I first came to NYC in the late 90’s. In the year 2001, before the world trade center towers toppled down, before NYC had once again started transforming itself drastically, I had come back from a trip to France, and my friend Sara with whom we often saw music together told me: I saw a really nice musician the other day, you would like him – and this is how I discovered Jeff Lewis.
I have to say it was love at first hear. I listened to a self-made tape – yes a TAPE 🙂 that you could order from him and have delivered to your mailbox. I can’t put my finger on why I connected with this music so much, but I think it had something to do with my experience of being an immigrant teenager in the suburban US and humiliations, and difficulties of high school that I could never speak of. All of a sudden I heard my experiences, and feelings played back to me via a tape from a kid with a raspy voice and a guitar. He was absolutely honest about who he was, both in his music and comic books which he self-published, and as someone who kept it all under a tightly shut lid, this opened me up to a different world, one I wanted to be a part of.
That summer Jeff along with other musicians organized what was called anti-folk music festival. It was a cornucopia of musicians many of whom were super original, and some of whom later reached a more commercial success. We attended many of the concerts that year – if not all, if I was to be honest.
I also got to know Jeff – well, to the level of saying ‘hey’ on the street, I think because that same friend Sara who introduced me to his music, shot a film with all of us together– the exact details of introduction escape me now. I was a tongue-tied girl with a crush, but it was really a crush on this honest, fearless way of life.
It’s been a while since I heard his music, but in April of this year we are visiting my partner’s sister in southern Germany, and Jeff will be playing a concert there, which I will attend. I think it’s been a good 13 years since I saw him play and I am curious about what I will think now. However for anyone who is not familiar with Jeffrey Lewis and his lyrics and experimentations I leave you with some very nice songs:
UPDATE: I did see Jeff at the Manufaktur in Schorndorf (which is a great space by the way if you are near Stuttgart somewhere). Jeff was older, which is of course inevitable for all of us, but still takes one by surprise. It was now he the seasoned musician, inviting younger generation to be part of his band.
The music was all familiar – but the energy was different, not worse or better – just more professional, less fresh. The complete history of communism – a comic book / song made an appearance – something I always enjoyed in his shows. One of the songs I liked a lot, that I had not heard before was about Pussy Riot – go Jeff! Also when the band got off the stage, he picked up his guitar and played a couple of tunes that I heard many times all those years back at the Sidewalk cafe for a two drink entrance fee… and then I saw the kid I used to run into on the streets in east village and inevitably blush, because he held a secret I could not get to at the time.
I was with my partner and his sister, we had a really nice time, but after the concert was over I did not stop by to say hello. I was coming down with a cold, really tired, and not sure what to say – so we left while Jeff was busy chatting with the crowd surrounding his comic book stand. If I were to think about it, I probably also left to keep the memory of the past as sweet as it was back then.
I like the two albums I included below
** all images and videos are property of the artist