Last week, May 16th, was my one-year anniversary of my move to Seattle. I wanted to write about what my year here has been like (magical, hard, beautiful, terrifying), and I knew I couldn’t tell my whole story like the narcissist in me wants to do- so I am going to focus on a wonderful circular tale. You see, on Friday, I am going back home to Colorado to 1) Assure my parents that I am brushing my teeth and paying my bills, and 2) to go to, dance at, and cover the May 29 The Head and the Heart/The Shins bill at the most stunning venue in Colorado- Red Rocks.
After I booked my flight, I recognized with outstanding clarity how important The Head and the Heart, as a band, has been in the two years since I decided to move, and then did it. And it all goes back to the first show I saw. This mini-retrospective is meant to try to tidily wrap up the cycle of my first year in Seattle. This is silliness, I know, because nothing in life is tidy. But sometimes it’s nice to try to pull out one thread in a tapestry and follow it back, back, back, to where it first entered the loom.
And let’s get this out of the way- I know The Head and the Heart is a band whose rise has been described as “meteoric”. Their album has been in turns praised and panned. Some people love them, some people have tired of them, and some people have a hatred for them that makes me think they may just have general anger issues. Some people don’t even know who they are.
That’s not quite what this little piece is about. I tire of people taking easy swings at bands that have experienced success without the full backing of the intellectual music community. It’s a boring conversation, and hardly anyone says anything new during those self-congratulatory exchanges, or listens to anyone but themselves.
This is about how music found me at the exact right time, with the exact right things to say, and how that has led me down the most winding and verdant path I could have found. I could write a similar piece on how Raffi really helped me through the first grade. He truly did. Or how Pavement got me through my jitters of going away to college.
So. Suck it, Pitchfork. I like Atlas Sound, too, but you won’t find anything about the cleverness of a modal minor scale in here. Just a girl who has a lot of feelings, and a particular love for harmonies sung in seconds and thirds.
I was twenty-two. I was nervous. I was standing outside Moe’s BBQ and Bowling in Denver, Colorado, about to interview a band from this misty magical place I was considering moving- a band whose debut record had spun all that 2010 summer, convincing me of my decision to fly far away from the dusty West. The Head and the Heart were on their first tour outside the Pacific Northwest that November, and I had emailed them tentatively about doing an interview. At that point, I was writing for the Denver Post’s online arts section “Reverb,” but had decided to do this interview for my personal blog. Because that record felt intensely personal.
Moe’s BBQ has a capacity of 250. It’s half bowling alley, half BBQ joint, with a stage jimmied right in the back with room for about 100 of those 250 to not stand directly in front of the employees slinging (delicious) banana pudding. I like to say that Moe’s provides the Essential B’s: Bowling, BBQ, Beer, Bands, Buddies. You really can’t ask for anything else.
The Head and the Heart put on a hell of a show. They always do. I had spent that summer listening to that record, singing (more like yelling) along in my car – the hot, dry wind whipping my voice out the window, my resolve to move somewhere (at that point it was between Portland and Seattle) growing stronger with every “All my friends are talking about leaving, about leaving/ But all my friends are sitting in their graves.”
This record reminds me time and again the absolute truth of my stance on music: if it hits you, means something to you, then don’t let anyone else ascribe another meaning to it for you. It takes strength of character to be loyal to what you love in a time of over opinionated, fast paced, hard-nosed tastemakers. A lot of music criticism has nothing to do with love, or the feelings music brings out of your buried, exhausted heart. Which is backwards to me. One of my favorite poets, Muriel Rukeyser said:
“A work of art is one through which the consciousness of the artist is able to give its emotions to anyone who is prepared to receive them. There is no such thing as bad art.”
And she is a much better writer than anyone I’ve ever read online.
I danced at that first Moe’s show, and when they played “Rivers and Roads” (which was not on the record I had in my car), I had never heard it before. But I was on the precipice of leaving home, my friends, and it sounded like all the things I was just about to write down in my journal, before they turned it into a song first. My high altitude heart was dizzy, and my feet hurt, and I wanted to sprint to the Northwest to see if I could ever feel that way about music that was right in front of me again. I moved up my tentative date to Get the Hell out of
Dodge Boulder by three months.
A couple days before I left, I was the official photographer for the Pearl Street Music Festival. Guess who headlined? The Head and the Heart. I crouched side stage holding my camera, and thought of my packed up apartment and the road ahead. They played “Rivers and Roads.” I cried a little behind the safety of the heavy velvet curtain.
Then I moved. And my time here was peppered with shows from Bryan John Appleby, Lemolo, Cataldo, Kelli Schaefer, Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives, Pickwick, Hey Marseilles, Damien Jurado… this world of music that made sense to me, felt real, felt as though they maybe had read my diary and written better versions of it. And, you know, good for them- because my handwriting is awful.
This green place, this wild, sleepy, caffeinated place. I don’t know how you enchanted me from so far away, but you did. And you did it by sending me the music that I needed, before I knew I needed it. You’re wily, Pacific Northwest.
In the past year, I have fallen deeply in love with the music here. When Maraqopa was released, “Working Titles” racked up so many plays I think it actually is singlehandedly responsible for pulling me through my first Seattle winter.
“Gone in Love” by Kelli Schaefer can still undo me, no matter how public a place I may be sitting in.
Last summer, my first summer in Seattle, I threw my Hacienda Hands into the air so many times, I can’t listen to Pickwick’s “Hacienda Motel” if I’m driving, because it’s a Pavlovian response at this point.
When I was lucky enough to begin writing for this blog, I met people who heard music the way I did- with the secret ears pressed against the walls of the heart, waiting for the signal to jump and skip a beat. I was allowed to write about the roots that music had planted in me, and I could hardly believe my good fortune.
When I remembered the first time I felt this sort of passion for the music in front of me, I am hurtled back to before I had even set foot in the angular concrete rainforest that is this city. Which is why I find it so fitting to go back to where I first knew I was making the right choice- at a show in my home state, hearing the songs that made me believe there was a home out there I didn’t even know about. But I could feel it.
I’m going back to Colorado to root for the home team, and that feels like the perfect way to celebrate my anniversary of one of the most frightening, best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ll probably dance a little, too. Be glad you’re not going to be there to see that, Seattle. I’ll let you know how it goes.