Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nathan K.: Northern lyricism

I felt a bit nauseous last night and didn't feel like going to The House Cafe for the open mic, which is a Monday night tradition for me. But after awhile the nausea passed, in spite of listening to the Cubs lose a heartbreaker to the Reds, 7-4. Around 11:30 I checked Facebook on my phone. Jolly Baba, a.k.a. Matt Clark, the emcee at The House Cafe, posted a link to http://www.blogger.com/www.fanstaging.com, which is a live Internet feed. I clicked on it and, kismet of kismets, heard him introduce my ukelele-player friend Jim Magnuson, a.k.a. Stan Stills.

As Stan Stills began his set with a uke-version of "Pomp and Circumstance," dedicated to recent NIU graduates, I rushed to put on my shoes and walk the couple blocks to The House, I kept the live feed on my phone as I walked down Lincoln Highway as Stan Stills worked through a blistering solo on Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," and arrived in time to hear his encore song, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

It was a good thing I came, because one of my favorite headline acts from last fall, Nathan K., had performed earlier in the evening. And after midnight, when a comedian, Diesel, ran out of steam, Nathan K. did a 4-song encore. I bought his CD, Newspapers and Prayers, after the show.

Nathan K.'s style is alternative folk. I like it because the lyrics and music put me in a certain melancholy state of mind. As I told his girlfriend/manager after the show, I think Nathan K. has a northern sound. I imagine a misunderstood misanthrope in a small northern town writing about the heartache and loneliness of the life up there. Here's a snippet of lyrics from track 3, "The Leper and the Saint,": "The leper and the saint met on the corner of State and Liberty / when the leper stretched his hands out full of hope / The saint replied / I'm sorry sir, I cannot heal just anyone / you must have me confused with someone else."

These lyrics suggest a geographical specificity, "State and Liberty," with two title characters that are icons of loneliness and isolation. A saint stands out alone, sought company, to be sure, but isolated in his or her unique vision. And a leper is symbolic of someone shunned. Two other characters mentioned later in the song, a poet and a widow, are also symbolic of isolation, loneliness, and the distinction of being an "other," overlooked by the mainstream.

Most of the original music I've seen at The House Cafe since regularly attending the open mic sessions last September displays musicianship, or at least passes tuneful muster. Rare is the artist who writes meaningful lyrics to go along with the music. In all vanity, I think of my own songs as more lyrically strong than musically. This is because, in my self image as an artist, I am a writer first and musician second. I suspect most musicians see it the other way around. Lyrics are an afterthought to the music, and it shows in the often poor quality and mundane subject matter of most song lyrics.

But Nathan K. is different. His lyrics are poetry. And his songs take me places. He's also an independent musician and I'm learning a little about marketing and songcraft from watching his example. In this regard, I owe him a creative debt.

Check out his stuff all over the World Wide Webbies:



E-mail: dearnathank@gmail.com

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