One of the first and most talismanic signs the universe gave that a certain wordsmith was going to spend the rest of this life and all the next ones, forever, madly in love with the elemental czar that is the lead singer of The Vines was the fact that, the first time I ever saw Craig Nicholls, he had the telling, all-encompassing mantra “PETE YORN” painstakingly inscribed in huge, black, blocked Sharpie letters all the way down the entire real estate of his left forearm. No verbal explanation, personal acknowledgment, or further caption to that impromptu-but-profound semi-tattoo was needed. The ink was washable; my grasp of what it meant, permanent as pyramids. Any girl with even an eighth of a brain dreams of a tempestuous urban jungle boy that could not just get but extol a thing as bighearted as Pete to that high a level of concentration. For, Pete Yorn has always been the person to pay attention to, and the tribalistic passport to require of any prince.
At the time, Pete Yorn was the “new thing” that no one could quite classify, but also the one everyone who was the just-around-the-corner kind of cool had adjectives full of fishnets and crystals for. He was fresh off the ambuscade of infectious success that 2001’s musicforthemorningafter had sprung upon him, and already showing himself as the icon of invention he is now recognized to be. Many back then wanted to corral Yorn’s sound within the last flickering embers of the New York anti-folk movement, or sketch him as the levelled-up and querent next page after Michael Penn. But there was none of the C-suite confidence or selective ruthlessness of downtowner-in-chief Roger Manning, nor did Yorn sound particularly menaced, robbed, or starved. Most of that was likely because our fellow is not from New York. He is breastplated in the ultimate outer-borough colour-de-roy – a birth certificate that reads New Jersey – and all that such an accolade implies.
Though Pete Yorn wasn’t successfully fighting the city of New York in 1985 to restore music to the subways like our beloved Mr. Manning, he was soon to be exhibiting a serial fascination with the subcultural, in any form, and recording vexed histories like a whole new breed of steadfast radical. If you are in need of some smelling salts for your equilibrium at this point in the year, Mr. Yorn graciously livestreamed Day I Forgot in its sequential entirety for your excursive pleasure on Sunday, August 30th – and not even a day prior to Mr. Nicholls’ 43rd birthday, no less. All hail blue chip cosmic coincidences!
One more time with feeling, for those who might not have had the privilege back in the days we were forgetting: Day I Forgot came out on April 15th, 2003. It was and remains an album of umber. Yorn’s longtime garage collaborator, Walt Vincent, was joined for this second symposia by fellow producers Brad Wood, Ken Andrews, and Scott Litt. Perhaps the most telling part of the behind-the-curtain tinkerage for any Yorn-newcomer is that Day I Forgot was mixed by Andy Wallace, who brought you both Jeff Buckley’s Grace as well as no less than three pivotal Slayer records. It is inside a dichotomous sound that wide-ranging that Pete Yorn is a natural habitué. You don’t have to look electrocuted to understand his swagger or read overcultivated fiction to appreciate the skying proclivities that make up the fundamental architecture of his songwriting.
Pete Yorn has freely admitted that he wanted to make a rock record when he approached Day I Forgot. He more than succeeded, and emerged with a set of singable monastic truths that seem to have been obtained by scaling the derelict scaffolding of a much muddier morality. Like any worthwhile piece of art, this record never fails to feel current and his poleaxing inflections to both syllables and musical phrasing are the puffed stickers on your last school lunch box before you supposedly got too hip to carry one. Yorn is both denim and tweed, sultry with a sulk, the streetwear side of searing. It is a suitable uniform for an artist given to valid representation of the districts of delibation characterizing any kind of human closeness.
But Pete Yorn’s are not lullabies made from Butterick patterns, though he has long been rightly hailed the Mosaic law for anthemic descants. The anachronistic lyrical ensembles of Day I Forgot are all Jackie Kennedy classic, and every inch as timeless. Yorn’s sonic references show that he has made a meal of every piece of music in the proverbial milk crate and is an equal friend to every color of songcraft. To couch it all in the matelot pants of a Grease reference, Pete Yorn plays in Rizzo riffs, but writes his cobalt chordal textures in the untarnished belief of Sandra Dee. The songs of Day I Forgot could never be called “easy,” but they’ve certainly slut-walked from an eager backseat hijack or two, and brazenly bear proprietorial hickeys from their Kenickies, if you will.
