January 25th, 2011
I get to The Porterhouse in West Seattle on a Sunday afternoon. It’s my new favorite place for the extensive selection of beers that’s always rotating, for the list of brews waiting in the wings, the excellent chowder, the bartender who is a beauty and knows me by name, who welcomes me with a smile, “Hi, Dave. How’s it going?”
“A slow easy day thus far. What can I get you?” I look over the list. “How’s the Laurelwood Free Range Red?”
“A touch of hops, and I know you don’t like hoppiness, but you should try it.”
“OK, let’s do it up. I never had a free range beer.” She pours a pint. I take a sip, make the usual yummy sound. “I like it.”
“Thought you might.”
They stream music from Pandora here, and it’s a surprising mix, a wide variety, but at the moment it’s Guns and Roses, and that’s a band I just can’t stomach anymore. I know I mentioned that before, but it’s worth repeating. I don’t think their music transcends the years well at all. In the mood for something different, I pull a CD out of my laptop bag. I look at the cover, a heart with wings and roses, a bird’s head, very cool. It’s Kristen Ward’s latest, Charles. I’ve been stuck on it ever since seeing her perform an acoustic set at the Gibson Showroom in Seattle last week. It’s a beautiful CD of acoustic tunes, mellow stuff, songs of heartache and loss that make such feel real. Her voice is low key but more effective and beautiful for it. It blends with the music and the loss, the heartache therein is palpable. I hand the CD to Nancy.
“Can you put this in?” Nancy takes it, looks at the front, the back. “Sure. Why not?” She puts it in the stereo in the counter under the register, and Guns and Roses thankfully goes away. There’s a blend of acoustic guitar and plucked notes that could be guitar or mandolin. It’s somber, soft, full of longing as Ward sings, “Love makes us all children again and again and again.”
Nancy smiles, “I like it. She has a beautiful voice.” Being that it’s a slow day and I’m the only one in the bar, Nancy leans in front of me and we just listen. The music captures us in the way only music can. It envelopes us, lifts us to a shared moment. A guy reading poetry in the corner just wouldn’t be the same. We could be anywhere sharing a beer and getting lost in the sound. She closes her eyes for a minute, even has a few sips of my beer before refilling it.
The tunes go on. Ward sings, “When I first saw you I knew that I’m gonna a die of a broken heart.” It’s one of the songs she played the other night accompanied by Gary Westlake. The audience was simply transfixed by the quiet intimacy of the moment. There was no other sound in the world but those acoustic guitars, that voice, “…I’m gonna a die of a broken heart.”
“She sounds so sincere,” Nancy says. “You ever had your heart broken?” She speaks it in a way of genuine interest. She’s still leaning in front of me but now she’s concerned. Ward’s music has made her so.
“I’m 41. What do you think?”
“Me too. Ain’t life a bitch.” She grabs the empty pint glass and refills it again, has a sip before setting it in front of me. She looks almost to be relishing the moment, the music, and dare I say, my company. We get through the whole CD but leave it on repeat, and the first song comes on again. There’s that aching voice, “It’s you … it’s you for me,” but that’s not the best of it. The song ends with Ward singing, “I sing a song about broken hearts, and how I got this way.” And that’s it. The song just ends. There’s no resolution. It’s a perfect way to capture the feeling. The broken heart wants the last goodbye, the last moment, something, anything, but so often it just isn’t there. It just ends, nothing tied off, nothing resolved, just lives going in different directions, one glad for it, one left wondering where it all went wrong.
Nancy picks up the CD case and reads a quote from Ward on the inside cover, “…Love is a word and only so long, and never so long as the endless of us.” She sighs, and says, “I like that,” before stepping to her right to refill the single pint glass we’re going through at a good clip. And it’s the sigh, the refill, and certainly the music that have me feeling a little bold as we get again to the third track, “San Sebastian Del Oeste”, my favorite, and as Ward is singing, “I will see my baby once again…” I speak up.
Nancy pauses, smiles the easy smile of appreciation at being asked out, of knowing someone desires her. She tilts her head slightly to her left and considers me for a moment.
Ward goes on, “…when I see my baby once again in San Sebastian…” The song drifts into a trumpet solo that brings goose bumps, stands arm hairs upright.
Songs of heartache such as these do not drag one down. They lift. They soar. They give one belief that the miracle is possible, that one only has to ask, that she will say yes…
Nancy is still smiling. She sips my beer, and we both know what’s coming.
See Kristen Ward live February 24 at the Showbox at the Market
and April 23 at the Treehouse Cafe
Live Performance Photos by Todd Hobert
Charles cover art by Kristen Ward