There are two types of jobs — the ones you leave behind at the end of the day, and the ones that linger, like a habit or a craving, blurring the line between office hours and the endangered species we fleetingly know as “leisure time.”
Growing up, both my parents were college professors. Being on an academic calendar has some serious perks — my father’s tradition of blasting The Jamies’ “Summertime, Summertime” after he turned in his spring semester grades embodied the biggest perk of all — but teaching at any level means signing on for late nights marking up exams, early mornings getting last-minute lesson plans together, and who knows how many hours of worrying about the success of your students. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. It’s non-stop.
It’s the difference between leaving the house to go get a paycheck and leaving to put your passion on the line, for a reward determined only by your perception of your capabilities. And it’s the way artists have to live, both because of the uphill battle facing anyone who chooses to survive by their creativity and because of the elusive nature of the inspiration that justifies that pursuit. These were the things Sharon Van Etten got me thinking about when she tweeted the following a few weeks ago…
“You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city or why I’ll need to leave.”
[drops voice an octave] Hey there, blog reader. Can I ask you a question? Are those space pants you’re wearing? ‘Cause your ass is out of this world! [voice returns to normal octave] Hey hey hey, where are you going?!? Come back! I’m totally kidding! This here blog is spoken for. And besides, everyone knows those one-liners never actually work. It takes a lot more than a pickup line to start a meaningful relationship with another human being. Songs on the other hand… songs are different. One well-written lyric can bring a song together in a way that immediately endears you to the person who wrote it, a fact I had the pleasure of rediscovering when I was just a song and a half into the NPR First Listen of Sharon Van Etten’s upcoming (February 7) album, Tramp. The line that got me can be found in “Give Out,” a gorgeous song with sparse instrumentation, hand percussion and steady rhythm acoustic guitar playing, all of which make it feel like Van Etten and a few others could be playing the song right there in your living room. But as intimate as the arrangement feels, the song’s lyrics wrestle with the notion of intimacy and build up to a chorus that stopped me in my tracks — “You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city or why I’ll need to leave.” Such a potent mixture of trepidation, self-confidence, vulnerability and hope in so few words — I couldn’t believe it. It was one of those rare moments when you instantly fall in love with a lyric and know that you need to hear it again and again and again. And nothing’s better in those moments than when the artist does the repeating for you, like the two of you are on the same page about the words’ importance. Like you understand and are understood. And while that’s a whole lot to ascribe to a single song lyric, the feeling is unmistakable and impossible to forget — much like those space pants you got on, blog reader. Oh snap! Preview “Give Out” below, click here to stream Tramp over at NPR and click here to pre-order the album from iTunes.