BY ERIK CHRISTENSEN
June 21, 2017
As usual, the key is paying attention. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you’ll see how, like magic, things line up. “Coincide” from its early Latin roots means to “fall together,” something that’s not really random, but two things that fit together perfectly. It’s surprising—although it shouldn’t be—how often two random things have brought me to some good music.
Here are my all-time, top-five musical coincidences:
Musical coincidence number five
In the early ‘90s, my younger brother discovered a Georgia folk singer named Kevn Kinney, who I knew as the leader of the band Drivin’ and Cryin.’ Kinney had a new record out titled “McDougal Blues.” Since it was produced by R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, my brother (a big fan) had to have it and sang its praises to me. “OK, sure,” I thought, not really interested. A few days later, at Seattle’s Peaches Record Store with friends Dean and Sherry, I heard a great song being played over the store’s sound system. Then another. After a third interesting song, I was really drawn in as we were browsing records, and even my friend Dean perked up at this couplet:
Not everyone was born with a golden crutch
And if you don’t lend a helping hand, do me this much…
I thought, “This is a cool record they’re playing,” and decided to go ask about it. “Oh, it’s Kevn Kinney’s new record. Peter Buck produced it and plays guitar all over it. It’s pretty cool,” the lady behind the counter said. “All right,” I thought, “Little brother, you got me.” I bought the record, and it remains a favorite to this day.
Musical coincidence number four
Billy Joel isn’t exactly an unknown artist, but sometimes he can sneak in under the radar. I have long been a fan and have seen him in concert many times. I remember finding a limited-edition CD of his Russian tour. He was the first big American artist to play in Russia during the Glasnost era, and there is an outstanding documentary of his trip—I still have it somewhere on an old VHS tape. The “Live in Russia” CD lived in my car for a few days, which led me to break out some other Billy Joel music (1976’s “Turnstiles” CD is still a favorite). That Friday, after being immersed in all things Billy, a copy of American Songwriter magazine showed up in my Coupeville mailbox with Billy Joel on the cover. He hadn’t released any new music in a long while, and wasn’t really newsworthy, but just happened to be featured after I had spent four straight days listening to his music.
Musical coincidence number three
I’ve written about Jason Isbell several times (here and here), but I remember first hearing about him in the print world of No Depression magazine. (Named after the 1936 Carter Family song “No Depression in Heaven,” it was the quintessential monthly Americana/Folk music magazine that went online-only for a while and is now back in print as a quarterly.) Isbell was described as the young hotshot who joined the Drive-By Truckers band and quickly gained renown as a guitar player and songwriter. Years later, while listening to music online, in the margins of my YouTube feed, I noticed links for Jason Isbell, the guy I had read about in the magazine. There was a link to a song titled “Danko/Manuel.” Well, I know those names; that song must be about the members of The Band, Bob Dylan’s old group. Click. Amazing song! Another link. “Decoration Day.” Click. Another great song! “Streetlights.” Click. OH MY GOSH, WHERE HAVE I BEEN?! How did I not know about this great songwriting? A few clicks later, I had ordered all three of his solo records and spent an entire summer immersed in his music. Remember the mathematical formula: Music magazines + YouTube = spending money on CDs.
Musical coincidence number two
As I wrote in the “Safe Compilation” blog entry, a great source for music and music journalism is the southern literary magazine Oxford American. There, I read an interesting write-up of a Midwest songwriter Kevin Gordon. The CD that came with the magazine included a great duet of Gordon and the great Lucinda Williams on “Down to the Well.” That was another live-in-my-car-for-six-months disc, and I thought about it often, but never got around to checking out more of Kevin Gordon’s work.
About three years later, a friend of a friend named Karl came to one of my gigs and said, “Wow, your music sounds a lot like this guy I’ve been listening to. I think you’d really like his stuff.” A few days later, he delivered “Gloryland,” a new CD by someone named Kevin Gordon. It had been so long, at first the name meant nothing to me. I popped it in the CD player in my car, and a few minutes in, I realized, “Gaa! This is the ‘Down to the Well’ guy! Finally!” The planets align, especially when you have hip friends like Karl who listen to and share interesting new music.
And now, my all-time, number one musical coincidence
This one is the most recent, and just one more example of two things falling together like magic. For the past two months or so, my listening obsession has been Chris Shiflett’s (guitarist for the band Foo Fighters) “Walking The Floor” podcast. It’s an every-other-Monday series of interviews with country, Americana, and honky-tonk musicians. The interviews have all been great, so I have taken to plowing through the archives in the evenings, listening on my headphones as I’m cleaning up or doing the dishes.
On June 3, after listening to an hour discussion with BJ Barham of the band American Aquarium (both new to me), I thought, “I wonder if this BJ Barham guy is touring around here anytime this summer.” I looked up his website and, amazingly, found Tractor Tavern, Seattle, Washington listed as his next show. On June 4. “Uh, tomorrow? Tomorrow! Holy cow, I guess I’m destined to go to that show!” The next night found me in the front row of the Tractor Tavern, laughing to myself about musical coincidences. I was not disappointed; it turned out to be a fantastic show—solo acoustic, with riveting songs about his hometown from his new CD “Rockingham.”
So, these days, I pay attention. Things come together in a beautiful way. Let me know what you think of any of the above artists, and let me know what you’re listening to or reading. I’m sure it’ll fit together with something of mine.
Erik Christensen teaches at Oak Harbor High School, writes songs and poetry, and is working up BJ Barham’s “Reidsville” to play at upcoming gigs. The Erik Christensen Band plays:
- Thursdays, July 20 and 27 at the Clinton Farmer’s Market from 4 to 7 p.m.
- Saturday, July 29 at Flyers in Oak Harbor, 7 to 9 p.m.
- Saturday, August 5 at the Taproom at Bayview Corner, 8 to 10 p.m.
View the other stories published this week
- Seeing the Overlooked: Botanical Illustrator Focuses on What We Miss
- Hat Island, the Slave Trade, and the Supreme Court
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Very fun article! I know some of these musicians and am going to listen to the others now.
I appreciate and relate to your episodes of musical serendipity– I have felt it too -and that’s part of the magic! Thanks!
Thanks for reading. Sitting here with a glass of wine and my mom–she says to tell you “hello!” Come hear our band sometime; in addition to the dates listed above, hopefully we’ll be back at the Dancing Fish Winery soon.
This was fun. I love learning about musicians I’ve never heard. Just listened to Kinney, and he’d a been a staple back in the 70s for me. “Auto Parts and Broken Hearts.” On to Isbell….
When I wrote for American Blues Scene, I opened a No Depression blog. I miss writing about music, mostly because I loved listening so much.
Now, it’s Jason Isbell, “Danko/Manuel.” I love the sad (minor) key of this song. I like the construction a bit too. I like its movement in and out of the choruses. I liked this song. Makes me want to get back to my drums….
Thanks for the post!