Last night I saw John Mayer at the Forum.
It was a great show.
The first time I saw John, it was a really different experience, to say the least. I finagled my way into the Hotel Café despite being 19 and lacking identification that said otherwise. I sat in the very front of an already small room. I arrived at 7pm to see my good friend Madison Douglas play a beautiful acoustic set, then watched five and a half hours of increasingly intense and awesome music, until at 12:30 a.m., John emerged to no introduction, no announcement, no fanfare. The room released a collective gasp, even those of us who knew he was the secret closer. He played some of my favorites--"Slow Dancing in a Burning Room," an acoustic cut of "Love on the Weekend," "Dear Marie," an underrated track from his less-than-popular album Paradise Valley--and he played some songs I don't get that hyped on--"Who Says," "Waiting on the World to Change," etc. His voice was even more transcendently beautiful live than I could have interpolated from all the live videos I've watched online. His guitar playing was legendary. He was what I wanted him to be and more. I tore a page out of my journal and scribbled a note that said something to the effect of:
Dear John --
You are my greatest musical influence and inspiration. I'm currently studying popular music at USC's Thornton School of Music with an emphasis in songwriting. Every time I sit down to write, I'm trying to write "In Your Atmosphere." I hope one day I figure out a way to do it, and that I make you proud. Here is my email address [redacted] and my phone number [redacted] -- contact me if you are so moved. You are my hero.
When he finished his set, after multiple jam sessions over Bill Withers tunes and a series of encores, I leapt up from my table.
"John!" I yelped. He turned around. Hands shaking, I handed him the folded note--when did I get so bashful?--and he smiled.
"You're my hero!" I blurted.
"Thank you," he said, holding the note up, kissing it (!) and sticking it into his pocket.
I think part of me knew he was never gonna read it, but there it was, attached to his person.
What happened next can be summed up as: I went in the green room to hang out with Madison and Theo Katzman and hopefully get a chance to have a real conversation with John, but dehydration and overstimulation contributed to me fainting--not once, but TWICE. No, that is not a euphemism. I quite literally fainted, mere feet away from my greatest songwriting hero. No word on whether or not he saw or not, because the first time I came to, he was still taking selfies with fans, and the second time I came to, he was gone. I got in the back of an ambulance, they prescribed me food from the 24-hour diner across the street and to Locate My Chill, and Madison and I ate four hundred orders of sweet potato fries and laughed hysterically at what our lives had become.
This second time was more calm. I split an Uber five ways with some other super fans in my program, and while they went up to their seats in the nosebleeds, I sat by myself on the floor. I was next to a very sweet couple who loved John as much as I do. As soon as he came out, we were all losing it. And he really did slay a long and demanding show. His voice rarely wavered, his lock with the drums and bass was the dream of every performance professor in my program, and he seemed genuinely elated to be onstage for us.
But there were parts where he looked tired, and he seemed like he was mailing it in.
I've watched the "In Your Atmosphere" video--conservative estimates only--four hundred million times. I know every vocal inflection and every guitar lick and could probably sing the lyrics and instrumentation a cappella note for note. So when he played it last night and he changed things up, or perhaps forgot his original version...that hurt a bit. And I'm gonna be honest, that video from "Where The Light Is" is one of the most heartbreaking solo performances I've ever watched. Last night at the Forum, 9 years or so later, he wasn't emoting the same way. His raspy voice has this naturally evocative quality, but it wasn't the same. Maybe he doesn't love the song as much as I do. Maybe he was eager to get to his trio set. Maybe he was just genuinely tired from being on the road, knowing he's got many months of touring ahead.
After the show, we rehashed every song in the Uber back to campus, and continued to dissect his showmanship over McDonald's fries. A woman wandered into the restaurant and screamed at the patrons through a hoarse voice that none of us were innocent of sin. We were all college students. Of course we weren't. I digress.
It was 12:30 or so at this point, the same time four months ago when I first saw John Mayer take the stage, and like the previous time, I was more worn out than I thought I'd be. The thing about late nights is that they're not nights at all, that by technical measures it is already the next morning. I got an extra order of fries by accident, and I graciously handed them off. We were all starving, burning through our food at a breakneck pace and having the conversations that all music students have--here's what you need to be listening to, here's who I want to play for one day, here's what John should have played in the acoustic, no, the trio, no, the full band set, here's the best concert I've ever been to. There were lulls borne of exhaustion but never of boredom, because when you go see your favorite artist on earth with other people who love him as much as you do, it is impossible to be bored. But here you thought it was impossible to be tired, impossible to feel weary when you are watching your hero play, when you're someone else's hero and you're playing to a sold-out crowd in one of the greatest cities on earth.
But you can get tired, whether you're awestruck in the audience or up on the elevated stage, looming larger than life above the rest of us. John Mayer is a goddamn human being and I am sorry for ever pretending he was something else. He makes mistakes. His gear doesn't work (and didn't last night, on what one of my buds later told me was supposed to be "Heartbreak Warfare"--DAMN it!). His voice breaks--he had to get surgery in order to get it back, and he thanked his doctor, who was in the audience with us. He has songs he likes, songs he's tolerates, songs he truly hates but knows he has to play anyway. And more than anything--how could I miss this?--he gets hurt. The songs on "The Search For Everything" are about a loss of love that leveled him so profoundly he had to make an album about it. John Mayer is not only breakable, but broken. He gets sick and he gets rejected and he has to pay taxes and this is a job for him, for all of us, last night was a two-hour escape from the drudgery and stress of our lives, but for him, for all the magic and dreams coming true on that stage, he was getting paid for it, and it was work, and there is something about getting paid to make magic that sucks a little bit of the life out of it.
I still love John Mayer. He is still one of my biggest influences. But I don't think I'll ever faint at the sight of him again. And I think I'll cut him some slack if he plays "In Your Atmosphere," and he skips the real ending.