learning love songs

est. 2008


Matt Nathanson


“3 AM I scream your name
I don’t sleep, I don’t change.
There’s no magic left ,
No card up my sleeve,
Forever’s gone
And I watched it leave.

Maybe I get drunk enough to call you
Admit the thing I’m finally seeing clear
I can make good turn amazing
Then disappear
Matt Nathanson, Show Me Your Fangs

I’ve never been turned off by a Matt Nathanson album before, there’s always at least two or three songs that are these brutally honest and beautiful takes about how hard it is to love and live with abandon, or some equally heart-wrenching theme. Though Nathanson is an artist whose radio airplay is a footnote of his discography and hardly a household name, his songs often have something of a commercially appealing sound with these provocative or vulnerable twists, never safe but never at the cost of pleasant-sounding melodies.

On his latest record “Show me Your Fangs,” the ballads are what gets me, coming in a one-two punch midway through the album on “Disappear” and “Washington State Fight Song,” using an orchestral setting in the former and his trademark solo acoustic accompaniment in the latter.  These songs arguably the most depressing on the album, but I think they’re the most effective – while the happier takes in the beginning of the album might be good for a toe-tapping listen once or twice,  Nathanson continues to be at his most successful when he lets his guts spill out on the floor.

It’s hard to tell, with an artist who has been around the block once or twice like Nathanson has, whether these songs are the result of pure emotional inspiration or a more imaginative, fictional spark. But either way he succeeds in bringing forward something real — and really catchy. I’ve had these songs swirling my head the past few days and while I don’t think I’ll come back to them as often as I do “Beneath These Fireworks” and that era, they prove Nathanson is a modern songwriter worth following.

“I wish that I could be a sucker for love
The way I’m a sucker for lying
But I like getting lost
It’s easier than finding my way.

I want to start over, pack up, disappear
And come back treating you better
But there’s a girl up in Spokane
And I’m like a moth to a flame

Oh, the mistakes I’ve made
Oh, in Washington state.

~Washington State Fight Song
Matt Nathanson, Show Me Your Fangs


“I had a dream I was being dissected by all of my friends, and I was so scared of the scalpel. Anytime it was raised to make another incision, I would start crying and screaming even though I knew I wouldn’t feel it. Everyone would verbally try to soothe me, and I kept screaming for someone to touch me so I knew I was still alive, but it’s like they weren’t sure either. The next thing I remember, I was standing outside in some field, and I felt perfectly fine. Then I sat down, and suddenly it was like the sutures ripped, and all my organs fell out.” 8-11-05

(I have no place else to put that, so there it is. I wrote those words years ago, and yet, I remember that dream crystal clear.)

This is my favorite song I listened to today. It came into my head this morning, after waking up at 6:30 a.m. when the sky was still dark blue for the first time this season. That, and the chill in the air, says to me it’s changed for good. Until next summer, anyway.

So this morning, I put this song on, from an old album from a previous life that resonates perhaps truer than before but has not lost its pretty quality. Now, I am not a Matt Nathanson apologist. Rather, I genuinely think he’s a great songwriter and performer. He sets lyrics very well, he writes satisfying progressions and melodies. I love the simple piano in this song, the effortless ascension and suspension that holds and wavers and fades. And I love the desperate questions. What is it about songs about New York that are just somehow sadder than the rest? And what is it about the impending loss of intimacy that makes seeing the world outside go on about its business feel so much more empty? Why does it feel like the seasons are changing? Probably because they are.

“Somewhere in between
The beginning and the end
September took the tourist
And settled in for good

You could hear the trains again
Brooklyn girls in scarves
Summer left and no one said a word.
We’d open your window,
Stay in your bed,
All day ’til the street lights came on

So what happened to bulletproof weeks in your arms?
What happened to feeling cheap radio songs?
What happened to thinking the world was flat,
What happened to that?

Up on 59th street,
Right before the rain,
Lovers catching taxis going downtown.

I’m talking to what’s left of you
Watching what I say
Counting all the freckles on your perfect face

You open your window,
And I stay on your bed,
Just hoping that right words will come.

So what happened to bullet proof weeks in your arms,
What happened to feeling cheap radio songs,
What happened to thinking the world was flat,
What happened to that

So what happened to bullet proof weeks in your arms
What happened to feeling cheap radio songs
What happened to thinking the world was flat
What happened to that?

 It’s all gone,
Love, it’s all wrong.

So what happened to bullet proof weeks in your arms
What happened to feeling cheap radio songs
What happened to thinking the world was flat
What happened, what happened to that?”

