Music, Lyrics and the Void Between Us

I spent this Valentine’s Day driving south on I-95 from New York to DC to perform in the backing band for a burlesque troop. Everyone in the van spent some time behind the controls of the stereo, and we all heard a lot of music that was new to us. Occasionally someone in the backseat would get that love-at-first-listen gleam in their eye and ask what was playing, but for the most part the music was a kind of passive entertainment, filling those inevitable voids in conversation.

We got to the venue and warmed up. A few long tones to get the sax up to room temperature and the twang of a B string being pulled into tune served to provide the soundtrack to the peaceful hollowness of an empty club.

Meanwhile backstage the girls were getting ready in their own way. A quiet discussion started between a younger girl breaking in her new shoes and another older performer ironing her shorts. They were talking about relationships and the older woman was describing the way she found her husband. As the steam billowed out of her iron, she explained the way that that first incendiary passion had worn off and they’d gradually settled into a more enduring, and ultimately more meaningful, rhythm.

A couple hours later the promoter came back and herded us on stage. The girls looked great, really hitting hard on every accent. Each cymbal crash sparked a fresh spasm, like the drummer had stretched wires from his sticks to the arms and legs of the dancers. The whole first set our music was just about drowned out by the cheers of the seven hundred or so couples in attendance. Maybe it was cabin fever from the foot and a half of snow that had hit DC just a few days before or maybe it was the Valentine’s Day drink specials, but whatever the case it seemed like the crowd had sped past responsive and were headed towards ravenous.

In the middle of the show we took a break and a sort of campy crooner went out to do a short set. He was great, really involved with the audience without seeming desperate. He wrapped up to equally thunderous applause as we got back on stage.

In the next act most of the girls were appearing for the second time. Their routines were just as tight, and the MC was really getting into some wild sideshow tricks in between performances. The men and women in the seats were still paying close attention but this time they didn’t have the same rabid enthusiasm. They’d already seen as much skin as the aesthetic of burlesque allows so they weren’t hungry for that kind of satisfaction anymore. They seemed to have gotten used to the spectacle and were enjoying following the narratives as much they’d appreciated that taboo rowdiness of the first set.

After we’d filed backstage I asked that girl who had been using the iron if the audience always got tired by the second act. She told me she wasn’t sure if they got tired, but that they always quieted down.

The next morning we got back in the van, and started up our game of iPod roulette again. The drummer asked our guitar player if he could play one of the tracks from the ride down and as the first few notes started I could tell that this time the music wasn’t just filling the voids in our conversation, it was causing it.

LORENZO WOLFF is a musician living in New York. He can be reached at:

LORENZO WOLFF is a musician living in New York. He can be reached at: