Let’s take a trip back in time, shall we? It’s the mid-1990s, my age is still in the single digits, and there’s this song that’s always playing on the radio. I don’t know most of the words, but I know there’s this one line that goes, “They said she died easy of a broken-heart disease.” And believe me, those lyrics are enough to make a lasting impression on my elementary-school-aged self. Along with a handful of songs from that Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young tape my mom’s always playing in the car, it’s probably one of the darkest songs that I’ve paid any attention to up to this point in my life. I find that single line both intriguing and unsettling. What is a broken heart disease? Is it some kind of disease where your heart physically breaks? Or can you really die from being heartbroken in the emotional sense? Just that one line plagues me with questions, and I don’t even know what the song is called or who it’s by.
Fast forward about a decade and a half later, to Wednesday, July 8, 2009. Over the years, I’ve learned a great deal about that song that so puzzled me as a young’n’. I now know that the song is called “One Headlight”, that it’s performed by The Wallflowers, and that it was written by the band’s lead singer Jakob Dylan, a man for whom abstract poetic phrases like “broken heart disease” (which I never did find out the meaning of, nor do I now feel there’s any reason to), are – let’s face it – something that runs in the family (“heart attack machine”, anyone?). So why is this so important now, on this Wednesday night in early July? I’ll tell you why, my pretties. See, not only have I learned more about “One Headlight”, but I’ve also grown a new appreciation for that and other Wallflowers songs. You could even say I’ve become somewhat of a fan of The Wallflowers. Maybe not as big a fan as Alex, a good friend of mine whose favorite band is The Wallflowers and who has been a fan since the age of ten. But you could safely say I’m a casual fan, at least. Certainly enough of a fan to go and see them in concert. Which is exactly what I was doing on Wednesday night, along with my mom and my Wallflowers-loving friend Alex.
The concert took place in a small community theater in Morristown, New Jersey. Since the place was so small, there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house. Which was a good thing, because our seats were way up towards the very back of the balcony. We were basically in the closest a venue this small could get to having a nosebleed section, and we were still close enough so we could see the performers’ facial expressions. We also noticed that the house was far from being packed, which puzzled me, since, to my knowledge, The Wallflowers are fairly popular. That is, it puzzled me until I noticed whole gaggles of people coming in between the opening act – a practically unknown rock band called Wild Light – and The Wallflowers. Their loss for being opening-act-skipping snobs, since Wild Light was one heck of a band. On first glance, seeing the young quartet’s shaggy hair and skin-tight jeans, I thought: oh, no, this is a bunch of emos, isn’t it? But to my surprise, and my delight, these guys actually rocked (and anyway, I need to stop judging individual bands based on what genre they’re labeled as). Much like The Beatles, every member provided vocals, and three of the four members played lead vocalist at least once (the drummer never sang lead, but he did provide lots of harmony vocals). Actually, they did The Beatles one better in the versatility department by having every member (except, once again, for the drummer, who nevertheless was the most impressive member of the band. On one song he drummed with one hand and shook a tambourine with the other, every now and then whacking the cymbal with the tambourine. That’s what I call resourceful!) switch instruments between songs. The guy who played the bass on the first song moved to the keyboards on the next song, handing his bass over to one of the guys who was previously playing guitar. I think on one song they even had one member of the band pull a Geddy Lee and play both the bass and the keyboards. At the end of their set, Wild Light spent about a minute thanking The Wallflowers for letting them be their opening act, which I thought was really gracious of them. I’ve seen my share of opening acts, both good and bad (okay, mostly good. The only bad one I can think of was one of the opening acts I saw at a Chris Hillman and Herb Pederson concert held in a tiny church), but never have I seen such appreciation such openly displayed by a supporting act before.
After a short break between the acts (during which awesome classic rock music was played, which really made time fly), The Wallflowers finally took the stage. Jakob emerged wearing something that looked like a cross between a fedora and a cowboy hat. I guess an affinity for hats must run in the family, too. The band kicked off with “Sleepwalker”, which, along with “One Headlight”, is my favorite Wallflowers song (hence this week’s choice for “Video of the Week”). As I sang along to the chorus (which, at the time, was the only part of “Sleepwalker” that I knew), I already had a great feeling that this would be a good night. A few songs in, Jakob spoke to the audience for the first time, saying, “We’ve got a pretty good-looking audience tonight. And I don’t say that at every show,” or something to that effect. Whether he meant it or not, Alex and I both smiled. Being called “good-looking” by a man who still frequently makes “sexy musician”-type lists is like being told by Eric Clapton that you’re a great guitar player, or having Robert Plant tell you that you’ve got a powerful set of pipes. And anyway, I wasn’t sure if Jakob was going to talk at all during the concert, as he’s a notoriously private person (once again, something that runs in the family). But he was surprisingly talkative, and – gasp! – even playful during the course of the concert. “I think someone’s asleep in the fourth row,” he whispered into the microphone about halfway through the concert. After the sleeper woke up, Jakob continued to gently tease him, asking if the woman next to him was his date, and then asking who she told the drowsy audience member they were going to see. Someone a few rows in front of me yelled “Bob Dylan!” I’m glad someone else did before I got the bright idea to, because I would have hated to have the second or two of cold silence that followed from Jakob to have been directed at me. But all of Jakob’s agitation was in jest, and he even had the good humor to turn the joke on himself. “I’ve never fallen asleep at any of our concerts. I know I look like I’m asleep, but I’m not.” And, around the same time he played “One Headlight”, I can’t remember if it was before or after he played it, he noticed some people in the audience were dancing and said something like, “Finally I got some of you to stand up.” At this point, Alex and I decided to get up and dance, and didn’t sit down for the rest of the concert.
To my surprise “One Headlight” was not saved for the encore. It turned out that there was a good reason why, as the theater’s 10:30 curfew limited the time they would have for an encore, and since they’d be extremely foolish to skip their most well-known song, and also since “One Headlight” is about five or six minutes long, it would not be wise to save it for the encore in case there wasn’t any time for it. But sure enough, after the band left the stage for the first time that night, they returned a minute later to perform one last, short song. “We don’t have much time left, and we really need to get out of here,” Jakob said, as he introduced the band. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I don’t recall the names of any of the other members of the band, but I feel better about it now that I know that even Alex doesn’t know any of the other band members’ names. After introducing all the other members of the band, the singer simply said, “My name’s Jakob, and we’re The Wallflowers.” I admired his modesty, and his refusal to bring any attention to his very famous last name. He’s always wanted to make it on his own, and he’s certainly succeeded. As for my experience at the concert Wednesday night, I have to say it’s one of the best concerts I’ve been to, and even though I only knew a handful of songs, I enjoyed myself immensely the entire time. In fact, I might just have to get a few of their albums now so I can hear some more of their songs. Once again, The Wallflowers have made a lasting impression on me.