Many years ago, I found solace on the internet. I found friends where I had none, a community out of nowhere. And these people, like most people, listened to music.
I love music, and always taking new suggestions, I watched the little meter on AIM tick down as I downloaded a copy of a song called “Rootless Tree” by some guy that I thought I had heard of before, but never properly listened to.
The gentleman was Damien Rice.
I started listening. I got a hold of an album, somehow, and played it nonstop on repeat. It was the most incredible music I’d ever heard; raw, emotional, acoustic shit that made you think. And it was beautiful.
I did with his music what you do with good music: I shared with someone I cared about very much, and we would spend endless hours with one album or the other on repeat. I believe 9 had been released not long before, and while it was wholly different from his debut, O, both were completely captivating. If I still had the computer I had then, you’d see numbers for those albums higher than any other out of my days and days of music.
Some time passed and around the time I stopped hearing from the person I cared about that I had shared the music with, Damien and his partner, Lisa Hannigan, split. It may have happened before we stopped talking, it may have happened after; I remember being vaguely aware that he mostly toured alone, then, and wishing I could go see him, or them, but surely there would be more tours and more shows and more albums.
Years passed. There were no more tours. There were no more albums.
A few years ago, we started talking again. Somehow Damien came up, and Lisa, and how there had been no more anything, and not long after I found the article. They hadn’t just been making music, they had been in love, and the music that I loved so very, very much had been a factor in their split. It was heartbreaking. The thought of not hearing music from them together anymore was heartbreaking. The reality that this extremely talented musician I had been following for years may never make another album or go on another tour or play on another stage properly again. What if he never made more music? What if that was it? What if we had two albums, and two albums alone for the rest of forever? The same music that got me through several years and stuck in my head forever, the music that got me to actually pick up and play my guitar, the songs I played on stage as my own way of telling people how I felt… all of it gone.
It’s not any one thing that holds people together or breaks them apart – and while Lisa and Damien showed me that everything is fragile, the same person who found the same appreciation for their music that I did now shares the same apartment as I do. We still listen to the same songs, the same two albums forever on repeat, finally accepting that there may not be another.
Music has a funny way with people. You can’t take the music out of someone, no matter how hard you try. You can break their spirit and break their motives and even try to take away their muse, but there will always be something else to write music about. Around the internet you’ll hear in a few places that supposedly the night Lisa left before the show, he did one of his famous versions of “Cheers Darlin” for her, a song I’ve oft played at my own performances. A toast of regret.
One by one, there have been songs. They have been few and far between and some better than others and nothing at all like the happy, upbeat songs we began to see on his sophomore album, 9. They are harsh and unforgiving and heartbreaking, but beautiful all the same. It took awhile for some of them to warm up. Others brought me to tears almost immediately, knowing what may or may not have been some of the inspiration.
And then there was Lisa.
Beautiful, talented, wonderful, amazing Lisa, with all of her kindness and all of her talent and her sweet voice, who stepped out on her own. She made an album by herself, completely different from all of the songs with Damien. If you’ve followed them through the years, listened to all the music, you can hear a lightness in Lisa’s voice that was absent before. No matter how beautiful her songs with Damien, they were always so grim – perhaps because of his own writing – but her music is light. It shows hope. The very first single she released, “Lille,” seems to speak almost directly to and about Damien. But it’s light. Hopeful. Accepting.
Nick and I have always said that we would do anything to see Damien. Get our passports as soon as we can so that we could catch one of his rogue performances in Ireland, expecting him to be wearing that same ratty brown coat he always is. Drop everything to travel across the country at a moment’s notice, no matter the cost. His talent is immeasurable, and the place his music holds in both of our hearts is something that hasn’t ever been filled by any other song. Different things mean different people; Damien’s music is something different for us. Something sacred.
Maybe a month ago I found out about Lisa’s tour. For once, she wasn’t playing in Ireland; she was celebrating her own sophomore album release by touring the United States.
She would be here. On a Monday, the least convenient of all days, in the middle of Chicago, a city I can navigate only as long as the battery on my phone lasts, two days after Nick’s birthday, a day we had already pre-planned.
I feel embarrassed that we hesitated to say yes.
The decision was a hard one, because of convenience, because of money, because we both felt ashamed that we didn’t know Lisa’s music as well as we had liked. I put her first album, Sea Sew on in the car, and we listened to it to and from work. It stewed in the back of our brains, songs constantly stuck in our head.
Nick pointed it out first, and I completely agree – if he were here to consult, Damien himself would want us to go see Lisa play. And that was that. We were going.
I woke up today excited that we were finally in the month of the concert, impressed that September was over, and on a whim decided to do my occasional check of EskimoFriends, a website that does a better job of following Damien and Lisa than Damien’s website even does, just to see if there had been news. Another random appearance somewhere, another single for charity, more music.
Instead I found out that recently, ten years after his first single debuted in Ireland, the musician that has so greatly influenced my own songwriting, has finally, finally achieved a top ten single on the UK charts. Someone sang “Cannonball” on a television show, and someone noticed. Loads of people noticed. Suddenly this person I’ve been following for the better part of a decade has a song I’ve never cared for as much as his other music right there next to Maroon 5, beating out singers like Rhianna and Katy Perry and rap groups and pop groups – right there, this little song by this rarely mentioned Irishman – a song he used to sing with Lisa. As if she never left.
Nine days. Nine days until we see Lisa, and today I am listening to her new album streaming from KCRW, the same station that produced some of my favorite versions of Damien’s songs. Today I am listening to “Cannonball” and remembering what it was like for me the first time I heard Damien sing all those years ago, and hoping for the people who discover him now, after everything seems to have passed, that they can appreciate the talent. That they can appreciate the fact that good music is timeless, and that we may never see another album from Mr. Rice again – but that the few he’s made have been, and will always be, enough.
I look forward to seeing Lisa in person. Her voice brings me to tears and fills me with hope all at once. Without Damien, I would have never known who she was, would have never turned on “I Don’t Know” for a pick me up a hundred times – where there was disappointment at the possibility of never hearing such beautiful music from her as a duet with Damien ever again, now there is something better: happiness, possibility, and one of the most talented women that I think has ever picked up a stringed instrument.
Cheers to both of you. Here’s to top ten singles decades too late – and to music, timeless as it is; to the way it rips people apart and pulls them back together again.