Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
Here Ingrid Michaelson was squiggling across the country in a big, golden bus with a bloated Gibson guitar on the sides of it, opening for the Dave Matthews Band in front of tens of thousands of people nightly. On one of back-to-back off-days, she stopped in quaint and "cute" (as the Ruby Suns described it today) Rock Island, Illinois to play at our pizza parlor (not OURS per se, but the one we root for), doing a happy hour version of a show to raise money for Midwestern flood victims. It was a thousand times less stressful than shows had been that week as she announced half-kiddingly during her set, "Usually, we just want to get on and get off stage, but we want to keep playing today," and went on playing, letting her girl-next-door vocals (if the girl next door was a knighted and certified songbird who could write a song as ubiquitously accepted as the most popular love songs going these days) shine like freshly Windexed panes of glass for a little while longer.
By the end of her band's set, the sun was just as bright as it had been when it started and the temperature was still summer balmy. Michaelson, a bookish and pretty New Yorker, exited from the stage quickly and filed herself back into the idling bus. She wasn't trying to shirk fans or avoid autographs. She had something important to take care of - something that plays to both the general feel of her music, her unassuming/fictitious bashfulness and the light personality of her cozy lyrics. She needed to get more comfortable. Not more than 10 minutes following the conclusion of her show - with a rendition of "The Way I Am," the song featured in that famous Old Navy commercial, that relied heavily on crowd participation - Michaelson was sporting pajama bottoms and flip-flops. Her way of considering and mulling over the important issues in her life probably involves these and various other pairs of pajama bottoms, copious flows of coffee and friends to bounce things off of - likely all outfitted in similar attire - quite often, if not religiously.
The symbolism of these pajama bottoms - her traveling pants as they might be - is meant to be applied to the core leisure quality that comes out of the pores of all the lovely songs on her debut full-length, Girls & Boys, a curiously successful album in a day and age when everyone with an opinion's gone ahead and commented solemnly that they long ago heard the album's swan song. Selling record's is supposed to be the hardest thing that anyone can have as an undertaking - harder than working in a coal mine, harder than road construction, harder than making a marriage work. Michaelson's done it all without a record label - working her ass off as a non-stop touring force and keeping the inner circle close to her. It's worked and it's why these pajama bottoms are for her, clothes for the board room, for the observatory where she sits around and drums up the words that she wants to ride on the moon beams she's giving permission to set sail. Her takes on love are wonderfully sleepy - the wishing on a star feelings, the somewhere out there attitudes of her prince charming or the prince charmings of her girlfriends, the ones they talk about after sunsets when the air in the room still smells like microwave popcorn and Skittles and dark chocolates - and they convey more of a sense of confidence than a sense of desperation, as most love songs about wanting it tend to assume.
Michaelson sings about the ability of love in overtaking naysaying and contrarian opinions - whether they're run out personally or affecting in a second-hand way. She stands by love shakily, believing that it's bound to break your back and then surprise you and break your fall the next time you bump into it. Her music's been played as the first dance for couples starting their lives together and maybe that's the lesson to be learned through all of Girls & Boys, that for so long love remains distant - a refraining stranger that's hoped for silently just before going to bed - until it's permanent and all-encompassing, willing to knock the wind out of you if you accept. Sometimes it's love that has to accept.