Friday, January 13, 2017

Obituary For A Fan (October 2015)

I don't remember the first time I met Bill Vordenbaum, but I know it was Texas. It may have been a Folk Alliance show in Austin. He wrote a blog, a music blog, reviewing live shows, critiquing albums. He introduced himself to me as a music journalist. He didn't write for The New York Times or for a music magazine that I knew of. And I'm fairly sure if he was paid for his writing it wasn't that much. I'm fairly sure he did it for the love of music. He interviewed me for a few minutes that day in Austin. He was awkward and big, he stood a bit too close, but he was kind and he knew a lot about my songs, could quote them to me, was a real fan and I appreciated his generosity and attention. He wrote about me when I released "Fable", my first self-released record in 2001, a rough record of some of my first songs. If you heard that record now you wouldn't recognize me and I don't suggest going to find it. Bill Vordenbaum, super fan, sometime music critic, liked that record and started following my music from Day One. He was at almost every show I have played in Austin from that day forward. When he wasn't there, I noticed and wondered how he was doing. He wrote a review of almost every album I've made. He would send me questions via email for interviews that I'd email back, questions that went a bit deeper than "who are your influences" or "music or lyrics first". Our longest conversation was that first one. Since that day, I'd say hello to him after the show, thank him for coming, put him on the guest list. I knew nothing about him. Nothing about his life. His friends. Where he came from. Where he lived. There are people who come to shows in different parts of the country where I recognize their faces but have to work my memory to find their names. Bill was not one of them. Bill Vordenbaum. I knew his name and right now, even writing that name, I see the balding round face, the round eyes, the crooked smile. He carried one of those top spiral medium sized notebooks and a pencil. He wore white t shirts, jeans a few sizes too big and a few seasons off style. White sneakers. He was not a friend. I didn't know him. But I did - he was more than a face in the crowd. He was that man who comes to every show I have played in the 15 years I have been touring. He was that man who sits alone in the front row, or stands off to the side by himself, smiling, swaying a bit with the music. He was that man who knows the door people, the sound people, the other musicians in town, who says hi to them, who has their records, who can't afford to Kickstart but does anyway. He was that man who comes early to the show to get a good seat who says hello who I hug hello, awkwardly, that kind of body parted double pat on the back acquaintance hug. Something a bit more than 'thanks for coming, Bill'. You see, it's people like Bill Vordenbaum that make up my audience, that make up the audience for people like me, under the major label radar artists that make a living playing places across the country, across the world. One night playing to 300 people and feeling like something is happening, something caught on, feeling like "if only every night could be like this, maybe just maybe..." and then the next ego-deflating night playing to 3 people including the bartender and the sound guy. That 3rd guy? That would be Bill Vordenbaum. And while we are kicking ourselves that we never had a Plan B while people who buy our CD's are saying "how come I've never heard of you?" or "good luck with this" and you bite your tongue, smile, and say thank you, while really wanting to shout your resume of stages you've played, reviews and quotes and the cool things that have happened in your career, Bill Vordenbaum stands there to the side of the stage, knowing all the lyrics to your songs, interviewing you with the fervor as if you were the Next Big Thing. 

I just read that Bill died on Christmas. I can't say that I knew him. I can't say anything. But I read it and my heart flipped and my throat closed up as if I'd heard of an old friend from high school dying suddenly. And I wanted to say to him, I didn't know you, Bill, but you mattered and you were noticed. Isn't that what we all want? Just to leave some mark on the people we meet. It's why I write. I'm sure that's why Bill wrote. I'm sure, too, that there are many of us, musicians who have met Bill Vordenbaum, who had a moment thinking, oh man, THAT guy? That sad.... I'm writing to somehow say to Bill, safe passage, man. You will be missed. Thank you for gracing my life for a short time. Travel well....

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