On Dec. 1, 2017, last generation's emo teenagers packed into the 1884 Lounge in Memphis to go back in time with our friend, Julien Baker, now a massive success in the alt-rock scene. Baker is undoubtedly a Memphis gem - a soft, poetic soul that intricately paints the picture of youth, pain, joy, and gratitude in her lyrics. The complexities and imperfections of growing up come through in her voice with the utmost clarity, raw and emotional, candid and astounding.
Julien and her team were so gracious to me when I asked to bring a group of songwriting students to the show. They came prepared with questions, and learned from a gracious source who is also a wealth of knowledge. As a teacher, it's encouraging when your students get the chance to see what this industry looks like in practicality and in character. Songwriting requires hunger. Intellectual hunger. Musical hunger. Hunger for people. Hunger for understanding. Hunger for compassion. Hunger for knowledge. Hunger for connection. I could not have asked for a better example to be set for these learning, creative minds.
Pillow Talk and David Bazan set the stage with tremendous energy, breaking the ice between anyone who was not already friends in the crowd. As the minutes ticked by, the room started to buzz with anticipation - all waiting to reunite with the songs that they walked through with their friend and excited to hear new stories in their published form.
The hive grew louder as all the bees fed each other's energy, stirring up more anticipation. It was almost unbearable. However, the moment Baker's signature tone rang from the stage in a solitary note, the crowd fell silent. It was as if everyone in the room was afraid to sing because they would have cracked the beautiful finish that she painted on every ounce of air in the room.
"When I turn out the lights, there's nothing left between myself and me."
- Julien Baker, "Turn Out the Lights"
Half the people in the room had shared the stage with her at one point, and were all now standing in front of her stage, offering their full hearts' support, and sharing in communal pride of their friend's incredible success. It was a beautiful testament not only to Baker's talent, but also to her character. Personal, genuine, gentle, connective spirit. Every friend in the crowd was absolutely cherished by the person on stage - not one less than the other.
Baker captures her 22 years of life in a hundred-year bottle, building each musical moment into a ship, venturing an endless horizon. You can't help but relate, ache, and be completely consumed with the marvelous dance between lyric and life. By the time the last song ended, those who were strangers were now family and those who were outcasts had finally belonged.
There is something eternal that boils beneath the surface of art that is grounded in honesty. That eternal "something" makes its way to the surface in the form of sound, timbre, and tone that all shape the piece of eternity that we are interacting with. It's funny how one person's reality can reflect so much truth.
Julien Baker is an enigma. Her hometown show was unadorned, in no need of embellishment, and nothing short of spectacular. As we all expected, she delivered the honesty that has been her trademark since day one. Unfortunately, I haven't known this music scene since the start of so many great artists, but Memphis will always hold a special place in my heart for people like Julien Baker.