07/30: Tell a stranger how much you appreciate what they do

The seventh new thing on my list is a little bit different from the previous ones I’ve done so far. Many of the things already on The List have been new things, or new actions for me in very concrete ways; I have taken myself into particular situations where I have not been before, such as 500ft up in the air.

This time, however, the newness of this new thing is on a more abstract level; it’s more of a personal, or interpersonal thing or an act I want to experience. Basically, it can be boiled down to giving positive feedback, which is something I think we all could do more often, in our everyday lives in general; something that I have already tried to do more and more.

The challenge is this: giving this kind of feedback to a person you really don’t know very well, or at all. In other words, a stranger. It’s much easier to say positive things like this to someone you know well, have worked with, or meet often: a family member, a close friend, a colleague at work. But the threshold of giving praise to the actions of a stranger is – at least in my experience –  much higher.

Part of the reason I wanted to do this – telling a stranger I appreciate what they do – is the concept of “paying it forward“, the idea of which, in short, is that when you “receive” a good deed from someone, you should “repay” it to someone else instead of the person who benefited you in the first place. Why, you might ask? Let me explain.

Every once in a while I’ve been given unexpected praise and it has always elated me, even given me a sense of purpose, that me and what I do are meaningful also to someone else other than myself. Moreover, when I’ve received such a comment or compliment and thanked for it (and most often straight from my heart, because I have been so taken aback), it usually has also been uplifting for the other party as well, or so it has at least seemed to me.

This time around I wanted to take all the positive comments I have had the joy and pleasure to receive and the energy and happiness I have gained from them and project it all to someone else, so that they might, perhaps, discover similar (or different, for that matter) feelings of surprise and warmth that I have when being in the “receiving end” of feedback.

Moreover, I wanted to be in the other end of this process, to experience what it’s like to be in the “giving feedback” end. Another of my criteria was also that I would want to really say this to the person in question, and not, for instance, write an anonymous or even non-anonymous feedback on the Internet.

With all these prerequisites, if you will, in mind, I had contemplated who might these potential strangers be, who somehow are a part of my life and whom I could tell that what they do is meaningful to me. I considered, among others, the cleaners and janitors of the house I live in (they contribute to my living comfort but, presumably, rarely get acknowledged for what they do), the cashier at a nice little store I visit often, one of the regular bus drivers on a route I take often…

So, I already had a bunch of possible options in mind when a situation for doing this presented itself quite unexpectedly, and a very unexpected situation at that. Lately I’ve come to realise that even the very unlikely events might really come upon my way – be careful what you wish for, it might just become true!

Where, what, how

I had made another quite spontaneous decision to travel abroad on a short notice. This time it was to fly to Luxembourg to see a gig (and, as it “just happened”, to meet two dear friends I hadn’t seen in years, but that’s another story). The band I wanted – or more like, that I felt I needed – to see there was Gojira, a(n absolutely brilliant) metal band from France. Their music, but even more so their lyrics, dealing with topics such as the human nature, the environment, mortality or even flying whales, for some reason move me deeply.

They had visited Finland in October for a gig – and an amazing, sorry: A-MA-ZING gig at that – that had left me craving for more. Moreover, especially after they released their latest album, L’Enfant Sauvage, I had secretly hoped that at some point in life I would be granted the opportunity of telling the band, especially the masterminds, brothers Joseph (Joe) and Mario Duplantier, how much the beautiful work they do means to me and how much I respect and appreciate them for it.

When certain things in my life happened and/or didn’t happen in early November, I suddenly realised that these circumstances had opened for me the unexpected and hoped-for chance of seeing the band again. I did not consider long: I have had similar “surprising visions” or sparks of unexpected ideas only a few times before, but already by now I have learnt to follow through with them, no matter how weird or out of reach they seem at first, because in the end something truly exceptional (on my standards!) comes out of them. So I went for it.

I know this sounds weird – I still have problems believing it – but I got the feeling somewhere along the way that this all simply “was meant to be”, to happen precisely as it did (or then I just was very, VERY, extremely lucky), because everything (and I really mean everything) went just like I had dreamt, wished, hoped it would.

I will spare you the details of the actual gig, firstly because it’s not really that much related to the actual topic of this blog post, and secondly because I hardly could write anything comprehensible to describe it in any sensible degree, as most of the time I was experiencing 174% of pure excitement and the rest of the time a mixture of emotions that I’m sure no reader would make any sense of, even if I had the means to describe them in words here.

Mario Duplantier Gojira

07/30: Tell a stranger how much you appreciate what they do. Here a stranger (Gojira drummer Mario Duplantier) doing what I appreciate greatly.

Suffice it to say that I had wanted to be in the first row; and against all odds (late arrival, small venue, 40–50 people getting in before me) I got there. The only drawback of being there in the first row where I was, almost in front of the vocalist/guitarist Joe Duplantier, was that I had to constantly be alert and aware of crowdsurfers so that I would not be hit, I mean kicked in the head as they were taken down from the hands of the audience by the security guys in front of the stage.

The gig? Mindblowingly awesome.

And if I hadn’t been amazed and ecstatic enough already from the sheer power of the music, the band, the show, I was it even more when at the end of the gig I received “personal” thanks in English from Joe from the stage after he had thanked the audience in French. Why, you might wonder?

