To Whitman, For Spending Their Weekends With Us
This will not be something unlike a hundred things you’ve read before, but I need to say this, I need to write this. I need to talk to you about Whitman.
It’s dark and humid, a beautiful November night in the South, in a small stage of a bar in a long street of bars. My make-up is running, my third drink is splattered on the wooden floors, and there are four men in front of me doing what they love.
This is Blackheart in Austin, Texas. Whitman is playing a show.
In April 2012, my editor asked me to interview a local band. He hooked it up, and on a weekday afternoon I drove to Opal Divine’s on South Congress. I was tired and hungover, I had a few articles due, some readings to get done for school. I was on my way to do the job; to listen to another band, play their album, write their story. That day I met Kyle Johnson and Ram Vela. It wasn’t really an interview, but a conversation; a string of stories with food and beer and laughter, where I witnessed a relationship between two friends who loved working together, and worked hard to be able to do so. When I left, I played their LP Weekends in the car and drove around the city, and I remember that afternoon—I remember the burning Texas sun playing with my hair as I listened to “Cul-de-Sac” and thought, “This… this is fucking good.”
I’m no music expert. I didn’t go to music school. My peak as a musician was a year of violin lessons when I was six. I could tell you to listen to something, and you can tell me I don’t know shit, you’d be right. But I know what makes me feel. What makes me feel. And to me, that’s what makes a good song. That’s what makes a great band. Whitman, I can tell you, above all else: Whitman made me smile. Their songs, played one after the other after the other, made me grin with a sense of familiarity, with a sense of home, with memories of fun. They made me want to dance, they made me want to get out, they made me want to go to the beach, they made me want to drink and cheer and smoke and laugh and sway with people in small spaces pounding with music we like to share. With the music we like to show around, with music we like to tell people, “Listen to this.” That, to me, is Whitman. A band we love to share.
When I met them, they’d already been together for a decade, they’d already played with Titus Andronicus and The Walkmen. They already had stories to tell. They already had fans who drove hours to see them play. But over the last year and a half, I had the pleasure to see them every chance I got; at house parties, at small bars, at legendary Austin venues. I played them at home, while I was reading, while I drank, while I had dinner. I became friends with Ram Vela, one of the strangest human beings I’ve had the chance to meet. I saw his brain work quickly, the way he could spin a phrase into a song lyric and a joke into a tune. And I saw him play with his best friends and for his best friends, for his family. I saw Whitman surprise people. With their energy. With their love. There’s many things I adore about this city, but one of my favorites is to walk into a bar and see a group of men smile at the sound of people knowing their songs, singing—screaming—every single word.
That is Whitman.
Friday night at Blackheart, I knew Whitman was going to make an announcement. I knew what it was. And close to the end of their set, Ram Vela said what everyone in the crowd probably already knew: Whitman is not coming back in 2014.
It was… an emotional show. I know, I know. It sounds corny. But it’s true. They played with power, like they play every night. Kyle Johnson pounding on the keyboard, the vein in his neck throbbing and his forehead glistening with sweat under dark red lights. Drummer Eric Jenne smiling wide as their listeners, their followers, their fans, their friends, chanted together—with strangers they only knew from every other Whitman show. The place was packed that night. And people danced the way Whitman’s music is supposed to be danced to: with chaos and force and joy.
So I wrote this little piece because I wanted to take a few minutes from my afternoon to tell you about Whitman, and to thank them for the fun, the sweat, the beer, the weekends spent with us.
Whitman’s last official show is December 31st 2013 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Austin, Texas. Be there.
Read the first piece I wrote on Whitman in April 2012 here, on Red River Noise.