While I continue to sort through how this blog is going to play out, I think I’ve decided to include a music Monday post. Music on Mondays is clearly for the alliteration. CSA posts will likely be on Sundays when I get my bags of goodies. Other posts on other days will fall into place as I make blogging more of a habit.
So, onto today’s music Monday (a few hours late depending on your time zone, yes). There’s no better way to start what will hopefully be a consistent Monday post than with one about my all-time favorite musician: Glen Hansard.
(You can find all songs mentioned in an embedded playlist at the end of this post.)
I was first indirectly introduced to Glen Hansard in late 2005, when a playlist made by this guy included a song titled “Fake” by a band named The Frames. Glen Hansard is the lead singer and primary songwriter, and guitar player and all around wonderful musician heading up this rock band from Dublin who have been around since the early 1990’s. I enjoyed the song, but didn’t pay particular attention to Mr. Hansard until a year later, driving in a good friend’s car through the scenic Kentucky countryside, windows down, listening to some beautiful music I had never heard before. It was the soundtrack from “Once.” (You may know the song “Falling Slowly,” which won best song at the Oscars in 2008.) I immediately obtained a copy of the soundtrack and for the next few months it was literally the only music that I listened to. Some would say I overplayed it, but to this day I remain immune to getting tired of that soundtrack. It is just TOO good. The music led me to seeing the movie, and after a bit of research, I discovered it was, in fact, Glen Hansard playing the lead role. This led to many years following of delving into any music that I could find that he put his hands on.
There is something special about Glen Hansard’s art. Years of listening to his music have brought me to a place of utmost respect for him as a musician and songwriter. It doesn’t hurt that, as a violinist, I dream of being in a band similar to The Frames. The energy that they are able to exude from their songs continues to astound me. When asked why I want to play music in a band, I can’t respond in words. The only way I can convey my love for playing music is to direct people to a song- “Revelate,” by The Frames, from the live CD “Set List.” The build up to the first violin solo, and the solo itself (starting around 3:25), conveys so much more than I will ever be able to put in words. I not only have Glen Hansard to thank for that, but also specifically the amazing violinist of The Frames- Colm Mac Con Iomaire. I met him once. I also later conversed with him through Myspace messaging and he was so kind to explain to me the gear that he uses while playing shows. I’ll have to do a post about him another day.
I met Glen Hansard once also. It was during the same time I met Mr. Mac Con Iomaire, after a Swell Season concert in Philadelphia in late 2009. The sad thing is, I was so engrossed in talking shop about violin that I didn’t get any sort of conversation with Mr. Hansard. At the last second, I jumped into a picture with him and my very tall friend John. Slightly awkward moment, but I needed that picture!
That was the extent of my meeting him, but I did observe him a lot while he was interacting with fans. What really struck me was his sincere kindness. How genuine he was. A normal person who has an extraordinary talent and is recognized for it, but hasn’t let any of that get to his head. I’ve met other relatively well-known musicians and this has not been the case with anyone else of his status that I have come in contact with (except for the rest of his band; Colm Mac Con Iomaire and Marketa Irglova were quite lovely as well). That just adds tenfold to the respect I already have for him.
I once drove from Lexington, Kentucky to Philadelphia, PA and then took a train to NYC to see The Frames on their 20th anniversary tour. This was late 2010. As The Frames were, and are, my favorite band, this was a huge deal to me. In fact, I got to Philadelphia the night before The Frames show, and they happened to be playing Philly the night I arrived- I wish I could say I went to that show as well, and though I didn’t, you can be guaranteed I debated heavily about it.
The venue in NYC was a larger one, with a big open area for standing room at stage level, and three balconies wrapping around three sides of the stage. I ended up on the first balcony, stage right, almost immediately over the side of the stage. My view (with a zoom) looked like this:
This show is another thing I have no words for. The best I can do is to say it was the best show I’ve ever been to. Words like that don’t seem to have any meaning, but I can’t describe how amazing this show was. In everything Glen Hansard does, you can see and experience all of his emotion. It is seemingly tangible. He loves what he does. He is invested in it. His musicianship, his songwriting, his performing- it is all part of who he is. He puts on a show, yes, but it’s not that he’s acting for everyone. He just is who he is. There are no frills, there is nothing fake. He is real and transparent and it all shows in his music, particularly in his live performance. (I can say the same for when I saw him perform as Swell Season, but as The Frames are my particular favorite, I will stick with writing about them for this post, so as to save some space.)
