Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Willing Suspension of Disbelief and The Wilders

New York Times Magazine columnist William Saffire wrote in this week's Sunday magazine about the phrase "the willing suspension of disbelief". Of course, he was referring to Hillary Clinton's use of the literary term in the Petraeus hearings, but his essay brought to light the literary meanings of the phrase.

My interpretation, mostly based on the Saffire piece, is that the willing suspension of disbelief is to accept a dramatic or musical
performance as real. This works particularly well when we watch a dramatic scene in which the actors portray sorrow in such a powerful way that we, the audience, also feel the pain. We suspend our disbelief and become wrapped up in the tragedy.

Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips used to describe this similarly in his live shows. He would try to convey why we love sad songs so much. We suspend our disbelief for the three or four minutes it takes the band to complete a sad, sad song in order to put our own suffering into perspective. In doing this, the audience finds it has a community that feels the same thing, helping us to deal with our own situations and conditions.

This is also how country music works. I'm not talking putting a boot in your ass Toby Keith country or she thinks my tractor's sexy Kenny Chesney country. I'm talking about Hank Williams (the first one), the Carter Family, etc. This is the real sort of country from which most of American pop music originated.

I saw a band called The Wilders last night at Mojo's thanks to an invitation from a friend who happened to be related to one of the band members. I'm glad I took him up on the invite. My ability to temporarily suspend my disbelief helped me to fully appreciate the sentiments expressed in The Wilders' moving performance.

Sure, country music is wrought with "she left me, my dog died, and my trailer burnt down" stories, but so are our lives. Tales of love lost and similar sorrows are comforting. You feel what that performer feels who's only trying to connect with what the songwriter was feeling.

The Wlders brought these feelings home for the small crowd at Mojo's last night. The real sorrow is that most of you missed it. They played a combination of covers and originals that were indistinguishable from tunes by the likes of Merle Haggard and Hank Williams. Some locals joined in with their own guitars and flat footin' style to give the evening a communal feel. The finale was performed on the floor in front of the stage while the audience danced and clapped in unison. It was truly stirring.

Whether you have any appreciation for bluegrass and old school country or not, suspend your disbelief for one evening and check out The Wilders.

1 comment:

ATR said...

Merle Haggard mentioned in two blogs on the same day? I'm sure it's happened before....