Evan Nachimson, Uncle Bob, and Shelter (part 1)
I watch the light glint off of the dusty bottle as it passes from hand to hand under candlelight in the dark basement room. The light winks, flickers, disappears, and appears several feet away as my eyes dart behind. Following it like a firefly. At the front of the room stands a man, preaching before his congregation packed into the basement like parishioners on Christmas Eve. His arms above his head, gestures animated, candlelight illuminating a mischievous smile and sharp clever eyes, he holds court. The boom of his voice, the force of his gestures, and the volume of air he sucks from the room of rapt eyes and crossed legs make him seem eight feet tall. The bookcases to his right, however, fall upon his waist so as to put his actual height about two and a half feet shy of the impression he leaves.
Evan Nachimson sits across the table from me as I sip on a glass of whiskey and eyeball the clock over his shoulder. He smiles from under a week-old beard, asks me about my day, and tilts his head attentively as I answer.
“You taking pictures?” He says as I pull my camera and recorder from the orange backpack beside my seat.
“Yeah. So you probably shouldn’t have worn that shirt.” I reply with a wink.
“I love this shirt.” He winks back as he takes a sip from the glass of water in front of him.
Evan was born in Baltimore, Maryland.
“That’s B-A-L-T-I-” He laughs as he begins.
His earliest memory of really enjoying music was sitting in the back seat of his mother’s car as she drove him around while doing errands. She often played what she described to him as “Oldies” stations. The music of groups like The Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac immediately attracted him. He sat in the back of the car and imagined what these groups would look like and what it would be like to see them play on a stage or to be on the stage with them.
As he grew older, his musical tastes began to broaden. When he moved from elementary school to a larger middle school, he made new friends and encountered music he had yet to spend much time listening to; most notably pop music, hip-hop, and rap.
“I remember going home after middle school and being super excited to turn on BET and watch the top ten countdowns.” He laughs as he pushes the glass of water away from him on the table. “And I would write it down and take notes and go on Limewire and download it.”
As Evan finished middle school his focus became guitarists and singer/songwriters he heard on the radio, like John Mayer. Though John Mayer was Evan’s favorite songwriter all through high school, he became enthralled with a great deal of the pop music he was hearing on the radio.
“I remember just being obsessed with it. I remember always just dancing,” he pauses briefly. “Dancing poorly in my parents’ family room.” He stops. “I just loved songs on the radio really.”
He began tracing the music he heard on the radio back to Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Ray Charles and others. His love of pop music led him to pick up the guitar in eighth grade and, shortly thereafter, to begin writing songs. He became so devoted to music and writing that he lost interest in sports, and video games and all the other things that had occupied his time in middle school.
“Right when I started playing guitar I knew; ‘this is what I want to do.’” He pauses to take a sip of water as a waiter walks up to the table with a massive basket of french fries. “Right when I started writing songs I knew; ‘I have to do this for the rest of my life’”
I sit on the floor playing cards in the orange light of the old lamp. Next to it, on the couch, lies a temporarily abandoned crossword puzzle, half filled with blue felt tip scratches and characters. The pen lies, capless, on the cushions and bleeds blue ink gently into the brown fabric. I flip cards and stack them in layers. Diamond on club on diamond on spade on heart. I slap the aces hard on the carpeted floor as raspy acoustic guitar and the round thud of an old 60s P bass tumble from the stereo in the corner. A hoarse wail leaps from the speaker as the piles grow higher and the pat of bare feet from down the hall grows louder.
“Not a word was spoke between us, there was little risk involved. Everything up to that point had been left unresolved. Try imagining a place where it’s always safe and warm. “Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”
Even early in his experiences with music it was apparent to Evan that he was using the guitar as an outlet. He played to say things he had trouble saying in other ways.
“It was more-so from the need to express something - something I wasn’t able to express on my own.” He pauses to fish a french fry from the basket between us before continuing. “I was sort of a shy kid. I think I still am.”
At the time he began to play guitar and experiment with songwriting, he was also dealing with challenging experiences at home.
“My sister was struggling with some addiction problems.” He says, his eyes growing darker in the dim light as he finishes munching on the french fry. “I was considered too young and was sort of on the outside of it still.” He looks at me calmly as he continues; “Looking at it from the outside was super difficult for me and to try to understand what was going on. And to feel like my voice mattered. Because I love my sister.” He fidgets with the napkin in front of him but his eye contact is steady. “I couldn’t communicate to her - I just didn’t have a voice for it.”
It was during this experience that he began singing and searching for words. As the words took shape he began to put them to music using the chords he had learned on the guitar and they became his first song.
“I finished writing it and I remember feeling like ‘I can’t wait to play it over and over and over again.’” His gaze becomes less serious but he doesn’t break the eye contact. “I couldn’t wait to share it with my parents - and my sister.”
The clinking and clatter of plates into sinks and glasses and silverware onto heavy wood tables starts to drown out Evan’s voice as I strain to hear him across the table. The dim orange light flickers like candles and I’m back in the dark basement as applause and the hissing of opening beer bottles and chatter of conversation piles up, filling the room to the low ceilings. The celebrant pushes his way to the front of the room and holds three fingers in the air. The bubbling of noise continues as heads turn and eyes train casually on his outstretched hand. He drops his fingers one at a time as he speaks with quiet authority:
Three, two, one, shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh