Last weekend I had one of my drink a lot of beer and listen to music really loud solo sing along nights. Just me and my beer, hanging out in the living room with the iPod, letting it shuffle its way around my emotions.
Amongst songs by Cloud Cult, Feist, The XX, and many others, came Anais Mitchell...who I adore.
Anais tells stories with her songs. She sets up scenes and players with words in a way that I can only compare to Paul Simon. She is a stellar songwriter and her voice gets you right where it wants to.
Back in September 2011, I went to see Ani Difranco perform at the Pantages Theater with Anais Mitchell opening (I've written about this show before). I was already a fan of Anais's, but had never seen her perform. I was excited for this show and then anxious because the day before my beloved dog Murray died and Anais has a song called "Changer" that just about rips me apart and makes me think of how I felt the day we put him down and I was terrified she would play it and I would burst into a bubble of uncontrollable sobs right there in theater.
I still can't listen to that song - I can't even read the lyrics - without crying. Just tried. Had to stop.
But she didn't play it. Instead she played her song "Shepherd". "Shepherd" tells the story of a farmer working hard to bring in the harvest while a storm moves in at the same time his wife is going into labor and (SPOILER ALERT) she and the baby die.
This song was unreleased at the time and I had never heard it before but the story sucked me in. I knew it wasn't going to end well and I sat on the edge of my seat and when it got to the conclusion, the tears were streaming and I didn't care. It was what I needed.
Music. Immediate. Connecting.
After the show, Anais was out in the lobby at the merch table chatting with people and signing items and all I wanted to do was run up to her and gush and thank her and tell her about my dog and my grief and how her performance moved me and helped me.
But then I thought that would be weird.
So I just went up to her and told her I really enjoyed her set and thanked her for playing...all the while holding back tears. I'm sure I looked like a frightful mess of a person.
I have an easier time listening to this song than "Changer". But still, every time I hear it - whether it's drunken nights in my living room or while playing her album Young Man in America in the car on the way to work - it still brings me right back to that day in September with my still fresh grieving wounds. And the story still makes me cry. And I'm still so thankful for her songs and just music in general for always being there for me.
Similarly, about a month ago, I was going through a rough patch. A bad one. Real bad. And one day I just had to get away. So I got in the car and drove around the metro for a couple of hours - finding back roads in the cities I had no idea existed. I didn't have much to listen to in the car at the time that fit my mood. My mix of fun pop songs wasn't going to cut it. But I had The National's Trouble Will Find Me - an album that I extremely disliked when I first got it...and I'm a big fan of The National. It was slow, repetitive. Just didn't excite me.
But I put it in the CD player because it was there and it wasn't Miley Cyrus or Tiffany. And holy shit did that album hit me like a fucking truck. Every single line was exactly my brain at that moment. I don't think I've ever felt more connect to a collection of songs at one moment in time than at that moment. I wanted to keep driving and listening to it on repeat until I was somewhere far, far away. But it also made me want to go back because it made me feel like I wasn't crazy and these emotions were real and felt by others and I shouldn't feel silly about having them.
Music. Immediate. Connecting.