We are the entertainment!


A few months ago, two of my neighbors were outside on their deck singing and playing guitar. They weren’t exactly Crosby, Stills, and Nash, but to my ear at least, they could carry a tune.

By the sounds they were making and the feet they were stomping, it was clear that they were having a good time. Their sincere joy in entertaining themselves reminded me of simple delights I experienced growing up.

At many a dinner party–somewhere between the main course and the cavalcade of wine–my father would take out his 12-string Gibson acoustic guitar. Partial to Cat Stevens and the Beatles, he often got those around his age in a tizzy. Adult guests would fumble to bark out the chorus and show us how they knew the songs’ lyrics. This was especially funny when it was preceded by six bottles of red wine–drunks evidently think passionate mumbling sounds good.

I was between the ages of 9 and 12 when most of these soirees took place. Ever the class clown, I was prepared to mock my father to make my friends laugh. This was for naught, however, as my friends were often drawn to the rhythms, melodies, and swaying carelessness of the adults. Some even mustered the audacity to join in.

As I got older, I became more sensitive to the times my friends, family, and I would entertain ourselves. Dinner parties, afternoon hang-outs, friends’ parents’ basements, and night-shrouded dead end streets; these all became stages for intimate theater productions and concerts. Open fields and neglected pavement were for scrappy pick-up games of football, basketball, and soccer. At each of these venues, we created the rules as the productions and games trotted along; we devised our own fun.

Recently, I’ve compared those times to being entertained. I’ve thought about dancing at dazzling concerts, focusing intensely during art house movies and plays, and savoring oddball music records.

It’s become clear that when I listen to a favorite record, for example, I’m having a stimulating experience. But when I create music with friends and family, I’m engaging in the experience. That is, with the record, I’m a passive receiver of entertainment; in a jam session with friends, I’m an active participant.

I guess this is why I’m keen on the vernacular. Vernacular peoples, those who focus on doing rather than having, will choose the Gibson guitar over a fancy vinyl record collection any day.

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