A Fan and His Band: An Unlikely Connection

Posted: July 13, 2013 in A Little Less Profound
Tags: , , , , , ,

Mikel Jollett, Squamish, 2012

By Glen

There are a thousand directions one could take with the first post on a new blog. There’s a pressure to be profound; a desire to set the tone; a fear that if the first entry isn’t brilliant, the words will never find an audience.

I decided to begin at the beginning.

This is Nowhere is a crowd sourced fan blog of The Airborne Toxic Event, where every TATE fan is invited to share their experiences, perspectives and reflections on a band whose work resonates so deeply with so many. But there would be no fan blog if it weren’t for the incredible fan community I’ve been lucky to become a part of. And I wouldn’t have found the community if I hadn’t written a letter to the band last summer, and posted it in the TATE forum, which started the sequence of events that led to the creation of the blog.

********************************

To The Airborne Toxic Event:

Six days ago, I drove three hours, alone, to attend a music festival in which I only cared about one of the bands on the bill.

Arriving almost four hours before said band was scheduled to take the stage, I paused just long enough to purchase yet another one of their t-shirts, slipping it over the one I was already wearing – extending my devotion two layers deep.

That mission accomplished, I made a beeline for the empty stage and staked out my spot on the front rail, dead centre, passing by dozens of my fellow concertgoers lying lazily on the lawn, evidently not as fixated as I was on claiming the best spot.

Anna Bulbrook, Squamish, 2012

For the next several hours I stood there, mildly distracted by the first two acts as I anticipated the one for whom I had come all this way. All the while, I clutched a tube holding a poster that I was hoping I might be able to get signed by the band.

Alas, that hope would prove to be in vain. But as I waited in expectation, I thought about what I might say to them, given the opportunity.

Would I be star struck, coming off as an overgrown fanboy with nothing of substance to say? Would I be forced to fall back on the cliche, “You guys totally rock!”? Should I ask them about the new album, knowing full well that they probably wouldn’t be at liberty to tell me anything I hadn’t already learned by scouring the Internet for whatever scraps of information were out there to be found?

What is it about this band that makes me act in ways perhaps more befitting my 12-year-old daughter than a grown man who is older (though not by much) than any member of the band? What compels me to leave behind work and family a couple weeks from now to follow these five people to Red Rocks, for what I expect will be a dream night of a lifetime? What is it that motivated me to sit down and write this letter – not once, but twice, after my computer shut down just as I was putting the finishing touches on the unsaved first draft?

In the hours that I had to think it through last weekend, I finally came up with an answer. Since I didn’t get to tell them in person, I thought I’d send it by e-mail in hopes that it will somehow reach their ears.

Here’s the thing: by all rights, The Airborne Toxic Event should not mean this much to me. They should not have so easily dethroned the band that had been my personal favorite for a full two decades.

For me, this kind of musical connection arises out of shared experience. It happens when I feel like a song reflects my own experiences, and expresses the emotions I feel in my core. That’s how it usually happens.

But in the case of TATE, the world that Mikel so eloquently sings about seems a million miles from the one in which I live my daily life. The stories told in favorite songs like Midnight, Missy and Moving On describe experiences that I’ve never lived. I married my first and only girlfriend almost right out of high school, and we remain happily married 17 years later, now with four kids in tow. My days are dominated by office work; my nights by changing the diapers of the little ones and driving the bigger ones to dance class.

Apart from a few notable exceptions (like Graveyard, which to me represents the best lyrics ever written), there is very little in the TATE catalog to which I can personally relate. And yet, against all odds, these tunes have embedded themselves in my life. How did this happen?

I think it reflects TATE’s true genius. It’s one thing to be able to connect with a listener who comes from a similar background and shares similar experiences. Any half decent writer should be able to do that.

But real greatness lies in being able to tell a story that connects with a person who hasn’t lived it, who isn’t already predisposed to understand it. And that is what TATE has done for me. Through Mikel’s vivid lyrics and the band’s powerful instrumentation, I’ve gained a window into a world that I don’t live in. I’ve lived experiences that have never actually happened to me. I’ve felt the excruciating sting of running into an ex-lover at a bar and seeing them go home with someone else, even though it’s never happened to me. This band’s music has helped me see the world through others’ eyes, and that is a remarkable gift.

So, Mikel, Anna, Noah, Steven and Daren: Thank you for sharing your gift with us. Thank you for giving so fully of yourselves, whether on stage, in studio, or buried in your writing. Thank you for not only bringing joy to our lives, but also for enabling us to vicariously experience pain and disappointment that we might never know in real life.

