Music has always been a big part of my life. Every major moment in my life seems to be accompanied by a song. And there was a period in my late teens/early twenties where I was pretty hardcore about certain bands. The one I’m going to talk about today is one most of you have probably never heard of.
Jump Little Children.
I first started listening to them on a copy of a copy of a copy of a demo tape in the mid 1990’s. I knew every song on that tape, and when they produced their first indie CD, I was all over that. (Why yes, I do own a copy of the original, purple Licorice Tea Demos, thank you very much.) I loved every single song on the album. I still do. Each song is a story, a moment in time that takes me back to simpler days.
Then I started going to the shows. I was a teenager and I’d never been exposed to “famous” people before. It amazed me that I was able to walk right up to them and speak. Not that I could, mind you. I was much too awkward and incapable of being civilized to do so.
Then… then I made some friends. From this love of JLC sprang the most intense and short-lived friendship of my life. Relationships that intense always burn out fast because to sustain that kind of energy would likely kill one or both people involved. But this friend, she taught me two important things: first, be fearless. Second, always carry an open heart. It was through her I met the guys.
I was so awestruck by them that I mostly stood in the background and let her do the talking. I was always fairly quiet, but around those guys…they intimidated me. They amazed me. I loved each of them for the things they represented.
I took tin whistle lessons from Matt Bivins when he first started offering them. I’ve always had this crazy love of music, and while I used to be pretty decent with a piano and so-so with a guitar, I loved his versatility, his ability to play what seemed like any instrument he picked up. So I jumped on these lessons. After the third or fourth lesson, I let it fall off to the side, not because I wasn’t capable of learning or because I didn’t enjoy it, but because being alone, one on one with him, was so…. again, intimidating… that I couldn’t sustain it.
I offered to take one of the guys to dinner with Sam and me one time…and two more of them showed up. And one of the others appeared briefly while we were there. She did all the talking. Ward did all the eating. I just sat there and listened, because that’s what I did.
After one of the shows I remember hearing one of the guys ask Sam if I was okay. A good friend had just lost his thirteen-year-old sister to cancer a couple months prior to that show, and one of the songs really struck a nerve. We were right there at his feet beside the stage so naturally he saw my meltdown. But it was really touching not only to know that he took notice, but that he also asked about me by name. When I finally got to where they were, he turned around and grabbed me in the biggest bear hug and for a minute I thought he was going to cry with me.
I was so excited when they landed a contract with Atlantic Records because it meant they’d finally made the big-time. Then the contract was rescinded and it broke my heart for them. But they kept going. For about four years I was at every show they did in Charleston.
After my friendship with Sam ended and I moved upstate, I lost touch with the guys. About a year later, they released their final album and we learned they were doing a show/signing at Manifest Discs & Tapes in Charlotte. My husband was all ready to pack me up and take me up there, but I said no. Part of it was because I didn’t want to get into the discussion about my friendship with Sam and how it had ended, but I also didn’t want to fight the crowd of screaming fangirls.
The fans were scary…still are from what I hear. That oversexed atmosphere, that ego-stroking nonsense…they thrived on it. Most artists do. But I wasn’t interested in climbing into bed with them. I wanted to understand their secrets, as if they’d unlocked some fundamental part of the universe. The great, cosmic mystery eluded and compelled me.
I know now it was the unconscious knowledge that these guys…these were my people. They made nerdy look cool. They were misfits themselves, but ones who appeared to have found their place. And it was magic. This band…it was my unicorn.
Not that I needed to be part of that inner circle; far from it. I was just some awkward college kid who barely knew how to be a person, but these guys were so cool and seemed to have it all figured out. I know I probably came off as creepy and annoying. I was more than a little starstruck at the time, so I could barely speak in their presence. And I smiled. A lot. I know I’m smart, but it never appeared so. But again…I was still kinda new at being a person back then.
I truly didn’t need that acceptance and validation. It was nice to be noticed, yes, but just being there was enough. Most of my interactions with them as people were to put friends closer to them, to fulfill my best-friend duty and sit back to watch. I just wanted to be where they were, to witness the spectacle and maybe absorb a little bit of that creativity for myself.
In a way, my time in the shadows of their glory prepared me for life as an artist. They taught me to be fearless in my artistic endeavors. After all, who the hell brings an accordion and a cello to a rock band? They taught me to be idealistic, to dream openly, and in a way, to embrace failure as part of the process. Those guys were everything I needed them to be at exactly the right time in my life. To this day their music still lies close to my heart. When my father passed away, I immediately went back to them, and this song:
It’s still my go-to when missing him becomes unbearable, because it reminds me to hold onto all the things he taught me.
If I had any clue how to get in touch with Matt Bivins, I’d thank him. First for being nice to the awkward kid I used to be, second for inadvertently teaching me to appreciate tea with honey (I still to this day search for Desert Sage tea everywhere I go), but mostly for the inspiration to create. All of them gave me that, and I can never repay them.
If any of the guys happen to stumble upon this psycho trip down memory lane… thank you. You’ll never know just how much I appreciate your presence, and for allowing me to be part of your world, if even for a moment.