Tag Archives: Seattle

LIVE: Sharon Van Etten, The Neptune, Seattle, WA

By Gabriel Mathews

Walking into The Neptune, I decided it was Seattle’s answer to LA’s Fonda. Bizarre murals and really good sound, and expensive beer. Between sets, the entire place was bathed in green light.

I’ve been really into Jana Hunter’s band, Lower Dens, for a while now. For this tour, she was billed as “Jana Hunter (of Lower Dens),” implying that she wouldn’t be doing a the standard solo set one might expect from someone who once was a solo artist. And she didn’t, instead playing a bunch of new tracks from Lower Dens’ forthcoming third records. I can’t say I was thrilled by the material—it’s going in a significantly synthier direction than even 2012’s Nootropics, and many of the songs were reverbed to hell so I couldn’t even make out the notes. What’s more, she performed these tracks sitting down, with the backing tracks pumping out of a computer, making quite the testament to the power of a live band. Hunter closed her set with a cover of Hall & Oates’ “She’s A Maneater,” which was creepily groovy, but overall this set was pretty dull.

Not as dull, however, as Courtney Barnett’s set. I don’t know, maybe I’m just really not Barnett’s intended audience, but I could not for the life of me get into this music. I’ve only ever heard her excellent hit single “Avant Gardener,” which was the only song of the set I actually enjoyed. Other than that, Barnett and her band ran through about forty minutes of songs that all sounded exactly the same with their garagey shuffle. At least the girl three rows in front of me dancing like she was on acid seemed to be enjoying herself.

Sharon Van Etten and her five-piece band took the stage clad all in black, and I was super excited. Van Etten’s Tramp is by now a certifiable broken-hearted classic, and her preceding record, Epic, is also mind-blowing. Her brand new record, Are We There, is also good, but just doesn’t have the songs— you know, the “Love Mores” and “Give Outs” and “Asks” and “One Days” and “I’m Wrongs.” It’s a perfectly good record, but nothing on it sticks for me the way most of Tramp does.

In recent interviews, Van Etten has expressed an interest in distancing herself from that record, which she feels was a team effort that got attention for its many collaborators (Aaron Dessner, Matt Barrick, Julianna Barwick, Jenn Wasner) more than for her songs. I think she’s dead wrong, but apparently the self-produced Are We There is something of an attempt to reclaim her own music. So the night’s big question was really about the ratio of new songs to old ones. Sadly for me (and I think a lot of people) the scales were tipped severely in the “new” direction.

While Are We There highlights like “Break Me,” “Every Time The Sun Comes Up,” and “You Know Me Well” were all really quite good, the only Tramp cut we got was a rushed “Serpents,” and the only Epic cut was “Don’t Do It.” (This was actually, I think, the highlight of the set for me; I’d never paid a lot of attention to this song on record, but the live rendition was easily the most rocking and interestingly arranged track of the bunch, with post-rock guitars layered over a looped vocal from the keyboardist.) I was severely disappointed. Tramp put Van Etten on the map, it’s filled with incredible songs, and we really wanted to hear them.

That said, I can understand not wanting to play those songs. Artists get asked all the time what it’s like to play songs about their personal tragedies night after night, and the question applies better to Sharon Van Etten than to most, as she bleeds herself dry in every song. Maybe she just can’t bring herself to play “Give Out” anymore. Maybe “Love More” hurts too much. I wouldn’t be surprised. This set really raised the question, though, of the degree to which musicians are beholden to their audiences. Is there an obligation to play your hits? How do you balance that with the desire to stick to your artistic guns, or just to move on?

Also, I have to acknowledge Van Etten’s fantastic stage presence. Like her buddies in The National, she balances the sadness of her music with a wacky, dry sense of humor that you really wouldn’t expect. She spent the entire night joking with the audience, calling out her band mates, and using the breaks between songs to excellent effect. When one guy called out “You’re weird!” Van Etten responded, “I am weird,” then proceeded to pantomime picking her nose and wiping it on her butt. During the utterly heartrending “Your Love Is Killing Me,” she pantomimed the chorus—“Break my legs so I can’t run to you / Cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you / Burn my skin so I can’t feel you / Stab my eyes so I can’t see.” It didn’t undercut the song nearly as much as it enhanced it.

On top of being a real funny lady, Van Etten has incredible pipes. Even though I don’t love the songs she played as much as the ones she didn’t, I found myself getting the shivers several times just due to the sheer beauty of her voice. And for that I’m grateful.

