Modern music never has the ability to truly possess me. Not the way “Bookends” by Simon and Garfunkel can possess me as it spins on a turntable. Not the way “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan can possess me as I accelerate up the ramp to Highway 1 with California sun peeking over the mountains and in through the moon roof of my old ’91 Volvo. These moments are captivating: I lose myself in an emotion that only exists within the union of the notes and the riffs and the lyrics and the harmonies.
That said, there’s been occasions that I can recall where I’ve been enraptured in the same way to modern music, so I’d like to give credit where credit is due to a couple of these incredible artists. These songs are in the same realm and have similar emotion, so I thought I’d share them together. I always head into work at Rockwood Music Hall, an intimate little venue with three separate rooms and stages in the heart of the Lower East Side, anticipating the same thing: An opening act, most often of the singer/songwriter/folky sound.
Typically it’s perfectly enjoyable—mediocre, but enjoyable enough. That’s most often followed by maybe a three or four-piece band. Sometimes they’ll be acoustic, sometimes super electro, sometimes it’ll be an entire drum circle on stage. Either way, it’s generally more interesting (and with more talent) than the opener. And then the headliner, which varies all the time, but guarantees that the space in the room that was previously empty (with the exception of however many friends the other performers could convince to come out on a Wednesday night) fills up and the real show begins.
I got into work a little late one day; my favorite lighting was coming through the wall sized front window. The sun has just about set but it’s still just bright enough out to see clearly, even though all the streetlights and store fronts have already lit up for the night. I crept in the door as people were clapping so I wouldn’t disturb the performer’s set, and then slid behind the bar as Sanders Bohlke tuned his guitar for his next song. It was phenomenal.
When he finished playing there was literally about seven seconds of complete silence from the crowd before anybody clapped, or even breathed. The last note echoed in this silence and I looked around at dropped jaws. I don’t even think I’m exaggerating. I’m pretty sure mine was dropped too.
This recording will never do the performance justice, but just try to imagine this rich, emotional, beautiful song ringing through the acoustics of a little New York City venue, with red velvet walls and dim exposed filaments lighting up a thick wooden bar.
The next is a dear friend of mine who I believe to be one of the best current artists. He’s kind of a head case—he’s neurotic, paranoid, sensitive and known to lash out. But he’s also hilarious, and charming, and brilliant. The first time I heard this song he only had the melody down. He was messing around with it on a ukulele in the kitchen of his Bologna, Italy apartment at around 4 in the morning. I was half asleep, but as his voice would come in and out of my subconscious, humming the parts he had decided on, I thought it was perfect.
When I finally heard the final product I was blown away. I listened to it on repeat, full volume one rainy day in my new empty apartment. I couldn’t stop playing it. The passion in his voice and words is haunting.