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02 February 2007

"We all need a little tenderness."

Near the Hotel, Kamloops, BC, 29-Oct-05

"How can love survive
in such a graceless age?"

One of my favourite musical memories involves Ben Lee. Strangely enough, Lee isn't one of my favourite musicians, though I don't dislike what I've heard and have a fondness for him as a person because he's been very generous to my friends' band.

Nevertheless, on an October night a couple of years ago, in a club on the Lower East Side where I met up with these friends, Lee made a great impression on me. He took the stage and covered "The Heart of the Matter." That's right: the Don Henley hit.

I know I'm old, and perhaps that's why I don't hate this song. I know a lot of people think it's overly sappy and a very fine example of sensitive-dude-with-ponytail songwriting. Still, at its core -- when stripped of its possibly distracting MOR instrumentation -- "The Heart of the Matter" is a fairly honest reflection on how a jilted lover might share some of the blame for a broken relationship. That show at Sin-é wasn't the only night that Ben Lee performed this song, and it might not have been the first time he did so; yet, at the time, he had just pulled through a breakup with his longtime girlfriend, and this gave the words of the song a deep resonance.

It was Lee and his guitar alone, which might have been as cloying as some find the original Henley version, but thankfully, Lee didn't opt for theatrics. He didn't burst into tears in the middle of the song; he didn't smash his guitar to bits in a fit of rage at the end; he didn't stop playing and tell us, with a shake of his head, that he couldn't go on. He just played the song and sang in his normal, soft and slightly wistful voice, which was perfect.

He made it seem as if he had written "The Heart of the Matter" about the woman whom most of us knew had left him for another man, or as if the song had been written for him by Henley in a moment of prescience. Really, as obvious as the lyrics might be, they tap into feelings we've all had. That night at Sin-é, Lee made the sentiment hard to resist. He took a song at which most of the people in that audience would have scoffed and turned it into a confession; this turned us into confidantes, and we responded gratefully.


TRACK LISTING: Don Henley, "The Heart of the Matter"

5 comments:

Mat The W said...

He's also covered the Modest Mouse song "Float On" which is somewhat better than the original. I'm big modest mouse fan? I really wanted to relate to the covers theme, although relating to Don Henley probably would have been more appropriate here. =P

Miss Imperial said...

I LOVE the Ben Lee cover of "Float On"! (Plus, I do believe Pony Up are the backup band, or at least part of that band, on the track.) I'm not a huge Modest Mouse fan, mainly because I haven't heard much of their stuff, but I definitely heard "Float On" and liked it. Still, I prefer the Lee version...it just seems like a better interpretation.

You don't have to say anything about Don Henley if you don't want to!

/a said...

I love that song (The Heart of the Matter, I mean).

Miss Imperial said...

Yep -- it's a great song.

Also, you're old, too.

haha

/a said...

True.