I went to see Neko Case last night, right around the corner from my house. It was my birthday present—I turn thirty-nine on Wednesday—and at first I was a little ambivalent about going. Not because I don’t love Neko Case, but because it’d been a long day at work and it was sort of chilly and I’ve been watching Twin Peaks for the first time ever because I wasn’t cool enough to watch it in the 90s, and it just seemed like a good night to stay home. To be honest, I think that pretty much every night is a good night to stay home, but when someone gets you tickets to see a singer you love with a weird moony kind of love AND the show is literally around the corner from your house…
I do love her. It is a weird love, in that it’s not fangirlish, exactly. It’s not a ‘girl crush,’ whatever that even is anymore. I don’t even know a lot about her other than what she posts on Twitter–I haven’t listened to every song on every album. I loved Blacklisted when I was introduced to it, and the last time she came to town was for Middle Cyclone, which I also loved. I’ve had a harder time getting into her new album, partly because I am required to listen to Janelle Monaè at least twice daily or I go into a steep decline, and partly because I just haven’t got into it.
What I love about her is her voice, in the songs that I do know. I love her words that she writes, and her music that she plays, and that’s about it. You know how it goes—some music is just your music, for whatever reason, and it doesn’t have to be obsessive or fannish or anything else, it just has to be yours. Who knows how it happens, or why, or when, but you know when it does. It’s so obvious. You know that internal sigh of relief you feel when you hear the opening bars of one of your songs, that understanding that for the next three or five minutes you can be in it, directly inside the song; that you’re going to feel the certain way you always do when it plays. If it’s a song that’s been yours for a long time it can feel like revisiting your entire life, for a couple of chords.
How some humans can do that: write and play songs that belong to so many other humans, meaning so many different things, all at the same time, is really beyond me. How does it happen? How does it work?
I wasn’t thinking anything like that last night though as I laced up my shoes and decided against bringing a bag or a jacket or even my phone because the venue was just down the road. We got there and immediately I ran into some delightful friends, and we went up near the front, and the band came on pretty much on time, and Kelly Hogan was there being hilarious, and Neko’s hair was as wild as ever and her band had many beards. It was an older crowd than I was expecting—a lot of us, I think, were close to turning thirty-nine—and I stood behind a woman who seemed to be wearing a full-length white wedding dress, which was an interesting style choice for a Thursday night gig. No one filmed with their phones.
Neko played her music and sang her words with her beautiful voice. Before the band came on I was talking to a friend of a friend, asking if she’d seen her the last time she came to town—and I thought about that gig four years ago, to which I went alone, and stood in the front row, just letting the music filter over and around me. I did it again last night, even though I didn’t know most of the songs and couldn’t sing along like last time—opened up and let the whole thing just happen to me: lights and music and friends and the past four years, all wrapped up together, all settling neatly and nicely around me, standing on tiptoe, a couple of rows back. We all clapped and laughed and swayed a little bit—I hugged all the friends who were there too and we all said what a great show it was. I went home smiling and tweeted Neko how much I enjoyed the night. I wasn’t even tired this morning when I got up for work.
I didn’t listen to music really at all last year. I was afraid to. Even when my bandmate came back to town for a visit in November I couldn’t really get into our band practice; I just wasn’t that into the sound of my voice singing my words with our music. I thought maybe I would just listen to podcasts forever—and hey, maybe I will—but the last little while I’ve started to feel it coming back a little bit. Just a little bit: who knows if I’ll ever learn to play guitar or write another song or sing anywhere other than my shower. All I’m saying is that last night I remembered that there is still some music that still belongs to me; that grief hasn’t so completely altered the shape of my heart.