We went to see Okkervil River play last night, and for some reason it made me think about the first few live music shows I ever saw as a teenager, and how stunned I was to realize that down on stage was the famous person playing the famous song, and that it sounded so much different - so much better - than it did when I played it at home that it couldn't really be considered the same kind of experience at all. The experience of listening to a recording bears only a superficial resemblance to the experience of live music - like a soothing recording of forest sounds compared to the sweat and shadows of walking through a real forest.
I recall the same stunning feeling of reality when as a ten or eleven year old, I went to see my first professional basketball game. As soon as the team superstar jogged onto the court, with such relaxed grace, with all the expressiveness of a real person, I was shocked by the realization that the players I saw on TV were real people - real flesh and sweat and thoughts and shouts floating across the court. The representation I had always seen of them on TV suddenly seemed so flat, so distorted, so disconnected from the essence of those humans and the experience that was to be had in the crowded, pulsing arena.
It's somewhat troubling to think that as technology offers increasingly "real" representations of experiences, we may have fewer of the experiences themselves. I doubt technology will ever be able to truly replace the experience of reality, although it may calibrate us to have distorted expectations of that reality - how exciting is spotting a hummingbird, for example, when you can experience the flight of superheroes from building to building when you go to a movie theater? I don't believe anything can ever replace the pleasure of un-choreographed experience, such as spotting wildlife when you least expect it, but will our overwrought media experiences diminish our appreciation of such subtlety? I hope not.
Ah, these philosophical musings. I set out to say something much simpler: live music never fails to renew my confidence and astonishment in humanity. Watching others do something that is so far beyond the realm of my own experience is at once humbling and heartening. Everything will be ok, I inevitably think as I stand swaying with the crowd, because we humans can do this. We can make music, and some very few of us can do it in a way that is transcendent. And as the rest of us watch, we rise, too.