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LIVE: Chad VanGaalen, Tractor Tavern, Seattle, WA

By Gabriel Mathews

For my first ever show in Seattle, I could have done a lot worse than the Tractor Tavern. Located in the heart of Ballard, the Tractor is a nicely countrified space with good sound and a solid beer selection. I wouldn’t be surprised if that last bit ends up being true about most venues in Seattle, but I’m glad it was true of the Tractor. If only I’d had the money to get on Chad VanGaalen’s level… But more on that later.

Seattle natives Hibou were up first, and there’s really not much I can say about them, aside from this humble request (read: desperate plea): Can we all just please be done with chiming, reverb­-drenched guitars? It is very possible to be too damn chill. Also, Hibou guy, are you consciously trying to sound like the dude from Tokyo Police Club? Because you really, really do.

Cousins, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, fared significantly better. Their incredibly straight- forward garage­folk was altogether lovely. Set opener “Thunder” is maybe the best song with only three lines I’ve ever heard, and the duo (augmented by a saxophonist for this set) didn’t stop there. Bowl-­cutted frontman Aaron Mangle has a serious knack for simple, melancholy tunes, and Cousins’ bare­bones setup accentuated his husky wail really nicely. Cousins’ songs reminded me of a number of simple, direct bands making simple, direct songs these days, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they join the ranks of widely adored acts like Waxahatchee and Swearin’. Though I have yet to actually hear it, I highly recommend their new album, The Halls of Wickwire.

After putting down his saxophone, Chad VanGaalen picked up his zany head­less guitar. (Oh, yeah, that was him up there with Cousins, exhibiting yet another of his seemingly endless talents.) Mangle grabbed a bass, and the two were joined by a drummer for a surprisingly rocking power­trio setup. I suppose surprise isn’t really the appropriate reaction, as VanGaalen has been toning down his folkiness a bit on his last two albums, 2011’s winding Diaper Island and this year’s excellent Shrink Dust. That said, his albums have always had rock moments, folk moments, electro moments, and mostly indescribable moments, so I wouldn’t necessarily have put it past him to get on stage with nothing but an 808 and a trombone.

After tearing through Shrink Dust openers “Cut Off My Hands” and the strangely groovy “Where Are You?”, VanGaalen took a break to tell us that this was the last date of the tour, and that he was very excited to be seeing his family in Calgary the next day. He told us a lot of other things over the course of the night: How he’d clogged the venue’s toilet with “poopoo­caca” while draping his fingers over the edge of the saloon­-style door to make sure people knew he was in there; how he’d left a Batman piñata, which he slurred into “piñassa” multiple times, on the side of the road between Berkeley and Eugene; how sitting in a van for so long had caused his balls and his anus to fuse together. Chad VanGaalen is one weird dude, especially when quite drunk.

But that weird dude makes some incredible, haunting, enthralling music. Highlights for me were a ripping, electrified rendition of his 2008 Polaris-­Prize­-nominated masterpiece Soft Airplane’s “Rabid Bits Of Time,” as well as “Willow Tree” and “Poisonous Heads,” both off the same album. During an acoustic patch, a few of Shrink Dust’s prettiest songs shone through, most notably “Weighted Sin,” which is tragically excellent. Also done acoustically, and much to the excitement of the female fan behind me was “Shave My Pussy,” which is a really fascinating song about female body insecurity that just happens to be written by a 6’4” man.

A few bars into Diaper Island’s “Sara,” VanGaalen told us it was about his wife, and that every time he plays it he fucks it up and feels really bad. At the end of a gorgeously heartfelt rendition, he said that it had been maybe the worst version he’d ever done, which was very hard to believe. His excuse: “I was just undressing her in my mind the whole time. I have a very hot wife.” He then went on to tell us about what an amazing mother she is to his kids, and how she’d told him, “If you want to stay with me, you have to put babies inside me.” Then, with about the same amount of heart, he played “Lila,” named for his recently deceased dog.

All drunken jesting aside, VanGaalen’s set reminded me frequently of the most exciting creative impulses involved in making music. Many of the set’s most thrilling moments felt improvised, and, upon returning to the stage for his encore (zipping his fly as he rejoined us from a quick “pee pee”), he even offered to improvise a new song for us on the spot. Which he then did, wonderfully, as his bandmates joined him, swapped instruments, and jammed the shit out of it. VanGaalen’s work has always seemed the product of a possibly disturbed mind, and I can’t say that this show made me any less worried about him, or his kids for that matter. That said, his set was gloriously fucked up, and I can’t wait to see what he gets up to the next time I catch him.