Yorn opened the full-acoustic livestream of Day I Forgot with the quip that it’s coming to us in the year we might want to forget, as he sat surrounded on all sides by the soul of his tiny daughter, Ellington Bee, her artistic specter holding court over his in the form of countless adorably boondoggled art pieces on the wall behind him. He started by confirming that this record is about the lost characters of both coasts in the division between the faithful and the trust-fatigued of this world, and that these songs take place inside the feeling you get when reminiscing with old friends about whole events, time periods, and people that have, up until that spontaneous reconceptualization of them, utterly faded from your conscious memory. Day I Forgot lives in those places where you encounter oxidized versions of yourself, the Chinese finger traps and spinning teacups of recollection.
Yorn strummed into “Crystal Village”, its themes of our innate hunger for returns to relationship genesis conjuring images of a sought-after sculptor or silversmith, working in the preposterous medium of nostalgic pyrite. Such a gorgeous contradiction, that tune. He gave you a direct nod to New Order in “Pass Me By” and a first-time-ever-played-live “Committed” that glimmered like a heart obedient to a fault. “Long Way Down”, the warning tale of a romantic renovation listing to the side, scintillas of charred overfamiliarity whirling in its atmosphere, gave way to Yorn’s confession that he did not feel he had “tour legs” prior to the 18-month trial-by-fire stretch of caravan that accompanied the vehicular momentum of musicforthemorningafter. You’ve got to admire anyone who still unerringly chooses to lead with a glass jaw in such life scenarios, no matter what.
Having only shortly become a father himself, Yorn’s own parents loomed lovely and large over this entire performance. “Turn of the Century” was delivered like tussling hummingbirds on his childhood piano, the very one he shared out that his mother tried to enforce a hyperactive boyhood union with, all to no avail, of course. “Burrito”, a song about the unique frostbite of first loves, was sweetly revealed to be his father’s favorite of all his compositions, and Yorn then speculated that the ‘old man in the kitchen’ of the signature “All at Once” may well be some imagined future version of his true ‘old man.’ When Columbia Records gave him carte blanche for Day I Forgot, Yorn said he did not hesitate to request the services of another authoritative luminary who had a hand in his musical making – the astronomically gifted Peter Buck of R.E.M. – who played mandolin on the album version of “Man in Uniform”.
Closing with “Suspicious Minds,” Yorn told of how the Sweet Inspirations (Elvis’ very own backup singers) sang behind him on this one for the extended release of Day I Forgot, complements of an assist by the one and only Lisa Marie, a vocal and early fan. Liz Phair, the one-woman demolition who gloriously and irrevocably proved women not only could, but should be raffish, sang in the Sweet Inspirations’ stead on another recorded version. This was all alongside our intrepid subject writing Break Up with Scarlett Johansson.
One could easily encapsulate the nature of Pete Yorn’s separateness and sophistication by restricting an examination of his career to the arc of women alone that have converged to work with him. Amazons of the aforementioned caliber do not have to work with any male artist, and thus the line of legendary ladies that proudly claim shared space with Yorn represent a living Bechdel test not many men in his category could pretend to pass, let alone to have humbly attracted via sheer force of worth.
People that knew about Pete Yorn in 2001 justly felt like they were part of an agog discovery in tandem. By the time Day I Forgot came around, his rabid supporters (this pen person included) became and stayed a wayward batch of phillumenists – but one in which the ‘matchbooks,’ rather than housing dormant fire, were all filled with sticks of stories and sightings, pre-lit always with the primordial torch of what Yorn’s records meant to individual and collective lives then – and the continued conflagration of what they mean now.
It is safe to assert The Killers’ Brandon Flowers as the definitive flashpoint where Springsteen melds into Bowie, and likewise to recognize and embrace Pete Yorn as the one-man Sorbonne where Springsteen studies cybernetics with The Smiths. Brilliantly disguised as a pauper baron, Yorn is still creating and winning little competitions with himself, still quietly teaching the native value of informality. By far the most excellent of the “stills” in play here, tickets can still currently be bought via the Veeps website for both this livestream and its musicforthemorningafter predecessor. More have been promised where these rapturous gems came from. If nothing else, these acoustic livestreams hammer home an almost 20-year-old truism: Pete Yorn never yet created a day any sentient person could possibly forget.