Sunday, November 02, 2003

Goodbye for ever once again: music that tears itself apart

I never thought I'd hear myself say these words about a man with an accordion, but Jason Webley was awesome... brilliant and inspired. The string quartet and brass section that accompanied him were excellent, as was his handling of the crowd: he doesn't just play music, he performs, and he does a damned good job at it.

In the beginning of the show, some puppeteers walked out a little (2 or 3 feet tall) simulacrum of Jason, which sat on a little chair, tuned up its little guitar, and sang the first song, then slowly walked off the stage. The puppeteers returned, opened up a chest that had been sitting in the middle of the stage the whole time, and lifted a stunned and primordial Jason from within. Only when some other puppeteers dressed Jason in his trademark trenchcoat and fedora did he regain his stage persona and get down to the business of blowing people's minds.

The show kept returning to interpretations of the first song (which I'd never heard him play before), between which all hell would break loose. Somewhere in the middle of each of these interludes Jason would tell a story about a little boy who had a heart full of feathers (who made people feel something in their hearts like a fluttering of wings), or a heart made of string (to which people would tie their own hearts), or a heart that was like a balloon (that grew whenever he loved)... then he'd work the accordion or guitar or piano or crowd for awhile, returning after a few songs to the main theme.

I didn't clue in to the 'why' of the stories until the end of the night, when we got to the point in the evenings festivities where Jason dies. The wild and primordial spirit of Jason was placed back in the chest in the middle of the stage; the old shell of last-years Jason (in the form of the puppet) was placed in a coffin that was carried by two solemn bearers dressed in white. They led a procession out into the city, winding its way to a small park. On the way, each person received a helium ballon from silent greeters. When we caught up with the bearers, they were holding the coffin next to a leaf-strewn burial mound of jumbled stones. A few hundred people slowly gathered around, until the air was thick with balloons. Then a couple of women came out into the crowd carrying metal hearts, each of which was connected to a single feather by a string. Everyone in the crowd tied their balloons to the hearts, and...

[... then the security guards came, and demanded to know what the hell was going on (turns out we were on state property in a park that closed at dusk), but when they were told they looked like it was better that they just forget it and they wandered off after calling in on the radio and informing the cops that no, they were pretty sure we didn't have a license, but no, they didn't think it would be necessary to call in the Seattle Police Department...]

... then the hearts, bouyant with all of our balloons, were tied to Jason's empty shell and lifted it off into the night.

I can hardly wait for Jason to die again next year, it was so much fun this time around.

Check out the great interview with Jason.

PS: We were walking to the car this morning to leave Seattle, when Rex pulled up, on his way to work. We went for a walk and talked for an hour or so, it was great seeing him again.