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Episode 86: The Scene

Thanks to Gabriel Mathews for joining us! You can listen to the episode above, and download it right here.

Topic:

  • What does a music “scene” look like?
  • How does Portland’s scene compared to that of LA?
  • How do scenes get started?
  • Can one be started, or does it have to grow organically?
  • What makes Portland’s scene different from those elsewhere in the country?
  • What about scenes throughout history? Or based around a specific venue, or a record label?

Songs:

  • ibid. – “Hum”
  • Les Savy Fav – “Sleepless in Silverlake”
  • Death From Above 1979 – “Turn It Out”
  • Death Grips – “Up My Sleeves”

Continue reading

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Episode 77: Teen Spirit

Thanks to Mayhaw Hoons for joining us on the show this week! Listen above, download here.

Topic:

  • Kurt Cobain: 20 years passed
  • What impact did Nirvana have on our lives?
  • Why did Nirvana break in the way that they did?
  • Would music be the same if the band had never existed?
  • Where would the band end up if Cobain didn’t die?

Continue reading

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Episode 18: Friends & Rock Bands

Here we go: a star-studded episode, featuring old guests Kelly Dixon and Darren Hicks, plus Seattle native Stephanie Kim! To download the episode, right-click HERE!

Topic:

  • Interpersonal relationships and music
  • Is there any problem with having friendships based around mutual taste in music, or art in general?
  • Conversely, is it wrong to avoid that relationship because of a large difference in these tastes?

Songs Used:

Bands Mentioned:

  • Frank Ocean
  • Drake
  • Katy Perry
  • Kanye West
  • Jay-Z
  • The-Dream
  • Tyler, The Creator
  • Dave Brubeck
  • Clarke Corea
  • Levon Helm / The Band
  • Brittany Howard / Alabama Shakes
  • LL Cool J
  • Chuck D
  • Tom Morello
  • Travis Barker
  • MCA
  • Fun
  • Patrick Carney / The Black Keys
  • Mumford & Sons
  • Jack White / White Stripes
  • Jennifer Lopez
  • Macklemore
  • Ryan Lewis
  • Ben Gibbard / The Postal Service
  • Sigur Ros
  • Cake
  • Violent Femmes
  • Stone Roses
  • Wu-Tang Clan
  • Blur
  • Jurassic 5
  • 2 Chains
  • Johnny Marr
  • The XX
  • John Wesley Harding
  • Chris Funk
  • Colin Meloy
  • Laura Veirs
  • Sallie Ford
  • Peter Buck / The Baseball Project / R.E.M.
  • Michael Jackson
  • Paul McCartney
  • Dolly Parton
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Tom Waits
  • k.d. lang
  • Philip Glass
  • Cloud Cult
  • Matmos
  • Jamie Lidell
  • The Doors
  • Le1f
  • Everything Everything
  • Alt-J
  • Tegan & Sara
  • Christopher Owens / Girls
  • Pet Shop Boys
  • LCD Soundsystem
  • Arcade Fire
  • Bright Eyes
  • Sufjan Stevens
  • Sunny Day Real Estate
  • Nickelback
  • Everclear
  • Machine Gun Kelly
  • The National
  • Neutral Milk Hotel
  • Arab Strap
  • Omar Souleyman
  • Pavement
  • Box Car Racer
  • Paramore
  • He Is We
  • Iron & Wine
  • The Beatles
  • Davey Havok / AFI
  • Purity Ring
  • Animal Collective
  • Phil Elverum / Mount Eerie
  • Lil’ Wayne
  • Justin Bieber
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The Ones Worth Leaving

As I write this, I am listening to The Postal Service’s Give Up for the umpteenth time since its release a decade ago. The Northwest breeds a very specific sound into its rock music, so it stands to reason that that same sound would be very prevalent in the electronic music made herein. The thing that everyone forgets is that, somehow, this album broke a substantial amount of ground, in ways that weren’t immediately obvious. For me, there was something tremendously beautiful about the blips and beats all over that record, and even now, listening to “Recycled Air,” I find myself with goosebumps. It’s an unassuming record, and it has been a year or two since I’ve put the album on. However, The Postal Service have returned from their slumber to celebrate the decade’s passage by playing a few shows, and with all of the talk about how happy I am to have them back, it feels necessary to listen again.