And thank you for giving me something to circle on my calendar this month. I’ll see you at Red Rocks. I’ll be the goofy old(ish) fanboy in the 4th row, proudly wearing one of his many Airborne Toxic Event shirts along with a stupid grin, singing along to every word (at least, until you break out the new tunes!).

********************************

A week after I sent this letter through the band’s website, I damn near fell off my chair when my computer chimed that familiar “you’ve got mail” beep. It was Mikel:

Thanks for the letter man. I think you’re talking about Squamish? That place was beautiful.

I know what you mean about connection. I felt that about the Cure and David Bowie, the Smiths, Regina Spektor, Leonard Cohen, Milan Kundera, Chekhov — all describing to me in detail experiences i’d never lived, allowing me a window. it goes both ways, you know. every writer writes out of loneliness and the desire to connect with others — in the context of his own strange experience — and in doing so lessen the strangeness of himself.

anyway, like, killer, man…

Mikel Jollett

Glen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.

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Comments
  1. airborneanna says:

    i dont think ive ever bookmarked something so fast! i can relate to this post 100%, everything about connecting, and them so quickly becoming my favorite band, and the desire to travel far just to see them perform for an hour or two. unfortunately im only 15 so I can’t just drive all over creation to watch them perform, but I loved reading about your experience. keep the posts coming!

    Like

    • Thanks so much! If you’re ever interested in posting a story about your own experiences, we’d love to receive it! And great username by the way… My first thought was, is this THE Airborne Anna? LOL.

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  2. Reallyoldishfan says:

    Never followed a blog before but this band has led me to do things I’ve never done like write fan mail, follow Facebook feeds, drive miles to see them and gush about them to my friends and anyone else who would listen. We (my husband feels the same way) drove to Montreal last year to hear them at Osheaga and if they hadn’t been there we wouldn’t have gone! Agree with you so much that the combination of lyrics and wonderful music has let me into worlds I didn’t know, while becoming so much a part of my world. Don’t worry about being an old (ish) fan, I just turned 60 and this band touches my heart deeply! I think their music transcends generations and for me represents the best of music out there right now.

    Like

    • That’s awesome. I love how the band spans generations. In Portland, we hung out with a mom and her daughter who came out to see them together. Would love to have you submit your story for the blog, if you feel inspired to write some more!

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  3. lilyevanstar says:

    A GREAT idea for a blog. I thoroughly enjoyed your first post and can’t wait for more. πŸ™‚

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  4. KevinL says:

    Excellent post. I agree that the genius of TATE is their ability to tell a story that we can immerse ourselves in, whether it has been part of our reality or not. It is funny how we (my wife and I) think about what we would say given the chance to talk with the band. In the moment, would I lock up? Who knows, but I think I have enough questions stored up for an entire evening of conversation. How can you choose the one phrase or question that would do all of your other questions justice?

    Cool blog. I look forward to seeing how it takes shape.

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  5. Nicole says:

