I heard you were a poet. But a poet of no words? (Shakespeare in Love)
As a writer it’s always strange when you find yourself unable to express something verbally. It’s as if your go-to toolbox has been misplaced. As if the screwdriver that worked fine yesterday no longer fits.
My stories are emotional turmoil processed by time and structured by hindsight. I can seldom express anything if the impact is too recent – like now. I sit here trying to verbalise yesterday’s experience at a Ghost concert, but I’m strangled by too much… something (can’t even find an appropriate noun).
To describe this concert, I have to borrow from myself. Last summer I wrote some fan fiction because the new album totally fucked me up, and those words still ring truer than anything I could write today.
The lights explode into being, like the first day all over again: it’s the parting of light from darkness and the celestial dance that started then and hasn’t slowed down since. The music soars, guitars and keys and drums and bass, and the light splashes on Special where he crowns the stage, ghastly and glorious. As the auditorium erupts in screams, he holds his arms out to them, embracing them all. He’s a beacon of darkness, a charity for the hopeless. And when his voice resounds through the air, it’s a sizzle down Papa’s neck. Special isn’t just singing, he’s pulling his soul out with an iron fist, ripping his heart from its cage and holding it aloft, dripping darkly, like a sacrifice.
Papa shudders in equal parts horror and euphoria. He’s never seen him in action, never witnessed the transformation from flesh to flame. From the back, Special looks like the incarnation of Papa’s every desire. The shafts of light cut themselves on his dark silhouette. A platitude comes to mind – that the smallest light can banish any darkness. Well, look at this. You can shine the brightest lamp, but it only takes one man to stand in front of it and cover the world with his shadow. Everywhere he goes, the spots follow him and are devoured. Where he plants his feet, he slices through the beams. Nothing can get past him.
Special pauses in his singing, holding the microphone to his chest and staring out at the crowd. He knows. He feels it too. What Papa and he only dreamed of, what they planned but didn’t see the full scope of – it’s now conceived. It’s born and growing in the world. When the masses out there open their throats in praise, when they sing Special’s words back at him, it’s more than an invocation. It’s the realization of the impossible. A sea of lonely creatures coming together, truly coming together for one purpose. Yes, they talked about the dominion of the world, of an infernal new era, but this is that era not only nascent but adolescent. Special has become a demi-god. He has them in his fist, and they’re delirious to be so trapped.
(Scriptures of Abundance on AO3, enter at own risk
– it’s adult and blasphemous and bloody)
So… yeah. Ghost. Six years ago we saw them in a small venue closer to home, we stood ten metres from Papa and could have touched him. Last night we squinted at a tiny figure on the other side of a hall in Stockholm. Bigger, more lavish backdrop, bigger better lights. Everything turned up to eleven. From a perfect seed, this perfect flower. Two and a half hours of musical generosity. The heat of flames in an unapologetic celebration of life and death.
There’s nothing like lyrics about death to make you feel alive. When an entire hall sings “While you sleep in earthly delight, someone’s flesh is rotting tonight” it kind of makes you realise that no one in there is dead. For all our collective romanticising of the Grim Reaper, every one of us is still here, still on this earth – but we won’t always be. And isn’t that one of art’s ultimate goals? To make you feel alive and mortal, to make you grab what you have in the moment because the moment is all you have?
But it’s so goddamn lopsided. Yes, you can sing your throat raw and clap and scream and even write gushy fan letters if you’re so inclined, but in the end the communication is very one-way. I wish there was some way to reciprocate, you know? As I expressed it to my husband, “I feel like a dog that tries to lick your face when you pet it, just because it wants to give something back.” To which he replied, “Oh, okay, like – yes, hello Tobias? My wife wants to lick your face.”
Which is only half true!
It’s just… you want to convey that age-old fan feeling that a piece of art makes an actual, concrete difference in your life. That your soul would be less without it. That when a fictional stage character tells 14 000 people he can see through the scars inside them, you feel personally addressed. That you can hear something quintessentially Swedish in the music and it makes you ridiculously proud. And that when he uses Neil Peart’s phrase “plateau of untouchable” in an interview, you want to shout, “Yes! I can quote the entirety of Beyond the Lighted Stage too!”
But today, of course, I’m crashing. A “See Naples and die” feeling. The post-gig blues from hell – literally. Questions about what I’m doing with my life, why I’m not in a place where I feel as limitless as I did during Faith or Year Zero.
The euphoria of last night is a blue memory now, a thing of the past, something that almost never happened. Now there’s just us and the desolate waste and the rest of our lives, and nothing but our own hands and minds to till the land we don’t recognize. No authorities, no one to go crying to. No one to tell us what to do. What you can’t make for yourself you’ll never have.
That was always the message, wasn’t it?
But now it’s true, now it’s here. This is reality now. The dance is our own. We invent the steps even as we tread the ground, even as we test the firmness of earth that may give way at every turn.
You’re the conductor now.
(Before and After on AO3)
As the cardinal would have it, “this is the moment of just letting go.”
But I can’t let go, and so what remains but to engage in some symbolic consumption in the online merch shop?