Norah's Excellent Adventure, by Norah Wilson
"Another Travelin' Song"
Well I’m changing all my strings
I’m gonna write another traveling song
About all the billion highways and the cities at the break of dawn
Well I guess the best that I can do now is pretend I’ve done nothing wrong
And dream of a train that’s going to take me back where I belong
I recently survived a 12-hour road trip to cart my 16-year-old daughter and five of her closest male pals (who could afford a seat in the rented Grand Caravan), across an international border to see a 20-something indie artist in concert. Every time I mention this, I get incredulous responses. Everyone thinks I’m a saint of a mother to go to those lengths for my child.
Confession time. I liked it. A lot.
I’m a huge fan of music, and I’d like to think I’ve introduced my kids to some artists who’ll stay with them for the rest of their lives (Warren Zevon, John Hiatt), but they’ve introduced me to their fair share of wonderful artists. Just this week, my son opened my eyes to a guy by the name of Ray LaMontagne. But my daughter Lindsay, whose bedroom abuts my office, probably bears the most responsibility for refining my ear.
Elliott Smith was my first solid conversion. I lost my heart to this man’s gorgeous lyrics and arrangements on the first listen. He brings home the sheer precariousness of life like no one else, and he does it with the voice of an angel. When I raved about Elliott, Lindsay broke the news that he was dead. He’d committed suicide the previous year, and the CD I was listening to (from a basement on the hill) had been released post-humously. My first instinct was to forbid her from listening to those devastatingly beautiful tracks ever again. Ever! I wanted to protect her, as though the impulse to suicide might be communicated through her speakers. Of course, I quickly realized I couldn’t protect her from her own emotions, or any of the things Elliott was singing about. She’d already suffered the loss of a close friend to a house fire, not to mention encountering personal heartbreak and all those other ups and downs we grapple with as teens. When I mentioned this concern to a dear friend of mine (thank you, Kate!), she reminded me that when we were kids, we were listening to the dirges of Leonard Cohen, and we never slit our wrists. That brought it all back, the way listening to those songs helped relieve the constant pressure that seemed to build inside every day. The upshot is, Elliott’s angelic voice still occasionally haunts me from Lindsay’s bedroom next door.
My next conversion is nothing like Elliott Smith. Modest Mouse. Go listen to “Float On” right now. It’ll make you happy. I can practically feel my cerebral cortex lighting up just thinking about it. Of course, their lyrics are not all happiness and light, but even the down stuff is oddly upbeat. Gotta love that!
The next artist I latched onto from the other side of our shared wall was Bright Eyes, fronted by Nebraska’s Conor Oberst, who must be all of 25. Another indie legend, you will never hear him on commercial radio, but this guy is brilliant. This year, he released two CDs simultaneously, something a traditional label would never let him do. I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning is largely acoustic, and features some wonderful harmonies by Emmy Lou Harris. That in itself should be recommendation enough; Emmy Lou has collaborated with the best. Digital Ash in a Digital Urn was a much more synthesized, techno sound, but it’s just the other side of the coin.
What I’m working my way around to telling you is that this is the guy I traveled six hours each way to see, with six teenage passengers, in Portland, Maine’s Merrill Auditorium. I’m delighted to report that young Conor delivered in spades. It was the best show I’ve seen in years. And my beautiful daughter (pictured below) charmed her way past security to take some great pictures, like the one above.
But beyond the fabulousness of the music, there was the looooong road trip. Another confession here—I liked that, too. Or rather, I like kids in this age range (16-18). There is something energizing about spending time with them. They’re slothful one minute, then filled with rambunctious energy the next. They’re empathetic one moment, then laughing at each other’s pain. Quick and funny and articulate and unbelievably more sophisticated than we were at that age. And how cool it was to hear them observe the cultural differences between our two countries through teenage eyes.
Yes, they gave me a few near-heart attacks (that’s a lot of testosterone to be responsible for), but on the whole, it was a blast.
I wonder what I’ll do for my 45th birthday that’ll top this?