I saw a concert on the second night of my solo trip to Paris.I wandered through the 11e arrondissement to find the Café de la Danse, a small venue behind a tiny door off what seemed like an alley, off another, just wider cobblestone alley-street blocks from the Bastille. I fumbled my words buying my ticket and, plunged suddenly into the glowing red music hall darkroom, fumbled everything else looking for a beer then a seat.
William Fitzsimmons made his way, alone, to the stage with only a guitar. There was a black metal folding chair for him to sit on, and he wore a plaid shirt and a black stocking cap. His beard was enormous. I'd heard maybe two of his songs, and it was easy for me to believe we were the only two Americans in that huge room. If not easy, then comforting. Being alone in Paris, that unfamiliar place wasn't scary, per se, but it was exhausting. A short lifetime of dreams built up that trip in my mind, and the comedown was quicker than I imagined.
All I remember of the concert is what I wrote afterward. I remember taking my first look at Fitzsimmons, hearing the first notes he sang, and not understanding how a man who looked like that — talked like that, even — could sing so sweetly and with such sadness. I remember that between songs, he seemed like an asshole, but looking back, that was part of the fun.
He'd opened for another band, and I left midway through their set. When I walked out the door, it was well past 10 but barely dusk. The air probably didn't smell like funnel cake, but it's what I'm remembering. A group of street dancers stopped me in my tracks before I found my train and headed back to the 8 e and my hotel room, which opened with a big gold key kept at the front desk. Everything was strange. I made it back to Place Vendôme, a few blocks from my hotel, before the Eiffel Tower started to glimmer. I watched it twice that night.
I felt so… I don't even know how I felt.
That night was so magical, and I don't have a clue why.
Tonight is more of my full circle, this ring I'm living out, though I wonder if I'm making too much of all that. Tonight, I walked in to the Old Town School of Folk music alone, with two tickets. John bought them but didn't want to go with me in the end. And I decided I'd rather sit by myself.
That building is so full of memories, and it makes me so profoundly sad to go inside, despite the beautiful, wonderful music that happens there. Where Paris' strangeness had an exhausting je ne sais quoi, Lincoln Square's sameness mostly isn't even vaguely soothing; the familiarity of the haunts I've loved for so long is breeding a stale contempt that I hope will fade as I struggle out of this emotional black hole.
Tonight, Fitzsimmons headlined; a band called Slow Runner opened for him. The sound was sublime — the Freelance Whales' hipster lilt, Ben Folds Five's bass, drums, piano and vocals, and an 8-bit Nintendo aesthetic — and the songs made me laugh and broke my heart, with only measures separating the two. Only the best music can do that. I bought an album after their set, and a friend from Twitter recognized me from my photo and came to say hello while I waited in line.
But where they inspired tears, the rest of the show fell flat. The same bearded man I saw in Paris took the stage in Chicago, surrounded by a full band and looking out at an English-speaking audience full of kids whose faces I saw, some I even recognized, who had heard and comprehended every joke in his charming-asshole book before, and knew his song lyrics by heart. He stood at the microphone with the guitar strapped to him, and it all felt false. This wasn't real. I didn't go to the Old Town School expecting Café de la Danse, but… I don't even know what I expected.
I left after his third song and came home to my laptop, my familiar bed, my sweet tuxedo kitten.
Every night in Paris, I stayed up until 3 or 4 a.m. writing, writing, writing. Everything seemed significant, its strangeness worth documenting completely. Tonight, I'll fall asleep before midnight with Emaline mewing outside the door, pawing at the old wood. And this doesn't disappoint me, but I do want that magic back. Whether I find it down another cobblestone alley-street in a music-hall darkroom, or somewhere else entirely.