Music has been a backdrop, a soundtrack, to most everything that goes on in my life since I was very young, perhaps 7 or 8 years old. When I pick out an album I haven't listened to in awhile, I can usually recall a time, a place, an emotion that goes with it. Just like a smell can trigger seemingly forgotten memories. Being a somewhat typical Scandinavian (well, like my grandfathers anyway), I sometimes have trouble getting in touch with my emotions, with my spiritual self. Music is often a tool I use to help me reach inside and find those emotions, and every once in awhile, an album or a song will come along that seems to speak directly to my soul. Like a conduit into who I really am. Sometimes I'm reminded that I do in fact have a soul.
Last September, serendipitously coinciding with my diagnosis, one of those albums found its way into my life. I was milling around The Electric Fetus (a record store in Minneapolis, having nothing to do with our unborn child of that time, but appropriate don't you think?), and found myself entranced by the music they had playing. I asked the woman at the register about it, and she told me it was "A Strangely Isolated Place", by someone named Ulrich Schnauss. I had never heard of him. But I had to have his CD. They had just received it that morning, and I took home the only copy they had. I've listened to that album nearly every day since. It's been profoundly therapeutic for me, and the album title very much describes where my head has been for the last several months. The music both takes me away from it all and helps me face it head on, to help connect all my thoughts and emotions in a meaningful way, and make me feel like things will be all right. It also helps me cry. I listen to it often while writing here, as I'm doing right now.
Most of you are saying to yourselves, "who in the gosh-darn-golly is Ulrich Schnauss?" I'll get to that in a moment. First, let me tell you about a tape I bought back in the late-80's, the soundtrack to a movie called "Legend" (one of Tom Cruise's lesser known flicks), created by a group called Tangerine Dream, pioneers in the electronic music movement. That album is proof-positive that a great soundtrack can make an otherwise mediocre film fantastic. At least to a raging-hormone-filled teenager like myself, looking for some way to make sense of everything. I like a wide variety of music styles, but this was my introduction to 'ambient electronic' music, which seems taylor-made to connect my brain to my heart. It started a cycle of buying soundtracks to a bunch of movies that moved me.
So back to the star of our show, Mr. Schnauss, a German-born 'up and coming' musician with an incredible aptitude for injecting the purest of emotion into his music. At least I would say so. And he's a really nice guy. I can say that from experience, since I had the good fortune of meeting him this past Saturday.
Enter the co-star of this post, the new Minnesota Public Radio station, 89.3 The Current. If you hadn't noticed, or aren't from the area, The Current hit the airwaves about 3 months ago, and has created a huge buzz in the radio business. Contrary to the overly programmed, tediously repetitive stations of the corporate world, The Current offers listeners a broad and deep playlist of newer music, with an emphasis on local artists, and the added bonus of no commercials (nothing kills the mood set by a good series of songs than the latest Taco Bell promo, am I right?). The only radio I've really bothered listening to for the last 10 years is MPR's News & Information station. Now we listen to The Current every day. Another of my favorite groups, the old-school rock band Rush, lamented the downfall of modern radio with their song 'The Spirit of Radio'. That spirit is back with The Current. It's like having a jukebox in your house. You never know what you'll hear next.
So what's all this got to do with my meeting Ulrich? Well, not long after The Current went on the air, I was driving home from work, lost in some sad thoughts, and I realized that they were playing one of his songs. I was astonished. None of my friends had heard of him, not even Jonathan, my techno music mentor. And here was my new favorite station playing him live! As if they knew exactly what I needed to change my mood. They play his music quite often now, and every time they do I feel a sense of personal connection to them, to the world. That's what great radio is all about.
A few weeks ago I started poking around The Current website, looking for more information, and was happy to find several forum posts talking about Ulrich Schnauss. I submitted my own rambling little blurb to the station, telling them how his music has been instrumental (very much intending the pun) in helping me deal with my illness, and how I felt compelled to thank them for making a personal connection with me. I figured that would be the end of it. But low and behold, the minute we walked in the door with our daughter from the hospital, the phone rang. It was a woman from The Current named Ali Lozoff, and she was about to make my wonderful day even better. She said they had been moved by my comments, and wondered if I'd be interested in coming down to the station the following week, since Mr. Schnauss just happened to be doing a studio appearance the afternoon before a show that evening. Wow. I was already stumbling for words with all the sleep deprivation going on, but I somehow managed to say "Yes, I've love to". Serendipity part two.
So the following Saturday came, I went to the studio in St. Paul, met a few of their DJs and saw how things operate, and watched Ulrich do an interview and play a few songs. Afterward I chatted with him for a bit, shook his hand, and thanked him for his wonderful music. I'm not usually the type to get star-struck, and I think even he would admit he's not very well known yet, but it was all just really cool. Simple as that. He even offered to put me on his guestlist for the show that night. All around, just a really nice person, as were all the folks I met at the station. You can hear a replay of his in-studio appearance via www.mpr.org.
Jonathan and I went down to the Triple Rock Social Club around 9 p.m. to see his show. It was amazing. There was a pretty sizeable crowd. I found myself just staring, entranced by the music, as if a spaceship had landed and we were all watching with our mouths hanging open, completely awed by what we were witnessing. You might think I'm being melodramatic and exaggerating. Perhaps a bit. But honestly, I had those exact thoughts during the show. It was breathtaking. After his set, I chatted a bit with Ulrich, thanking him again, most likely pushing my luck with his patience. Sure I'm a fan, but he doesn't know me from a hole in the wall. So his kindness was very much appreciated.
Outside the club after the show, I felt a sort of inner glow, like I'd just spent the last several hours exactly as I was supposed to spend it. I don't get that feeling very often. And man, I just can't help but think something is going on here people. My illness has to do with electric signals getting to my muscles. Our daughter. The Electric Fetus. Electronic music. The Current. Maybe it's just wishful thinking. Regardless, it's been a wonderful experience. So thank you Ulrich. Thank you Ali. Thank you The Current. And thank you dear reader, for listening once again.