~Bulletproof Weeks
Matt Nathanson, Some Mad Hope


An all-time favorite song, making more sense than ever.

“This time, I’ll be sailing
No more bailing boats for me
I’ll be out here on the sea
Just my confidence and me

And I’ll be awful sometimes
Weakened to my knees
But I’ll learn to get by
On the little victories

This time, I’ll have no fear
I’ll be standing strong and tall
Turn my back towards them all

And I’ll be awful sometimes
Weakened to my knees
I’ll learn to get by
And I’ll learn to get by
On the little victories
And if the world decides to catch up with me
It’s a little victory

-Little Victories
Matt Nathanson, Beneath These Fireworks

You go forward, you take what wins you can but you do not let them define you. You do not build Rome in a day, you do not cave to the pressure to achieve some social standing utopia. Even if you did, you’d be disappointed by it, empty with nothing to show for yourself but wasted time. Instead you stay true, you go forward, and you wake up each day to chisel away at the block of marble that is your life’s potential, finishing your own one-of-a-kind masterpiece.

Somewhere, probably some cheesy movie, I heard some line about life being a gift, and having no intention to waste it. I’ve felt that way but I’ve also felt trapped. I’ve felt the dark shadow of mountains towering before me render me useless, leaving me saying “What the hell do I think I’m doing here?” But I haven’t given up, and I’ve cleaned up and tossed out the clutter.

I am going to start an adventure, finally, and I am not going to look back. I have no intention to waste it.


A friend of mine had an extra ticket to a Matt Nathanson concert last night, and it was’t until I got there that I realized a)how badly I needed a concert b)how liking Matt Nathanson is a really, really good idea.

You won’t find trendsetters at his shows, you won’t find the kind of people who flock to Pitchfork darlings with stupid names and laptop performances. You will find music listeners who are engaged, connected, and full of spirit for life and physical passion, qualities Nathanson sweats from every pore.

Homie’s recorded nine albums. That’s gotta be hard.

He was unbelievably entertaining. I saw him play acoustic once, maybe six years ago, and getting to check him out in front of a live band was a different experience, although not necessarily a worse one. Fortunately it didn’t interrupt his intimacy with the audience, and he told the audience what the songs were about before he played them in the majority of instances. His preface ranged from simple – “This is about fucking” – to elaborate backstory, like when he launched into “Bent” after telling the story of a girl he once “knew” and their attempts at “rekindling.”

“You turn, turn, turn, turning me on

Like a slow fire burn 

Know that it’s wrong

Still I run, run, run, run right into you

Oh look, says audience member in their head. This guy has experiences, and he writes about them. I’ve long believed Matt Nathanson is an expert in biting, bitter honesty, tossing out lines that cut straight to the intersection of desire and despair. I could see where people would throw him the “bro” category, given all the sex-inspired talk and acoustic strumming, but poetry is poetry is poetry.

“And I’ll forget about you long enough
To forget why I need to”

I was particularly peaked when he told us certain songs were penned after hearing a friend say a simple sentence or so – “I’m nobody’s girlfriend,” for example. Good songwriting, while springing from the depths of the soul and manufactured in creative consciousness, does not have to run hand-in-hand with pain, pleasure, discomfort, anger, or any other particular emotion. Simple discovery, and curiousity, can do the trick, if said writer is willing to peel back layers of the mind to tap into what’s unseen, and often unsaid.

As for the musicianship, one of my favorite moments in the show was after an acoustic duo bit with Matt and his guitar player, Aaron. The rest of the band joined on stage, but the bass player brought a stand-up, the keyboard player an accordion, and the drummer emerged from the back-stage corner drummers are typically confined to, and took a brush and a stick to a djembe at the front of the stage. Sweet! They played a couple songs that way, but only after a jam session of La Bamba.

I was not close enough to see *what* instruments they had, though I continue to notice more and more about what gear is used when (I was close to criticizing the DJ at a karaoke outing the other night, he was running a cheap mic through a huge PA and the balance was a disaster, but the important thing is that I noticed).

I should also mention the delightful opener, Rachel Platten, who sang gorgeous, played piano like a fiend, and exhilarated the audience with an adorable pep. I wanted to hang out with her, especially after a surprisingly soaring cover of “Gin and Juice” that made me want to be 16 and riding in cars with illegal drivers and boys I had crushes on. I hope to hear more from her in the future.

All in all, I was thrilled to see some great live music, from an artist I’ve long respected. To be sure, this is his first appearance on this blog and for that I am sorry. Hopefully this review, and corresponding inspiration, makes up for it.

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