Once, in Amsterdam, I met Jenny Lewis. Its probably my closest brush with fame. And for geeky me, it could not have been better.
I started listening to Rilo Kiley in high school. Discovered them the way I discovered a lot of music then, one download leads to another kind of a thing. It was the days of Napster and I had a motley collection of music from “Take Offs and Landings” and “Intial Friend”. Eventually I loved them so much, I bought “Take Offs and Landings” from the Barsuk Record site (and a Barsuk hoodie, actually, which would later win me points with Death Cab fans).
I love Jenny’s voice and the bittersweet, sometimes cynical lyrics. In college, I started putting “The Frug” on every dance mix I made. But they were still mostly touring on the West Coast and the one time they came to New York, I missed them. Still, I’ve never seen them live. (And to be honest, I’m not sure I really want to. This new album doesn’t rock my world the same way the older ones did. But that’s another story.)
Anyway, I was in Amsterdam during part of my Junior year Bohemian-Quest-For-Self through Europe. I was in Amsterdam more than once during that particular foray and I seem to remember this being later in my trip. I was walking through the bustling Leidseplein towards my Vondelpark hostel when a tall woman approached me.
“Excuse me? Do you speak English?”
I smiled and said, “Yeah, I do.” In my American accent. And we both laughed.
She needed to know how to get to the Van Gogh museum. Since I was waking that way anyway, I offered to take her. We talked about our mutual love of Van Gogh, the tragedy of his life, Theo’s letters and Love in the Time of Cholera. She asked me what I was doing in Europe. I told her and she complimented my bravery. I asked her and she told me about her band, the show they had played the night before.
The way she was talking, you’d think it was a garage band. Some little project going nowhere. A cheap way to see Europe, opening for bands that really mattered. So I didn’t even ask. It didn’t cross my mind, you know? But before I left her, a few blocks from the Van Gogh, I said, “Hey what’s the name of your band?” Because she was so nice I thought I ought to check out her music.
“Its called,um, Rilo? Kiley?” Seriously. Like a teenage girl, with every word a question. Like maybe I would think it was stupid.
“Oh my god.” I must have gone white, “You’re Jenny Lewis. Oh my god.”
“Oh you know my band!” All sincere and adorable.
“I, um. I brought only twelve CDs to Europe with me. And two of them are yours. I love your band.”
It’s probably better I didn’t ask her who she was earlier. I don’t think I could have carried on a coherent conversation with a woman whose music had moved me so easily through break-ups and new loves. I don’t think I would’ve have talked about Theo Van Gogh so much or worried about my hair so little. So it was better this way and I got a pretty good story out of it, too.