Last night, in Singapore's Durian-inspired Esplanade Theatre, I saw Andrew Bird put on a show. Bird is one of those rare performers that sounds almost exactly the same live as he does on albums, which might have to do with the fact that he's playing all of the instruments both live and on his albums.
So Bird's up there punching pedals with his feet, looping tumbleweed whistles with staccato violin plucketry and mournful pulls on his bow and guitar chords and all sorts of other noises into what finally evolves into something like a band's wall of sound. It's pretty fascinating to watch.
And then he played a song called Gray Matter, which he originally wrote as a song called Sweetbreads, and he sang it as it was on the original. Which has chorus that goes like this: "They call them sweetbreads, I could taste what you were thinking, ooooh, sweetbreads, that's the taste of neurons blinking."
But before the song, the shy and sort-of-awkward performer said something (I'm paraphrasing here) like this: "This song is about tasting the brain, and, well, I rewrote it because I thought it was kind of upsetting. But, you know, we eat animal's hearts, and brains, and places where the soul is said to reside, and don't really talk about the implications of that very much. But we probably should, you know?"
I love eating sweetbreads, which come from the thymus or the pancreas of hoofed mammals, but that's not why I kept turning Bird's words over in my head. It also wasn't because I was stoned, because I was in a concert hall in Singapore.
As he plucked his violin strings and sang of sweetbreads I thought about all the hearts and brains and feet I've eaten, and how even when you're eating them you don't really consider what that thing was doing a few hours or days before. And I made a note to think about it the next time I ate something in which "the soul was said to reside." And I did, at lunch, the very next day.
I'm not crazy about Singapore's food like some people are (I find much of it is greasy, one-dimensional, and sort of overrated). But I'm hip to the fact that there's some great cooking going on here too. And when I come to Singapore, the first thing I want to eat is curry fish head. Today, at the famous Banana Leaf Apolo I got my fix, as Bird's words fluttered around in my head. Looks like Mel Gibson has too.
But I digress. The fish's flesh was firm and sweet, the sour tamarind curry was fiery and complex, and really I couldn't imagine a better lunch. And as i plucked off the fatty, tender cheek of the fish, I considered it swimming around in the deep, scarfing up so many small creatures. I felt great privilege to be eating such a formidable looking fish's head; a head that would probably go to waste in the West. It just might just be where that animal's soul resides, I thought, because it's definitely the most delicious part of the fish.
So, anyways, that's the taste of my neurons blinking.