Literary Hook: 'Love Letter to an Unfamous Musician'

You might recall reading Allison Joseph’s poems in “The Writer’s Garret.” A prolific poet, Allison Joseph also writes sparkling prose. Her essay, “Love Letter to an Unfamous Musician, or Dean Jason Falkner,” placed as an honorable mention in this year’s Poetry and Prose Contest. In the afterglow of On the Waterfront, it seems fitting to extol the virtues of a lesser-known musician. Enjoy the voice and vitality in Allison Joseph’s essay!

“Love Letter to an Unfamous Musician, or Dear Jason Falkner”

The first time I heard one of your songs, I felt like I’d just tasted the first sip of an extremely cold soda on an extremely hot day—the head rush to your voice, guitar and lyrics made me sigh with pleasure, sway like a schoolgirl in sugary ecstasy. That first song, the first track on your 1997 album, Jason Falkner Presents Author Unknown,” wasn’t a hit—but it sure sounded like one to me. It’s a totally lovestruck three-minute wash of synthesizer and drums and guitar called “I Live”—a song where you sound both bashful and determined, simultaneously joyous and shy. It’s a song about wanting someone that sounds more like a prayer in its lyrics, a boyish man praying to the ever-fickle god of romance: “If I had you/I could never ever/Ask for anything again/ As long as I live.” It’s the way you sing the words “I live” that really gets to me. You sing them as if this girl holds everything you are in her pert feminine hands, and to live, to truly be alive, means to be with her. It’s a song to swoon by, and it should have made you famous.

But it didn’t. I can’t say you suffer from overexposure, that your photos and posters are on every teen girl’s wall, that you are profiled regularly in Rolling Stone or Spin or Blender. And it’s not that you aren’t cute. From the few pictures I’ve seen of you, you’re quite fetching—blond-haired, bright-eyed, slim in denim. Aren’t you the kind of singer we girls go crazy for—someone just as sensitive as we are, as baffled by romance and as ready to sing about it?

And it’s not that you are new to music. The few Web sites devoted to you detail your career, your stints in previous bands: The Three O’Clock, Jellyfish, The Grays—all bands that critics use the words “cult band” to describe. It’s a tough thing being a critic’s darling—you get all the familiar descriptive phrases thrown at you: Beatlesque songs, power pop genius, guitar virtuoso. None of those words do a darn thing for record sales.

I try to convince myself that your lack of fame is a good thing, that you’re a wonderful secret I share only with the clutch of fans who revere your music and share that love on the Internet. I’m a poet, so I know how to measure fans in groups of 10s and 20s. But I still can’t believe that you aren’t better known, a huge pop star, that after your second album, your record label dropped you. Dropped by men in suits who don’t know a damn thing, I bet, about how your music makes me feel, how I sing your lyrics in the shower, on the train into the city as “My Home Is Not a House” pours out of my portable headphones. Label executives? What do they know about what people want to hear? About what makes us fans?

It frustrates me that other boys with guitars, other sensitive singer-songwriter types, are more popular than you are. Sure, I like John Mayer and Jason Mraz, but there’s no effort involved in being a fan of theirs. They have DVDs and CDs out; I’ve seen them on TV, on MTV and VH1. The only time I’ve seen you on television was during one of Beck’s appearances on Saturday Night Live. Sure, I like Beck, Midnite Vultures in particular, but did anyone watching that night know who the other blond guy on guitar was?A few of us did, your rabid self-dubbed Internet “Falknerds,” but to the rest of the world, you were just a member of Beck’s backing band, a lesser light there only to make a bigger talent sound better.

I know you have at least one famous fan, though. I’ve read you went to high school with “Rollergirl,” aka Heather Graham, Austin Powers babe and an actress who probably inspires the same sort of swoony devotion in her male fans that you do in me. I’ve read she shows up at your concerts, small affairs that they are, and dances her heart out to your songs as if you were Bono. Rumor has it that your song “Follow Me” is about Heather herself. Sample lyric: “I don’t wanna believe/all the ugly things about you I read.” Heather, if that’s true, marry this man. Or at least, get one of his songs on the soundtrack to one of your movies.

Jason, if you should ever read this, know that you have fans in places you’ve never heard of, in far-flung little college towns like mine. It was in my sleepy little backwater town that I first found your albums—and here’s the hard part—in the trade-in bins of my local CD shop. How could anyone have given you up? I may spend listening time with other sensitive guys with guitars—Michael Penn, Matthew Sweet, Jon Brion (your supertalented band mate from the Grays whom savvy music lovers know better as a producer for singers like Aimee Mann and Fiona Apple), Josh Kelley. They’re all great, but there’s something about your music that keeps drawing me back to it. Maybe it’s that Beach Boys meets Beatles meets “Paisley Underground” groove you’ve got going. Maybe it’s the blond hair, or the sound of wistful longing, so much yearning unfulfilled, in your voice. I don’t know what it is entirely, but I know that I’ll be drawn to it for as long as I live, as long as I live, as long as I can pump your songs into my headphones, shutting out the rest of the world for a dalliance with the sounds of your shimmering tambourine, with your glistening four-tracked harmonies.

Christine Swanberg is a local author and poet who has written several books of poetry and formerly wrote a column called “The Writer’s Garret” for this newspaper.

From the Sept. 27-Oct.3, 2006, issue

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