    I truly enjoyed reading your story, Glen! And I am going to give a warning…this might be long. Okay, this WILL be long, but I have to get it out ha. I am a relatively new Airborne fan (I listened to Sometime Around Midnight when it first came out, but did not pursue any further) and back in late 2010/early 2011 one of my college friends recommended this band to me. She burned a copy of the sophomore CD for me, and I fell completely/hopelessly/head over heels in love with the first listen. I immediately went out and bought the band’s other records. The first thing I noticed about the Airborne Toxic Event was the extreme depth of the lyrics, and the way the singer (I hadn’t yet learned their names) conveyed so much emotion with just the tone of his voice. I loved the way the woman in the groups vocals contrasted yet complemented the lead’s voice so beautifully. I knew I had to learn more about them. I began watching interviews, and playing YouTube videos of their performances. i had never really had the urge to learn so much about a band before, but for some reason TATE struck a nerve. And what did I learn from all of my research you ask? Okay so I may have learned the band members names, which band members really enjoy scaring the crap out of the audience (Yeah…I’m looking at you Mikel and Anna!), TATE song trivia, and random facts about the making of music videos, but most importantly I learned why people (and I mean people in general because I have never seen a band that has such a vast array of fans like Airborne) love this band so intensely. And that is because they seem and feel like family. These five musicians are not only band mates, but best friends. They even talk about themselves as a rowdy group of siblings causing chaos in the US, city by city. I have watched so much footage of TATE live (procrastinating on typing up chem lab reports.. ), and they have INSANE stage chemistry with each other…puts other bands to shame, really. Mikel is constantly joking around onstage with Noah, and bumping into Steven (who is trying hard to be this serious guitarist, and I can’t help but laugh when Mikel or Anna bulldozes into him randomly. It is always good to see Steven laugh and smile.) Noah is just the classic rocker! He gets onstage, and just kills it! Daren gets the biggest smile on his face when Mikel or Anna jump up onto the drum set. Daren is just a brilliant drummer! Steven’s musicianship is incredible! And Anna lightens up the band with her constant bopping around the stage. Their interaction with each other is what makes them so unique, and their interaction with the crowd is something that truly makes them a fantastic live band. (I mean, this band has a crowd surfing/stage diving Viola player…how much more awesome can they be???) Mikel and Anna love to entertain the audience, and just watching a randomly selected TATE video on YouTube will probably prove my point. Whether it be crowd surfing, climbing the balcony to get to the back of the venue, bringing the audience on stage…these guys know how to put on a rock show, plain and simple! When TATE announced they were making their way to my city in the 2013 US tour I knew my friend and I had to go see them live! I have been to several concerts in my relatively short life, but this concert takes the cake for me. We got there early so we could have front row spots for the show (Right between Mikel and Anna up against the guard rail). The wait was nearly unbearable, but my friend and I passed the time studying for our Organic final because it was at 8:00 AM the next day (Yeah, we are that cool… the girl behind us thought we were absolutely nuts!). The opening band was awesome, and their name was Kodaline! They killed their set, and they got us pumped to see Airborne. I was so anxious to see them play live because I heard from all the other fans that their live shows are magical. Well they finally tore down the cover hiding the Airborne bird, and dimmed the lights. The crowd was yelling, “Airborne, Airborne…” over and over! When they finally entered the stage it was a mad house. Everyone was screaming, and jumping. The funny thing was.. the band was screaming and jumping too. They opened with “Gasoline” which really set the mood, and Mikel said it all when he screamed “It’s gonna be a fuckin’ great night!” right after the intro! I could not believe that I was finally there watching my favorite band kick butt up on venue’s stage, and boy did they kick butt! Anna crowd surfed and danced like a wild woman, Noah made awesome/sexy bass player faces, Steven showed no mercy up on that stage, and Daren was just a BOSS. They had the audience in the palm of their hands. Mikel frequently climbed the large amps, and jumped into the crowd. And my personal favorite part of the night is when he sat right almost directly in front of me on the guard rail during Book of Love, and after the song ended and he remained everyone kind of stared at him awkwardly taking photos, but for some weird reason I felt possessed to throw my hand out toward him and he grabbed and shook my hand like two friends would clasp hands after accomplishing something grand. It really was not fathomable the level of connection I felt just from that hand shake. i was entranced the whole night by these five people putting their heart, and soul into these songs. I did not want it to end (and in a way it really didn’t..certain parts of that night will remain with me forever just like any other awe inspiring experience), but sadly life is a cycle and the night must end. When they played their last song, the Missy medley, I felt weirdly satisfied, and i really had no reason to be. It wasn’t me up there on that stage. I wasn’t professing my heart and soul to 1000+ screaming jovial individuals. And it was then that I remembered what Mikel had once said in an interview about the concert being a journey of sorts. Everyone in that venue had experienced something to connect them to the subject matter of the music, and we all survived. We were all there together in that room celebrating and living and life and joy and reliving the pain and experience. During the Missy medley, Mikel introduced his band mates one by one. First he introduced Noah who absolutely melted faces with his bass solo. Then he introduced Steven who shyly smiled while holding up his hand in triumph. Then he called Anna up to the front, and introduced her with a brotherly kiss to the top of her head. And lastly, Daren brought down the house with his drum solo to which Mikel jumped up and down to like a little kid in a candy store who was just told that all the sweet treats were free! But Mikel never once said his own name.. and he introduced each band member with, “And this is my good friend..” I just thought that said so much about him as a person, and as a friend. Well, the band all left the stage shortly after the end of Missy. They ran down into the crowd and hugged their fans. Daren and Anna both gave me high fives. And my friend and I walked out of the venue back to our car after hitting the merch table, and chatting with other fans for quite some time. Well we didn’t realize that we had parked near the back entrance of the venue, and we ran into a familiar face walking to the car. It was DAREN! He was chatting with some fans after the show, and we calmly (as to not scare the poor guy) walked over to him. He took pictures, and signed our tickets. He was soooooo nice. Probably one of the nicest people I have ever met. After he went inside Noah and Mikel both came out, and I must say they are two of the most handsome/sweetest men I have shaken hands with. Mikel kept calling us darlin’s. They both signed our tickets, and Mikel said he would ‘Go fetch Bell and Stevy,” for us. It took a second to understand that he was talking about Anna when he referred to “Bell” What an adorable nickname. Once they went inside it took a few minutes for Anna and Steven to come out so we made small talk with the other fans waiting which was a ton of fun! Airborne fans are the best! Once Anna (gorgeous gal who is SUPER tiny and petite in person by the way!) and Steven (uber handsome guitar god!) both hopped over the railing of the backstage ramp (where the Airborne team were still loading up gear ) they started signing CD’s and tickets (even ours) They took photos and chit chatted….I mean how often do fans get to meet every single one of the band members of their favorite band? They have to be exhausted after that show because I certainly was. All that dancing and jumping (and gazing upon greatness may I add) completely wore me out. But they all seemed just so thankful! It was a fabulous meeting, and I was ecstatic all the way home! I have photos and collages of photos I’ve taken at various concerts hanging, but i cannot wait to finish this collage (with the ticket signed by all members centered and surrounded by the meeting photos and awesome live shots) hanging up. And If any of you read all of this I want to say I am truly impressed, but I once again I know exactly why you read through it all! This band is amazing, and I will be a life long fan! I just had to share.

