In late May, Chris and I went to see the movie “Once” on his hunch that it would be lovely. He was right. It was magical and unexpected. We woke up to the soundtrack for a month.
In late August, Chris, three dear friends, and I went to see a late showing of “Once” after eating at Katz’s Deli for Chris’s 29th birthday. We all laughed and sighed through the film, crying at the end together. It was so good to be alive.
In between those two viewings, life went haywire. My grandfather passed away weeks before his 89th birthday. Our frightening landlords raised the rent with no warning and we left our apartment and neighborhood in six days. Chris left his job. Our storage unit flooded. We decided to move to Austin.
The movie and its music were our summer’s bookends. You know how music can cork up the bottle of an instant you might not have even remembered otherwise? When the first notes of “Say It To Me Now” played in that dark theatre in August, the bottle uncorked and I recognized how much had changed since May. How much I had changed. I didn’t feel younger than myself anymore. I felt every one of my days, my years. I felt fully my age.
When we heard that Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, the two lead actors and musicians in the movie, were touring as The Swell SeasonThe Swell Season, I knew we had to get tickets to the Austin show.
Last Thursday night, we went to see them perform at Stubb’s Waller Creek Amphitheater in Austin, TX, our new hometown.
This is what the concert felt like:
Only once or twice before have I experienced a concert or live performance where everyone’s hearts were wide open, where the audience throws themselves into the artists’ hands and voices, where even the hipsters cheered and sang along unabashedly. There must have been over 2,000 of us there, standing beneath a clear autumn sky in the cool night, our souls on our sleeves and our faces beaming up at the stage.
On Thursday, the audience roared with a frenetic energy that I now recognize as communal ecstasy. (I felt a similar wild surge at my Mama Gena Mastery graduation this June, when Dr. Christiane Northrup ended her already-rousing speech with an unforgettable dance number.) When Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová were received as musicians and as movie stars and, really, good friends we just hadn’t seen in a while. Everyone must have seen and loved the movie, which makes you fall instantly in love with the two actors and the music.
Martha Wainwright opened for them, long silky threads of spider webs spinning from her guitar neck and sparkling in the spotlights. When she finished and the sound engineer worked out a few kinks, Glen came on first and played “Say It To Me Now,” and the audience erupted, just exploded into wild cheering.
Here, I must say — he sang his fucking heart out. And I can only imagine how much talent and training it takes to play the piano so matter-of-factly, so perfectly, as Markéta does. And the three lads from The Frames on bass, cello, and violin brought the sounds of a wide open sky to the songs. It was incredible.
As they sang and bantered and laughed, I thought about his 17 years with The Frames, and how fluidly his skills and collaborations with friends blossomed into the elegantly simple film “Once,” which they shot in three weeks. I thought about how the word “swell” is so perfect for their band’s name — the swell of an ocean rippling into a wave at exactly the right moment. I thought of my screenplay, which was read aloud for the first time exactly one month before the concert, and that I desire — with all of my mind, body, and soul — to make into a breathtaking movie. Most of all, I thought about the grace of an honest story told well, of creating art because of love, not because of money or marketing.
We got two encores. Glen was clearly tickled and blown away by our enthusiasm. He said, “I know that Austin is a very very very VERY big music town, so thank you for paying attention.” He ended the night with a perfectly Irish sing-along of a Daniel Johnston song, and asked us all to turn around and leave the amphitheater still singing and clicking our fingers — and we did. He watched us go for a moment, then dashed off-stage as we sang our way into the dark night.
Beauty in a Wicked World is a weekly column by Jennifer Gandin Le. It appears on Wednesdays.