I have sworn off musicians four years ago. In fact, four years and three weeks, to be exact, and I promised to everyone who had the patience to listen that I would never ever, ever ever listen to a man with a guitar. Those are treacherous, emotionally violent and physically draining waters to swim through, and I figured Josh Ritter and the likes of Joseph Arthur could do very well without me (they have). Of course, then came Scott Hutchison and Greg Barnett, but I pretended this wasn’t happening, it was different, because they were singing about suicide, not about love, so I wasn’t going to fall for it. I’m such an idiot.
But I’m an idiot – despite her ill repute – with an excellent taste, and last fall my Twitter account stumbled upon that of Jesse Macht’s, and I was immediately intrigued. I was halfway down a glass of gin and tonic in a bar in the East Village. I wasn’t drunk yet, and the bartender was playing the same Ramones tunes over and over again, I could hear the drums echo in my head. It was still blistering hot outside, and I was rubbing my eyes, playing with the ice cubes, just waiting for something new to come along, something to raise me from my slumbers, maybe something that would remind me of home. It’s hard to get out of your skinny jeans, take off your wayfarers and walk a little slower. When you’ve been living with or around punk rock for as long as I have, you become jaded, nothing makes sense anymore and, as Frank Turner once said, “things I believed in when I was young were just coasters for beers and clean surfaces for drugs.”
I find Jesse Macht compelling. It takes a lot to grab my attention and hold it for over ten minutes, and I have seen in him things that remain me of my homeland, things that make me travel across the ocean back to the island where I was born. There is such a distinctive, profound and personal sense of melody that takes hold of you and forces you to listen until there’s an uncomfortable buzzing in your ear. It reminds me of those random guitar players in Temple Bar. Growing up in Dublin, you can’t escape them. I was raised among Van Morrison covers and young men trying to set themselves apart to impress the girls. I have a very religious approach to music, and I respect anyone that displays the focus and slow learning curve it deserves. There’s something very pure in Jesse’s approach to songwriting: a bow to the greats, a tribute to those who matter and ultimately, a note to when music was capable of changing minds, hearts, and make listeners drive across state lines. In an environment were everything is so easily and instantly distributed, where live music is supposed to mean instant gratification and no one has a chance in hell to ever make a difference, I find it refreshing to see someone under the age of 30 cover Joni Mitchell and quote Gram Parsons. In fact, I have never met anyone quite like that before. If someone had told me about Jesse Macht, I would have said they’re full of shit. But I have to believe what I see, even if I do blink a little harder than usual.
My knees haven’t felt that weak since I heard the first notes of The Menzingers’ “Gates“.
Case in point: his Janis Joplin cover. Usually, this would be legit cause for sarcasm. Attacking giants in such a casual way is a recipe for disaster. But I was floored. I have rarely heard such passion in someone’s voice. I’ve rarely heard such talent in someone’s voice. If the last ten years brought us amazing female songwriters – Laura Marling, Amy Winehouse, First Aid Kit, and my favorite, the über indie Lauren O’Connell, there has been a shortage of men willing to put themselves out there without the strong backing of a band, left under the scorching sun without Bruce Springsteen’s umbrella, and taking over music that has nothing to do with working class blues. I’d send Jesse Macht on tour with BRMC if I could, just to hear more blues, more There is something so smooth about his voice that appears so incredibly youthful and untainted. It’s pure and delicate. Really, after decades of broken vocal chords and countless cigarettes, this is something to be admired. Janis would be proud.
The problem with songs: you go on tour, with that song, and all the others, with your life, something extremely personal, and you play it in front of an audience. You want them to be on your side, you want those people to be your wing men. You want them to take your side when a conflict arises. Then one kid comes up to you and goes, I love your song man, it reminds me so much of when this girl walked out on me, and you’re brought back to square one. You didn’t bring solace or anything; you’ve just shared your bullshit, passed it on, like some sort of STD, and you’re no longer in control. Luckily, pop music is way more affordable and shareable than any other type of music, and despite disastrous times, it always lifts you up, carries you somewhere across the sea, and makes you feel like home. I don’t always want to think or process anything when I listen to music. Sometimes I just want to shut down the voices in my head. And because for a long time I refused to admit that men were capable of writing heartfelt, sincere and genuine love songs, I didn’t trust Jesse Macht with that label until I heard “Love is another drug”, with its Valley of the Dolls-like cover.
Trust me when I say a songwriter can make a difference. This man has obviously been endowed with more skills than anyone of (t)his generation can handle, and he’s using his power for good. I am only writing this to expose the power of a love song to change the tide. Sure enough, there are plenty of anthems out there. And plenty of people who do it well. Love songs, however, is something everyone is trying to do, and everyone is pretty much failing. It’s about love, and it’s about writing something that is ultimately bigger than love itself. It’s about expanding the universe of the reason you’re writing about. It’s more than the girl, it’s more than where they live, it’s more than girls-guys-guitars. The best love songs are not about love, in the end, it’s about survival. With Or Without You is exactly that. It’s not about her. It’s about what happens, what will happen, what could happen, with or without her.
I have a lot of hopes and dreams for Jesse Macht. I hope he never gets cynical or jaded, feeling he has to sell his soul and a kidney to get where he’s going. I hope he channels whatever amount of anger maturity will inevitably bring him into song, into new chords, turning it into something relatable and beautiful. I hope he sees in foreign lands and rough seas what he has perceived off the coast of California. I have seen so many young artists lose themselves, throw the towel and leave through the backdoor it seems to me that only a handful of chosen ones make it through the grinder, and those are not necessarily the best ones. I have seen 18 year olds busk in the tube in London, covering U2 songs under the headache-inducing neon lights without a care in the world. I wish I could say this is not about money, but the music industry is as corrupt as everything else is, and there will always be daft compromises and skeptical handshakes. Jesse Macht belongs to another time, one that was more free and more open-minded, one where the room at the top wasn’t so crowded. He’s one of the last heartbreakers, the last one of the dying poets, sustaining an art that fell into disrepair during the 1976 Summer of Hate. There is something wrong with you if you do not see it.