Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Patrick Stolley
It's necessary to appreciate the man who is striving. The man who is throwing himself into cauldrons of boiling waters and then throwing himself just as enthusiastically and religiously into icy waters is a man who is up for all of everything, no matter how it might leave him feeling. He is a man who prefers to seek. He seeks the differences. He seeks his heart and the souls of others for whatever could be lurking within any of them. He finds that they're messier and cloudier than he'd ever guess they would be - with so many claiming that they take such care with them. They aren't spotless. They look like whomever or whatever was there last, left in a hurry. They've been ransacked, pillaged during the night hours by those pestering memories, like the tiny and padded, finger-like paws of raccoons, those little bandits. Michigan songwriter Jeff Pianki is a man who is most certainly striving toward something and it might even be out-of-reach, but it's a noble object of anyone's energies. It's this goal to move through life hurting as few people as possible, making as many happy as possible and then, as the kicker, finding that you're not unhappy, that you're actually as happy as you could have ever imagined yourself to be, dealt whatever hands you might ever have been dealt. Often, people write with passion, with it coming out in gusts and torrents. Often, people write with conviction and it lights them.
With Pianki, all of this is true as well, but it feels like he's doing more than just channeling it for these random, artistic expressions. The way that he stands there, with his guitar and with his eyes closed, letting the words themselves penetrate into the top of the microphone, makes him look like a man consumed by a sensation that we can't get at. It's what he's giving, but it's also what he's holding for himself, greedy of some of the parts to the stories. A song like "Margaret," sounds as if it's very specific and very personal. There has to be a girl named Margaret and we've been led to believe that everything that's said to have happened, must have happened. Pianki seems to lay it all out there, onto the table and we devour the song - an easy lunch of humble pie and lonesomeness. We believe that he's keeping a lot about this girl to himself because it's only for him. He sings elsewhere, "To be human is to learn to live with fate," and he's a prime example of someone doing that. He's also someone who's learned to live with all of the complexities of human interaction and knowing that for every successful one, that are layers of failure mixed within them. He likes teasing these out. Some of these revelations he puts into his songs and others, he quietly studies them, folds them and then tucks them into his back pocket. He'll take them out and look at them later that night, or never, just simply letting them burn a hole.