The Nathan Brothers: Pas de Deux

Adam: In a single word please describe the experience of others watching you dance. Entries longer than a single word will not be given consideration.

Chris: Amusement.

Adam: Yeah, that works for me, too. I think if I’m on the outer edge of a dance floor and somebody who knows me that isn’t dancing is watching they might be ‘Amused.’ They’re certainly not ‘Impressed.’ I don’t think they’re ‘Embarrassed.’ They’re absolutely not ‘Inspired.’ In the center of a crowded dance floor, where floorspace is at a premium, and I’ve already attempted to spin completely around once already the right word might be ‘Concerned’ or ‘Territorial.’ But I don’t think there is any part of my life where the desired effect and the actual effect are further apart. ‘Damn’ is kind of what I’m going for.

There was a guy on the Mariner’s Stadium Diamond Vision camera on Sunday that did a whole ‘moves like Jagger thing’ between innings and, dammit, he did have moves like Jagger. This went on for a minute and a half, the guy was amazing. I want to do that whole holstered gun,straight arm pointing at the rotating horizon, pinch your nose and submerge, moonwalk, hip check, rodeo lasso and smack the invisible bottom thing. It was incredible. And he was kind of chunky and fat and none of it looked that complicated and it was just great. That is just never going to happen for me.

Related to all of this is I don’t think I’ve ever seen you dance in any setting, which is kind of weird since you’re my brother. So I’m curious about your dancing reality and your dancing mental game, the things you think about while dancing, the net effect, your best moves, what it’s like to get yourself onto a dance floor, whether you have sticky moves, special things you do with your hands and, if you can describe them, problem areas you work on while dancing (“the hands need to spend a reasonable amount of time in the ‘liberated arm zone’ over the head.”) I hardly know where to start.

Chris: What a great subject. You’re almost certainly right – you’ve probably never seen me dance. And the logical flip side of that: I can’t locate any memory of seeing you dance. There’s just never been an occasion. It’s interesting though, as the mind’s eye searches the major dance moments of my life, how eerily bright those memories are. Do a mental experiment: imagine Mr. Chunky Diamond Vision, and then for comparison recall the most memorable play of that same Mariner’s game. Which is more vivid? I could be wrong – tell me if I am – but I’d guess that there’s a special electric neural glow reserved to light up memories of that dance, and dancing generally, our own and others.

Or maybe it’s just me. But to get to the point I want to make, let me lay down a marker: dance holds a place of mythically supersized significance for me. Here’s the most concrete illustration I can think of to convey what a big deal it is. Do you know that brilliant question “What would you do with your life if success was guaranteed?” I love that question. I rolled that question around for a long time after running into it a decade or so ago. For a few years the answers I came up with were always some variation on a singing/songwriting theme. But the formulations never felt right. “I would be as great a singer/songwriter as Dylan” seemed to get at something cool to me and yet it was flat at the same time, hollow. Bob Dylan should be as great a singer/songwriter as Bob Dylan is. Chris Nathan should be as great a – something – as Chris Nathan is. Dylan’s a genius, but what a creepy and sad one, too. It was just all too derivative, the singing, songwriting vision. Not me. That’s not my contribution.

And then, one day, I found it, the thing which mattered. If I could set the course of my life in any direction and be 100% assured of success… I would use my life to teach people how to dance. This is a problem, of course, because I can barely dance myself. I know enough salsa and merengue to fake it and can sort of tango, but not really, despite much instruction. This vision then – it has nothing to do with my capabilities, which are meager to nonexistent – but it captures in a concentrated essence something incredibly important to me.

But I’m getting a little heavy here. Let me answer your question and give you some good news – and also tell you something really, really useful I’ve learned from the dance instruction I have gotten. The short version is: that thing you saw Mr. Diamond Vision do – he got there by practicing. Some people have to practice less before actual dancing occurs, some people more, but they all start not dancing – they start thinking about the liberated arm zone over the head etc and end by not thinking about anything at all – and dancing occurs. People are big liars on this subject too, or maybe just not self-aware. People who have practiced a lot can move from an idea (a move) to actual dancing a lot faster, but that’s only because they put in the time on other moves earlier. They sometimes like to act as if it’s effortless and completely natural but that’s not the case, although in fairness they may simply have forgotten. Is walking hard? Does it require a lot of practice? Or is it easy and natural? The only honest answer is, as any eight- or nine-month old can vouch: it’s very hard, very challenging, and it requires hundreds of hours of practice to accomplish, even though once mastered it appears effortless.

Adam: I’ll respond in reverse order of your response, make a slight turn to the right to address the Brilliant Question, and then, in a magnificent twirl, I will answer the stated question about Chunky Diamond Vision guy and my beloved Seattle Mariners. At which point I will arch my back, clap twice in the air with an aside about the ‘creepy Bob Dylan’ comment and cue you for your turn. Stand clear and watch this!