I was dying my hair black when I first heard “Such Great Heights,” in the bathroom of our apartment in Washington. I don’t know what I thought I was hearing, but just like everyone at that point in time, I fell in love with that sound. This was not long after the release of both Give Up and the Death Cab for Cutie record Transatlanticism, which meant that Ben Gibbard’s voice was a mainstay on my radio, and in turn, in my head. At this point in time, my love of Seattle music was just beginning to take hold (thanks to Modest Mouse and Nirvana, which I had also just truly discovered), and as such, I grabbed onto Gibbard’s music and lyrics like a life raft. Give Up became something of a safety blanket to me, once I got myself a copy, and I almost never wanted to stop listening to it. To this day, it’s one of the only albums I know every square inch of, front to back, purely from memory. Even my favorite albums, which I return to more often than this, have strange gray areas in my memory.

Gibbard’s words felt like they could never have been recorded in a studio. This was where “bedroom recording” was slowly starting to become truly prominent, and the back-and-forth between his words and the incredibly organic programming delivered by Dntel mastermind Jimmy Tamborello formed a beautiful language that a lot of musicians would pull inspiration from. These were songs that were born out of solitude, which comes across on the recordings incredibly well. This is, I imagine, why the songs resonate with others in such a way: to their ears, this is the work of two people dancing, but doing it in the form of sound. The songs feel resigned to this isolation, which is why the album’s title feels like a helpful suggestion, rather than a command: give up.

This was around the time that my mother and I began to make the transition between living in Washington, and living in Oregon. I remembered going down with her on business, interviewing for different jobs, and on one particular occasion (the one that, indeed, solidified the plan to move) I was accompanied by three things: Jones Crushed Melon soda, Steve Martin’s The Pleasure of My Company, and Give Up. It was a beautiful March afternoon, and somehow, I began to allow myself to accept leaving Washington, and everything I’d ever known, in my 14 years of life. It was a scary point in time, but there were Ben and Jimmy, who taught me to accept these things, even though it was never their intention.

This obsession with The Postal Service, of course, lead to a thorough obsession with Death Cab for Cutie, due to my profound adoration of Gibbard’s voice and words. I jumped from Give Up to Transatlanticism, and then learned every single inch of that record, right down to the length of time where he lets his s’s trail off. If you asked me now, “Why were you so obsessed with those records?” I wouldn’t honestly be able to tell you. It is possible that, from an incredibly young age, I wanted badly to be a romantic, and in turn to relate to the loss of love, and these records allowed me to live vicariously through them. I poured over the lovelorn ways that he told me, “I am finally seeing, I was the one worth leaving,” or narrating the death of a relationship: “This is the moment that you know / that you told her that you love her, but you don’t.” There was a sort of heartbreaking bravery in these songs, and better still, these revelations were sung in the most conversational way possible, constantly bucking the notion of typical lyrical structure to benefit his own desires: it’s hard not to marvel at the gall he had to open a song with the line “The glove compartment is inaccurately named, and everyone knows it.” Who does this guy think he is? It didn’t matter that I couldn’t truly relate to these constant emotional damages. To me, they were close enough to real life.

Before I got married, I dated a girl who shared my sick obsession with this man’s music. We bonded over our obsession with Gibbard’s words, and in this way, it somehow changed the cellular structure of this sorrow. It somehow fueled our love, knowing that, deep down, we both understood the heartbreak of another person. We poured over every inch of these records together, building a strange narrative, in which these songs tell a complete story, and tell an even fuller story when combined with We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes, and the criminally underrated Plans. To this day, I really don’t understand what we got out of this, but this was a bond that I was incredibly grateful for. For months afterwards, I found it impossible to listen to this music without connecting it to the happier times I had experienced. Finally, I found a way to connect with those words. The tragic irony is, just a month later, they would release Narrow Stairs, and I have to wonder if our relationship would have been stretched out a few months longer if we’d gotten to obsess over that one.

A decade later, I still love this music, and I likely always will. This was my first foray into the subtle art of living in someone else’s sadness, a tradition I have held dear since learning that I truly love the music that can only be called “sad bastard music.” I’ve forged my own memories with these songs, and tried to erase some of the sadness embedded in them. I even went as far as to recite the lyrics to “Brand New Colony” on my wedding day, as my own personal wedding vows. My wife still gives me grief for not bothering to write my own vows. But what does she know? I know that song well enough that they may as well be my own words. And, I’m sure if you ask me how I feel about these songs in another decade, I’m probably going to tell you the same thing.

