Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Music: Conor Oberst Was My Gateway Drug
In the fall of 2001 I decided to drop my major, take a semester off from school, and transfer to a different school in a different state. It was probably the boldest decision that I had made up to that point.
Two days after Christmas I left Missouri for Colorado. I knew that I had a place to stay my first night there, and I just figured beyond that I would play it by ear. Several people had offered the prospects of a couch or a floor to sleep on, so I figured at the very least I had a rotation of floors in my future.
Jon and Heidi were leaving for China early on January 1. They needed someone to look after their cat for 13 days. They had met me once before, and they knew that I needed a place to stay so I was suddenly cat sitting in a really sweet one bedroom apartment that was above an empty restaurant location which was a few doors down from an independent record store which was across the street from another independent record store.
Late one night I was sitting at the computer in the apartment searching for jobs and the like. I had put the entire music folder in a play list on winamp and set it to shuffle. At some point "Kathy With a K's Song" came on. From the opening line of, "Love is real," I leaned back in the chair and closed my eyes. I was completely floored.
I searched the hard drive, but I only found one other Bright Eyes song. I started to search for more information on Bright Eyes online, and I was shocked to learn that Conor Oberst was only a year older than me(which seemed even more incredible since I was only 20 at the time).
The next day I headed down to the those record stores on the search for Bright Eyes. The first store did not have any. The one across the street provided me with A Collection of Songs and the Desaparecidos album.
I devoured these albums. A Collection of Songs is mostly composed of songs that Conor wrote and recorded in the basement of th house he grew up in. His song, "Solid Jackson" is about falling in love with the music of a local band, house shows, the scene, and getting lost in a great song, "And I stopped going to church a year ago, and my teachers think that my faith is gone, well I can do without the eucharist, because I found god in a solid jackson song!" This was an early example of why I love Bright Eyes, a few perfect lyrics, themes of feeling alone but wanting to belong, and the transformative power of music. All of this in one neat package with Conor's heartfelt vocals delivering the lines like he has something to say, and goddamnit he will scream them out if that's what it takes to get us to listen.
Desaparecidos is the rock band that Conor Oberst was in that released one excellent concept album about urban sprawl. The one time in my life that I was trying to obtain a fake ID was when they were touring for this album and the local show was 21+. Unfortunately, or fortunately, that show was canceled so I did not need to acquire a fake ID.
Over the next few months I would always check the Bright Eyes section when I was in a record store. I slowly acquired the Everyday and Everynight EP and the split EP with Son, Ambulance which includes the first Bright Eyes song that I ever heard.
Later that year I placed an order with Saddle Creek Records in order to get all of the Bright Eyes releases that I did now have yet. I also ordered The Faint's Danse Mababre based on a recommendation from a friend.
I saw Rilo Kiley live because they had released an album on Saddle Creek. I started listening to M. Ward and My Morning Jacket because they were musicians that Conor Oberst was playing with on a small east coast tour. I started listening to lots of other bands who were recording for Saddle Creek, bands like Cursive, The Good Life, Two Gallants, Now It's Overhead, Maria Taylor, Art in Manilla, Neva Dinova, and this year Tokyo Police Club.
Then Conor went and started his own record label, Team Love. Which is a label that has put out the last three Tilly and the Wall releases as well as the Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins album, and the soundtrack to the movie Shortbus. Those are all albums that I love and still listen to today.
In the liner notes of Noise Floor Conor writes that they use a "cumbersome" opener on the Bright Eyes albums as a way to scare off casual listeners. That practice is obviously missing from this week's self titled solo album put out by MERGE.
The album Conor Oberst opens with arguably the best song on the record, "Cape Canaveral". It has the introspective lyrics and themes of loss and the search for personal destiny that are trademarks of the greatest Bright Eyes songs.
Someone recently asked me what if the new Conor Oberst album was good. "It's great," I said, "But I don't know if you should take my word for it. Conor Oberst was my gateway drug."