Its November 2002, and Pagan Kennedy of the New York Times, searching for a way to describe the fawning reverence of Conor Oberst’s young fans writes: “Maybe years from now they’ll be known as members of the generation startled out of puberty by 9/11”.
It is through this quote that I back-peddle, knowing now that Oberst’s McCarren Park show at Northside Festival last week, preceded the massacre in Orlando by several hours.
At a time when Americans adjusted ideologically to the opposite of security, Conor Oberst’s career jettisoned from local music notoriety to cult-ish teenage fan stardom. The life events Kennedy mentions (9/11 and puberty) are experienced both as universal facts and deeply subjective breaks from reality: the value of these breaks is derived from the shock-not merely of having happened-but from the shock that the world we thought we were experiencing before, is not the world we know after.
Aside from his unquestionable lyrical gifts, Conor Oberst has a voice. Paste Magazine writes: “he trembles at all the right moments“. The angst of Conor Oberst’s voice-both vocally and lyrically- is a world that, like adulthood, reveals itself slowly. The former Bright Eyes singer’s voice evokes uncertainty. Yet the contours of Oberst’s singing are unpredictable and frequently just out of tune, many a fawning fan has alighted to that Omaha tremble.
While his lyrics can harken to the sophomoric monotonies of some early Dylan repertoire, at his most sincere, Oberst has few peers. There is something reassuring in “First Day of My Life” when Oberst sings: “This time I think it’s different / I mean I really think you like me”.
The near futility of writing a concert review after Orlando is compounded by the equal near-futility of re-encountering the irreality of what is not new but an escalating series of worsts, and the simultaneous ritualization of response.
In a perfect system, “First Day of My Life” does not make sense as a Conor Oberst song. It is, on paper, almost too symmetrically romantic. But under the guise of Oberst’s sound, the song becomes a paean of hope; a hope that, while this time, even if love is too perfect, and seemingly never happens, it could happen.