A little bit of everythingWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
When the creative arts transcend the mundane, the effects can transform life. Passages from literature, images from films, and lyrics from treasured songs live in my brain as DNA-level elements of my identity, like old addresses, faces of friends and promises kept and broken.
Live music is the most powerful of all artistic vehicles. Recorded music lends itself to repeated listenings that eventually numb the impact of even the greatest compositions, but live music can connect on an organic level with exponentially greater effect.
It has been a long time since I felt that axis-shaking wallop, but it happened unexpectedly at the April 21 Bob Dylan concert at the BGSU Stroh Center. Part of what made the encounter so surprising was that the moment did not come from Dylan, but from his opening act, the Southern California band Dawes.
Before the concert, which was organized by a tireless and dedicated group of people for the American Red Cross of Northwest Ohio, a reception offered an opportunity for supporters to mingle and get psyched for the show.
I know many of the people who help run the local Red Cross, but I only see some of them a few times a year. The preconcert reception was the first time I have seen many of them since I embarked on a weight-loss journey through bariatric surgery in September. I have lost 160 pounds, and part of the reward for the sacrifice and exercise is seeing the reaction from people as they realize they are seeing me, with the poundage of another human being missing from my face and frame. It is natural for the conversation to turn to the impact of the lifestyle change; with some people I share more intimate details of battling an addiction to food and with others I keep it generic.
People have been very kind and generous with their comments; I believe most people understand the degree of difficulty involved in such a transformation.
After the reception, my wife and I took our seats in the Stroh Center — a superb venue for a concert, its prickly security staff the only distraction from the pleasantries — surrounded by some of our best friends and some of our newest.
I was not familiar with Dawes’ music, but it was clear the couple of thousand people who showed up to hear them play were. The four-piece band played an engaging set; its songs are literate and well-crafted, sung with empathy by lead singer Taylor Goldsmith.
Dawes breezed through a half-dozen songs, all of which were quality but none of which hinted at the wallop about to be unleashed.
For its penultimate song, Goldsmith stepped to the mic as Tay Strathairn played a soft keyboard introduction that strongly recalled vintage Jackson Browne.
Goldsmith sang about a young man on the Golden Gate Bridge preparing to “join a demographic” by committing suicide. A police sergeant asks him why he wants to die, and the suicidal man on the bridge sings:
“Oh, it’s a little bit of everything/It’s the mountains/It’s the fog/It’s the news at six o’clock/It’s the death of my first dog/It’s the angels up above me/It’s the song that they don’t sing/It’s a little bit of everything.”
It’s a compelling start, and though I was drawn in, I was still not expecting the intensity of the next stanza.
“An older man stands in a buffet line/He is smiling and he’s holding out his plate,” Goldsmith sang, and, knowing that the ending of this part of the story would be “A little bit of everything,” I thought to myself, “Uh-oh.”
Goldsmith continued, “And the further he looks back into his timeline/That hard road always led him to today/Making up for when his bright future had left him/Making up for the fact his only son is gone/And letting everything out once, as his server asks him/‘Have you figured out yet, what it is you want?’/‘I want a little bit of everything/The biscuits and the beans/Whatever helps me to forget about/The things that brought me to my knees/So pile on those mashed potatoes/And an extra chicken wing/I’m having a little bit of everything’.”
I sat there among nearly 3,000 people, suddenly stunned and isolated and feeling exposed. Here, in a few lines, was the summation of the 14 months’ worth of psychological excavation I endured to curb (never cure, but curb) my emotional addiction to eating.
I do not expect to find any other work of art that gets to the bravado and foolishness behind eating as an act of simultaneous solace and defiance; if I had heard those words a few years ago, I might have had my epiphany much earlier.
Intellectually, I know there were fewer than a dozen people among the 3,000 who knew about my journey. Of that dozen, fewer than three truly know the details and only one, my wife Shannon, knows the full story. But as Goldsmith sang about the man who piled on mashed potatoes to fill the ever-expanding well of sadness in his heart, I felt utterly exposed and raw, as if a spotlight were shining from the stage, not on me but through me.
It was an intense few minutes, welled in shame and guilt and the rather foolish shock of realizing that such a personal and intimate experience is common enough to be captured in a few lines of a pop song.
I remember squeezing my wife’s hand, knowing she was watching me and knowing she could feel me tense up.
Drummer Griffin Goldsmith and bassist Wylie Gelber propelled the song to its finish, but it wasn’t until a few days later that I would listen to the rest of the words, which center on a young bride-to-be’s definitions of love and marriage.
I did not take advantage of an opportunity to meet Dawes at their merch booth. In retrospect, I am glad I didn’t, as the experience was too fresh to be captured in words. A confession along the lines of “Oh, my God, your song dragged my personal shame into the light and made me feel like the skin had been peeled away from my flesh” would not have been appropriate, but an acknowledgement would not have been enough.
I have listened to the song several times in the past few days but I put it away before it could lose its impact. I know I will turn to it again, just as I know it will never have the full impact it had the first time I heard it, live.
And that’s OK. Because there is another trove of wisdom in the song, one that wisely discourages full dissection and further discussion:
“It’s like trying to make out every word/When you should simply hum along/It’s not some message written in the dark/Or some truth that no one’s seen/It’s a little bit of everything.”
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at email@example.com.