SongWriter is a podcast of stories and “answer songs,” featuring performances by Roxane Gay, Joyce Carol Oates, Ted Leo, Susan Orlean, Sarah Jaffe, and Michael Ian Black. You can hear an exclusive preview of the episode featuring Ethan Lipton and Sarah Jaffe at Noisetrade.
I was so excited when Sarah Jaffe agreed to do a live performance of SongWriter that I worried I had gotten confused and had to Google her. Had I accidentally gotten in touch with the renowned journalist? I was relieved to find that I was indeed talking with the Texan songwriter.
But now that she was on board I needed a writer who would inspire her. I had been meaning to get playwright and musician Ethan Lipton on SongWriter for a while, and I asked if he had anything that might fit. To my surprise, Ethan sent me a short fictional speech — he told me that he has written a number of these for various occasions, in a series he calls Occasional Speeches. The one he sent me was a heartfelt and hilarious commencement address that offers surprising advice to the graduates.
Sarah loved the speech, and wrote a song that contains some of her own advice. She said that connecting with another person—whether through their art or just conversation—is a special thrill.
“There’s an excitement just in relating to someone,” she said. “When you’re talking to a friend and they say this kind of thing that you felt yourself. When someone says it, it’s this exchange. I might not know this person—I don’t know Ethan—but what he was saying, I was like, ‘Oo, ooo! Me, too! Me, too!’”
The night of the show as I watched Sarah soundcheck, I recognized something familiar myself. Occasionally when I’m on tour the opening act is just far and away a better performer than I am, and whenever this happens I have the same knee-jerk animal instinct: DO NOT PLAY AFTER THEM.
Watching Sarah that night I had the urge to flee the venue.
The next live online SongWriter show will feature novelist Odie Lindsey and songwriter Mary Gauthier.
Listen to the latest episode of SongWriter at Noisetrade.