learning love songs

est. 2008


John K. Sampson


Eight days ago, I had one of the finest concert experiences in recent memory at The Wiltern. I went to see John K. Sampson, one of my all-time favorite songwriters and frontman of the late greats The Weakerthans. He was opening for Frank Turner, an artist I knew but didn’t really know — not until I saw him on stage, anyway.

Sampson rocketed through favorites like “Aside” and “Sun in an Empty Room” along with tracks from his beautiful new solo LP Winter Wheat. I highly recommend it pensive listening sessions, when you need something to sink into that isn’t too aggressive but is still deep and smart. He introduced his group as “a soft rock band from Canada” and I think that’s a fine way to say it. I sang along with every word I knew from a seat up in the mezzanine, head tucked on my boyfriend’s shoulder. I felt warm and safe, comforted by the familiar voice that has accompanied so many highs and lows over the years.

Frank Turner, on the other hand, I didn’t know much about except for strolls through his discography in the week leading up to a song. When his set started with the unveiling of two big positive-negative light-up displays on either side of the stage, and his band entered in coordinating black and white suits, I knew this was going to be a show. Not just a concert but a performance, with engagement and attitude and stagecraft aplenty. And it was! Turner is an undeniable band leader, he’s got that charisma and energy to bounce him all over the stage without losing the audience’s eye once. His band played their own respective hearts out, and backed him up well during the almost-rockabilly punk tunes as much as the poppier side. I loved the keys and drums set up on risers in the back, creating a stage that looked like something out of a 1960s variety show. We’re so used to seeing bands set up in the same formation, and I like it when artists go out of their way to make a setup that feels like their own.

Frank’s songs have an emotional vulnerability to them that spoke to me instantly, and something about a crowd of thousands singing and jumping along to these introspective thoughts was quite moving. A word about the crowd: audiences LOVE Frank. It was clear people had seen him before, and first-timers like us were the minority of the group. But I’d instantly go back and see him again. The songs were that good, the performance was that sharp and the experience was that fun, a kind of suspended reality and coming together that felt light and strong and necessary. Three cheers to Frank and his stellar team, fans included, for giving me a night at The Wiltern I’ll never forget.

“Some days I wake up dazed my dear,
And don’t know where I am.
I’ve been running now so long I’m scared
I’ve forgotten how to stand.
I stand alone in airport bars
And gather thoughts to think:
That if all I had was one long road
It could drive a man to drink.

But then I remember you,
And the way you shine like truth in all you do.
And if you remembered me,
You could save me from the way I tend to be.”

~The Way I Tend To Be
Frank Turner, Tape Deck Heart


My copy of “Left and Leaving” is getting a lot of needle action lately. I can’t stop playing The Weakerthans on shuffle in my car. Maybe it’s the ice finally melting from the hilltop pavement, maybe it’s the cyclical trappings of the years, but I love love love how this album, somehow, always sounds new again. John K.Sampson is better than most. His lyrical metaphor, his anthropomorphism, his meter, and his blunt dictation of sorrow provide honesty at this literary level so difficult to accomplish in any words, let alone in the format of a song.

To think I discovered this band more than 10 years ago, when the depths of relationships with other humans, flawed and fragile as me, felt so dark and intriguing and winding. Now, how innocent those emotions seem. How much deeper and meaningful and layered these words feel, on this side of time: “I’m so glad that you exist.” 

You take them for granted when you are young, all those full and inspiring and vibrant people around you. We lose it, sometimes, somehow, as we age.

I’m a lucky person, to have had so many wonderful people in my life. People who have taught me about music, about words, about art and life and strength, in fleeting, accidental moments that stick in my memory, or subliminal, extended lessons interwoven with the respect and admiration and sheer fun of friendship. Whether they are in my life now or never again is secondary to their sheer import; we felt, and we feel, we connected and always will, and for this, I am grateful. With each passing year, my appreciation and acknowledgment grows, as I hold tighter and tighter to the imprints left behind.

“How I don’t know how to sing,
I can barely play this thing,
But you never seem to mind,
And you tell me to fuck off,
When I need somebody to,
How you make me laugh so hard,

How whole years refuse to stay,
Where we told them to, bad dog,
Locked up whining in a word,
Or a misplaced souvenir,
How the past chews on your shoes,
And these memories lick my ear.

I know,
You might roll your eyes at this,
But I’m so,
Glad that you exist.

How we waste our precious time,
Marching in the picket line,
That surround those striking hearts,

And the time is never now,
And we know who we should love,
But we’re never certain how.

I know,
You might roll your eyes at this,
But I’m so,
Glad that you exist.”
~The Reasons
The Weakerthans, Reconstruction Site


On a huge Weakerthans kick this week. Maybe it’s because I’m content, in a bored way. Or bored, in a content way, where I’m finding that little moments and gestures pack more meaning into a second in lieu of any one-shot events.

I love this song. Such happy tension. Scene, resolve. Every word is perfect. Commence listening.

“I want to call a request through heating vents,
And hear them answered with a whispered no,
To crack the code of muscles slack and tense,
Let every second step in boots on snow,
Complete you name in accents I can’t place,
That stumble where the syllables combine,
Take depositions from a stranger’s face,
Paint every insignificance a sign.

So tell me nothing matters less or more,
Say whatever we think actions are,
We’ll never know what anything was for,
If near is just as far away as far,
And I’m permitted one act I can save,
I choose to sit here next to you and wave.

The Weakerthans, Left and Leaving


John K. Sampson *would* write a song about grad school, and only he could make it cool. Video game references, present scene depiction, and bright chords contrasting chronicles of desperation. Mmmhmm.

Also, pretty sure Anti is one of the best record label out there – a quick catalog scan shows nothin’ but real. Neko Case, Tom Waits, Sage Francis, Wilco…and many artists I’ve never heard of and excited to check out. I’ve come across a lot of new music from them through their Winter Sampler, and it rarely disappoints.

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