This is Pete Yorn in a screenshot I took of him yesterday at the end of a livestream concert he’d just performed. I bought a ticket for this show, paying more money than the minimum charge because a portion of the funds collected are being donated to Covid19 relief. I also bought a t-shirt designed especially for this event. I’ll probably get it in a couple of weeks. Pete performed an acoustic version of his breakthrough hit album, Musicforthemorningafter, which was released in 2001. During the pandemic lockdown, Pete has played seventeen live shows on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. I’ve watched all of them. On some days, they’ve been the only thing that got me through the murk. So how did I wind up with Pete? I’ll tell the story which is one of those serendipitous little deals that subtly shifts the trajectory of a life. In 2001, I’d never heard of Pete Yorn. He was a 27 year old musician trying to crack his way into the big time recording world. I was coming up on my 50th birthday. I’d been living with Michael since 1972. We were going to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary that May. The previous year we’d made a huge transition in our lives. Michael had decided to leave Record Service, the music business that had been the center of his daily life for 27 years. With the advent of free music downloads from the internet and big box stores selling CD’s for less than the cost of purchasing them from the record labels, the writing was on the wall. The day of the small independent music stores was coming to an end. Michael’s degree in political science wasn’t much use for a practical job. He was 51 years old. So he’d decided to return to college, pick up 30 undergraduate hours of education classes and acquire a teaching degree as a secondary school history teacher. Eventually that move turned into his also adding a master’s degree in US History.
We told our kids about the new plans on our annual holiday trip to Starved Rock State Park. Our daughter was a sophomore in college and our son was in eighth grade. They stared at us, stunned, across the dinner table. A parental job change is a big deal. They loved their cool rock and roll dad who knew everything about music and got great tickets to concerts and sports events through the major record labels. Going back to college when you’re an old guy? That was a challenge for them. We laughed out loud when our son asked, “are you sure you’re not going to become one of those dads who lays around on the couch all day, drinking beer and watching game shows?” We did our best to reassure them although we too were uncertain about how all this would work out. Michael got his substitute teacher’s certificate and took on as many jobs as he could, teaching everything from kindergarten, to special education to the occasional high school history class. He went to school a few nights a week, studying and writing during the days he wasn’t subbing. Student teaching would be coming up in the fall of 2001, followed by the daunting search for a real teaching position. I was the primary breadwinner, holding things together as we all made our adjustments together. Our daughter was a college athlete, playing volleyball for her university in an athletic conference that had other colleges within driving distance of our home. We spent time on the road going to watch her play. Our son was an athlete, too, so his games occupied us as well, Michael attending as many as he could given his demanding schedule. Spring was a busy time for all of us. Our wedding anniversary was on May 1st. Given the fact that we were living on a modest single income, good sense dictated that we probably should minimize our celebration. But me being me, always with an eye toward the future, pointed out to Michael that we only got one 25th wedding anniversary. Ever convincing, I melted his resolve and off we went on a Caribbean cruise. We sailed on the Norway, a ship that looked romantically like the Titanic, although without the threat of icebergs. It was referred to as the last great ocean liner. We sailed to the Bahamas where we swam with stingrays at Stingray City, to Roatan for snorkeling and diving off beaches covered with iguanas, and finally to Cozumel where we spent time in a magical water park alive with beautiful fish, birds and exotic sea creatures.
We wound up at the ruins in Tulum, Mexico, where we wandered about, marveling at the incredible turquoise water and the remnants of the fort walls, intended to be impregnable but easily violated by conquistadors whose horses easily vaulted the barriers. While there, we had our wedding date preserved like a Mayan calendar page.We had a wonderful trip. On our actual anniversary we ate at a small intimate bistro where Michael, proving himself as fiscally risque as me, slid a box across our table right before dessert with an amethyst ring inside. I remember my shock and my tears. So romantic. May was a busy time. We returned from our trip and celebrated my 50th birthday. A friend had my yard decorated with 50 flamingoes in honor of the event.
A couple of weeks later, we were off on another adventure. Our son had qualified for the National Spelling Bee for the second year in a row. The local newspaper sponsored the bees leading up to the national one, and paid for that trip. We were joined by our daughter who flew in to Washington, DC because this year was the last for which our son was eligible. We stayed in a beautiful hotel downtown where we were feted in style.
