Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
A few days before Jonah Tolchin arrived here in Rock Island, Illinois, he wrote me asking if he could literally pitch a tent in my backyard. He told me that he was asking because he was "broke as fuck." He ended up just staying in Chicago the night before, presumably with friends that would house him, so the burnt out backyard's grass and lumpy dirt beneath weren't needed for his bed, but the ask and the admission have been bouncing around in my head all night, as I've been listening to this session. Throughout, it's a collection of songs that is lined with this vulnerable quality of a man out in the world meaning to get by through sheer will and some of the goodness that can still be found in selective hearts.
Tolchin, as a broke as fuck man, comes to many thoughts the way that a hungry man savors a good burger, or simply a crispy apple that's been donated kindly into his paw. He looks at life in a way that anyone that at least has a pot to piss in might not. He looks at it more in gradients of color, in swatches of hues, where there are subtle, but incredible distinctions to be had rather than just commenting that something's red, the idea of money is green or that elephant in the room's gray. The young man, from Providence, Rhode Island, makes us see freedom for what it actually might mean and he's able to bring us face-to-face with unbelievably beautiful imagery - all of which were observed on a shoestring budget. It's enough to make us wonder if the constraints that we apply to our lives - of making money matter above and beyond most things, of working so much and so late - aren't the foolish things that we've ever done or worried about.
Tolchin's songs are concerned with death mostly - as the actual thing and disguised as other things - but the way he tackles it doesn't place much emphasis on worrying about when it's coming, but more what's being done before it arrives. It's the healthiest way to see it - prepared for it, ready to just wade into those waters when it's time, going under and never coming back out of them. He's mostly just pounding away on what it means to be a man, to be a gentle and compassionate man. To see things. To feel things. To stay up late at night considering the fragility of nearly everything and gasping when it all comes into proper focus, as it always does.
It's a mere blink before it's all extinguished, before the sins, before the nickels, the dimes, the dollars, the accomplishments, the pillows, the rocks, the hard places, the elixirs, the brown and the clear drinks, the mechanical stars, the valleys and rivers are just nothingness. He can't help but feel this every day, this poor young man who has everything. Any man who sings a line like, "Well the sun shines through my window/The leaves are green and fair/I'm just lookin' for a color/Only found in my baby's hair," you can be sure, has everything.