street life

a singer I’d never heard of

a singer I’d never heard of
Written by Cathoel Jorss,

Our nearest cafe has made such a bold and tender innovation. Simple, really. How shall I describe it? Ok, imagine it’s Monday morning. It’s earlier than you’d like. For reasons unusual you have had to stagger out of bed and you feel grumpy. There’s no milk, argh. You grab your mug and stumble almost literally down the hill. Over your head trees are waving to each other across the asphalt, they would join hands if they could. The crows cark, the traffic spurls, the world is bright and full of love and if I could just get my eyes to open properly I’d see it all. At the bottom of a steep slope there’s a little coffee shop. If you had a billycart you’d be there within seconds. The usual clot of people in suits standing not looking at each other parts on a sweet and familiar sound: a strummed guitar. Monday morning gig! First thing, in the grumpy hour. It’s genius.

A guy sits curved over a mic whose stand, set at an enquiring angle, seems to be interviewing him. Guitar is plugged into a tiny amp, one of those kerbside amps you carry under one arm. You reach the head of the queue and buy coffee. He is singing. He sings with a tentative grace. The customers, embarrassed, so strenuously ignore him it almost must break his heart. The songs are familiar, radio fodder, he is doing them an injustice. You love him for that. With his voice he breaks open the idea that all songs come fully formed from a studio, there is no struggle, only gloss; that everyone’s life is far better than yours.

You have had to kind of climb out of your sleep and sleep’s warm privacy to emerge in public city life, to use your vocal chords. Your hair is all over your face and you’re wearing the tshirt you slept in. You lean over and say, You have got the sweetest voice, it’s such a lovely surprise of a Monday morning. Oh! he says: thanks. He takes hold of his guitar differently. Over the back of his machine the barista asks, Did you just request the Beastie Boys? I told him he has the sweetest voice, you say: same thing.

You are slouched against the besser block wall in the sun. Your hips swing and one clog is knocking on the other, you emit an appreciative murmur when the song is done. This emboldens a man in his suit standing nearby to say, That was better than the original! The singer laughs, thanks him. All of a sudden the music is not invisible and we don’t have to pretend it hasn’t happened. A girl in knee-length boots comes striding in and sits at a spindly table opposite. A guy in a striped tie looks up and smiles. At the end of the next song your coffee is ready, in its own curling-handled brown mug. You can’t leave because you’ve asked the guitarist, Do you write stuff, as well? And very diffidently he has offered: I could pull one of those out… if you like. And he pulls out like a long swathe of coloured scarves knotted one end to the other a lilting song about a little bird; sitting on my shoulder; telling me you’re not the man you use to be. It is a song about self-belief: that thing we’re all in need of. The things this little bird says to him seem cruel and they remind you of the kinds of things your own little bird sometimes whispers, the reasons why you are not also sitting out in the sun in a coffee shop, playing. You think about your dusty guitar and how he said, I haven’t played my own songs for a long time. You notice how he is curled in on himself but from the outside there is nothing not to like: his gentle presence, his tortured and reedy voice, plaintive and frayed but strong inside, like a rope. When the song is done it is a gift that he has given you. You want to give it back, to show it to him. You say, That was really lovely. Have more confidence in your own stuff. Thanks! he says, already sitting up straighter. You look at him and keep seeing yourself. I was so happy when I came down the hill just now! you say: Monday morning gig! it’s brilliant! You’ve made a big difference to my day.

You pick up your mug off the railing. He ducks his head, says, You’ve made a big difference to my day, too. Thank you, you say again, and leaving the music behind, carrying the music, start walking up the hill for home. Carrying milk and honey and beans. A small swirling land of milk and honey. Pot of steam. A bright morning. A singer you’ve never heard of, but heard, and who heard you. What more can be grace? Come, Monday: come.

3 comments on “a singer I’d never heard of

  1. Thank you, Alex.

    Cathoel Jorss July 21, 2014 at 6:21 pm

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