“Would you want me
When I’m not myself?
Hang around while
I am someone else?…”
It was summer. I was seventeen. Still reveling in the newfound freedom of the Younger-Than-Average College Freshman, I was convinced: this would be the night of my life. My friend Chrissy and I stood expectantly in a capacity crowd at Starwood Amphitheater (may it rest in peace). We had already rocked our way through Maroon5, who was riding high on the success of their latest record, Songs About Jane. They had just left the stage, and we were having difficulty remaining still during the set change, twittering and twitching like birds on a wire. Suddenly the lights went down, all of us were dropped into darkness. And out of the dark rose thousands of shrill, distinctly female voices. And as one of two of the ecstatic throng, we screamed; the hysterical, aching scream of mania.
A single chord clanged forth from a Fender Stratocaster that was being held like a lover by its owner; an unassuming kid with big brown eyes, wearing jeans and a polo shirt. His hair was unkempt, and his face twisted into funny little contortions as he played, clearly mimicking the sounds made by the guitar with his mouth. It was like watching a teenager singing along with his favorite records into a hairbrush, gazing into his bedroom mirror, and practicing his best, most aloof smile. John finished the first song, and the crowd erupted once more. We were the euphoric onlookers for his nostalgic little pantomime, paying eavesdroppers there to break his silence.
Already a fan of John Mayer by the time I made it to my first show, that performance had me hooked for life. I had started listening to John a couple years before to impress one of the Cool Girls in my high school. Needless to say, it didn’t work. But by the time I realized that kind of thing didn’t matter, I found myself a fan in my own right. Funny how that works. Who knows how many of you are out there listening to John Mayer right this minute in an effort to impress me? The Shadow, maybe.
Tomorrow night will be my 6th show; that’s more than anyone else that’s not local. Of course the polo shirts are long gone, and he’s got an armful of tattoos now. His reputation has morphed from sweet, square Boy Next Door to gritty, unapologetic Bad Boy.
Through his reinventions, I keep listening, though. Because a couple of important things remains unchanged. For one, he can still play that guitar just like a’ringin a bell, to paraphrase Mister Chuck Berry. And beyond that, his songwriting remains honest, transparent, and eerily reflective of my own struggles; for contentment in the face glaring loneliness, for meaning, and for a romance that matches my dogged, if somewhat cheeky, idealism.
I know some of you might look on me with a critical eye for appearing to ignore his rougher edges. But there’s something to that. Of course, I reserve my opinion of him for after meeting him, which I am totally convinced I will do someday. And I believe that the best parts of us are hidden. Sometimes this is voluntary, sometimes this isn’t. But I think the most genuine parts of a songwriter come out in his or her creative expressions. So when I listen to songs like “Love Song for No One”, “Gravity”, or “Perfectly Lonely”, I can’t help but retain the ideal. Because that’s the John I never fail to feel connected to. And I know he’s still there. Someday, I will thank him in person for the ways his music has helped me to feel less alone over the years. And until then, I can hold out the same idealistic, silly hopes I’ve always had about him, much like I do for the rest of my life pursuits and the rest of my heroes, however human they may, in fact, be.
Since that first show, I have lived in two other cities. I have finished school twice over. I have embarked on a new path in my spiritual journey. I have experienced both titanic losses and innumerable blessings. And his is among the music I return to the most to remember how it used to be; to keep me pacified while I wait for what will be.
So, John, thank you for your writing, your musicianship, and for waging the Battle to find and be yourself. Thank you for all the many hours of comfort your own struggles and uncertainties have provided in the midst of my own. You ask in one of your songs “Who do you love: me or the thought of me? Me or the thought of me?” And I admit, for now, I hold up to the light the thought of you. But it makes for something pretty, like a comforting memory, like a youthful dream.
I’ll be there tomorrow; lost in the sea of others all too like me. I’ll be hoping for some tiny moment I can claim as uniquely my own. And whether or not it comes, I will sing right along with you, till I’m all out of blues.