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    • Thanks so much for the great comment Nicole – you put a lot of time into this! Would it be okay with you if I post it as a blog entry? Others would love to hear your story but not everyone will see it here in the comments. Let me know. Thanks!

      They really are incredibly accommodating to their fans. I’ve been lucky enough to meet them all a couple times, and they are always 100% gracious and generous.

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      • Nicole says:

        That would absolutely be okay with me! I would love for others to hear my story and experience with Tate. And i did put a lot of time in that entry lol. I saw your blog at around 1:00am or so (im on the east coast) and i couldn’t help myself… I had to share, and write down all my thoughts! Thanks fot giving me the opportunity to do so. I really appreciate it! πŸ™‚

        Like

      • Wonderful, thank you! I’m going to drop you an e-mail today with a couple questions. Talk to you soon!

        Like

  6. Ginny says:

    I know exactly how you feel! Music has always been my go to for therapy. I love poetry and the most meaningful songs are those that tell a compelling story.

    Plus I’ve always been a sucker for rock that includes strings, and let’s face it, Anna rocks and adds so much to the depth of the band.

    I always liked TATE but it was The Storm that brought me from like to full on forever fan. I’ve been dealt a shit hand of cards on the health side recently with bad news after bad news, and well, I’m fighting for my life and I have two young boys so exiting isn’t an option.

    The Storm resonated so very deeply with me. I feel like that’s what life has been for the last three years, yet I still see beauty all around me, and I am blessed with people that have stood by my side as I weather this storm.

    I saw TATE for the first time at Summerfest just weeks after undergoing major abdominal surgery. It was worth every ounce of strength to get me to that show! I loved every minute and felt like I did before I became sick. Despite the stitches I was jumping up and down, totally immersed in every song!

    I can’t wait to see them again, and whenever I’m struggling, The Storm is there to comfort me and remind me that I’m not alone.

    Like

    • Wow, thank you for sharing that Ginny. That’s powerful. I’m so sorry for your struggles. I really hope things turn around for you.

      I’d love to share your story as a blog post so people see it. Would that be okay with you? If you’re interested in fleshing it out into a full length post, I think it would be really inspiring. But I understand if you’re not up to that right now with everything you’ve got going on, so I’d be more than happy to post it as is. Can you please let me know what you think? And again, thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to add your comment. All the best to you and your family!

      Like

  7. […] to adequately and eloquently articulate the impact he’s had on her – calling to mind a similar letter that I once penned, hoping against hope that it would somehow make its way in front of the eyes for whom it was […]

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  8. […] Someone had posted on the band’s website forum that they had written them a letter, and Mikel actually wrote them back. […]

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  9. […] who I am. Are you the Glen that wrote the letter? Oh, now I get it… it’s because of that letter I posted a couple weeks ago in the band’s forum. Apparently it’s taken on a life of its […]

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  10. […] A Fan and His Band: An Unlikely Connection: The letter that started it all, and the inaugural post on This Is […]

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  11. […] Is Nowhere, The Airborne Toxic Event fan blog, officially launched last year on July 13. With our first anniversary just around the corner, we’re getting ready to celebrate – […]

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  12. […] on July 13, I held my breath and hit ‘Publish’ on This Is Nowhere’s first post. I had no idea what to expect. Would anyone care enough to read it? Would anyone send me anything […]

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