After getting your letter yesterday, I couldn’t help but jump back on the Conor Oberst bandwagon and tell you the story of my own transformation from country boy to emo kid: knot necklace, swooped bangs, espresso hair, and all. How a kid from Omaha, Nebraska, and a girl shaped the next decade of my life...
She wore a blue hoodie… And listened to bands like Tilly and the Wall, Taking Back Sunday, Say Anything, and of course the godfathers of the indie rock movement, Conor Oberst and Tim Kasher. In fact, she even told a story of a drunken night that she spent out at a bar with Kasher and Oberst in the flesh (in Omaha, nonetheless).
We didn’t date long, for a whole slew of reasons. I had just gotten out of a three-year relationship when we met that had already left me feeling insecure, and boy, did this one just push me over the edge!
The time I was seeing her was maybe one of the most vulnerable periods of my life. … Ok. It might have been the start of THE MOST insecure phase of my life that would span the next 10 years (which would mean it has just recently ended if you are doing the math correctly). My point is that before that blue hoodie, I had little to no knowledge of the indie rock scene, especially not names like: Bright Eyes, Cursive, The Good Life, and Mike Mogis (the genius producer behind the whole brand).
It was college and I had just discovered coffee shops. (I grew up on a farm in Virginia in the '80s and '90s. Give me a break!) Conor became sort of an icon to me in a very short time. That swooped-haired, one-eyed cyclops with a quivering voice was always there to somehow make me realize that someone else's life was much shittier than mine (maybe the first time I realized what a “man crush” was, so much so that I started dressing and looking like him. I seriously looked for pictures last night, but thankfully couldn’t find any).
Through the next series of break-ups, breakdowns and breakouts (I still had acne at the time), Conor’s music and the other misfits surrounding Saddle Creek Records were my church. I even ordered some merch from the site and received a handwritten thank you note from them. "How personal," I thought. "Who does that?! ... And why was this piece of paper not tear-stained?" Trust me, it was after it got into my hands…
At the time, I connected with Saddle Creek and what they represented. I dreamed of the day I could go to a live show, but those guys never played Raleigh. Until one day, in a coffee shop, I saw this poster--this flyer--that even now has never left the wall of any place I've lived. And by God, I ordered tickets immediately.
I waited for what seemed like months, until that glorious night, I got to go to emo church. CocoRosie, Tilly and the Wall and … (drum roll, please…) Bright Eyes. The show just happened to be at Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh, this 3,000-seat theatre where I used to work before moving to Ohio. About 20 minutes before Conor took the stage (after we had snuck all the way to the front of the theatre), I casually said, “I’m going to go backstage and meet Conor." And they all said, "Yeah, right."
So, I bolted out the door and around to the back stage loading dock and walked in. The guard, who was of course one I've never seen, said, "Who are you and what are you doing here?" I replied, "I need to see Ralph. Is he working?"
Ralph was like my theatre grandpa. We would sit before shows and talk for what seemed like forever about life. He always was reading a random, weird book I had never heard of and never seemed to fit in with all the bizarre artists roaming around that place ... but he loved his job as a security guard. I often wonder what happened to Ralph or whether he is even still alive.
Needless to say, a walkie-talkie call was made and Ralph’s face appeared from around some road cases that said "BRIGHT EYES"!
“What the hell are you doing? You listen to this crap?!” I totally remember him saying. “Yes, Conor is one of my biggest heroes and I really wanted to meet him,” I responded. He said, “Well, he just came off the bus, but he hasn’t said a word except to his manager...He’s kinda weird...” As Ralph was speaking, I turned and there HE was, about two feet away, walking towards me! Without a second thought, I whispered, “Hey, Conor. Have a great show--see you out there." He whispered back, “thanks, man," as he tugged on his bangs and walked to the green room.
I looked at Ralph with the biggest glowing eyes and he said, "Go walk across stage. I'll cover for you." I looked back at him with apprehension and he shook his head encouraging me to go, so I walked out on stage walking past Conor's guitar (...I may have strummed a string or two). And then, I heard screaming. MY NAME being screamed!! I was so lost in my own little world, having just met the god of indie rock, that I forgot I was standing in front of packed house of people… right before Bright Eyes was to take the stage!! I waved, then shuffled my Converse shoes proudly down the steps (as proudly as an angsty, emo kid can get), past the other security guards, and joined my friends in the seats up front (which we had snuck into because, of course, our seats were in the nosebleed section).
What did I learn from the experience? I learned that you can be a weird dude who says basically nothing and speak through your art and it can touch people in a way that is unexplainable… I learned that sometimes the most unexpected people, like Ralph, have a way of influencing your life in amazing ways and they aren’t even aware.
And that is why I work every day at being an artist, to hopefully, through my experiences, impact others and enhance the lives around me.
Tugging on my non-existent swooped bangs,
PS I’m much happier now and I no longer feel the need to copy other people's style. I've been able to find happiness in these last 10 years in who I am and this site is an expression of working towards being the person I want to be when I grow up (insert crying … “every damn time”).