By Aaron Shackelford
“Ive never been to Los Angeles. To be honest, I never had an urge to visit that sprawling metropolis. Then I met Gabriel Kahane. It was the spring of 2013, and Gabe and I crisscrossed UNCs campus as he discussed his vision for a new album that would explore the intersections of the myth and reality of Los Angeles. He shared with our faculty the questions he had been asking and the books that were inspiring his songwriting. They responded with their own ideas, pointing Gabe in new directions and excitedly breaking down the stories, the buildings, and the history that defines Los Angeles. That week I realized how natural Gabe is on a university campus; he has the same drive for asking questions, always striving to understand the interlocking worlds of our imagination and the universe that we inhabit. Gabe is a living example of how art interacts with the questions faculty and students across campus ask themselves every single day.
Now, a little over a year later, Gabes questions have led to The Ambassador. It is not an encyclopedia of Los Angeles. Instead it provides us with access points for reflecting on how we think about history, architecture, cinema, and the struggle to confront the darker moments of our nations past. The narrators in Gabes songs are most powerful when they challenge trite assumptions, echoing the driving curiosity that shapes his own art. And he reminds us, as we sit tonight to witness the premiere of the staged version of The Ambassador, to never stop exploring. I do want to visit LA now, because Gabe made me ask just what it is about this city of mysterious angels that inspired so many voices in answer to Gabes questions.”
Aaron Shackelford is the Postdoctoral Fellow for Carolina Performing Arts