I believe you’re correct on practicing. I’m a practicer, as you know, a regular self-martinetting discipline machine, and I get logically that I could arrive at a dancing place with the right effort. And from watching Dancing with the Stars more often than I would admit at a water cooler, I know that people can learn to dance – incredibly well, in fact – in a few months with the right instruction and focus. I’m not uncoordinated. I’m in good shape. I don’t listen very well, but with the right instructor, a little yelling from time to time, and lots of early mornings I could get to at least the middle part of a Dancing with the Stars season. I’m pretty sure of that. I’m a week 6 – 8 kind of guy before they vote me off.

And I’ve already shared that I love dancing, all kinds of dancing, in fact. I like street hip-hop dancing, line dancing with Country Western people, probably not square dancing, but definitely ballroom, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Cuban people, Flamenco gypsies, African tribal people and, let’s get right to it, I cry at the ballet. Honestly, I do: I cry at the ballet. I can get choked up almost before the dancers come out on the stage. I never think to get season tickets or anything, but I am as captivated by ballet as a small child is captivated by a well-stocked aquarium.

But practice or not, love dancing or not, it isn’t my essence. I don’t need dancing to liberate or express any core part of my identity. If I could do it, it would be external somehow to the thing I’d really want to get at or share, which is right at the intersection of language and strong feelings. So the gift of dancing would have been wasted on me, although perhaps if I had the gift I would have realigned somehow towards expressing myself through movement. But, honestly, I’m happy for the overall team that the fat guy on the scoreboard got The Gift because he knows what to do with it. It is him. It might be you. It isn’t me.

The Brilliant Question. Before I even read as far as your own answer to the Brilliant Question I had my own. It didn’t take half a second. I would be a singer/songwriter with a real voice. To sing the words – my words – and to sing them with a gushing fountain of vocal power would have been The Gift. I would have been carried away with it. I would have Justin Biebered. I would have driven my Ferrari in donuts on my Beverly Hills neighbor’s lawn. Nothing would bring me back to Earth.

I’ve settled for an avocation of regular, plodding, unsung writing. But regular writing, come on people, is just 2nd class singing your words. Poetry is the braille of song. Anyone who can sing knows that. Or maybe anyone who can’t sing knows that. All my fantasies of myself tend to the expression of myself through music and language. This is going to sound like a competitive “dick” comment, but in the half second to answer your question I didn’t actually think sing like anybody. I don’t want to be anybody else. Certainly not Bob Dylan. I actually want to be exactly who I am, but way louder and with longer notes.

Heaven help us.

I will settle for the occasional sentence that hints at the long stage shadow of the singer I never was.

And now for the twirl and the staccato hand claps: At the end of the Mariners’ game on Sunday, which was also the end of their season, the players came out on the field at the end of the game and threw out t-shirts and baseballs to kids in the stands and gave stuff out. It was Kids Appreciation Day, this last game 162, and at the start of the game there was the hope that if we won and the Athletics lost, we’d be in the post-season. I paid a fortune to get Alannah and me in and close to the field. I’ve waited years for the team to get anywhere. And for an afternoon we were almost there.

And the Mariners were amazing Sunday. Felix Hernandez was brilliant. He struck out 7 in the first three innings. He pumped his fist in the air and twirled on the mound. He skipped over the first base line when he came out (he always does that), and, to a man, we all watched the out-of-town scoreboard to follow the Athletics score in Texas. At some point at about our 5th inning, the Athletics won and our season’s last hope was over. It was sad, but everybody felt proud of our players for giving us a great season and they had a standing ovation and did a great wave (hands extending into the liberated arm zone) for about ten minutes.

And the players and coaches were handing stuff out afterwards and playing loud hip hop music on the stadium PA – and one of the Mariners, Tom Wilhelmsen, a reliever started doing a dance right on the field. It was a freaky urban spastic flapping right angles sort of a thing. It got other Mariners dancing, too, and throwing their gloves in the air. Immediately they picked the dance up on the Diamond Vision scoreboard. I raced to get it on my iPhone and got the last second before he did a small reprise at the dugout steps. The dancing moment made the team’s MLB site the next day. So that’s the ‘play’ from the game I remember. You can see it here.

And, OMG, ICFBI, you called Bob Dylan creepy and old! I added it as a tag to this entry, and it is now your turn. I am panting hard and waiting for my scores to come in.

The braille comment probably cost me an 8 or a 9.


What the hell is this all about? Who are the Nathan Brothers? Why is this being posted in a public forum? Does the web need this? Really?

I haven’t quite hit my maximum irritation threshold. Where can I find more?