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i went to college with geneva. she was in a band with my friends eric and jamal and ben. they are all awesome. i asked the band to play a house show at my place in chicago for my birthday senior year. the plan was really to just drink a lot of whiskey, DJ rap songs in my kitchen, have their band—the modern gypsy collective—play and then eventually do a set of my own songs.
my best friend josh asked if this other band could play. josh studied in rome with one of the people in the band. the lead singer was in a creative writing class with me. he had just been signed to a record label after going indie-viral with a deerhunter youtube cover.
so this guy invited 200 people to my house and then canceled last minute. on my birthday. i unfortunately had to deal with a lot of people who were there just to see him. i was drunk and angry and childishly telling anyone who would listen about the situation. it was petty. but i felt pretty vulnerable because i wanted to have this night where people got to hear me play my songs. i was embarrassed when people showed up asking when this other guy’s band was going on.
but anyway, he didn’t show up and the party got out of hand. there were people lined up out the stairway and our place was completely packed. my friends in the modern gypsy collective were supposed to just play acoustic. but with 150+ drunks filling my house, they needed some amplification. so i moved my roommate jacob’s speakers and hooked up my old digital recorder w/ a microphone. the problem being that was a task that required a lot of concentration and sobriety. getting speaker wire into a tiny slot can be a tough task.
eventually i got it to work though. they played their set. it was too loud to really hear them very well with just one mic and one guitar input. everyone in the band was still rocking out though. the lead singer mercedes was getting into the moment. my other friends were grooving hard. but i remember being right in front and seeing my friend geneva play her mandolin. she was just calmly and happily strumming off to the side. she seemed really happy, like she could care less about the chaos or that nobody could really hear her. it moved me.
then i played a set of covers that night on top of a coffee table until most of the strings on my friend eric’s stratacoustic guitar had broken. it was a great set. i’ll always remember looking around the room at everyone. i was still yelling at all the people who were at my house who i didn’t know. but it didn’t matter. it was a spectacle. we almost broke the coffee table.
before i went to bed that night, i wrote “geneva - egoless” down on a napkin. and i woke up hungover with the napkin on my bedroom floor. it took me a long time to figure out what i wanted to say from that drunken scrawl. i think i really just wanted to remember that the night wasn’t about some stupid competitive streak i had with another songwriter who seemed pretentious and flaky. it was about the fact that ego shouldn’t overrun your life. sure the fact that i put on a great show at the end of the night was cool. but i think i learned more from watching geneva play that mandolin off to the side. that it was one of the first moments where i really believed in the fact that it didn’t matter if my songs only existed in the email inboxes of my friends. it didn’t matter who heard them. i didn’t need to be famous on the internet or at a venue or on a record label. i had friends around who cared about me a whole lot. that coffee table was a big enough stage for me. i still feel that way.
it took me a long time to figure out what else i wanted to say in the rest of the song. but somehow it came down to my fantasy of being an R&B background singer because they are humble (i’m insane) and my experience as an amateur guitarist playing in a jazz band at veteran’s stadium in philly.
North side of Chicago
There’s a house show for my birthday
I’m too drunk to fix the speakers
I just want to hear my friends' band play
When I finally get things working
The house was way too loud to hear them
I watched Geneva strum her mandolin
Like she did not care who the hell was listening
I was a plant pulled by its roots
To some semi-hidden higher truth
Inside her eyes
Nobody heard her then
But god damn you'll hear about her now
How she was wonderful
Though I hardly heard her make a sound
So now Ginuwine and Usher
They’ve been my heroes now for so long
If I could be their background singer
I’d stop writing lyrics, I’d stop writing songs
It would be fun, I would be happy
Never worry 'bout next month's rent
Gladly give up on the spotlight
To just supply those oohs and aahs and ooh yeahs
‘Cos they might not be the highest form of art
But they're my favorite parts
Nobody knows their names
But we all hear their voice
Risin’ over melodies
Cacophonous egoless joy
Seventh grade I joined the jazz band
Barely knew how to strum these chords
I’d sit by myself and practice
Never felt like I fit in with those kids who'd won awards
One time we played the national anthem
For forty thousand screamin' baseball fans
I was more nervous than excited
My band director never even plugged in my amp
But I still let that note ring
Like I was Hendrix in the heat at Woodstock
Ready to rock
Nobody heard me then
But goddamn you'll hear me now
Learned how to play this thing
Now I sing my songs nice and loud