This is a story about her.
Courtney Krause is performing and she may also be fighting back tears. Her face etches the pain, the pride, the love and the sentiment with each note hit. Her eyes tell the story as well as, and maybe even better than, the lyrics. She strums her guitar, but frequently uses her right hand to accentuate not just the words and the story she is telling, but the gravity of it all, like a Shakespearean actor in the midst of a monologue. The stories that she tells have to come from deep within, or at minimum, she is wrecked by empathy.
Behind her, an actual storm rages and pelts the windows with rain. Winds whip, lightning illuminates, rainwater floods and thunder shakes. It’s an incredible, metaphorical backdrop to the emotion that pours from her.
Krause stands to the side of the room and sings and they politely applaud, be ultimately are unmoved. She’s the soundtrack to their dinner, the ambient noise while they go on with their life. To her, she stands and creates. She makes her art. She makes it to tell her stories and play her music.
Courtney Krause is a beautiful woman, with kind eyes that squint closed when she makes her big cheek-boned smile. Her long, brown hair flops halfway over one eye (her left, my right). She makes big gestures to match her big voice. Also, her torso does this weird thing where her heart bursts out of her chest as she sings.
She is also a beautiful spirit. She possesses rare ability as a performer and storyteller. Her songs are rich and full of life and love and loss and liberation. They’re dynamic pieces that cut through a Midwestern thunderstorm to tug at the audience and the listener.
I just wish there were more listeners.
This is also a story about them.
Behind me, two professional women in their early 30’s discuss marketing and SEO strategy between glances at their phones. To my right, a youngish couple are having a seemingly pleasant date. Next to them, a group of people are celebrating a softball victory with beers. To my left, a group of four middle aged women order white wine at a brewery and multiple appetizers, clanging their plates to the table absentmindedly (the same group of women also stole my table as I went to the bathroom, despite a full beer and my phone still sitting there, but I digress). There are others. They have dinner, or watch Olympic swimming or post selfies to their Instas and Snaps.
There are people listening and people who care, friends mainly, but it is baffling to me that there stands a woman releasing everything she has in four to five minute bursts, all while the outside world behind her threatens to destroy us all, and it doesn’t deter the people who just want to make small talk and ducklips for their twenty-five hundred Instagram followers.
What surprises me more is that it doesn’t deter Krause. Beyond the emotion and the empathy and the beauty, there is one startling characteristic that shines through: confidence. It is the confidence to play for a room half paying attention and still unleash yourself. It is confidence that allows her to be her true self whether it’s a crowd of four-thousand or a crowd of fourteen, nine of which aren’t paying attention. Why they’re not paying attention is still beyond me. Here, a woman aches and yearns and sets herself free, and social media and buffalo chicken bites and keyword searches and Jason going 5 for 6 with two home runs all matter more.
Even Krause knows this. She tells me that she signs on to these gigs to be the atmosphere. To get something fresh instead of the latest episode of Sportscenter or the corporate Top 40 Muzak that normally fills the beer hall. It’s a chance for exposure, but it’s just a gig.
I wonder why more people choose not to care.
This is actually a story about me.
I haven’t been a very good writer lately. I mean it both literally and in a more prolific sense. I have been fighting depression, anxiety, insomnia, poverty, regret, sadness and depression (yeah, I said it twice). I have now been out of work since my breakdown and trip to the hospital in late-April. I have done a less than admiral job looking for employment. I have had a couple of leads on making writing about music and other things my full-time job, but I just can’t pull the trigger. I have refused therapy out of fear and laziness despite the urging of all of the people who care about me most.
The night of Krause’s set at Exile, I received news that a job I was angling for had gone to someone else. Someone else talented, more experienced and less fragile. Maybe even a job I wanted no part, so I never really stood a chance. Regardless, it went to someone else. It hurt.
I packed up my computer and went to a bar, determined to right the ship, right then and there. I opened my resume. I did nothing. I stared at a blinking cursor. I opened up a new blog post. I wrote a title. Then I stared at the blinking cursor. I drank beer. I opened Facebook. I drank more beer. Still nothing. I drank more beer. My computer’s battery died. I accomplished nothing.
I wasn’t ready to go home and face my family; to look my 3-year old son and 6-year old daughter in their perfect faces and admit Daddy was a failure. So, I decided to go to Exile and catch a singer I liked sing some songs. I wasn’t ready for my muse, but she was ready for me.
This is a story about all of us.
I sat and I watched and I sipped my Peach-Strawberry Bohemian, a fruity and sour beer that puckered my cheeks and politely assaulted my taste buds like a friendly dominatrix. I watched as she emoted. I watched as they ignored. I watched as her friends clapped and hugged and wooed and took pictures.
I also watched the room as they talked to their friends. As they smiled and laughed and ate and drank. I watched as they were happy. I watched as they devoured lamb sliders and fried something or other.
I watched as she sang and wrecked herself, then finished her song and smiled shyly. I watched as she ran her fingers through her hair and talked, saying words that I couldn’t make out due to the noise in the rest of the bar, but words that changed her demeanor from emotional wreck to pleased artist.
What I watched were people being happy. I watched as a gifted artist plied her trade. I watched as proud friends relished in their friend’s ability. I watched as other groups of friends took pictures of each other, or busted a guy’s balls about a base running mistake. I watched as a guy sipped his beer and pumped his fist at another American gold medal. I watched a young couple look into each other’s eyes, deeply.
I realized that none of the people in that room wanted to be anywhere else, except me. Krause didn’t mind if people listened or didn’t, her art was for her. The groups of friends wanted to be there for each other. The couple on a date wanted to enjoy their love. The man watching the Olympics just wanted a moment to himself.
I wanted to race home and document this. I wanted to jot down my feelings. I wanted to write. I wanted to fix me.
I could no longer feel grief towards those who chose not to pay attention. I could no longer feel sorrow for Krause, who I now realized was, sure, performing for her friends, but mainly it was for herself. I no longer saw writing as a chore that needed to appeal to other people. I saw it as a way to be me.
I saw the things that made me happy. The things that I loved. I saw my wife, my children, my family and I saw my art. The work that made me happy, not the work that made me money. I saw my art as mine again.
In those people, I saw happiness. Something I am desperate to reclaim, for all of those people who count on me, believe in me and love me. But ultimately, for me.
This was a story about her, me, them and us.