Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Find Your Musical Touchstone

I am writing this from a plane, trying to take advantage of the really spotty Southwest Wi Fi, as I make my way back home to Fort Myers. For the past two years I have basically done this exact same trip every week. For the two years prior to that it was every two weeks as I would fly to Fort Myers to see my fiancée, or my girlfriend, or the woman who ten years ago this week sat directly behind me at graduation and who I really hoped would become my girlfriend. The fact that this all refers to the same woman stuns me, partly due to the nature of the story and partly for the sheer fact that someone would put up with my nonsense for four years and counting. But for every flight there has been one constant. Every single time I have gotten on a plane to see Kim the first thing I do after we reach 10,000 feet is put on my headphones and listen to Josh Rouse.

I am not exaggerating about this in the least. On every single flight I have listened to the same performer. You can call me a creature of habit (or obsessive compulsive if you happen to be my therapist) but this is part of my routine. I have listened to all of his albums over and over again to the point that I can discuss individual chord changes and can probably identify when he changes members of his band. All this for someone who has never had a single hit and who almost no one I have ever met has ever heard of.

Even I have a hard time explaining how I first came across his music. I think it was from of all things one of those Music Choice cable channels that exist at like channel 753 on your cable system. The ones no one ever visits, especially the one channel that focuses on Americana or Alternative Country or Music that Sounds Vaguely Folky but not Hipster Folky like Mumford and Sons or whatever we are calling that genre this week. There I came across a song I liked from someone I had vaguely heard of so I picked up a copy of Nashville. And then a copy of 1972 and of Home and of Under Cold Blue Stars and on and on and on. And the only reason I could ever provide as to why I kept on buying CD after CD was that whenever I listened to one of his discs good things happened.

Josh Rouse has obviously become one of my favorite artists and yet I still struggle to explain his music. He just writes simple and beautiful pop songs. He can make a line like “In the Nashville sky shines a diamond bright” sound like pure poetry. There are no obtuse lyrics or stretches for meaning or repeated singing of “Baby oh yeah baby all right.” Everything is straightforward and heartfelt and for some reason that I can’t explain can turn off all of the noise in my head, remove all of my anxieties and leave me hopeful for what is to come. One of his lyrics has even become a personal motto for me. “Some people don’t evolve. They’re content with what they’ve got. They just sit back and they watch TV. But that’s not me.”

I read online this week someone try to explain how when you are growing up and finishing college you kind of have a view of the world that once you become an adult and are out in the real world that life will become easier. That and all of the flailing about that you undergo in your youth falls away and everything makes sense. Of course that is complete nonsense as becoming an adult just means more wandering about with no clue what is going on in the world except that now there is even more pressure on you. The only difference is that becoming an adult means that you recognize this and learn how to handle it. Music has always been one of my ways to make sense of the world and Josh Rouse has played more than his role.

Everyone should find some artist like this in their life. Someone whose work you follow, who you build a personal connection to and who just plays their part in your personal soundtrack. Life can be rough and horrible and more challenging than you had ever feared. I know that all too well and I’ve had as blessed a life as anyone could ever imagine. We all need are touchstones in life. Josh Rouse is mine. Listen to his music. Good things will happen.

“We’re going through the changes, hoping for replacement, until we find a way out of this hole.”

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