You know that feeling you get when you’ve just met someone special, when you’re trying to be cool on the outside but on the inside, you’re doing cartwheels? That pervasive hope that, whatever this is, please oh please let it work out? I’ve realized over the past week that I get that way when I “discover” a new musician that I enjoy. They take over my ears, my brain, and the chunk of my heart reserved for such matters. Speaking with a new friend last night, I repeatedly used the word “obsessed” to describe my fandom over the years for four different artists. Yeah, that’s about right.
The musician-fan relationship can be very much like your typical romantic one. And I’m not even saying you have to have designs ON the musician to feel this way. (Though, Lord knows that’s happened; for example, I cultivated the hugest crush on Dave Gahan for roughly a month after seeing Depeche Mode live for the first time a few years back. The hubby probably was not a fan of our computer desktop’s wallpaper during that time.) This week’s obsession is a charming Brit-transplanted-to-NYC troubadour by the name of Will Knox. I saw Mr. Knox at Hotel Cafe last Saturday with a friend of mine from out of town, who’d seen and met him before and recommended him highly. Since then, that first flush of fandom has followed the beats of a rom-com. All that’s missing is Kate Hudson.
Love at first listen. Will Knox’s set at Hotel wasn’t his alone. Rather, he performed with a like-minded cadre of folk musicians calling themselves the Handsome Lady Record Club. Everyone on stage brought it, but with his tremulous vocals, impassioned delivery, and magnetic stage presence, I was soon entranced by Will. I’m pretty sure cartoon hearts were radiating from my skull.
The meet-cute. I scampered off to check out the merch table before chatting with Will, returning with a vinyl (!) copy of his 2009 release, The Matador and the Acrobat. While talking to him, I realized I should have him sign the LP. If only I could get the freakin’ plastic wrap off of the record. “I hope teeth won’t be necessary,” I cracked. Quite the gentleman, Will offered to unwrap the album for me – and ended up using his teeth to get the thing open. He signed the cover and promptly apologized for his handwriting; “I want you to know I did write ‘Angie’ and not ‘Angel’.” Awww.
The affirmation. The next morning, I put The Matador and the Acrobat on the turntable as I readied myself for Easter with the in-laws. Last night’s performance had not been a fluke. I was digging this emotional, introspective folk-rock like a madwoman.
Gee, I hope my friends like him. Well, one of them already does, anyway, or I wouldn’t have ended up at Hotel in the first place. Now, to introduce Will to the rest of the circle. Up goes the video on my Facebook wall. Here’s where I follow him on Twitter. Here’s where I admit to anyone with ears that I cannot stop listening to this man’s music. A sensitive British guy doing a mellow singer-songwriter thing, huh? That’s a decent slice of my record collection. Will is likely in serious danger of getting branded AngieMusic by the old gang, and therefore not getting taken seriously. I don’t care what they say! They don’t know!
The obstacle to togetherness. Review that descriptor from a few paragraphs earlier. “Brit-transplanted-to-NYC”. Oh, shit, he doesn’t live here in Los Angeles. So much for corralling pals to check out his Room 5 residency or his in-store at Fingerprints or that lucky night at Genghis when he shares a bill with another friend of mine. Good thing I caught at least the one live appearance. But, darling, when will I see you again?
The game sure is different now… I recall vividly what a challenge it once was to be a music collector. If I got turned onto an artist that was obscure in my hometown in the days before the Internet became the game-changing juggernaut it is now, then finding albums by that artist could take years. The hunt forced me to be eagle-eyed any time I left town. Any road trip to Norman, OK or Baton Rouge had to include a tour of that town’s record stores and a hearty dig through the crates. Take, for example, the late Vic Chesnutt. One of his albums (1996’s About to Choke) came through the used CD store where I then worked, and I was hooked. Another album was found in Dallas. I hit the jackpot when I spent a summer in Oxford – some tiny UK label re-released his tiny US label’s CDs, and I scooped up all the albums I could find. I purchased his newest release at the time at the Wuxtry in Athens, GA. It took well over two years and two continents to just get caught up on Vic’s 1993-1998 discography. That’s how much of a quest it was; I remember where I bought all these albums.
Cut to today, when just finding A RECORD STORE can be a daunting task. I first heard Will Knox’s music a week ago. I now own practically everything he’s sang or played on. (I skipped the Valentine’s Day-themed EP with he and Sam Shelton. At least until I need a new fix.) Thanks, the Web! And there are so many innovative ways to support Will Knox. Last year’s EP Lexicon is available as a download at will-knox.com, Bandcamp, or iTunes; as a free iPhone/iPad app (!); or as a download code within a comic book that illustrates Lexicon’s songs (!!). As cool as all of this is, there is a part of me that misses the hunt for the music. I’ve easily got a decade on young Will, so perhaps my age is making me unnecessarily old-fashioned here. But, this May/December fandom is just all moving so fast. Whatever happened to playing hard to get?
Is this a deal-breaker? You listen to the same pieces of music 43958754698 times in a short period, and inevitably, the flaws start to show. Is that “tremulous” voice too close to Tiny Tim’s for comfort sometimes? Why are all these songs so damn short?! (A frenzy of downloading yielded 22 tracks clocking in at 57 minutes.) Plus, I think the man’s never thought up a simile that he didn’t immediately whip into a song; the word “like” appears as connective tissue an innumerable number of times over Will’s catalog to date. It’s all still so mesmerizing to me, though. I can make this work!
The happy ending. Yes, L.A. has made me spoiled when it comes to these relationships with musicians. I can hug my local rock stars, and have attended their shows and just hung out with them so much that the fan/friend line likely blurred long ago. Technology means I can love Will Knox from afar, however. The downloads and the merch table put coin directly into his pockets. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube will keep me in the know his latest news and releases. When his hometown gigs pop up, I can bug my New York-area friends mercilessly to go see Will live until they cry uncle.
And musician Boy and fan Girl lived happily ever after.
At least, until Girl’s next obsession comes along.