Small eternities

At some point, life is nothing more than a collection of imperfect moments striving to capture perfect frames of mind. We have these times we want to freeze and relive, even when we’re not fully sure what made them worthy in the first place–we never truly get back to that complete frame of mind. Music does a hell of a job helping us remember these moments, even if we use it to sweeten the years.

On a Saturday in late August, I drove to Columbus to see School of Seven Bells, a dream-pop group originally consisting of twin sisters (twins, Basil!) Alejandra and Claudia Deheza and guitarist Benjamin Curtis. I first heard “Half Asleep” at one of my favorite haunts in Pittsburgh years earlier, and I assigned the song to a recurring love I just can’t seem to shake, nor reconcile. I’m a big music fan, and I have been most of my life, (which may seem trite–really, who isn’t?) but this particular song went straight to my Top-20-of-all-Time Status–no small feat. Sadly, the object of my musical affiliation was not available at the time of said concert, but I did travel to see the show with a lovely young woman.

It was my first time in Columbus in years, and the Wexner Center for the Arts was definitely an impressive venue, but this isn’t a music review. Most people are unaware of School of Seven Bells, anyway, so I’ll get to the point. The night was memorable because it afforded that singular moment that is one for which you can usually only hope, from the opening act (a Joy Division-esque brotherly duo whose wall-of-noise shoegaze is still very cool) to the end of the show. Nothing disappointed. Unfortunately, the main act was, by then, Claudia-less, but the remaining founding members knew what everyone wanted, promising the crowd early that the songs they wanted were coming. Concert-goers know that performances are rarely studio-perfect. We really want to feel those songs we’ve never heard live, maybe to see if they move us like they do the dozens of times we play them before then. We buy the ticket, and we wait, and most of the time, we are rewarded. Sometimes, it is more than we thought.

The Wexner Center is a small arthouse venue, and the band walked right through the crowd for their final break, and although I have been fortunate to meet artists before, there was something a little different about the way Deheza and Curtis flowed through the crowd. I was schoolgirl-giddy as they walked past us, less than a foot away. The audience waited patiently for that small eternity that elapses before encores, and when they took the stage the final time, “Half Asleep” began washing over us by an undulating Curtis’ strums. Truly, I didn’t want to be the guy standing there with a phone in my hand, but something deep inside me needed to record at least one part of this–one of my all-time favorite songs being played right in front of me. I had my own motives in doing so, and the song was (and is) intimate for me for more than a few reasons, but that perfect moment lasted for a little more than four minutes, and I still feel it wash over me today.

I watched Alejandra Deheza’s eyes close as she held the microphone with two hands, forgoing her own guitar-work at certain points of the song, as though she had no choice. I was disappointed that her sister had left the band some time earlier, as seeing them harmonize for that song would have surely been the death of me, but it was Curtis’ movements and manipulations that showed how essential he was to the group. He was in a perfect moment, and he shared it with us.

I recorded less than half of the song, and then barely managed to pocket my phone and drown in that gentle wave. I was partly embarrassed to have recorded it at all. In those stretched seconds, time slowed down for all of us, and we did our best to sip it.

Less than a year later, Alejandra announced that Benjamin had been diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, but that it was treatable. The band was optimistic. After months of treatment, Curtis died on December 29th of that year. The end of a life is something everyone laments, but I was selfishly sad: I knew that Curtis would never again have the chance to do what he loved. No one would see him put his soul into that guitar. That’s not the point, though. All signs indicate that he felt fortunate to have done what he loved, and from that day on, I started to wonder how many of us take the chance to do the same thing.

Even if you don’t dig it, check out the song, and maybe even the lyrics, if you can spare the time. More than that, think about those moments that you should be freezing.

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