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Modest Mouse: I’m Angry That I’m So Damn Angry

Isaac Brock was born in 1975 in Helena, Montana. When he was 11, he moved to a small town in Washington, called Issaquah, which is famous for little more than its salmon hatchery. In 1993, he formed a band with his friends, like every 18-year-old dreams of doing, and remarkably, that band stuck around for a good long time. To date, Modest Mouse has put out five records, six EPs, and two rarities compilations. They’re also pretty famous for one of the best songs that you’re supposed to be ashamed that you like, “Float On,” which proved to be an incredible, super-massive hit for the band, over a decade into their career. However, if you are reading this, chances are you didn’t need any of that info because you already knew it, and have read the book, and know the songs, and own all of those recordings (except for the Interstate 8 EP, which you probably consider to be a white whale).

I was born in Seattle in 1990, and lived in and around it until I was 4, when we moved to Ravensdale, WA. We lived there for  nine years, until we moved to the nearby town of Maple Valley, which was better, in that if there was a power outage, it was taken care of that day rather than that week. All of this is significant to this story because, as I learned midway through my obsession with their fourth album, Good News for People Who Love Bad News, I learned that Isaac Brock was from the small town located just 15 miles from where I lived then. We’ll come back to this in a bit.

My musical taste up until 2004 was checkered, to say the very least. I went through phases that gravitated around what was on the Top 40 charts at the time (this swung from an undying obsession with the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys, to the same passion and obsession with the artists on the 8 Mile soundtrack, until my father discovered just how profane Obie Trice could be with the song “Adrenaline Rush”). Then, one day, I discovered the local “alternative” station, 107.7 The End, and its wealth of angsty, bitter songs that I had never, ever heard. I heard “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and “Black Hole Sun” and “Add It Up” for the first time, listening to the station on the portable CD player/FM tuner I carried around with me (a very old sentence, when you think about it) while in summer school. It was around this time that I needed songs like “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” the most.

I was a great student until the 6th grade. Until then, I was the best speller in the class, which was my only claim to fame. I was a social outcast, and really only had one good friend, so I found solace in learning. When the 6th grade rolled around, I began to take stock of my life, and the things around me: my father was abusive, and my parents, who fought constantly at this point, had decided to divorce. We were being forced to move out of my childhood home, and I didn’t really have anybody to share any of this pre-adolescent angst with. As a 22-year-old, I have yet to fully recover from those formative years, but something in the music I heard in those years kept me sane, and most importantly, changed me into something different entirely.

I heard “Float On” on that CD player, and I was immediately take by its jangly guitars and its despite-everything-optimism, to the point that I forced my mother to buy me that CD. I took it with me for a late-night walk on the trail near the apartment we had moved into, and began to take it in. The batteries died partway through, and I still remember where: halfway through “Bukowski,” just around the line “I can’t make it to your wedding, but I’m sure that I’ll be at your wake.” The words on that album grabbed onto me, hard. I learned later on that most Modest Mouse fans felt a decent amount of distaste for the pop sensibilities that their favorite musical outcast had adopted, but for the 14-year-old listening to those words, it was absolutely perfect. Modest Mouse was the first Mature Band that I ever really clicked with in that way (I bought the White Stripes album Elephant the year before that, but it never resonated in the same way, at least not until I was much older), and they inspired me to buy my first copy of Rolling Stone, specifically for an interview with Isaac Brock (for those wondering, the cover story was an interview with Doonesbury writer Garry Trudeau). This was a period with a lot of firsts.

Good News isn’t my go-to record anymore, even in the Modest Mouse catalog. As I worked my way backwards in the band’s music, I found a lot darker things to grab onto in my teenage angst, having abandoned the ability to really take solace in the pop songs on that record. It is not a bad record, by any means: “The World At Large” is one of my favorite songs, and “Bury Me With It,” “Dance Hall,” “Bukowski,” and “This Devil’s Workday” got me through a lot of tough times, being in my room, screaming the words at the top of my lungs. I remember my mother’s perplexed and disapproving looks the first time she heard the line “I JUST DON’T NEED NONE OF THAT MAD MAX BULLSHIT!!” and how equally perplexed she was when I nailed the high part on “Ocean Breathes Salty.” It may not be my favorite Modest Mouse record, but for what it’s worth, it is the one I love the most.