I do have something negative to include about that show, something I still cannot let go of, though it’s been a year and a half at this point. You see, I have a favorite Frames song. Who doesn’t have favorites, right? And this song that I love is not some random song off of a B-side CD or anything. This song is the title track of their 1995 album “Fitzcarraldo.” This song is perfect and beautiful from start to finish. I have four different versions of it in my iTunes. I learned the violin part by ear and it’s a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine to play along with the song and pretend I’m in the band. So in the weeks leading up to the 20th anniversary tour stop in NYC, I was getting increasingly excited to hear my favorite song live, to see all the raw emotion firsthand, to simply experience the song as it should be experienced. I wasn’t seeing Swell Season this time, I was seeing The Frames. I was seeing how it all began 20 years earlier. So I could be guaranteed to hear this song.
And then the song never happened.
As the night moved on and the minutes passed more and more quickly and they played one amazing song after another, I was increasingly earnest about yelling “Fitzcarraldo!” to the stage below me. It was to no avail. They ended the set and walked backstage and then came back for the encore when I believed surely they’d play my song. They didn’t. I think they played two or three more songs for that encore. I don’t remember a single one. I was too downhearted. It was my chance to hear Fitzcarraldo, and it never happened. The icing on the cake was when I talked with my sister who lives near Belfast and saw The Frames on the same tour a few weeks earlier or later or whenever, and of course they played it there. I really cannot let that go. Or maybe I just don’t want to let it go. I just want to know why it didn’t get played that night. Why, out of all the songs to exclude, did Fitzcarraldo have to be one of them? When will I ever have the chance to hear that song live? Will The Frames tour again?
I was two degrees of separation from Glen Hansard just a few months ago. My employers attended the Scientific and Technical Awards in February, and as it turned out, The Swell Season was the entertainment for the evening. Coincidentally, my employers had asked me just a few days previous what type of music I listened to, and I answered as I answer that question every time- “I have two favorite bands, and though they are fairly different from one another, I can’t separate them into who I like better or who is the better band, they are both the same standard to me- The Frames, and The Beatles. Glen Hansard of The Frames is the most talented musician out there.” (I then further explained to them who The Frames are by mentioning “Once,” and mentioning The Swell Season and “Falling Slowly.” They got it by then.) And so when my employers saw who the entertainment was that evening, they wasted no time in introducing themselves to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova and telling them how I compared The Frames to The Beatles. I now have a second set of autographs from them, and Mr. Hansard’s reads “To Bekah- Big Love.” I’m okay with that.
I’ve tickets to a June 20th show here in Los Angeles to see Glen Hansard solo. Honestly, I’d been scouring the Internet for months, at least 4 or 5 times a week, to see when he’d be touring again. I bought tickets as soon as I was aware of their availability. I found out an hour later that my darling boyfriend had intentions to buy me the tickets for my birthday. I was too fast for him. Oops. I am extremely excited about this show. He has a solo album coming out on June 19th and I’ve so far heard two of the songs- “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting,” and “Philander” (The latter not available on Spotify at the moment, here’s a YouTube link.) It took me two listens each to love them. The first time through, I was slightly unsettled because they initially seem to be a lot different than his typical style. But on the second listen I was sold, first because I knew what to expect, second because Glen Hansard is a musical genius no matter how he presents his talents, and third because there are still parts of the “old” Glen Hansard I know and love thrown into these songs, you just have to listen a bit more for them.
This “old” Glen Hansard is so distinctive to me. Powerful vocals, thoughtful lyrics, and- what really gets me- intense builds in the songs, these builds are what really bring out the emotion. I think it’s the builds that I initially thought I was missing in his new solo songs. But in reality, they are there, they’re just there differently. Instead of builds, per se, there are more spread out smatterings of the emotion. I’ve grown used to builds like in “Santa Maria,” a song I used to skip almost always because the beginning truthfully bored me- until I saw them perform it at the NYC show and was reminded of how it ended. That song has some energy! “Say It To Me Now,” from the Once soundtrack specifically, has it as well. “Dream Awake” and “Finally” have both smatterings and progressive builds. “The Cost” builds to an amazing violin solo that at first listen still sounds like an electric guitar to me. The best example I can give of his vocal talent is “Falling Slowly” from The Frames’s CD “The Cost.” Around the 3:00 mark he goes into the chorus basically a capella, and the emotion behind the words and the control of his voice strikes me every single time I listen to that section.
When it comes down to it, I’d love to sit with Glen Hansard and pick his brain about how he writes songs. However, I’m so bad at asking questions, that perhaps I’d prefer a jam session over a cup of tea. Maybe then I could finally hear Fitzcarraldo live, from just a few feet away, and fulfill that daydream of playing the violin part with the real band.
And, P.S. that guy who first introduced me to The Frames through “Fake,” well, at one point I attributed that song to him. And five years later, and now two years after that, I can attribute “Headlong.” It’s funny how life works. Thank you, Glen Hansard, for writing songs that are relevant.