Strolling through intertwining neighborhoods, I wear my brown plastic spectacles. They feel like a submarine spyglass, my vision narrowed to two tear-shaped prescription lenses. Outside the frames, the world is fuzzy like a child's watercolor painting where puddles on paper blur trees into orange and yellow blobs, houses into fuzzy shapes and shadows, squirrels into gray smears and my dog, Penny, into a brown and yellow smudge. Inside my pocket, a portable music player spews sound waves of banjos, pianos, guitars and tambourines.
Through cigarette-smoking, whiskey-slugging voices, my male musicians serenade me stories. Brash bands of travelers, they meet and make lovers amidst drunkenness, train cars and gigs in music halls, pubs and apartment living rooms. They have no secrets. They sing rhymes about regrets and hopes. They sing songs about gregarious girlfriends, rebellious antics and impoverished childhoods. My female musicians sing, with piercingly precise pitches, lyrics about late night loneliness, babies and forgiveness. They sing songs about men in their beds, elephants and love. And they all, from the baritones to the sopranos, trill their poetry into microphones, recording their harmonies to be played and replayed and replayed.
One cold afternoon in New York City, a few years ago, while feeling particularly alone, I walked through the city wearing my long, puffy, lime colored coat (a down jacket my mother mailed to me for my birthday that November). When the dark sky let rain fall down, I pulled my hood over my headphones and amidst shiny umbrellas and the rubber boots of strangers, I walked in my hooded tunnel, listening to Deb Talan sing me her sad song, Comfort.
...In days to come when your heart feels undone may you always find an open hand and take comfort wherever you can. And oh, it's a strange place. And oh, everyone with a different face, but just like you thought when you stopped here to linger we're only as separate as your little fingers. So cry, why not? We all do, then turn to one you love and smile a smile that lights up all the room....
Comfort: Deb Talan: A Bird Flies Out
In New York City, Deb Talan was my buddy, a pen pal who never expected letters. Living inside my headphones, she sang me her secrets about a lost love affair and her determination to be happy. When I moved from New York to Boston, my brother introduced me to Joe Purdy. A gruff, sincere musician, he sings stories about youth in the South, ladyloves and his travels to Holland, California and Paris. Later, I saw The Swell Season in the film, Once, a modern day musical about an Irish busker (Glen Hansard) and a Czech pianist (Marketa Irglova) who meet in Dublin and make an album together. The list goes on.
I attach myself to artists who build anthologies of music from their lives, enhancing their stories with singing and strings and bells and drumsticks. Many, it appears, flee from lovers, love and hometowns, writing their lives into lyrics within the safety of moving tour buses and foreign cities. Yet I would not call them cowards, but proactive people. Boldly and openly made up of flaws and fears, they strip on stages and in recording studios with only scribbled notebooks and microphones to hide behind. Here they are, they sing. This is them.
Someone I was arguing with through email recently, for I was too timid to speak with her in person or by telephone, told me that she was surprised and sad that I didn't really know her. This was true, I didn’t. But I don’t really know most people. I am too shy to poke for potentially private information. This is why I like hiding inside jacket hoods, while musicians sing me their stories. I do not expect everyone in my life to pick up a banjo and play me songs about their childhood woes, but admittedly would love it if they did. For I prefer the clear simplicity of a written raw reality to the indecipherable blur of real life.
A few years ago, Deb Talan met Steve Tannen, another folk musician. They married, made babies and now make the band, The Weepies. Talan sings it better than I.
When I was a child everybody smiled. Nobody knows me at all. Very late at night and in the morning light, nobody knows me at all. I got lots of friends, yes, but then again, nobody knows me at all. Kids and a wife, it's a beautiful life, nobody knows me at all. And oh when the lights are low, oh with someone I don't know. I don't give a damn, I'm happy as a clam, nobody knows me at all. Ah, what can you do? There's nobody like you. Nobody knows me at all. I know how you feel, no secrets to reveal, nobody knows me at all. Very late at night and in the morning light, nobody knows me at all.
No Body Knows Me At All: The Weepies: Say I Am You