.