“Glen Phillips is playing the NorVa,” said my friend, whom we shall call The Finn.
“That’s the guy from Toad the Wet Sprocket,” replied Traveling Matt.
“Duh. Let’s go.”
“Don’t know if I can afford it.”
“I’m bringing two women.”
“Pick me up at seven.”
The NorVa is a great place to see a concert. It’s a black-box concert hall with a big, flat rectangular floor—on first arrival, seeming like your typical ratty, dark, indoor B-list venue. The walls are dark, the floor is dark, there’s a bar in the corner; typical. Until you look closer.
The walls aren’t merely “dark,” they are lined with acoustic panels, each of which is angled slightly differently from the others. The ceiling has more of the same, and it becomes clear that each and every panel has been individually aimed to tune and optimize the sound in the room. The lighting setup is extensive, and expensive. There’s a high balcony lining the room, and when you climb the stairs to visit it, it is wide to encourage mingling, and has its own bar and chill-out rooms. When the band starts to play, the genius of the place becomes clear. This is not a bar, or a B-list venue; the sound in those places is boomy and muddled. The sound at the NorVa is perfect.
My friend The Finn picked me up—or maybe I met him there; you can’t expect a body to remember shit like that. I think it was in 2000. Sure enough, he had two girls in tow, and of course they were gorgeous. I’m comfortable talking to women nowadays (now that I’m too old and it’s too late) but back then I couldn’t open my mouth within ten feet of a woman I found pretty without having bats of stupidity come flapping out. So most of the time I kept my mouth shut.
Opening for Glen were two unknown up-and-comers, David Mead and John Mayer. Each one had an acoustic guitar and a mic. David Mead was melodic, and John Mayer was kind of angsty and slightly geekish and people around me kept saying he sounded exactly like Dave Matthews.
Skip to the End Already
Okay, fine, I’ll skip to the part where I met John Mayer. But the other part is better, so I’m gonna come back to it later.
So I’m listening to John play his stuff to a somewhat disinterested crowd, and I’m thinking, “He’s actually incredibly good; why doesn’t anybody notice?” I decided he’d be a good emerging artist to put on the soundtrack of Moving, our independent feature movie which I was beginning to do the music editing for. So when he finished up and Glen Phillips started to walk on stage, I kept an eye out for this Mayer guy and saw him pop in through the stage door. I wandered over just as Glen was thanking his opening acts and making some snarky but affectionate joke about John. I looked up at John (who is, without any exaggeration whatsoever, eleven feet tall) and said, “You gonna let him talk that way about you?” John laughed a little and shrugged it off with a “Whadya gonna do?” I told him I was putting together an independent film and was scouting for music to feature in it. He was friendly and seemed receptive; I gave him my world-famous clear business card and said I’d listen to the demo CD he was selling and contact him.
He was affable but a bit distracted. Overall, I liked the guy.
The second time I met him, it was totally different. I’ll get to that later.
Back to the Good Part
So John Mayer was still playing his set. The Finn and I met eyes a few times while he was playing; we used to play in an acoustic duo together in college (and a few times afterwards), and we know talent when we hear it. Mayer sang some line about “play a quick game of chess with the salt and pepper shaker” and we looked at each other with one of our “This guy’s pretty good” looks.
Near the end of his set, he played “Your Body is a Wonderland.” It was soft and sweet and he sang it with that sultry affection that, when I saw him play it a couple of years later at a big Amphitheater concert, had all the women nestling into their boyfriend’s shoulders and whispering sex talk into their ears. I thought, “maaaan, that song’s gonna bring some bunnies to his burrow.” But this was still 2000, before anybody around here had heard of him. I looked around at the women, trying to gauge their reactions to this seductive song. You know what I saw? Polite interest at best, but generally bored indulgence.
After the set, I asked The Finn’s two lovely companions about the song.
You know that Wonderland song?
Did it do anything for you?
You know, do you think the guy is sexy, did it get you all romantic?
Not at all?
He’s just a Dave Matthews ripoff.
Now what’s the only difference between the song back then, and the song six years later at the Amphitheater? He wasn’t famous yet.
I knew there was something fishy about this. I knew the guy was talented as shit, and so did The Finn, and it boggled our minds that the others hadn’t recognized it. I had a feeling that song was going to knock the girls flat if the guy ever got famous, and couldn’t understand why, if women are so enlightened about love the way they claim, and so non-superficial the way they claim, it didn’t knock them flat now. Of course, this was several long years ago, before I discovered the amazing truth: women are full of shit.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that women are born with deeper feelings than men; that they inherently see and understand more about relationships than men; they men are superficial and women aren’t. Filthy lies! I call shenanigans!
Women are stupid and superficial, except for the ones who aren’t. Men are stupid and superficial, except for the ones who aren’t. End of discussion.
People form very deep opinions based on social proof.
If you’re gonna be a writer, this is an important insight to get hold of. Another one is this: people form very deep opinions based on social proof. If John Mayer had been famous by 2000—or even if ten girls had been up at the front of the stage sighing and trying to touch him—you’d better believe that The Finn’s women woulda answered my question differently. This is why stealth advertising works, and why word-of-mouth sells books and movie tickets. See the cognitive bias known as the Bandwagon Effect and, since elections are coming up, the exploitation of it known as the Bandwagon Fallacy.
The Second Time I Met John Mayer
A few months later, John Mayer came back to the NorVa, this time as a headliner. His album was going to be coming out soon, and the P.R. had hit. He played the whole set by himself, and The Finn and I were there to see it. When he was done I went to the stage door to chat with him again—but this time when he came out, he was flanked by a protective manager whose oily eyes slid off of everything they viewed as if only scanning the woods for Viet Cong. “Hey, John,” I said, passing through the manager’s deflector shields without choosing to recognize them. I reintroduced myself, mentioned Moving again, and gave him another card. He just gave me bland acknowledgements, didn’t look me in the eye once, and then pulled his jacket up over his head like a hood and followed his manager in a rush to the front of the club, slicing deafly through the crowd, in order to sign autographs at the merchandising table. I didn’t want him in my movie anymore.
But In the End, a Friend
At the first concert, John Mayer wasn’t the only guy playing. You’ll remember I mentioned another new fellow named David Mead. Visit his official site or his MySpace page. After I talked to John, I went over and had an even longer talk with David. I got his email address, bought the CD, and was bowled over by it. I tracked two of his songs into our movie—though when we went to license them, we could only afford one. So our movie features “Girl on a Roof” in the scene where Ron and John meet the gun-toting chicks who rob them and throw them out of the car in their underwear.
Love is in the air / What a perfect day to find / Nothing could compare / What a waste to turn and wave goodbye
—David Mead, “Girl on a Roof”
He was a nice guy from start to finish and his music is the most meanderingly melodic stuff you’ve heard in a long time, so go get it!
Every time you buy a John Mayer album, buy two of David Mead’s.