Evan Nachimson, Uncle Bob, and Shelter (part 2)

He speaks with his arms in the air.  Gesturing, waving, shrugging.  His hand rises to his chin and an eyebrow raises as he struggles to feign a straight face.  A subdued laugh ripples through the hushed crowd as he pauses.  The chuckles splash over and he revels briefly in the flickering light.  As the laughter subsides he cedes the focus to another man, steps behind a keyboard, and fades into the dark.  This second man is not much taller and stands with the headstock of his guitar reflecting off his round glasses in the candlelight.  The keys of the piano twitter like a bird flitting toward the window and then quiet.  The punch and jangle of guitar strings break the silence, joined later by the thud of bass and the plink of the keyboard.  The audience sips on drinks and sways with the music, eyes trained on the trio in rapt attention.

Evan began his musical training the same way that many others do.  He taught himself chords and songs and even began writing on his own.  After some time he began to take lessons during which he was taught more songs.  After a few months he became dissatisfied with his lessons and moved on.

Shortly thereafter his father found a competition in the newspaper.  It was a talent show for local performers and the winners would receive a gift certificate to a local music center called Music Workshop.  Evan entered and, in the first public performance of his life, he played an original song called “What Hurts the Most” and received second place.  For that second place finish he received a gift card and began going to Music Workshop weekly.

“I started going there for lessons and thirty minutes a week turned into an hour a week; an hour a week turned into an hour plus rehearsal of a band; then that turned into two hours, then voice lessons.”  Evan pauses as the waiter walks up to our table and I send him back to the bar for a second glass of whiskey.  “Then I recorded an EP, when I was sixteen, of songs I had written.”

Evan had access to extraordinary resources at Music Workshop and became close with his teacher there.

“He was just cool.  He was the coolest guy.”  Evan says as the waiter replaces my melting ice cubes with a short glass of liquor.  “We would just hang out really.”  I take a sip.  “He would expose me to more and more music.  He gave me the Real Book and was just teaching me chords.  Because I had already been writing songs, he just wanted to teach me structure and stuff from the American Songbook.”  The glass strikes the table with a thud and the cubes clink against its walls.  “It was really invaluable and it just seeped into my songs, you know?”

There was never much doubt in Evan’s mind that he wanted to continue studying music formally.

“I knew it was all I wanted to do with my life.”  He speaks calmly and matter-of-factly as chairs squeak against the hardwood across the room.  “I wanted to get better and that was really just my main goal.”  

He pauses to wash his food down with a sip of water and I look out the windows over my shoulder.  It’s dark but my mind drifts to somewhere brighter, past the streetlights and buildings and racket of the city.  The sun peers through the clouds, still low in the sky and the Saturday dew still hangs on the grass.  My stomach warbles and jolts around the curves in the road and the tires grip the asphalt as my right hand guides the car, by way of the steering wheel, through the dense thickets and trees and myriad hills and hairpins.  Birds call and my socked feet switch rapidly from the gas to the brake and back.  Slowing as the guardrail approaches and sinking into the floorboard as the sharp curves dip beneath the steel gray clouds.  As they fade in the rearview mirror, the engine whirs above my knees and the radio crackles from the center console.  A brittle and bright harmonica ricochets from the sputter and cough of the speaker.

’Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood.  When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud.  I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form.  “Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

During his junior year of high school Evan decided he wanted to go to Berklee College in Boston, Massachusetts to study music.  Many of the musicians he admired had studied music at Berklee and it was one of only a handful of schools in the country that offered programs in songwriting.  That summer he attended Berklee’s summer programs and completed his first semester of college work.  He went back to high school, finished, and returned to Berklee to work on his degree there as a full-time student.

“I didn’t really hang out with people when I was there for the summer.  I was nervous -- and probably insecure.”  He pauses, looking up from his plate of french fries as he finishes licking garlic from one of his fingers.  “I guess I had never been around so many musicians”

Evan’s writing continued improving, though his actual process didn’t change that much at Berklee.

“I would just play.”  He says as his attention returns to the fries.  “I just feel like that’s how I get better.  It was all just fiddling around on the guitar until I’d find a chord progression I would like.”  He smiles.  “I would always just sing gibberish and that’s how lyrics would come out.”

Though his process remained stream of consciousness, he began to refine his writing in college by rewriting and revising his lyrics extensively.

“But then I went too far with the refining and forgot about the improvisation of writing.”  The whiskey pours down my throat collecting in a warm pool in my chest.  “But at Berklee, I was listening to an album a day for the three years I was there so I just went all back in time.  I listened to railroad music and Alan Lomax recordings and got into Bob Dylan and listened to his discography and he became my hero right away.”  I remove the glass from my lips and place it haphazardly on the table in front of me.  “He always said that he wouldn’t write unless he had something to say so my goal at Berklee was always reading and trying to find the things that I was passionate about and wanted to say to people.”

Evan began diving deeply into his books.  He read J.D. Salinger, Vladimir Nabokov, Oscar Wylde, Jack Kerouac, an assortment of biographies and autobiographies, poetry, and other classic works of literature.

“I was just trying to soak in everything.”  The table beside us begins collecting their coats and moving toward the door.  “I remember one winter break I went to the library every day and just read poetry and read anything really.  I would write down words that I liked and imagery that inspired me.”  He smiles.  “I love adjectives.”

As another sip of whiskey warms my ribcage and Evan takes a long draw from his glass of water my mind drifts briefly to the basement.  The jaunty percussive chunk of the guitar ends in an explosion of applause and he steps from behind the keyboard.  With an exaggerated shrug and wave of his arms, he coaxes another burst of clapping and hollers from the cross-legged audience.  A girl stands up and fiddles around behind him as he talks over the murmur of conversation and the hiss of bottle caps loosed from glass.  The girl taps him on the shoulder and he smiles as he raises both hands high above his head.

“Three, two, one, shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”

Writing, MusicPeter Amos