There are certain musicians that you love with your whole fast-beating 15 year-old heart in 1995 that you grow apart from like a Sadie Hawkins Dance date (I’m looking at you, Toby Clary. You never call). The 2012-you puts the album on and winces at how minimally the music still aligns with what you love, for all the fervor and the cassette tape trading you may have devoted to it in your teenage years.
But then there are the artists that age with you, that burrow warm like a nest around your body and your heart as you grow. They are the ones that you can look back at after having lived through a few more years and heartbreaks and deeper joys than you ever predicted, and find that their songs can still bloom for you, can still come along with you through the currents.
For me, Glen Phillips and the music of Toad the Wet Sprocket does exactly that. We’ve both got some crinkles around our eyes when we smile, and we’re both about a thousand metaphorical miles from where we were in high school, but something in there still connects wonderfully. I was a colossal Toad the Wet Sprocket fan in high school. Dulcinea had just come out in 1994, Fear is (still) an unbeatable record, and my skies were wide open and cerulean blue. I was on a text-based email listserv devoted to Toad (yup), and we would tree cassette tapes of shows and unreleased songs, and talk about band details and show reviews. I have every single record they ever released, and all sorts of CD singles. I think I was in a fanclub — remember those?
Life being the funny thing that it is, on a cold night this past autumn, I ended up sitting in an echoey church at midnight with Glen Phillips, after a long dinner filled with rich conversation and some good wine, beaming ear to ear as he played so many songs for our session — some old, some brand new, and one jaw-dropping cover — and we just enjoyed the heck out of that particular brand of magic.
I interviewed Glen back in Nashville in 2009 during his tour with the spirited Works Progress Administration super-musician band, and we hit it off as friends immediately. Glen is one of the most lovely, wrenching songwriters that I know of who is still plugging away intelligently from those bands I loved in the ’90s. There is a specific timbre his voice hits that other longtime fans will understand when I say just slices through all those deadened layers that calcify around my insides. Just a straight shot through. As the years pass, I hear him harnessing a certain type of weariness –no, quietness, maybe– but also there is still that bubbling current of hope and a satisfaction with the lives we have woven together from all of this crazy life.
FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION: GLEN PHILLIPS
(OCTOBER 5, 2011)
Glen wrote this to first appear on the Works Progress Administration record, back in 2009, and when he sings about the fog in the canyon and the vapor in the keep, I can hear it silently permeating this unsettling, questioning song. To me, it feels like a nice bookend to the social-justice bent in the super old Toad song “Chile” – please only talk to me in the dark.
Return to Me
I’ve been strangely drawn to movies about the alienation of outer space and the parallel celestial worlds that might spin around us, from any number of eerie Twilight Zones, to Moon, to the amaaaaazing Another Earth. This darkly beautiful song wants to be in one of those cinescapes, with futuristic lyrics about seeing the sun rise twice within one day, and how “with a finger i will lift you gently from your seat and draw you near / embrace you as we spin, all grace and beauty.” I don’t even want to know how this song came to be — I just love its exotic otherworldliness. It’s from Glen’s 2008 thematic record Secrets Of The New Explorers.
The One That Got Away
Because this is a new one, it might not even have a finalized name yet, but for now Glen’s going for this wistful title of something missed — a silvery girl slipped through the netting. As I recall, this was played on a ukulele (the night got pleasantly fuzzy) and somehow manages to feel sad and effervescent, all at the same time.
Wow, when I recognized the chords to this one…. This is a song from the second Toad album, Pale, self-released in 1989 for $6000, when the band was barely out of high school. On the album version Glen sounds like the shiny, slightly-sullen, longhaired teenager that he was, and I love it fiercely. When I listen to this recording from the chapel, he sounds so much warmer, and so much more real, which I suppose might be a nice metaphor for what’s happened to all of us in the last twenty years. After those opening guitar notes when I realized what song he was playing, boy did the tears start flowing silently as I sat there quietly humming harmonies. That was a permanent win life-moment of beauty for me.
Don’t Need Anything
As Glen introduces this older tune as “a feel-good song,” and it feels like a comfortable old robe that I can slip into as Spring mornings mean coffee on my back porch. “Got gardens growing, got quiet days…” It works as a perfect companion piece for “I Will Not Take These Things For Granted,” from Fear, and unwinds like a modern benediction of simplicity. There is so much to be grateful for.
Two-Headed Boy (Neutral Milk Hotel)
And finally: All I have to say is that this might be the most perfect cover ever recorded in a chapel session. It was the last song of the night, nearing 1am. Incisive, plaintive, capturing the spirit of the original but in a terrifically unique way — like this version was always meant to be. So, so good. The world that you need is wrapped in gold silver sleeves.