In addition to the spelling there were barbecues, trips to surrounding historic sites and general great fun. Our son wound up in third place, getting his first paycheck at age fourteen. What a glorious time.
Summer came and zoomed by. Michael was still in school and the kids were busy with their activities. Our daughter returned to college in the fall, our son was a high school freshman and Michael was doing his student teaching. In October, our aged dog Sydney, had to be euthanized. We were all heartbroken.
We celebrated Thanksgiving and then winter was upon us. We were going back to Starved Rock after a very full 2001. Pete who?Fast forward. The year is now 2017. Michael died on May 28th after his five year cancer journey. My son, now a biology postdoc, transferred all Michael’s iTunes files to an external hard drive for safekeeping for me before he returned to his field work in Guam. I was alone in my house. Recovering from the massive fatigue of being Michael’s caregiver, I set myself to the task of planning the large exhibit of Michael’s life which would be held in December of that year. He’d become a well-loved teacher in his unfortunately shortened career and I felt that an event near Christmas would allow former students home from college to attend. This would be a big public gathering. While I worked, I decided I would listen to the 2507 songs on my external hard drive. Michael and I were music lovers our whole lives. When he left the Record Service, he was slightly out of touch with current music but after starting teaching, he quickly developed a class which combined modern American history with film and music. He encouraged his students to share their favorite songs with him and continually added new tunes to his personal library. Although we listened to that library a lot, the music was on shuffle which meant there could be hundreds of songs I’d never hear. I wanted to listen to every single song, our old favorites and the ones he’d picked up during his teaching career. Some were great and others I could’ve done without. One afternoon, I heard Pete Yorn’s Life on a Chain for the first time. I was instantly hooked. One of my habits is that when I like something, I have to consume it. That first day, I probably listened to that song 50 times. Then I listened to the album it came from, Musicforthemorningafter, the big breakthrough for Pete in 2001. I ordered a CD and kept it in my car where I played it every day. I also loaded it onto my phone. There was one track in particular, June, which made me cry the second I heard it. I know this sounds weird but the melody sounded like the inside of Michael’s soul to me. Hard to explain-it’s just how it was.
Eventually, I started listening to more of Pete’s music. I read his biographical information and learned about his family. I started to like him. He said great things about his parents and brothers. I found him attractive. He took awhile before marrying and having a baby. He is unabashedly adoring of his little girl. He talks freely about emotions. I was hooked. I started following him on Instagram so I could keep up with his career. Last year he was performing at the Pageant Theater in St. Louis. My son went to college in that city. He was back from Guam and graciously attended the concert with me. We had great seats and I was elated.
For me, Pete was a gift that Michael left me, like so many other things that I’ve stumbled on since his death. Michael always told me I was the most loyal person he knew. That loyalty extends to those people who I’ll never really know, but feel I do because I’m just strange, I guess. Pete is the musical version of my beloved Roger Federer.
When the pandemic hit, Pete began showing up on Instagram to perform live shows from some house in the California desert where he was sheltering with his wife and daughter. He had one acoustic guitar and a piano from his childhood. I can’t tell you how I loved watching him sit right in front of my face for these concerts which he played because he needed to for himself and to help all the shut ins out in the ether. He’d wait for a few hundred people to show up on his feed and then play, tell stories and chat. When it became clear that the pandemic wasn’t going anywhere, he partnered with groups to raise money for Covid19 relief, food pantries and the like. As I noted earlier, he performed 17 times. I missed him when he disappeared for awhile. Then all of a sudden, he announced last Saturday’s concert, a live acoustic stream of the entire Musicforthemorningafter album. Tickets were $15 and up, with each level getting a different perk and again, funds being donated to Covid19 relief. Unique t-shirts and a face mask with the words “Strange Condition,” one of Pete’s song titles emblazoned across the front. I so looked forward to this show and it was everything I dreamed it would be. Personal, empathetic Pete and great music. Nothing fancy, just him. One of the best hour and a halves I’ve ever spent. And I’ve been to more concerts than you can possibly imagine.
When the show was over, Pete asked people to let him know how they felt about it. Lots of people sent him screenshots with decorative, appreciative emojis. I wrote him a note, which is more like me. He took a second to answer me. Yup. Me and Pete. Who’d have known. I’ll be his loyal fan until I disappear. Life is full of surprises. Look him up. Have a listen. I hope you like him too.