This week, Jens Lekman’s long-awaited new EP, “An Argument with Myself,” was finally released, and it’s been playing constantly in my house ever since. It reminded me that despite my obsession with music blogs and always finding the best new thing, there are always a few artists that will have my heart. Jens is a jocular Swedish crooner known for unconventional samples and happy songs tinged with quite a bit of sadness. I like to think of myself as an unreasonably loyal person — to my friends and family, sure — but Jens reminds me that my loyalty borders on insanity when it comes to music.
Last year, during finals week, I did maybe the stupidest, most reckless thing that I’ve ever done in my life. I had a final and a research paper due on a Saturday, and instead of spending the night in a library like a responsible student, I skipped town. A friend told me he had tickets to see Jens at a small converted warehouse that’s usually reserved for hipster-sentimental weddings (think vintage wedding dresses and group craft projects). It would only be 400 sad-sack souls and me spending an evening in the presence of the master of laughable sadness. At first I hesitated — “I have an education to get,” I thought. But eventually I relented, and instead of writing and researching, I boarded an afternoon Metro-North and wound up in Brooklyn.
The hall of the Green Building on Union still looked like it was set for a wedding, though admittedly a strange one. The space was beautiful and painted white. A solitary antler hung from the ceiling over the stage (like I said, hipster wedding). There were a few hundred people in the room, all dressed in their bookish finest — the biggest glasses and the thickest cardigans you might ever see. When Jens took the stage, it was like magic. He walked on with his acoustic guitar and told a sad and silly story about his thwarted attempts to meet Kirsten Dunst when she was last in Gothenburg. He then sang a wordy and wistful song about the story, managing to work in quite a bit of political commentary about Swedish society.
I know that I must have had an absolutely miserable night after getting off the train at 3:47 a.m., making the long journey back to my dorm room and hunkering down with a coffeemaker and a stack of books. I know that I didn’t go to sleep until about 10 p.m. the next day, counting on some combination of caffeine and ridiculousness to carry me through the day. But honestly, I don’t remember any of that. What I do remember is Jens’ perfectly tweed outfit, dancing to songs with people who share my spirit, wanderlust and love for Scandinavia from a distance. There is something so perfect about that memory to me, despite all of the awful things I had to withstand to get there.
So maybe this is why I do this: spend my life in pursuit of the perfect song, loading up my hard drive with gigs and gigs pilfered from the Internet, knowing full well that I will never listen to all of them. Because there’s always a chance that I will come across another musician as lovely as Jens Lekman, another person who says all the things I would want to say but never could. I genuinely believe that music isn’t just a thing we listen to for the purpose of filling space. Music is a bizarre and great distillation of so many broad historical trends and events, a great summation of all our dreams and discontents, something much more real that reality can be. An education is important, but sometimes I have to remember that college and grades are temporal, and that all I am is just a composite of the things I really love. I don’t know if I need music to live, but I know that I would never want to try a life without it.