Listening to that CD player, I heard the Muse song “Time Is Running Out.” You know the one. It’s the one with the really killer bassline at the beginning, and the snaps. I loved that song, and under pressure from my friend (who I don’t even remember, now that I write this), I went to buy Absolution. Standing in the Target CD section, I found the album, and continued to browse. There, I found the cash-grab remastered edition of The Moon & Antarctica, the Modest Mouse record that had come out four years prior. “You can only get one,” my mother told me. So I made a choice that, now that I’m older, means that I am a completely different person. I realized this recently, that the months I spent obsessing could have been with a completely different record by a completely different band, one that valued sheen and hooks over content. And, considering my More-Alternative-Than-Thou brain, those are the values that would likely have stuck. There was a fork in the road, and I went left.

I got the album home and gave it a listen. The first thing you notice, hearing that album after Good News, is that those are two albums made by two different bands. “Everything that keeps me together is falling apart,” Brock sings right off the bat in “Third Planet,” “I got this thing that I consider my only art, of fucking people over.” “Third Planet” and “Gravity Rides Everything” are undoubtedly beautiful songs, and hearing them serves as a palette cleanser, leaving you fresh for the songs that come after it. The Moon & Antarctica is an album that helps you reexamine the tenants of loneliness and isolation: “The Cold Part” plays like a suicide note from a man who has chosen to set himself adrift on a chunk of ice, and “Lives” is that man’s eulogy: “You were the dull sounds of sharp math when you were alive / no one’s gonna play the harp when you die.” That descent is slow creeping, giving us little reprieve as you inch your way down (“Wild Pack of Family Dogs,” “Paper Thin Walls,” and “I Came As A Rat” always seemed so misplaced, but when you think about it, they’re wholly necessary as a way to turn back and glimpse the light before going any deeper), until the clanging finale, “What People Are Made Of.”

One of the things you notice on your first listen through is the stray lines that are so impeccably written, and it was one of these that flipped a switch in my head: “Well you cocked your head, to shoot me down / and I don’t give a damn about you or this town no more.” I knew that Brock was from a place so close to me before this, but hearing that line made me realize something very, very powerful: you don’t have to like anything about your upbringing. You’re allowed to hate where you live, who your parents are, what their values are, and the stupid grins of the people who don’t see who you are on the inside. In that line, he made it okay to rebel against things, and make your own life out of the weeds. He made me okay with my disdain for my parents’ divorce, and my father’s anger, and the looming threat of money troubles, and the fact that I had to move to Oregon soon because my grandfather was dying of cancer slowly, uprooting everything I had grown to know, even if it was everything I had grown to hate. In those words, he taught me it was okay because he knew what that was like. The musicians I had listened to for my 14 years leading up to this didn’t prepare me as an emotional being: they just wanted to tell a sk8r boi “see ya l8r boi,” rather than give my heart and soul a steady footing. And who could blame them? Eminem was a savior to a lot of kids, but I was a kid with emotional eating issues from a mossy mountain town in Washington, I was never going to be able to learn to rap my way out of that. I wasn’t going to be able to take part in five-part harmonies to get out of it, either, like the well-groomed Backstreet Boys (or the varied-in-their-grooming Spice Girls). What my savior taught me was that the best way out was to scream about it, and hammer on a guitar until your fingers bled.

Earlier this year, several hours after a horrendous attempt to remove a kidney stone (because I am 46, apparently), I had the pleasure of going to a fundraiser where Isaac Brock was performing. Right off the bat, he played “Trailer Trash,” a song off of The Lonesome Crowded West (An album I love, but one I won’t get into in this already very long essay). If you don’t know the song, look up the lyrics, because I can’t quote a single line from it without quoting the entire thing. It was incredibly moving, especially because I watched him perform it maybe three feet in front of me. After he was done playing, I took the opportunity to tell him about the impact he’d had on my life, and how his music kept me alive for those years when it felt like the world was against me. He thanked me for my story, seeming taken aback by it. We stood around outside, talking and smoking, and before leaving I shook his hand, and my friend gave him a fist bump. Brock made fun of him for it. I told him, “I’m worse, I’m a hugger.” “Yeah, that is way worse,” he said, right before demanding that I give him a hug. In hindsight, it seems impossible to me that I kept my composure throughout all of this.

I still live about 15 miles away from Isaac Brock, and his music is still an incredibly powerful force in my life, even though I don’t listen to those records as much anymore. I have a son of my own, and I’m going to make sure he never needs a musician to keep him alive. But when I was young, confused, and alone, that band did that for me. The music was my religion, and Isaac Brock was the best savior possible for a kid like me, even though (or especially because) he was so bitter.

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