Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Body Blow

There's a rumor going around, and I hope with all my heart that it is just that—a rumor—that The Vault may be closing soon.

It's taking almost more discipline than I can muster, but I've assigned myself the unpleasant task of imagining my life this past year subtracted by The Vault. It's too big of a tally: the artistry, imagination, creativity and inspiration I would have missed out on, the friendships I might not have formed, the laughs, the dancing, delicious meals and local wine, and the enlivening sense that the world was coming to Farmington, the whole wide world, and that we were here to meet it and welcome it.

Would I have gone to the alternative secular nightlife options: bingo at the VFW, karaoke at Wild Buffalo Wings, bowling at the Family Fun Center, Trivia Night fundraisers for homeless vets (where the question of why we have such a category of human beings is never, ever addressed), or a half-dozen smoky bars where one gets to watch alleged grownups get wasted while listening to classic rock cover bands? Not on a dare.

I find myself thinking about that part in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed when Jared Diamond is relating the aftermath of the deforestation on Easter Island, an act of communal ecocide, and the subsequent descent into starvation, population crash, and cannibalism. Letting The Vault go without a fight is the functional equivalent of handing an axe to the guy who was all set to chop down the very last tree, after sharpening the blade.

Our motto here is Tradition and Progress: in which of these categories would The Vault failing be placed? Farmington, are you sure you want to intentionally chop down our tree? After all, it is the only one as far as the eye can see. As a matter of survival, wouldn't it be nice to continue to have the oxygen it gives off, the shade and fruit it provides, how it serves as a marker on the horizon distinguishing this place from all the area surrounding it?

What would a fight for the flourishing of The Vault look like, anyway? It would look like a party. We wouldn't even know we were fighting we'd be having such a good time. In the short-term it would mean prioritizing attendance at upcoming shows, having dinner there, bringing some friends you've been wanting to do something fun with for a while, packing the 87-seat house, and then doing it again, and again, until it's just what we do. 

It would mean a recognition that we are fighting so that the I's—Inertia, Ignorance and Indifference—don't triumph yet again over something that's sweet and real and wonderful. That these two native Southeast Missouri owners—Tim and Kerry Smith from Fredericktown—dreamt a beautiful dream and made it manifest. FOR US! They’ve given their all to keep the embers sparking, hoping the torch lights and stays lit. And why shouldn't it? It's a beautiful, blazing torch throwing fiery beams into the darkness, connecting our community with other heat-seekers all over the country in a constellation of alive, attentive, get-up-and-boogie listeners who rejoice, not regret, their lives.

It might mean a couple of generous souls in a position to help financially coming forth with a few no-strings checks to the owners. Such miraculous things do happen on occasion. A few years ago my friend Herb Leibowitz planned to cease publishing Parnassus, A Poetry Review, when it had become financially untenable. But after reading an article in the Wall Street Journal an “angel” came up with an anonymous gift of $50,000 to keep it going. I'm guessing that for The Vault the angel wings wouldn't have to be a third as costly as that.

And what would be gained exactly by keeping The Vault as a venue for live, original music viable? A place for a young musician like Gracie Minnis or stand-up comic Steve Hull, for example, to have the chance to see outside talent, as they develop their own performance skills. A place for local bands like Brokeneck or solo acts like Casey Reeves and Mike McClanahan to perform and build their fan bases. A vibrant social space where outsiders and newcomers, like me, can seek out the other creative people around town, the folks with enough on the ball to give the television a rest when some fantastic bands like The Blackberry Bushes, Rum Drum Ramblers, or Izzy and the Catastrophics are blowing through town on their way to New Orleans, Chicago or Portland.

If The Vault doesn't succeed it will likely be used as a warning with which to bludgeon other beautiful dreamers not even to try, not to risk. Oh yeah, well, they attempted that at The Vault and it didn't go over, so don't bother. And that would be a setback for all the enterprises that haven't yet come into being, a preemptive abortion of imaginative possibilities, idiosyncratic visions, individual (non-corporate) entrepreneurial expressions. It sends exactly the wrong message to young people who envision a modest livelihood in arts and culture here—nope, you have to leave the area if you wish to be successful. We'll just continue being known for our meth labs and prison industry, thank you very much; escapism and punishment, punishment, punishment is what we prefer to choose!

So here we are on Easter Island, the axe poised to fell the last tree. But instead of chopping, maybe we use the sharp edge of the blade to aerate the dirt around the roots so it can thrive? And then maybe we dig a new hole, making a space not far from this one for another sapling, and then another, until we have a scene going: a jazz club, a comedy club, a cinémathèque, a playhouse, a chamber orchestra, a string quartet, a community chorus, a bookstore, a bistro, a...___________, fill in the blank with your own beautiful dream.

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