Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
There is no confusing what Tom Higgenson uses as his life saver, his life preserver and his life line. We're talking about a guitar here. It could be a specific one or just any old six-string leaning against a wall. It's all there is for him and that isn't to suggest that he's got any limitations or he's missing out on anything. It's not a shallow indication of a guy standing still or scrimping on showers as he's obsessively practicing with his Martin or Gibson in his basement, maybe even naming the hollow-bodied piece of wood and wire something cutesy or hard and calling it baby when the lights are low and tumbling around on the floor. The lead singer for the suburban Chicago band Plain White T's struck it big with a song about a cute track runner who was refusing to be swooned by the little guy despite his charming claims that he'd be making history with his flying guitar someday, playing the same song that she was doing her very best not to love. The song was a super, smashing hit that put Higgenson's sleepy pop hooks on every single pop radio station in America, onto every iPod in America and into the Grammy awards ceremony - where the guest of honor was that very same, stubborn looker of a track runner, getting all the attention. Higgenson likely stopped b a television set tonight as the 51st annual Grammys were being shown and had a fond remembrance of a year ago. He might have even gone off to his room to that trusty guitar and done something about that remembrance, something that could be as lasting as that "Hey, Delilah" tune. Just a week ago, a lengthy New York Times feature profile of Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, prior to his team's Super Bowl loss to the Steelers, began with Warner in his home, battling his daughter in karaoke, singing that T's song. It's his song, apparently - the go-to song. He said that he could relate to the sentiments of getting a pretty girl to believe in his dreams because it followed his career arc identically. Who can't, really, to some extent? There's that about the Plain White T's and damned if that likeability doesn't automatically making them considered abhorrent by everyone else, by all of the people listening to !!! and Deerhoof or something deemed so hipster friendly and hipster proud. But all of it's just hooey and buffoonery, for music doesn't need to be approved by the cognoscenti and though tonight's Grammys featured a duet performance by 19-year-old Taylor Swift and 16-year-old Miley Cyrus, singing a seemingly comatose song (for a 30-year-old) about a 15-year-old's first day of high school, there is a line that goes, "Cause when you're fifteen and somebody tells you they love you/You're gonna believe them," and it's one we can all appreciate. It's not complicated. It's not anything Animal Collective would write, but it's something that extends a bridge from long-gone youth into adulthood that makes you revisit those days. Higgenson and the T's do that exact same thing with the kind of pop music that - no kidding - has more in common with Buddy Holly and Frankie Valli than it does with The Starting Line or Good Charlotte-dom, as many would love to lump them. He and his lyrics are fighting to get out of the romantic uncertainty of the early 20s alive. There are all of these girls out there and all of the different ways that life might go and they all have the potential for disastrous outcomes. He gets knocked out by ladies and he can't help it. He serves as a reminder of the powerlessness that guys ultimately have and there's often begging to be done, concussions to work through. He's hoping that it isn't too long before the weight might get lifted from his shoulders and the good times have truly come along. He's been inclined to believe they never would and that's why he keeps the guitar close by.
Plain White T's Official Site