Well, at some point during the gig he had asked if there was anyone in the audience who didn’t speak French. I obviously raised my hand, as did a few others, but as the question Il y a quelqu’un qui parle français ici received a wall of noise in reply, Joe apologised to the non-French-speakers saying that there weren’t enough of them, and the rest of the comments during the evening were in French. But I guess he remembered me as a non-French speaker (maybe the only one in the front row?) and that’s why he in the end thanked also in English, looking at me.

Even though I go to gigs really often, normally I’m not in the least interested in getting my hands on the “earthly material” (guitar picks, drumsticks, setlists, water bottles, towels…) that bands may give and fans yearn for after the gig, and if I for some reason do end up with for instance a pick, I typically give it away. This time, however, I have to admit that for some strange reason I had secretly entertained the hope of being so lucky as to catch Joe’s guitar pick, should he throw one out.

I just didn’t catch one. I was given one, straight into my palm. A funny situation, really, since the second he took the pick from his microphone stand and looked at me, I knew he wanted to give it to me, and I also knew that I wanted that he would give it to me and not to any other person in this world. Yet, after it happened and as I stood there with his pick in my hand, I could barely believe it was actually there, in the safety of my cupped palm.

Okay, so there I was, totally flabbergasted due to a brilliant gig, the energy of the band and the audience, and holding a pick and a setlist (their stage technician had just placed it in my hand, ignoring the bunch of people who really wanted and tried to grab it). For a moment I didn’t know which way was up, I was so disoriented from everything that had happened.

Need I say that the amazingness (and my amazement) didn’t stop there? Well, I expect that you expect that there is still the part of me telling someone how I appreciate what they do, right? Right!

To cut a long story short(er): in the end, as you probably have guessed by now, I had the chance to meet and greet everyone in the band. Not in an arranged meet and greet, mind, but I just encountered them after the show, either at their merch desk or outside the venue. I had only a short and hurried exchange of words with their guitarist, Christian (basically me just saying OMG THANK YOU, but perhaps not quite so bluntly), and unfortunately I didn’t really get to speak that much with the bassist Jean-Michel.

However, thankfully (merci, merci, merci!) I was lucky enough to have a bit of a longer chat with both brothers Duplantier, first with the magical drummer Mario and some time later also with Joe. And yes: I finally had the opportunity of telling a stranger, or in this case, two strangers, just how much I appreciate what they do and what their work (music) means to me.

Mille fois merci was the only bit of French I could master and wring out of my memory but I believe that was both the first and the last thing I said to each of them. (Repetitio mater studiorum… or then I was just so excited that I wasn’t functioning properly. Take your pick.) I told in so many words how I had felt the compelling need to see them again after their gig in Helsinki; how thankful I was for their music and for the great show they had put on that night. Both seemed a bit taken aback when they realised I had actually flown from Finland to see them in Luxembourg…

Even though the evening was great on so many levels, the greatest moment for me was when I finally had the chance to tell Joe how much I love his lyrics (he writes them all), what they mean to me and that I wholeheartedly agree with a lot of what he writes about. I can’t remember the exact words of the conversation – to be honest, quite much of the evening is simply a blur, and not because of alcohol, mind you! – but  we did discuss briefly the lyrics of the song Gift of Guilt, probably because I was so overjoyed to finally have heard it in the encore that night (they didn’t play it in Helsinki) and exulted about it so much…

However, there is one miniature moment that left a strong imprint on my memory. I clearly remember his reply to my humble plead that would he please continue doing the same and writing such awesome lyrics in the future, too. He said simply “That’s my job in life”. I remember it so clearly because the simplicity and humbleness of the statement left me speechless and, for some reason, awed.

(Unfortunately, only later when I already was back in my hotel room I realised that I should have said that his lyrics strongly resonate within me, that they strike a chord in me; that would have been the most accurate description of what I actually feel and experience when I read/listen/hear the words in their songs. Well, I did say that I love them, so I guess it’s good and close enough.)

And what did saying all this feel like?

I felt as if I was wrapped in warmth, engulfed in a fuzzy feeling. I felt so absolutely, utterly thankful that I’d been given the chance to show my respect, to say the words, that I barely could believe I had actually been so lucky – I would almost say blessed with – to have the opportunity to do so, especially as it concerned something that has touched and moved me so deeply.

Most of all, it felt right. Perfect. As if it was supposed to be just like that.

I had hoped for a good gig. I got a great one; no, a fantastic one.
I had hoped for the luck of catching Joe’s guitar pick. He gave me two. (He gave the second one during our conversation. Not to mention I got the setlist.)
I had hoped for the chance to exchange a few words with at least one of the guys. I met the band.
I had hoped for  some of the band members to sign the booklet of L’Enfant Sauvage. I got their autographs on two albums.
I had hoped for the opportunity to have a photo of them. I got pictures with them.
I had hoped for the possibility of telling a stranger how much I appreciate what they do. I could show and explain my respect to two absolutely amazing people for the beautiful things they do.
What more could one hope for?

Well, perhaps for the chance to attend another Gojira gig…

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