Was I brainwashed as a child? On the serengeti of the schoolyard, crying was a sign of weakness. Of course, growing up, I’ve become more than familiar with the saccharine agony of true blue sadness. I’ve lost sleep at night flattened by the cosmic injustices that beset any one or thing that is a recipient of my love. I bear the weight of an endless coterie of tragic characters and unhappy endings both fictional and non-fictional. Hell, sometimes I see a baby that’s so cute it just makes me sad. And yet, it’s nigh-impossible for me to be moved to physical tears. Despite any Marley and Me, Toy Story 3, even Freddy Got Fingered, my face stays drier than C-SPAN coverage of a Catholic mass.
Sometimes I get close, but then I get excited at the prospect and lose it. But I need it. There is undeniable value in the catharsis of each pathetic sob and mucousy sniffle- it is a pumping of your sorrow’s stomach.
Seeing Conor Oberst w/ Dawes on May 11th at the Charleston Music Hall, I set the scene just right for the seduction of my inner cry. And with it being the last show I’d see in SC with my newly-graduated best friend before he moves away, along with Oberst’s tragically underrated songwriting, I had everything I needed to get lucky.
Dawes was very simply on it. Their musicianship is completely maxed out. Impressive guitar work, impassioned drumming, and playful yet exacting bass work- everything was akin to the performance of a fifth-decade studio musician. While my heart didn’t peek out from its cage at any point, my brain was certainly involved in the performance, as I marveled at their cohesion as a band. As well, the songwriting was true enough to stand alongside the following act with any degree of legitimacy, but I believe the main thrust of their show was simply the caliber of their musical mastery as they tore through selections from past albums Stories Don’t End, Nothing Is Wrong, and the ’09 classic North Hills.
However, once Oberst took the stage, I braced myself. I’ll openly admit to the influence he had on my young and malleable high school brain. Starting with his new album Upsidedown Mountain‘s opener Time Forgot, he very quickly swallowed the whole room into enraptured focus with each precious line.
“I wanna walk in that howling wind ‘til it scatters all my thoughts
Sit all alone on the river bank ‘til I forget that I can talk
Just listen- They say everyone has a choice to make
To be loved or to be free”
Listening to his powerful words made the show heavy, full, and rich, as Dawes shepherded him through each song with grace. As he states in the start of Zigzagging Towards the Light, he really was “blessed with a heart that doesn’t stop.” He still sounds just like he did when I discovered him in my bedroom in the eighth grade. The old songs he played mixed so well with his new ones, that sometimes I couldn’t tell if he was playing an old Bright Eyes tune, or a new Conor one. My level of enjoyment was very illustrated by the sound I’d make every time a line of his hit home with me, (the same sound I make when I take my first bite out of a delicious deli-fresh BLT).
He carried on with a mesmerizing set of both Bright Eyes and Conor Oberst songs, winning the hearts of each audience member, getting even the most reluctant ones with a searing guitar solo from Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith because why not. A performance that’d be considered impressive by any fan of music’s standard, the set was good as is.
And then he had to play You Are Your Mother’s Child.
On Mother’s Day.
I sat in the crowd as Dawes backed away from my teenaged-hero and let him stand alone with his acoustic guitar to sing. And there Conor stood, singing a poem that wrapped around my stupid heart, filling a question-mark-shaped hole in my life for three holy minutes.
“I remember the day you appeared on this earth
With eyes like the ocean, got blood on my shirt
From my camera angle it looked like it hurt
But your mama had a big old smile”
I thought about my mother, states away.
“Posing for pictures, cap and a gown
Summer is coming, you’re driving around town
Everyone’s asking what you’re gonna do now
I know you’re gonna make a splash”
I thought about my best friend, about to be out there on his own.
“Well you are your mother’s child
And she’ll keep you for a while
But one day you’ll be grown and then you’ll be on your own”
Oh god, here we go, I thought. I thought about my best friend as a baby. I thought about Conor Oberst as a cute little baby. I thought about everyone in the room as they once were, adorable little babies in their mother’s arms. All of them. All of us, even you reading this, were once a precious wide-eyed infant, full of potential and love and fear- delicate and precious beyond words, and the luckiest of us had a mother that knew that, and held our miniature lives close to their chests.
“‘Cause you are your mother’s child
She had you for a while
But now that you’re grown, now you’re makin’ it on your own”
It finally happened. I did it. I blinked my eyes and reaped the emotional harvest of my salty drop. A tear from my face. I was so sad but it didn’t twist me up inside. It just rolled down my cheek, away from me.
So thank you, Conor Oberst, for that perfect storm. It was a great show. The CD is amazing. Listen to it with headphones in the dark. It’s full of heart, big bleeding brilliant heart. I recommend it to anyone who needs to be reminded of theirs. 10/10 5 stars two thumbs up. Thank you, thank you.
PS. If you need a good cry, as everyone does every now and then, may I recommend reading the shortest and saddest wikipedia article in the history of ever?
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