Monday, April 02, 2007

Neko's Laugh

I am back from Michigan. I had a great time. I had an exhausting time. I want to sleep for about five straight days. I heard some wonderful music. I heard some inspiring thoughts. I networked with people famous, not-so-famous, and perhaps infamous. But I don’t really want to write about the conference, at least for right now. I want to write about my daughter.

This weekend I spent time with my daughter Katryn, 20 years old, home for spring break, and reluctantly embarked on a road trip with the old man. And that roadtrip certainly highlighted some of our differences. I am academically oriented, theoretical and abstract. Katryn wants to have fun, and has told me in fairly matter-of-fact terms that this Christianity business impinges on her ability to have fun, and that she’ll take a pass for the time being. On the downside, I think she’s missing out on a rich life. On the up side, I think it’s quite possible that she has more fun than I do, and not in the obvious hedonistic ways, either. She’ll see a situation and laugh at it, while I seriously evaluate it and analyze it. That, in essence, is what makes us different.

Katryn loves great music, and she has extraordinarily good taste in music, if I’m allowed such a boastful, proud papa claim. She’s less enthralled at the prospect of dissecting music, discussing it from every literary and theological angle imaginable. And the conference we attended was a mixture of both. Katryn is a joy. Katryn is a handful. She’s opinionated, she’s articulate, and she has little trouble communicating exactly what her current likes and dislikes are. This weekend some of her dislikes included arrogance, pompousness, intellectual pretension, and abstract thinking that seems to have no relevance to the real world. And that was just me.

Against that backdrop, my favorite conference moment occurred during a session in which Neko Case was being interviewed. Neko Case is a singer/songwriter, and a very good one. She records her alt-country/folk noir albums under her own name, and her rock ‘n roll alter ego contributes greatly to one of my favorite bands, The New Pornographers. How ironic is it that a member of The New Pornographers should appear at a conference about Christianity and music, you might ask? Pretty ironic, I’d say.

At any rate, the interviewer asked Neko a very convoluted, academic question, read a fairly extensive quote from William Blake, compared her lyrics to Blake’s poetry, and wondered if she had ever made those connections. Neko looked puzzled for a moment, then said, “No, not really, but it sounds cool.” And then she laughed; a big, hearty laugh that was not demeaning in any way, but that probably took in the absurdity of an aging punk with dyed hair sitting center stage at something called The Festival of Faith and Music. I think that laugh was my favorite part of the conference. My serious, sensitive side was probably a little taken aback by it. The side of me that wants to be a better father told me that I’d better get used to it, or something like it, and that if twenty years hadn’t done the trick yet, we had some more time to work it out.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved the conference, I have great, great respect for the interviewer, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say about what I learned in the days to come. But my best times this weekend took place in a minivan, during the twelve hours it took Katryn and I to travel from Columbus to Grand Rapids, and from Grand Rapids to Kent, Ohio, where I dropped her off at Kent State to conclude her spring break. We didn’t talk about the difference between propaganda and art. We listened to Neko Case, whom we both love, and we cranked up the volume and rocked. It was challenging at times. But mostly it was cool.


Kate said...

Did you happen to go to Andrew Beaujon's workshop? His thesis was precisely what you describe here - serious, earnest analysis is all well and good, but isn't music also to be enjoyed? Isn't it for fun? Andrew said that in evaluating music professionally today, his criteria is pretty much the same as when he was 12 years old: "Does this rule?" It reminded me of something I'd read from your blog awhile ago about experiencing music joyfully. Seems like Katryn's learned that - at LEAST that - from her dad.

Beth said...

Good dad.

Terry Foester said...


Thanks for sharing this about your daughter...I hope to have a similar trip w/my 3-year-old when she's twenty. Just the fact that she's w/you on her spring break says a lot.

I used to enjoy your VOL posts years ago (like literally 10 years ago) - and I came across your blog recently. Thanks for razing the bar.

Terry (greylias)

Anonymous said...

I remember feeling a little sad when "the interviewer" kept insisting that there was some connection between Neko's lyrics and Thomas Pynchon or W.H. Auden, or whoever else he was quoting that morning and she finally had to just say "I don't know, I wasn't educated that way". to see someone I respect and admire so much, someone who creates such beautiful imagery in her lyrics be backed into a pseudo-intellectual corner like that just killed me. but the way she handled the situation -- so matter-of-factly and without judgment -- was quite impressive. I had planned on going to the workshop put on by "the interviewer" later that day, but I was overwhelmed by his pretentiousness during this particular interview and decided to skip it. I'm pretty confident I didn't miss a thing.

my dad played a huge role in my experience with music -- I used to listen to my parents old 45s on a little record player in my bedroom before I was even old enough to go to school. music is inextricably tied to emotion and memory, and I think it's great that you and your daughter are able to share something so full of meaning. my dad and I still have that connection, admittedly to a lesser degree than when I was a kid, and I would have loved to spend two days full of music and discussion with him -- she's a lucky girl, and you sound like a great dad.

e said...

