What piece of art changed your life? How did it affect you?
I’ll give you a Baltimore memory from my childhood. I used to put on an LP of Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition (the Ravel orchestration) and listen to it over and over, peering at the cover of the record, which showed a garish, grimy—and, to me, slightly frightening—collage of smeared oil paints, trying to “see” the music in the painting. It gave the piece's superabundance of beautiful moods and melodies a scary edge that thrilled me. (I still remember a nightmare featuring a little boy named James, a filthy underground room, and a fragment of “Limoges.”)
We were living in Ramblewood then, on Falkirk Road, which means I would have been five or six, my last year as an only child. After I’d listened for a while, I’d go out into the back yard and climb our neighbor's maple, which seemed like the tallest tree in the world to me, and sit up in the top branches, watching little red-and-black ants crawling up and down the trunk. I just checked Google Earth to see if the tree's still there—there's no trace of it. But the house looks about the same.
Last year, I went to see the piece performed in Austin for the first time in my life, and I was overwhelmed both by the music itself and a sense of shining a light on memories that had been dark for a long time. And I realized that my thoughts about what music can be, what it ought to be, came very much from this piece—its extremes of light and darkness, its restless progression from scene to scene, its overt melancholy and ecstasy, its mystery. Not that I'll ever get there in my own work, but I think it’s good to have some impossible goals. Keeps you out of trouble.
Shearwater frontman Jonathan Meiburg grew up in Baltimore, and, as the above response indicates, his time here shaped him as an artist and musician. Touring behind the excellent new Shearwater disc, Animal Joy, Meiburg comes to town for a show next Monday (the 27th) at Metro Gallery. If he arrives early enough, maybe he'll take a ride down Falkirk Road.