That Time I Didn't Meet Damien Jurado
Singer-songwriters must have a strange relationship with their listeners. Because their genre requires that they write about themselves, mining their lives for emotional diamonds; their songs build an intimate, confessional relationship with their fans. For every secret divulged, the listener is let in a little closer. Hence, it's easy for us as listeners to make assumptions about or project entire narratives onto the lives of our favorite songwriters. I saw Damien Jurado open up for Okkervil River in 2007. At the time, I wasn't aware of him or his work. He took the stage inconspicuously in a non-descript black tee and jeans. When he picked up an acoustic guitar, I thought he was a stage hand or a roadie – until he started playing. A wave of surprise washed over the room. His songs were folksy and moving. Most importantly, they were personal. The resulting performance held the audience in the palm of his hand. He played a lonely song; we were silently engaged. He played a love song about his childhood bully; we giggled appropriately. It's the power of good singer-songwriters; they easily capture the hearts and minds of the listener. After the show, I saw him leaning against a wall outside of the venue, pressing buttons on his phone. I imagined him playing Snake, or maybe Memory. A thought occurred to me - I should say hi. Maybe tell him it was a great show and let him know that I would look for his album at Amoeba. I walked towards his direction. And then kept going. In the space of a millisecond, I had decided it would probably be best to leave him alone. There was certainly the practical element of trying to avoid awkward social situations. Underneath that, though, was a layer of discomfort at the thought of penetrating the confessional layer he had just exposed to us an hour ago. It had come off as so heavy and personal that it was uncomfortable to engage in small talk, as if I had been exposed to too much about this stranger. I understand that this is at least partially due to my way of reading social interactions, but it brings up the pitfalls of being a singer-songwriter that works from the heart rather than from hooks. You project a bare image of yourself, and fans are going to interpret that in their own ways. On some level, we all want to feel like we understand our favorite artists, much in the way that they seem to understand us in their songs. But that's a fallacy created by fans. Often times, we'll project something where nothing was intended. Or maybe we’ll take something as fact that was meant to simply be a song. Conor Oberst never lost a baby brother. Sufjan Stevens has (hopefully) never killed anyone. We may never be able to separate truth and metaphor with Elliott Smith. Fans that assume to understand an artist’s innermost being must annoy many artists on some level. It has to be irritating for a stranger to insist that they know you. Yet, that's how the emotional high works. When you sing these songs, you risk building connections where there may be none. You make people feel like they're in on a secret, and that's totally out of your control. So maybe it was presumptuous of me to decide that Damien Jurado was too serious of an artist to be approachable. But then there's that well-worn adage about how you should never meet your heroes. Sometimes we enjoy the mythology we've created more than the very real person at the center of it. As long as it remains a private fascination, how harmful can it be to keep that myth intact?