If you ask around my group of friends, they might tell you I have an obsession with a particular musician. An amazing musician with a fist for a voice and the soul of a blues guitarist. A contemplative woman with beautiful lyrics; a woman you can tell has a love cast wide over many people and things. A musician that can break my heart in one track and have me dancing* in the next.
My friends wouldn’t put it that way, though. They’d say something more along the lines of, “He really likes that Jenny Young girl.”
To which I would have to say (with gritted teeth—for how many times must I correct you people?), “Jenny Owen Youngs.”
I stumbled upon Youngs from a single song on last.fm. I don’t even remember what the station was based in—Tegan & Sara, probably—but I remember hearing Youngs’ song. The song, I believe, was “Fuck Was I Thinking?” and it probably resonated heavily with me at the time†.
Eventually I purchased the song, singularly, from iTunes. I was much poorer back then and could never quite justify buying any music, really, but I bought that song so that I could have it on my iPod.
Then I did something I still think is kind of weird: Over the next two years, I bought the rest of that album, song by song. Why I never just splurged and got the entire thing in one go, I really don’t know, but I think I can guess.
I developed a relationship with Youngs’ music. It became an old friend who I’d see every couple of months and who would tell me some new thing. With each new song I felt like I was learning more about the album, the music, and about Youngs herself.
One day I heard she was coming to Louisville for a show. I was determined to go, but having such anxieties, I refused to go by myself. Unfortunately I couldn’t find anyone and opted to sit at home pouting instead. That was silly of me, of course, but that’s how it goes.
Eventually, I bought that album, however, and added the few remaining songs I hadn’t bought to my iTunes. Looking through my list of songs today I can see that I have doubles of most of the tracks from Batten the Hatches; which is still less confusing than why I have this new U2 album on my iTunes.
She came into town a second time, however, and my resolve to go to the show was strengthened by the idea that I’d missed her once already. I offered to pay for a friend’s ticket if he went with me. I even bought my own ticket in advance from the bar’s website. When we arrived I mentioned to the big guy outside that I’d done this.
He immediately said, “Ah, you Garrett Something?” I nodded and asked how he knew. “You’re the only one who bought a ticket online.” Honestly, I felt kind of stupid; I had assumed that tickets would be scarce. My love of Youngs told the logic center of my brain that everyone else in town also loved her and her music—which they should.
The concert was amazing and I even managed to get a picture of her holding my tobacco pipe standing next to me as I fan-girled out.
I bought her new album that night, An Unwavering Band of Light—one of my all-time favorite albums to date. I listened to it at home. I put it on my iPod. I listened to it every time I got into the car. I listened again. And again. I listened to it for two months solid. I can sing along with that entire album now. When I put it on, especially if the weather is just right, I get a pounding in my chest that brings me straight back to that spring.
I did end up seeing her once more in concert a few months later at a different venue. She wasn’t the headliner and most of the people were there to see the other guy, but I was there for her one-of-a-kind show experience.
After she played her set, I was ready to head out—I had already made plans with a friend to sing karaoke. On my way out of the bar, however, I spotted someone sitting on a stoop a few doors down, checking their phone. After a cartoon-esque double-take, I realized it was Youngs.
I felt stupid doing it, but my body was acting far faster than my brain could stop it: I waved at her and said something very vague like, “Nice show.” She said a quick thanks and I began to step away, but in a second she was standing up in front of me, continuing a conversation I had assumed was over before it had begun.
We stood there, facing each other and talking. She was nice and polite—but most of all, she was genuine. Sometimes when you meet someone you look up to they don’t quite stand as tall as you’d like them to. Sometimes they roll their eyes or are sarcastic or just plain mean. Not Jenny, though. When she talked to me, it didn’t feel like my rock hero throwing a bone to a diehard fanboy; it felt like she we were two people talking after a show.
Of course, it probably didn’t look that way from her perspective, as I stumbled through my words and said things that, more than likely, came off as more insulting than flattering‡. But she took it all in stride. And that feeling of meeting an old friend again solidified.
At this point, I’d like to take a quick break to acknowledge that I probably sound delusional. Understand that I know I’m not friends with Jenny Owen Youngs. But all the same, I am friends with her words and her music.
A year later she came out of the closet, which excited me far more than it should have. I ran around shouting it at anyone that would listen, “Jenny Owen Youngs came out today! AND she’s engaged! AND they’re adorable!” Most people responded with, “Who’s that?” but that’s just because they’re losers who don’t know what’s cool, obviously.
In my mind, there are certain people who deserve to be loved whole-heartedly by another human being, and Youngs is one of those people. This is a weird thought process, and I’ll be the first to say it, but it’s simply how my mind works.
Over a year later—and dozens of more adorable pictures of her and her wife, and videos of them singing and of their cat, and tweets about music and books later—Youngs announced her new EP. This EP has been a long time coming: I haven’t seen her live in concert in two and a half years (I track the time by how old my nephew is), haven’t been able to sit down with a new album in that time, haven’t been able to meet that old friend and hear news like I used to.
When she announced the project through a pledging site, I immediately found the kickback I wanted and put in my order. Then I sent a joke tweet out about “if I had a dollar for every time I spent money on [her], well I’d still be down hundreds of dollars.” Which was less of a joke than you might think. After all, I have bumper stickers; buttons; duplicates of songs from Batten the Hatches; An Unwavering Band of Light on CD, digital, and vinyl; and a signed, vinyl copy of her new EP on order.
Yet I still haven’t listened to a single song of the U2 album I got for free…