Joe Henry at the Triple Door
I’ve been on iTunes for about 10 years now, and if you sort by number of plays, Joe Henry’s “Ohio Air Show Plane Crash,” from his album “Trampoline,” ranks fifth with 198.
These are the other top Joe Henry songs on my iTunes hit parade:
- Ohio Air Show Plane Crash, Trampoline, 198
- Our Song, Civilians, 147,
- You Can’t Fail Me Now, Civilians, 100
- Dirty Magazine, Tiny Voices, 88
- Fat, Fuse, 72
It skews recent, of course. I began listening to him about 10 years before iTunes, in 1992, when “Short Man’s Room” was released and he went on tour with the Jayhawks, whose tour manager was my good friend Dave Paulson. Joe gave Dave a book, “Willie’s Time,” by Charles Einstein, about Willie Mays and the 1950s, and Dave gave it to me, and I almost completed the circle at the Tractor Tavern in ’93 when Joe opened for Jimmie Dale Gilmore. I had the book in my backpack, and Joe was sitting by himself in the corner, but I didn’t work up the courage to go over. Bad form. If you’re there for the opening act, let the opening act know.
I think I’ve seen Joe five to 10 times since then—at the Showbox, at the Pier, at Bumpershoot one year—and last night Patricia and I caught him at the Triple Door in downtown Seattle. A far cry from the Tractor for both of us. Before he came on, I talked up a few of his songs to poor Patricia, stuck there with me, this Joe Henry bore. We both love “Our Song.” I mentioned the great lines from “You Can’t Fail Me Now” that I wrote about last year:
We're taught to love the worst in us
And mercy more than life, but trust me:
Mercy's just a warning shot across the bow
I talked up the epigrams of “Fat”:
If this is our finish let’s begin
Gambled I would lose, guess I .... win
For some reason I quietly sang the opening lines to the title song from Joe’s 1995 album, “Kindness of the World,” which I’d always loved:
I’d like to see your badge
Who are you to be so brave
With one arm free to catch yourself
And you’re using it to wave
Recently, in some online forum, someone had stated the obvious and I replied with these lines from Joe’s song “Dirty Magazine,” which I (missing the irony) also repeated to Patricia:
Just tell me everything I’ve heard before
Like it was news
Like it was news
So of course Joe opened with “Dirty Magazine,” played both “You Can’t Fail Me Now” and “Our Song,” and closed with “Kindness of the World.”
“That just doesn’t happen,” Patricia said afterwards.
“He missed ‘Fat,’” I said.
It was a quick tour, just four acoustic shows in northern towns (Minneapolis, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Seattle) during the first week of December. When the weather gets warm he heads south, to Durham, N.C., to record a new album. He played about five of those songs last night. His voice sounded stronger than ever. The stories accompanying the songs, including playing ”Kindness of the World“ in Hiroshima, Japan, were better than ever.
I kept flashing back on semi-forgotten things. He played ”Short Man's Room“ from 1992 and I remembered a poster from that album (”You're only as good as your knees“) hanging in my room for who knows how many years. I listened to ”Our Song“ while cleaning the kitchen in the new place Patricia and I bought in the fall of 2007, the exact wrong time to buy a new place. I also flashed on that first show at the Tractor in Ballard in 1993. I biked there from Green Lake on a drizzly evening with ”Willie's Time“ in my backpack. I carried both the book (because of lack of courage) and my slicks (because the weather had cleared) on the ride home, and both helped cushion whatever was thrown at me from a car of teenage boys out looking for mischief at 1 a.m. They peeled out and I circled back and found an egg, cracked, in the middle of the street. They'd hit their target but missed. I was unsplattered. There was just this sad egg in the middle of the street.
That was a long time ago. Last night I drove to the Triple Door, had to wave off valet parking, bought a bottle of red wine before the show. It was freezing outside but warm inside. The place was packed. All the men there looked like variations of me.
Here's ”Fat," the song he missed.