Ray was a rather unknown entity to me before I started carpooling with Veronica to jobs in Orange County. When I hear his voice it reminds me of being too tired and wondering when I wasn’t going to be modeling anymore. Beyond the amusement I would get when Veronica would gesture like a Baptist minster/ rapper to the tunes, I had attached no feeling toward the music whatsoever. Pleasant, yes. My favorite? I don’t know.
But when I was invited to see his performance at the Hollywood Bowl last night, of course I agreed. It’s the Hollywood Bowl: quite possible the only reason to live in Los Angeles. Tucked into a far corner of the foothills of Hollywood, nestled under million dollar homes teetering silently above – it offers one of the most beautiful musical experiences ever. A true testament to my dedication to the place – going with a friend to see The Dave Matthews Band, ten years after their music could be perceived as “good” and even then was contingent on questionable taste.
The last song from Blitzen Trapper plays on as we trek up the sloping entrance, sweating from lack of exercise. I pass through security, a process that has a placebo effect akin to sugar pill. Veronica and Michelle get a 40 ounce Corona to split. Amber grabs an Amstel Light. I break a year-long ban on cancer and get a Diet Pepsi because after starting my day with a 50 minute telephone correspondence with Bank of America, I am still exhausted.
We are outside when the lights of the venue dim and the crowd lets out a communal roar. An usher leads us to our bench right of the stage. Veronica’s friend has purchased 4 tickets for an “Early Birthday Present” but I would like to think of it as a “Maybe You Bang Me?” gift. Hope he’s got a good return policy.
Surrounding Ray and his band is the LA Philharmonic, a talented group of musicians that he accidentally introduces as “The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.” They begin to play and I am reminded that while I sort of like this man’s noncommittal raspy voice that hushes its way through songs, I don’t feel anything. It’s obvious that I am in the minority here. Couples pair up like shadowed turtledoves. It looks like a Yes on Prop 8 support rally. I’m with four girls who, less than an hour ago, took turns swigging out of a bottle of sparkling wine in the car. I would like to imagine this is sort of romantic.
The white, bear-bedazzled flag of California laps back and forth in a warm breeze, eventually resting languidly propped against a blackening sky three songs into the concert. I think about the wind and then I think about love and then I think about what the people who really relate to this music are setting themselves up for. It is the music from a Grey’s Anatomy season soundtrack. It’s what people think love is supposed to be. I don’t even know if Mr. LaMontagne feels love the way he sings love. I am almost angry with him for placing these expectations on life – this seemingly dishonest infomercial of an unexplainable feeling.
As cynical as I am, I am equal parts self-aware and because I love Veronica and because she loves this music I open myself to the idea that maybe this man is singing truth. Maybe I am just missing a sensitivity chip. And I try to place these songs within the context of my life and I think about standing and watching my boyfriend pot plants while the sun plays golden on his arms, his face scrunched up in concentration, how I will remember this small moment for the rest of my life for no real reason – and I play a Ray LaMontagne song in the background of that memory. It works. It feels like a movie. But then movies are plastic.
Throughout the show I continually wish he would just dig deeper. His songs lack climax and complexity and they dribble along softly and sweetly and it reminds me of when Nikki Sale gave me four-fingered debutante handshake. He howls at the ceiling of the Bowl like a musical werewolf, tapping his right foot with more fervor than I can discern from what is actually being played.
There is a moment when I do connect with him and this show. He lifts his voice higher than he has the entire past hour and says “No, not a girl. A woman. I’m sayin’ a woman. A woman.” I wonder when I will feel like one or if I ever will and how I am still just a variation of a girl. Then the stanza ends and I am back to looking up at the only twelve stars visible in Los Angeles County and feeling Veronica’s arm next to my arm and the bench seat pressing into my tailbone.