Almost three months ago, I mentioned toward the end of a post about my adventures in Washington, Idaho, and Montana that the week had concluded with me flying home to Cleveland and seeing a Michelle Branch concert at the Grog Shop. "I plan to write about this in an upcoming post," I wrote. Now I'm finally getting around to it, although some parts of the post will be quite different from what I expected!
I got into Michelle Branch when I was in college. It's really interesting to me now how at the time, I had no music by female lead vocalists in my collection. Today the music I listen to is roughly evenly split between male and female lead vocals, but my tastes were different back then. It wasn't that I had a dislike for female singers, though. I just wasn't exposed to them very much in the rock radio I had listened to in middle and high school, and I think there was also a factor at work that society trains boys to avoid "girly" things. (Another "girly" thing that society trains boys to avoid is openly expressing our feelings, which I am glad I have been able to overcome in the last few years.) When I started listening to Michelle Branch her music was something of a "guilty pleasure," I think both because she was a woman and because it was pop music. (The whole concept of certain types of music being "guilty pleasures" is also very interesting to me.)
Anyway, I was pretty into Michelle Branch for a little while. She was even something of a celebrity crush for me, partly aided by the fact that she was born less than two weeks after I was in 1983. The fact that she was a celebrity crush for me greatly amuses me now due to the fact that she is engaged to Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, who also plays in her band, and Carney is apparently my celebrity doppelganger because several times over the years total strangers have asked me if I've ever been told I look like him. Given the fact that The Black Keys are from Akron, I've wondered if any of those people were secretly wondering if I actually was him.
Patrick Carney and Michelle Branch
Before Michelle Branch gained mainstream success, she released an independent album called Broken Bracelet which I bought after getting into her more popular music. There was one song on the album I especially loved, "Leap of Faith," a beautiful acoustic number about making the leap to fully trust in another person to be your partner in life, that one person you know will always be there for you.
Flash forward several years. I started dating Cara on November 4, 2006, and for the one month anniversary of that first date I made her a mixtape and accompanying very heartfelt letter and mailed them to her. "Leap of Faith" was one of the songs on that mixtape, and became one of the most special to both of us.
Here's the full tracklist of the mixtape with some brief explanations of the songs.
1. Pearl Jam - "Black"
A live recording from the Pearl Jam concert I attended in May of that year, when I called Cara during "Black" so she could listen to it, the first of many times over the years that I did this at concerts.
2. The Decemberists - "Angel, Won't You Call Me?"
This was a reference to our calling each other on the phone, something we joked about in the early days of our friendship, which I've discussed in my blog posts about the game Psychobabble in which we met.
3. Say Hi To Your Mom - "Let's Talk About Spaceships"
4. Neko Case - "That Teenage Feeling"
Referring to how young and innocent our love felt.
5. Goodmorning Valentine - "She Comes Saturday"
This song is by a local band I was very into at the time, with the title a reference to the excitement I felt leading up to Cara's first visit to Cleveland, on Saturday, November 4.
6. Michelle Branch - "Leap of Faith"
7. The Beatles - "I Want to Hold Your Hand"
The moment we first held hands was so special that years later we both, independently of each other, referenced it in the vows we wrote for our wedding.
8. Ben Kweller - "Thirteen"
See "That Teenage Feeling."
9. Death Cab For Cutie - "We Looked Like Giants"
10. Petra Haden - "God Only Knows"
A beautiful solo a cappella cover of the Beach Boys song.
11. Okkervil River - "Seas Too Far to Reach"
This is the song that was announced as "a very special request for Jeff McManus" at the Okkervil River "rarities and requests" show I attended this past summer, Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff having heard the story of Cara and me.
Thanks to my propensity for saving everything, including old AIM chatlogs, I am able today to look at the conversation Cara and I had upon her receiving the mixtape and letter in the mail and listening to the mixtape. I'll share a choice quote from Cara: "This is by far the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me."
I didn't listen to Michelle Branch a whole lot in the ensuing years, but some time after Cara's death, something inspired me to go back to her music, and I found some of it had taken on very impactful new meanings. For example, her hit song "Breathe" with these lyrics:
If I just breathe
Let it fill the space between
I'll know everything is alright
Song lyrics referencing lungs and/or breathing have always stood out to me since Cara was diagnosed with lung cancer. These particular lyrics reminded me of how Cara described the feeling of taking a breath, and one of her lungs only partially filling up, due to her illness. And then after her treatment was really working for a while, her lungs could once more fill all the way. And for that brief but wonderful time it almost seemed like everything was alright.
There's also the song "Goodbye to You," a breakup song, but I've noticed that many breakup songs contain lyrics that could easily apply to a loved one's death.
Earlier this year Michelle Branch's music took on yet more meaning to me when I listened to her song "Everywhere," and I realized that the lyric "I recognize the way you make me feel" was such an accurate summation of how I felt about EB.
I was very surprised when I saw that Michelle Branch would be playing a show at the Grog Shop, a small venue I've been a frequent patron of over the years. Given all the meaning her music has had to me, I decided it was a show I shouldn't miss. And it was a very good show. She played a good mix of songs from her new album along with her most popular songs from many years ago. The older songs definitely sounded different from the versions you might remember hearing on the radio. They were more rocky, less poppy, and Michelle's vocals were taken down in pitch. The very last time she sang "'Cause you're everywhere to me" in "Everywhere" she took it up to the old high notes, which was a cool little moment. All in all, it was a great night and a great way to wrap up an incredible week. And it's so surreal to look back at that week and think about what has happened in my life since then.
Sometimes you take a leap of faith and someone else takes a leap of faith with you and it works out beautifully.
Sometimes it doesn't.
My getting to know EB felt like an accelerated version of my getting to know Cara, so I'm hopeful that this period of time can be like an accelerated version of the aftermath of my losing Cara. It's become very clear to me that being alone is not for me. I actually began to feel a strong desire to start dating within only four months of Cara's death, but because I had never dated anyone other than Cara, it wasn't easy at first for me to actually go out and try to make that happen. Then, by the time I had worked my way up to being ready to do that, other issues appeared in my life that were much more pressing concerns. When I was so depressed that winter, my being alone made things even worse, but my depression made it basically impossible for me to try to change the fact that I was alone. So there was a considerable delay between when I first felt ready to try dating, and when I actually did try.
I've realized now that the best way to keep myself from being sad all the time is to put myself out there again and hop back into the dating pool, so I'm doing that. It doesn't mean I'm "over" my losses. I don't think I'll ever be completely "over" them (this is most certainly true in the case of Cara, at the very least) but I think I'm pretty good at compartmentalizing my grief and not letting it prevent me from enjoying the companionship of someone else. It may be a while before I'm truly able to take that leap of faith again, but I think I will eventually. I hope I find the right person to take it with me.