Good night, Irene

This is it, people. Time for me to bow out. You won't have James F to kick around anymore.

First, thanks to everyone who participated in the essay contest; Spitfire Grill 4EVA! I'm getting ready to hand over the blog to my successor. But before I do, here's one more long-form post before I go. It's about my friend Michael Jantz.

Michael is coolest person I know. Not to slight my other friends, but noneayall can touch Michael. He's a musician who's been playing the local scene for a couple years now. He's already done some amazing things creatively; he's played sidewalks in Europe and opened for Paul Simon. I'm not going to bother trying to describe his music in depth, because I'm not good at that kind of thing; the best I can tell you is that he's apparently influenced by bluesy-folksy sounding type things. (This is why I'm not a music journalist.)

Michael's situation seemed to kind of parallel mine. He had actually made a pretty good name for himself on the local scene in Cleveland, and moved here so his girlfriend could attend the same graduate program as my wife. Actually, Michael may have had it worse than I did here; our apartment was crappy, but theirs was crappier. I had a mindless job but was making decent money, while Michael was having to work multiple side jobs to support his musical career. Plus, he had to struggle to get his name known all over again, and as you may know, we're not so good about supporting our local musicians. He would try to get a band together, but people would move away from D.C., as they often do. He would play local venues, but they would only pay him in free booze (which doesn't sound bad, but you'd rather get actual money).

Despite all that, Michael never seemed to be down about his situation. Michael just kept playing and kept plugging away, even though he basically had to start his career over from scratch. We would go to see him play once in a while, at Wonderland and Iota and DC Nine, and sometimes there would only be a handful of people there, but Michael gave us a great set. Also, these were basically the only times I felt cool while living here. (I would by him shots of whiskey after shows when I could, as thanks.)

I wish Washington would support local musicians better. It doesn't have any dominant college radio stations, which normally play up local talents, and the other stations are too corporate-driven to focus on the local scene. (Personally, I don't follow music closely enough to know what's good unless somebody plays it for me.) There was one exception: Z104 was running a local-music show on Sunday nights. In fact, they had just named Michael their "Z104 Artist to Watch in 2006..." riiiiiight before they got shut down to become a classical station two weeks ago. How's that for timing?

Michael was playing a hurricane relief effort gig at Iota last month, and I told him we would be leaving town soon. We talked a little bit about what we had done since coming to Washington, and I came to realize that D.C. really was as difficult for him as it was for me. Their first apartment was so small that he often had to write songs while sitting in the bathroom; a lot of the songs he wrote came out of the frustration of having to start over. We had more in common than I realized; just as I created this blog and rediscovered my love of writing out of my disdain for D.C., so had Michael created an album's worth of songs out of his less-than-ideal situation. (And he was also a lot better at keeping up a more positive front than I did... obviously.)

I love music because of the power it has over memory. I happen to be listening to "Feed the Tree" by Belly right now; every time I hear it, I'm transported back to the 10th grade (for some reason, it reminds me of chemistry class). Michael's music is going to be the same way for me; the songs he played over the past couple years are going to make it onto his next album, which is coming out in a few months. I can't wait to hear it, because I know that when I fire it up and play "Sierra" or "You" that it's going to transport me back to those times I listened to him play in D.C., and actually, for a change, felt kind of cool. Washingtonians may be too busy bankruping Angola and keeping the war machine turning and stranding the handicapped to care about local musicians. But I know Michael's going to do great things, and make a name for himself all over again.

The moral of the story: even out of misery, you can create something great. If you're completely frustrated with your situation, and you feel trapped and unappreciated, keep doing what you love, even if nobody around you cares or notices. I feel that both Michael and I are emerging victorious from tough situations. And that's a beautiful thing. We win; D.C. loses.

Frankly, my dear, suck on it.

(Woo-hoo, bookend! Oops... I just ruined it. Never mind.)

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