Saturday, May 7, 2011

the highwire

south of san francisco there is a light house at pigeon point. built in the late 1800's, it has been blocked off due to erosion, and the light now shines only on special occasions.  the cliffs it sits above are jagged and rough, but the fields that lie behind it are covered in blankets of yellow flowers this time of year. the most overwhelming part of the scene though, is the ocean itself. vast and relentless, it sends wave after wave towards land. it rises and falls with frustration around the rocks it will eventually crumble and rumbles with the driven wind across its expanse.

what does this place have to do with highwires?

light houses walk a highwire. we stand them up tall, delicate, and shining against a huge unknown entity hoping to find some safety in the warning they provide. at any point a lighthouse could be swept away, fall, and crumble. if the very rocks they stand on are not guaranteed to always be there how is the light house?

this frailty is where their beauty, and i believe, much of the beauty we see elsewhere in the world comes from. what we describe as "beautiful" is that razors edge of a moment when something, a sound, an image, or a light house, is perched on the edge of destruction.

the film “Man On Wire” is the perfect example of this, and the reason i make the high-wire comparison. the highwire walker that strung a line between the twin towers and then performed thousands of feet in the air with no protection is the human personification of the light house. he put himself, delicate and human, in the face of a huge power beyond his control and that, we say is beautiful and poignant.

i feel this same delicate wire walking in performances by musicians as well.  a live concert is a highwire for any performer. putting oneself out on the line with no fall back or safety net beneath the stage is the same as walking a wire between two high rise buildings.  the same sense of delicate balance and un-nerving sense of imminent destruction are there. performing a song can feel like setting up a light house next to the ocean, letting it throw its light, however feeble, into the waters of the unknown.

i look for this highwire walk in the music i listen to, buy, and share. i like words and rhymes that hang on the verge, but turn out brilliant and cutting (See Townes Van Zandt). i like discovering new musicians that take me places ive never been (see Willy Tea Taylor, Joe Pug, The Low Anthem). and i especially like hearing my friends perform their highwire walks (see The Modern Times, Aaron Hale, Tim Palmer, Jordan Martin etc...)


  1. You have made such a profound comparison - it actually put words to what I would feel when I sang for people in my past. Standing there vulnerable, on the verge of "destruction" I felt. Just wanting them to feel the depth and loveliness of the music with me.

  2. yes yes yes. You're so spot on.