Falling in and out and back in love with one man’s musical genius
You don’t know me, but your album changed my life forever the first time I heard it in the summer of 2005 and I’ve relied on your music ever since.
I was a 17-year-old kid driving to my shitty, summer job at a sporting goods chain when I discovered my friend Dan, (whose musical taste I respected more than anyone’s) had left your band’s CD on the passenger seat.
It was a burned copy, but we had been brought up in the age of Napster, so we didn’t really feel guilty about it. Anyway, I grabbed the disk and was almost immediately inspired. The catchy yet not cheesy melodies, the shaky yet hopeful vocals, the sense that you had been where I was right now – apprehensive about change, filled with both regret and optimism – hit me in a deep place I didn’t know music could reach. I decided to take the wrong exit on purpose, just so I could make sure the commute was long enough to hear the whole album.
When it was finished, I found myself sitting in the parking lot of the store I worked at, with the sort of euphoria that we get anytime we discover a piece of art that makes the life we’re living even just a little bit better.
And so I became obsessed. From the early, alt-country incarnations of the band to the indie/experimental phase, with an ever-changing line-up, I loved it all and your heart was in all of it. There was a certain bravery, I felt, in revealing that much of yourself in your songs.
A few months later when I first got to college and hosted a barely-listened-to radio show, I found your live record while digging through the new albums sent to the station. The live double album was fucking electric, rowdy yet still intimate. I needed to see your band live. I was determined.
Later in the spring, after I’d spent the first semester trying to get laid and getting high on whatever my hippie roommate (who’d spent the previous summer peddling acid) had in his possession, I got my chance.
I ran into my hippie roommate’s girlfriend, herself a free spirit, intensely beautiful and thin, on April 20th, one of those days where no one was going to class, and I don’t think many professors had expected anyone to go.
Anyway, as luck would have it, she had told me that she was on her way to see your show at Brown University. I must’ve said something like, “Oh man, I really gotta see that show” or something that made it abundantly clear how important it was for me because she agreed to drag me along to Providence, even though I didn’t even have a ticket to the sold-out concert.
Somehow, it all worked out that day, getting into the show free through a friend of a friend of a friend, being part of an exuberant crowd, fully immersing ourselves in the music. I guess that’s where my fandom peaked.
A little more than a year later, you fucking sold out.
I’ll never forget stumbling into dorm late one night, where my roommate was watching SportsCenter. I plopped down on the couch and in my drunken, sleepy stupor I heard a song off of the album that you guys had just put out. Was I dreaming, were you on TV? As I opened my eyes, there it was – your new song in a fucking car commercial.
I guess maybe I’m a purist, but the fact that you would be willing to sell your music to some faceless, multinational corporation just disgusted me. It still kind of disgusts me, to be honest. A couple years later you put out your most uninspired album ever, and worst of all, you got into politics.
The years passed, I graduated from college, saw you guys live a few more times and still regularly listened to the albums from back when your band made the kind of music that I’d been able to relate to so well. But, you’d let me down for sure. The music wasn’t the same. It seemed like you were playing it too safe and were satisfied with what had been an undeniably great run. It’s funny how we as music fans want to dictate the kind of songs you write and how they’re used. If you stray too far from what made your core-fans love you in the first place, there is a certain sense of betrayal. Warranted or not, I certainly felt betrayed.
And right as I was ready to write you off, you put out your latest record and like Al Pacino in The Godfather Part III, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” I’m all the way back in, ready to jump right back on the bandwagon now that you’ve once again found your way.
You probably won’t ever read this, but if you do, I wanted to say that I forgive you, even though there’s no way you could’ve known I was mad. But still, I forgive you. I forgive you for getting wrapped up in TV appearances, the hype around Obama, the subpar “dad rock” album that came before this one. I even forgive you for the car commercial.
You’ve started writing music that matters again and I don’t think a letter or even anything I could say in person would properly convey how grateful I am (and we all are). Once again, the songs resonate. Every time I put on that latest album, I’m reminded of being 17 in that parking lot, listening to the life-changing tunes that make existence on this planet seem just a bit more beautiful.
Dave Hurwitz can be reached at DaveSHurwitz@gmail.com.