So would your advice for new dads of young daughters be something like, "Listen to the top-40 pap that comes down the radio poop chute with your daughter when she's young, because when she grows up, she'll "rebel" by listening to music you really liked all along and you'll end up surprising her by liking all of the music she brings home"?

Anonymous said...

hi-- I don't know you, but I'm a friend of Karen James' and hoped you could answer a question for me.

My eight-year old son hard core Sufjan fan and I was thinking of taking him to the Music Now show Saturday evening. Do you think there's any reason that it would be inappropriate for an eight-year old? None of the music makes me think it would be, but I'd hate to drive down with him to Cincy only to leave. :)

My email is kkinnell at gmail dot com, or I can just check back here. I'd be grateful for any insight you could offer!

Andy Whitman said...

Kirsten, there's nothing in Sufjan's music or live show that is in the least objectionable. Be prepared for loud, though -- really loud -- which is something you wouldn't necessarily expect given the nature of his albums. I hope you have a great time. These road trips with the kids to see music are among my favorite memories.

e, I don't have any idea what to tell you in terms of daughters' listening habits. I have one daughter who is a hipster/scene kid, and one daughter who is an iconoclast, and who listens to Frank Sinatra and Broadway musicals. Good luck trying to find the strategies that have "worked" in the Whitman family. If I had a third daughter, she'd probably be a fan of Tuvan throat singing and yodeling.

Andy Whitman said...

Enid, I certainly understand your points, and quite honestly I had a similar reaction to some parts of the Neko interview.

That said, I know "the interviewer," at least a little, and I think very highly of him, both as a writer/speaker and a human being. So I really don't want to get into a situation where I'm pitting one person against another.

Conferences like the one that took place at Calvin College this past weekend intrigue me. A bunch of erudite people (and they know it) sit around and discuss what has historically been viewed as "lowbrow" culture. It's a fascinating collision sometimes, and I think that collision came through loud and clear during the Neko interview. I think it's pretty clear from Neko's music that there's a lot going on inside that red head, and yet she can't articulate, in any kind of systematic way, exactly what that is. And I think that's okay, too. Critics want to pin the process down and label it. Artists (not that critics and artists are mutually exclusive; or so I'd like to think :-)) insist on mystery and intuition. Trying to find the common ground is part of the fun, and honestly, I think "the interviewer" was trying to find the common ground.

But mostly I think that Neko rocks. :-) I absolutely loved her concert Saturday night. And I had a grand time with my daughter blasting her albums on the drive home Sunday.

Anonymous said...


This is Libby Verber. I'm Andy's sister; I'm also an audiologist. I think Sufjan's music is great, and the concert sounds like fun. But I'm going to jump in here with my professional hat on, the one where I'm concerned about preserving your son's hearing.

As Andy said, the music can be "really loud." As in able to cause permanent damage to hearing. The tricky thing is that the damage may be caused today, when your son is 8, but not show up till he's 30 or 40. If you seen your arm bleeding you know to do something; it's a lot harder to monitor noise-induced hearing loss.

If you take your son, I'd encourage him to wear hearing protection. Over-the-counter ear plugs will work, but they'll distort the sound somewhat. It might be worth it for just one concert. There are custom made earplugs for musicians which preserve the sound quality, just dampen it. They're expensive, but probably worth it if your son goes to many concerts. Unfortunately it takes a few weeks to have them made. If you need advise of where to find them contact me at libby at verber dot com.

Hope I'm not a "party pooper". Personally, I prefer preserving my hearing to "feeling" the music. I'd guess I'm in the minority here :) Have a great time at the concert.

Andy, sounds like a wonderful time with Katryn.


Anonymous said...

Andy-- thanks for your help! Ezra will be very excited. (Me, too, for that matter.)

Libby-- thanks for your insight, as well. I will make him wear ear plugs (and most likely will wear them myself-- I'm not a fan of ringing ears). We are not commonly concert-goers, otherwise I would consider the better kind. My husband spent a lot of time with his dad's worship band as a kid and I'm pretty sure he's lost some hearing because of it-- although he thinks I'm full of it :).

Thanks, all!

jdaviddark said...

Hi friends.
And I'm just grateful to have been the occasion for Neko's laugh (and Andy's enjoyment of it). I apologize for my interviewing failings. I didn't plan to share those quotes. I just wasn't getting very far with my questions/requests t the tune of "Say, could you walk us through how a line or impression or whatever became a song?" and I had to try something else (having been told that I shouldn't open things up to the audience). Thak you for your generous assessment of my attempt, Andy. I was indeed just trying to connect. I read a bunch, but I'm a mere BA holder who's just trying to keep things interesting. I think Neko's art runs circles around all philosophy departments.
Respect to everyone.

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