Monday night I find myself in the basement of El Cortez, a grotto-turned-speakeasy packed with fifty sweaty fans of Dan Mangan. We’ve all been tipped off to a secret show, starting at midnight, in one of the most intimate concert spaces I’ve been in.
Mangan plays tune after tune that take me back to specific moments. The first time I heard ‘Basket’ and got a little teary and hit repeat. The times I’ve played ‘Road Regrets’ load to kick off a long vacation drive. There’s barely room for Dan Mangan and a drummer with a stripped-down kit, and the sound shrieks feedback every so often, but we don’t care. We surprise Mangan by turning his so-sad ode to senility into a rousing sing-along. He says its the first time Basket has become a singalong and I believe him.
When Mangan gets to ‘Robots’, his early hit and crowd favourite, he announces this one will be ‘campfire style’ and unplugs his guitar so he can walk into the centre of the crowd. Then he sings for us, and we sing for him.
“Robots need love too. They want to be loved by you. They want to be loved …”
“I’ve spent half of my life in the customer service line. Flaws in the design …”
The words are sometimes silly, but something is happening beneath them that is deeply meaningful. Music is magic in times like these.
Today I watched a video of James Cordon and Paul McCartney driving around Liverpool singing Beatles classics. They sing Let It Be and Cordon remembers a moment with his dad. For McCartney, the song leads back to his mom. Cordon tears up, unexpectedly. “It’s weird isn’t it?”, asks McCartney, “How that can do that to you?” One of the greatest songwriters of all time doesn’t even understand the power of sword he wields.
Neither do I, but I can attest to it. I am a witness. These moments of connection are, for me, what music is for. These are the responses I strive for when I sing out. When I risk baring my own brokenness for the entertainment of others.
Over this past week I’ve had some wonderful, unsolicited feedback on songs from fans. One couple fell in love to one of my performances last year. A sound tech almost started crying during my second last number.
This is what I mean when I say I make music to ‘haunt your heart’. In those moments I’m a servant to something greater than myself. I am a channel, blessed in the blessing and filled as I pour out.
Sing me something I can feel.