(I hope this revelation doesn't ruin the image you have of me. You know the image I mean: the brooding blogger-poet throwing back drink after drink, haggard, sleepless, always a half-step ahead of his own personal apocalypse, turning up the music louder and louder to get a moment's respite from his ill-defined demons. Right? Right. But let's be brave and embrace change, however ephemeral it will no doubt be. Excelsior.)
The odds against happiness arising from this evening had nothing to do with the artist. Ainjel Emme and happiness, from what I can gather, have something of a symbiotic relationship. At the very least, they coexist peacefully.
It was mostly outside factors that had me expecting disaster.
Most pressingly, this show was at the Central, and, well, if you've been to the Central, you know what I mean. If you haven't been to the Central and are curious to know what it's like, you'll be thrilled to know that I recently whined about it in some detail. For our purposes, let's just say that any night where I spend more than two hours at that place without glassing someone with a beer bottle can be counted as a miraculous success. And I'm a very peaceful man. I hate glassing. Hate it.
Furthermore, the other musicians on the bill were not encouraging. When I got there, I watched a guy do a cover of that "I got soul but I'm not a soldier" song. (Who wrote that stupid song anyway? I don't think I've ever heard the original. I only know it from karaoke.) I didn't see much of the band that played after him, but they were kind of screamy.
And beyond the Central and its odd musical lineups, outside of its doors, things have just been weird lately, bordering on the unhinged. I assume you've noticed. There's violence in the air. It seems like we're so expectant of--perhaps even eager for--an impending cataclysm, we take mundane events like dead birds and fish and we gleefully spin them into omens of imminent doom. We know that whatever the generations before us have built cannot be sustained, so we await its collapse with suitably ironic detachment, since irony is a luxury we, at the moment, can still afford. Might as well use it. Can't take it with you.
(The other day I walked by the outdoor ice skating rink across from the office where I work. I saw children skating in circles to "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)". It struck me as a curious musical choice. Apocalyptic anxiety, it seems, has become disturbingly mainstream. I might need to renounce it.) ("I was foretelling doom yeeeeaaaaars ago, way before it was cool.")
Perhaps you're starting to see how unlikely last night's bout of happiness was.
On top of all these factors, I'd gotten very little sleep the previous night. And what sleep I did get was fitful. Oh, and it was drunken too--let's not forget drunken!
See, I'd arrived home late from the Silverlake Lounge Monday night. I was bus-addled and drunk and hungry, so I made a sandwich and settled in front of my computer and started idly poking around the internet, looking for free music in my inbox or mean comments on my blog. Finding neither, I saw that Ainjel Emme had tweeted that her new album, as of midnight, was available on iTunes. I impulsively downloaded it.
(That's how I first heard of Emme, by the way: somewhere along the line we started following each other on Twitter. I don't quite recall what brought this about, as my memory is composed primarily of sand. Either she was trying to cultivate bloggers (success!), or she likes the half-witted garbage I drunk-tweet at three in the morning. Who's to say? She tweets lots of photos of the desert; I actually do like those. Anyway, the internet is a magical place.) (Well, it's also the worst place in the world ever, but, still, quite magical.)
I should have waited until morning to download the album. Once I started listening to it, I didn't want to go to bed. That was forty-two minutes of sleep that I really missed at work on Tuesday.
I didn't expect to like the album so much. After all, it's called Everyone Is Beautiful, which, however hard I try to believe it, is not a sentiment that would sound convincing coming out of my mouth. But there's nothing mawkish or naive about Emme's songs. They're full of wisdom and disquiet.
Also, while there are many singer-songwriter-types who touch me deeply, theirs is a world with many more misses than hits. You never know what you're getting with them. Because, in the end, it takes so much more than a pretty voice.
But, then again, I have no idea what I'm talking about. I mean, come on, this isn't LA-Underground. You know? My favorite contemporary folk singer is Matthew Teardrop.
So, yeah, anyway, the show.
Going on promptly at eleven to a sizable crowd, which was composed, she joked, entirely of personal friends, Emme performed a joyfully charismatic set, culling songs from both of her albums, along with a new song or two and a cover (Roy Orbison's "Crying"). She had, by any definition, a luminous stage presence, both elegant and affable, quick with a joke for the audience or the sound guy or herself.
On record, the songs come backed by intricate and fully realized folky pop arrangements, but last night it was just her and her guitar. Whatever was lost was amply replaced by the focus on Emme's voice--which is soothing and pretty, yet carries big, soulful undertones--and her resonant, rippling strums.
I'm sure it had something to do with the familial nature of the event--self-effacing jokes aside, Emme did indeed have a lot of friends and family there--but it was hard, even for the most clinically depressed and undermedicated curmudgeon in attendance, not to feel good. Good vibes abounded, dude. And the songs, while clear-eyed in their honest bouts of foreboding, were delivered with such joy that whatever introspection or disappointment or plain old weirdness inspired them was converted into temporary bliss. Any experience could be salvaged, it seemed, if she could sing about it.
Maybe you could have resisted it. I don't know. I'm glad I couldn't.
"Nice hair, dude," some girl on the bus said to me after the show. I'm pretty sure she was being sarcastic, but I didn't care. I was feeling too good.