Sunday, October 9, 2011

Our Delusional Relationship

This picture was taken last summer at the John Hartford Memorial Festival. I got to meet Tim O'Brien, a popular Nashville recording artist I have admired for years.

I found the following article in 2002. It was written by Brian Peterson. I related to it so much that I have held onto it all these years. I found it in a drawer the other day and thought I would share it with you. Hang in there - it'll all make sense in a minute!

Our Delusional Relationship

"Recently, I had a peculiar, and, to my shocked realization, disturbing experience. While listening to poets Li-Young Lee and Jay Leeming give a reading at Butler University a few months back, for a moment I entered the fantastical mind of the obsessed fan - the person who gives a largely sane audience a bad rap. And while I was able to maintain my composure and not step outside the healthy celebrity-admirer zone, I was nonetheless startled when I recognized in myself an inkling of how a fanatic's delusion can begin.

I'm talking about that peculiar, one-way connection extending from artist to audience. I'm sure we've all felt it at some point: reading a poem or listening to a song and feeling in our hearts that this artist has expressed something we, too, have experienced exactly. And I say poem or song because those forms are what have moved me most.

Of course the stars of all art forms can have a similar effect on us, and they, too, have their crazed admirers. My idea of the poet is someone whose art speaks from his or her soul and enters mine, making me a different person from who I was before. And so, when it comes down to it, definitions and categorizations are moot. If the person you hear or see is a strong enough force to overwhelm you, then you are in the presence of your poet.

The poet communicates what is in his heart and mind. The song/poem is such a compact and potent form, existing at such a personal depth, that for that brief length of time the artist becomes our father, or mother, or lover, or close, life-long friend and confidant. The song or poem becomes something meant solely for us and no one else. Whether alone or sitting amongst a throng of admirers, our interpretations and emotional responses occur within us, and so the message is for us. At least, this is how it feels. We know there must be thousands, if not millions, of others hearing and reading the same intimate message, but we indulge in this fantasy that we alone are being spoken to.

And if we experience enough of these messages, the artist and giver becomes a very real force in our lives, someone who may even feel closer to us than our own family and best of friends. We may even love an artist unconditionally, loving even a song or poem we disagree with or don't understand, because it is, simply, a child of the same author.

Of course, the grand and saddening irony in our affection for our artists is that they usually have no idea who we are and never will. Or, if they died before our lifetime, there was never that chance to begin with.

In my case, Li-Young Lee and Jay Leeming were living, breathing and standing before me. The wondrous quality of any live performance (especially poetry) is that, with the physical presence of the author and his own tone and inflection, you can be moved to an emotionally stronger degree than if you'd been reading alone. I know I would not have had the same experience sitting with a book by myself, relying on only my inner, un-emotive voice.

After the reading, I was moved to buy a book by each author and convinced myself that I would wait in line to get each one's signature. Again, here is when that grand irony came into play. In my heart, I wanted to be the friend of each poet and already felt we were well on our way to friendship. I wanted to give each a hug and nod of understanding, that "yes, I too feel as you do," and then drive to a pub somewhere and catch up on the last 23 years. In my fantastical vision, I saw myself corresponding with my new life-long friends in Chicago and New York. Then the realization came to me: "If I ever acted on any of this I'd be a lunatic to these guys." While for me our friendship had advanced so much in just an hour, to them I was really just another face in the audience, another admirer wanting an autograph that's only as personal and individual as my name in its salutation.

And it is this overwhelming feeling of unrequited friendship that gives me some small insight into how fans can be deluded to believe that there is some mutual connection, that when Bob Dylan or Billy Collins speaks to them, it is for their ears only, advice from one heart to another. Then again, maybe this really is a two-way bridge. Maybe the poet feels my frustration in speaking to a mass of people with the risk of never knowing its response. And doesn't he have to worry about maintaining a private life in the face of fame and admiration? Whatever the case, I do know this. I do know the frustration of imagined brotherhood fizzling into a handshake, wanting to say so much, but settling on "Thank you. I really enjoy your work."

By Author Brian Peterson

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