This is [Part II of] an Open Letter.
To: Eddie Vedder, Jay Farrar, Tom Waits, Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings, Dan Bern, David Byrne, Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova, Colm Mac Con Iomaire, Rob Bochnik, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Mic Christopher, Mark Geary, Ezra Caldwell, Sam Amidon, Jolie Holland, Win Butler, Mike Cooley, Lisa Hannigan, Joe Henry, JohnSmithJohnSmith
Cc: Eddie Watson, Ben Gunsberg, Ryan Reardon, Rob Robertson, Jason Slatton
Bcc: K–, T–
Re: Finding One’s Voice
Part I of this open letter is where I tell about how I can’t play guitar but want to, have always wanted to. Also it is where I display my inability to play guitar (…plus also I sing. A, like, song. I, like, wrote. Or whatever…) to the world. Via YouTube. As some sort of hair shirt. Or something. For an unrequited love. (Lord. What a perfectly beautiful lady…) Etc.
Seriously, though. It’s quite a spectacle.
Click here to check it out. I’ll wait…
So without further ado, let’s proceed to Part II:
Why I Really Picked Up a Guitar When I Was 39
Because of a (different) lady. (Was [is] beautiful… shelf-life… longer than a week, shorter than forever, etc.) Of course. But also because I watched a movie, one that refused to let me ignore what my time with this woman had meant (still meant, still means) to/for/about me.
It’s a long story. One I don’t exactly care to go into. Not here.
Mostly the parts I really care about are private. But I think I have to at least pussyfoot around it a little more because, I mean, you (I) can’t understand all this without giving it a little air time.
I was in love. Very. She was younger than me and smarter than me and stronger than me and wiser than me, and I was (very) sure she was going to save me from myself. Long story short, that didn’t happen. Through no fault of hers. Now (I hear tell) she’s with somebody who doesn’t need saving. The End.
But then I watched a movie about music, about a man and a woman who is younger than him and smarter than him and stronger than him and wiser than him, and he’s absolutely sure she’s going to save him from himself. And she does, sort of, except, also she doesn’t. Etc. Etc. The End.
The kicker is, it turns out it wasn’t just a movie. It was two people’s lives, roughly fictionalized, caught on film, and offered up for the Whole World to consume. Which a lot of us gladly did. It’s a very charming movie; they’re very charming people.
But that’s just it: they’re people. Real people. This happened to them. It’s still happening to them.
Anyway: it’s sure as shit still happening to him.
Him ≈ Glen Hansard.
That’s him up there, red-faced. Jabbing (with extreme unction) at the stringed instruments. Plus also pushing it out from his guts.
The movie is Once and I really hesitate to write about it any more than I already have, here and elsewhere. A good bit of that hesitation/fatigue has to do with all the miles I’ve logged, the money I’ve spent, the places I’ve gone, and the things I’ve seen, heard, read, and done over the past few years in order to lose myself down the rabbit hole of the broad-ranging assortment of people, places, and ideas I now associate with this unassuming little story.
Partly too it’s because this unassuming little story just keeps multiplying itself so that now the descriptors unassuming and little don’t really describe it anymore.
There’s a follow-up album (plus two solo follow-ups to the follow-up, both of which [his especially]* more or less keep worrying the same beads); a documentary; a Tony-award winning Broadway musical…
It’s all good and I like it, but honestly, it’s a little like having a bumper crop of rhubarb: you get rhubarb pie, rhubarb tarts, rhubarb jam, rhubarb soup, rhubarb salsa, rhubarb foie gras, socks made out of rhubarb, rhubarb hats, rhubarb soap, rhubarb phonograph needles, rhubarb Virgin Marys, rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb. After a while it’s like: Damn. I mean. Is it okay if we cool it with the rhubarb?
That last part’s much more snarky than I mean for it to be. Mostly I just think that way has lead onto way, you know? Like any profound creative influence, this story (these people) provided just the right kind of escape velocity for me at a critical point in my creative life (my life life) and now I guess I’ve dropped the rocket boosters and I’m preparing to leave the atmosphere. A new frontier (if not [we hope] the final one) awaits. Or something…
* A Very Important Tangential Aside In Which I Reveal That I Am Really Totally + Completely Full of Shit:
So you have to go back to the asterisk in the paragraph that starts “There’s a follow-up album…”
O: also: if you haven’t already, watch/listen to the Tiny Desk Concert above.
I’ve read reviewers who say ‘Rhythm and Repose,’ Hansard’s new solo album, is (A) 70s-singer-songwriter good, like Harry Nilsson or Cat Stevens or Van Morrison (which is pretty much so good it couldn’t be better) and/but (B) he’s still not above screaming too much.
They’re right about (A) [it's so, so great, if you like that sort of thing] but they’re wrong about (B). They couldn’t be more wrong. He screams because he’s broken. Broken open.
Anyway. That’s the story I tell myself.
But this isn’t a story: it’s the best thing he’s ever done. It isn’t rhubarb. It’s the thing he’s been working towards all along.
You Can Switch Gears with Me Now, Right? Yes. Yes, You Can. I Trust You.
So I went to New York (once again) to see Glen Hansard play music in June, not too long ago. Also Lisa Hannigan was there, singing, and Lisa Hannigan and her singing — both things — could not be more beautiful. So I went there.
I guess it was stupid that I didn’t think this trip would change my life. But it did. Before I went, I had not ever written a song. After it, I wrote one. And sang it. For the “world.”
But more than that:
After I went to see Glen Hansard and Lisa Hannigan (and JohnSmithJohnSmith, Colm Mac Con Iomaire, Rob Bochnik, et al) in New York City, I knew for sure there was something important I wasn’t writing about. Something more important than anything. Something in my gut that I need to push out. Figuratively, of course, but maybe even literally.
I can’t say for sure I’ll do that here. But now I know I need to do it somewhere, somehow. And I feel lucky for knowing that. Thankful, too.
Music can do that.
The Music People who speak to us, abidingly, have that power (for and over us), whether they know it or not. That’s why we cherish them, and it’s why we trust them to guide us even if we’re not sure why we — they — do it.
To Be Continued…
Which is to say:
- Heroes, Gurus, Avatars, and Other Mythic Guides: A Primer
- Wherein I Write (or [Continue] to Write) about the Things I’ve Been Avoiding