Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
The trouble with people is that they sometimes choose to love too much. Sometimes they choose to trust too much as well and sometimes they get torched for doing so. They take some major lumps for these reactions that come as naturally as blinking and getting choked up watching Debbie Phelps cry every time her only son Michael did something "epic" in Beijing. It's not real trouble. It's perception. Trust and love were likely developed to be boundless and bottomless, not for the complications that the surplus would cause those with the bulk, but for the conviction that they can bring a person. Trust and love, like hope, should be able to renew like severed earthworms.
They can grow back like lawns and lilies and fingernails. Funny then how their elasticity still doesn't make them any more bearable when they're battered or considered romantically, in a vulnerable or compromising state. Jennifer O'Connor probably finds that realization funny too and/or sobering, depending on the levels she's currently experiencing. If it's a time of extra, she'd find the observation amusing and in a time of leaner portions, when the refueling and growth haven't kicked back in yet, that's when it's sobering - ghastly and sobering. The New Yorker is releasing another beautiful album of songs (Here With Me on Matador) all about the tender side of life, but with that tender side come the many disadvantages of there being no protection against harm.
If you're going to do tender, you've got to be ready for constant worry and for harm to come on its way plenty and often. It might even have been the thought of love and hope, all married and pure, and utterly wide open for cuts, bruises and abductions, that birthed the phrase "the nature of the beast." There are more assailants on the precious handling of love and its timeless fragility than any other and O'Connor seems to know this well, writing with such an experienced tongue and temperature. It's a wonder that she hasn't had more happy stories to tell as she's someone who values its place, who will always be looking for someone else to share a life with - so as not to have to drive unhealthy distances solo, exhaustingly getting from point A to point B without an on-going conversation or a warm hug at the end of the night.
She keeps her delivery as one of subtle awe and appreciation. When things go poorly, it's not when she writes about them. She lets them sink in. She let's them roost before pulling off their feathers and examining them for what they are - lessons, all goose-pimpled and bare. In her soft voice is heard the difficult, but earnest clawing of a pocketknife into the bark of a tree, carving into it a marking to indicate that so-and-so loves another so-and-so and this act makes it official. Her songs are about love, but they're just as much about the alarmingly special devotion that one person can feel for another after a short amount of time together. Instincts take over and something clicks to indicate that another person deserves more of you and you deserve more of them. It leads to rings and it leads to sleepless, agonizing nights. O'Connor looks for happiness everywhere, for happiness in herself, but also if she's giving it to someone else. She sings, "It helps to have you by my side/I hope it helps that you're next to mine," and what becomes apparent is that she's looking for that golden reciprocity. 'Is that too much to want?' she seems to be eternally contemplating. She wants to grow old with her love, not have that love grow old and sour on her. The quest alone is heartbreaking, but O'Connor makes it even better.
Jennifer O'Connor Official Site
Jennifer O'Connor's Original Daytrotter session