The Wind Cries Mary(ann)

The last time I saw Jamie Cullum in concert was October 2006, at The Murat Egyptian Room in Indianapolis.  It was mere days before I was to meet Frank, and I was definitely in a bit of a funk. It had not been a kind year, in love terms, and the lead up to the Heartland Film Festival was always stressful. But I was beyond thrilled to be seeing Jamie play, for it was him and the tenuous balance of youthful angst and timeless romance his music evoked that I had come to depend on for salving my bruised heart.

Jamie at the Egyptian Room in 2006

Jamie at the Egyptian Room in 2006

I still remember that night vividly.  It was a smallish concert of a couple hundred people at most, and many of whom were not very familiar with the British pop/jazz singer/pianist. I remember elbowing my way to the front of the stage, since it was a standing concert, only to be bullied back a row by big grouchy bald men with telephoto lenses on their expensive cameras.  “I’m only 5’1″,” I complained, but they wouldn’t budge.

When Jamie came on, he was sipping a Guinness, energetic, friendly, ready to give us all a show we wouldn’t soon forget.  He sang all my favorites, all the melodies and words I knew off by heart, and he threw in surprises and stories and jam sessions besides.  He talked about our city, and how we should support great little music shops like LUNA. I was frustrated with much of the drunken audience, though, and blushed, crimson with embarrassment, when someone yelled up at the stage, “Welcome to American, motherf*cker!” Or, perhaps worse still, when the crowd sang along with his tender reminiscent song, “Photograph,” only to change the line “…from her mum” to “…from her MOM!”  It was as if the ignorant American twenty somethings needed to loudly correct his pronunciation just to prove an inane point.  But never mind.  I was not among them.  

The concert ended on a high, and the crowd dispersed.  He didn’t do an encore. A few of us hung around by the stage as the cleaners came out to start collecting plastic beer cups and debris from the floor.  But he didn’t reappear.  I stayed about 20 minutes, but he didn’t come out, even for a person in a wheelchair who sat patiently with a copy of “Catching Tales.”

I thought about that night, and that performance, for weeks to come.

It was Jamie’s music that was pumping through my veins when I met Frank, and the day after he’d expressed his interest in me, all I could keep humming was “What A Difference A Day Made.”  We went on to use that song as our first dance at our wedding.  Jamie Cullum’s albums, both before and since, have been, in many ways, the soundtrack to our lives.  They’ve certainly been the soundtrack to my life over the last 10 years.  His 2009 album, “The Pursuit,” was a Christmas gift for me that year, and I listened to it in the evenings, as I held my newborn baby, Evelyn, by the roaring coal fire of our house in Ireland.  Frank used to roll his eyes when he’d come in the room and I’d be all teary, putting “Not While I’m Around” on repeat.  Living so close to England, I got to see Jamie perform on TV quite frequently, and he was interviewed a good bit as well.  I played his music a lot when I worked at The Salthouse and Traders Coffee House in Drogheda (though one boss, Eoin, seemed to tire of him quicker than I did – “Not that Jamie Callum again, anything but him, please!”). My kids grew up listening to him, and now know the words well enough to sing along with me.

His most recent album, “Momentum” (2013), is probably my favorite thus far.  Frank and I listened to it so many times over the last year, especially in the car, when we were tired, and frustrated, and beaten.  We listened to it on our long journey out West, and our eventual move to California.  In so many ways – and I don’t mean to be gushy or trite in saying this, I’m absolutely sincere – I feel like the talent of this musician brought me, and us, through some very dark, difficult times.  It was like he was the musical equivalent of Rocky Balboa’s trainer, Mick, urging us on, encouraging us, being tough and yet hopeful at the same time.

It seems very fitting then, that the next time I get to see Jamie Cullum perform with be tomorrow, at The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.  It’s an early Valentine’s celebration for Frank and me, and I couldn’t be more excited.  I’m an older fan now, and thankful that we’ll be sitting in a nice auditorium rather than fighting off a mixed standing audience. I’ve matured, and learned my own lessons about life and love, and it will be fun to hear the songs with that mellowed perspective. I may have put on a few pounds, gotten married and had kids, but I’m still wearing the same perfume, and I’m still listening to Jamie Cullum.

It’s also been fun “growing up” with him – so many of the musicians I love are from other generations (like Sinatra, the Beatles, Nina Simone, Dave Brubeck, Rosemary Clooney, the Kingston Trio, the Bee Gees, Simon & Garfunkel… and then all the young up-and-comers like Hozier, Ed Sheeran, George Ezra, Adele, etc.).  More than that, I look forward to seeing and hearing all that is yet to come from Jamie Cullum, starting with this year’s brand-spanking-new album (which I’ve admittedly yet to buy), “Interlude.”

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