Every once in awhile, Art follows Life follows Art. For the poetic soul, I'm afraid there's such a fine line between the two that they become rather confused. I saw this played out on a live stage this week at The Swell Season concert in Prague. If you haven't yet seen the film "Once" then stop reading now, go rent the movie and watch it, and come back and finish this post. It won't make any sense to you without that context. The two main characters/actors are Markéta and Glen, who are also the heart of the group The Swell Season. I call them character/actors because they were not professionals when they made the movie and the love story that happens on-screen was also happening in real life. At the time, Glen was age 37 and Markéta 19, making their love story improbable, yet somehow an irresistible product of their musical collaboration. Glen said of that time, "There was definitely the feeling we were documenting something precious and private" (Entertainment Weekly, June 2007).
If the movie "Once" and the accompanying soundtrack were documentation of the couple's love story, their follow-up album "Strict Joy" is the painful documentation of their falling out of love. Going to see them in concert is like watching a broken heart get swept all over a stage and stomped on a few more times for theatrical purposes. Glen is, as ever, passionate and heart-rending in his delivery, and Markéta is, as in the film, restrained and ruminative. He parades his bruised heart for the crowd's entertainment, and she quietly gives pathos a melody on the piano. They are really stunning live performers, not just for their incredible musical gifting, but because they give voice to both delight and pain. Glen does an amazing job adapting his own songs so that they lead into covers familiar to the crowd; a couple of gorgeous examples were "Falling Slowly" devolving into U2's "With or Without You," and his whimsical "Star Star" leading into a violin solo of "Pure Imagination." These are the moments in the live concert experience that one is transported by. One of the incredibly gorgeous moments in this performance was the violin solo by former Frames now Swell Season member, Colm Mac Con Iomaire. He took me back to the cliffs of Ireland in my mind's eye.
Back to the train-wreck aspect of this concert: some moments made me wince with the freshness of the ache. Glen would give his trademark yelling/singing performance to the crowd, emphasizing lyrics such as "Your heart's not in it!" or "Her last words were 'I was only thinking of you, Babe.'" Markéta remained remarkably calm during these moments, though her expression seemed pained when he turned to her and belted out over and over, "I can't live, with or without you." It's amazing to me that the collaboration continues, and yet they are riding high on the success borne out of this pain.
Because somehow this heartbreak is beautiful. My friend, Sara, turned to me at the end of the concert, and sighed, "Music is so cathartic!" I agreed, because she is correct, giving voice to the painful things transforms them into Art, and then they have a life of their own. Glen says it this way in the song "Go with Happiness": "Because a love has grown, I had to leave it alone / And if you're gonna go / Go with happiness." Maybe Glen and Marketa have learned the fine art of releasing the pain. Or maybe they've gotten really good at acting.