“You could hardly even see him in all of that chrome — the man with the plan and the pocket comb. And every night it carried him home.” ~Marc Cohn
I stood outside the record store at ten minutes to midnight, the year was 1998, and I think some Jay-Z album was being released. I know there was a host of people waiting there with me, blasting lyrics from the man himself, so I guess I just assumed. I wasn’t there to get anything from Jay-Z. It was way past my bedtime, and I had other things in mind. Because one of my favorite singers had a new album coming out, and I promised myself I would be the first to hear it.
Fast forward 20 years, and I was once again waiting, but this time it was outside of the Palace Theatre in Syracuse, with a bunch of old white folks. Sure, 20 years had gone by, but I was still as fascinated by the man who sang “Walking in Memphis,” the man whose voice speaks to me so personally, on every level. I pinched myself, the classic technique, because I had just heard him deliver a passionate concert, an intimate retrospective of his material that didn’t miss a note. And I was about to meet him.
Now, I’ve really never been much of a celebrity stalker. Sure, I’ve waited by a few tour buses in my time. I met Busta Rhymes quite by accident once too. Hell, I got an autograph from George Peppard at the Civic Center in Philly in the late-80’s, but those moments were few and far between. And I had never gotten to meet one of my musical idols. By the time I saw Marc Cohn a couple months ago the idols who were still alive had drastically dwindled. Who knew if I would ever get another chance?
I remember the first time I heard Marc Cohn. It was on a radio hitdisc CD, one they put together of songs the station was playing, or should be playing, or whatever, but these were CDs that were not for sale. I bought one, though, when I found it in a hole in the wall CD shop downtown, because it had a TLC song on it, one that I liked. The third song on the disc was “Ghost Train” by some guy named Marc Cohn. On first listen I completely fell in love.
By that point I hadn’t yet heard his epic “Walking in Memphis,” but his voice was captivatingly haunting. It drew me in… in ways I hadn’t been drawn in before. I hunted down his self-titled debut and listened to it from start to finish. Lucky for me his second album was also out by that point, and I found it quite by accident in a used CD bin for a buck. From then on I made it my purpose in life to purchase every used copy of Marc Cohn CDs I happened to find, and give them to my friends. If I found enough of them I planned on giving them out to strangers too, randomly on the street.
When 1998 rolled around, and he still only had those two albums out, I was pretty depressed. I wanted more of his music, so I went online to search him out. As it turned out he had an album coming out that next week, and I counted myself blessed. Which is how I found myself outside of HMV at minutes to midnight, waiting for “Burning the Daze” to be released. A couple of months later I was in the second row at the TLA on South Street, watching him live for the first time. It was a dynamic show, easily one of the best I had ever been to, and second row was amazing.
Then… nothing. Well, not “nothing,” but my life moved on. I headed off to Tennessee, and then to upstate New York. He went on tours that went nowhere near where I found myself. He released a few albums that I treasured. And I found other artists who began to take my time away, to siphon off bits of the enthusiasm I had for Marc Cohn. Then, last year, I rediscovered my love. I put him back on heavy rotation. I analyzed his lyrics. I got those chills again when I listened to “True Companion.” I knew I had to see him live again, but he hadn’t released an album in a few years, and it seemed like he still wasn’t coming anywhere near.
In July my wife told me he was coming to Syracuse, that she had seen it randomly while looking at her Facebook feed. I have no idea how it happened. She isn’t a fan of his Facebook page (and I am). Somehow it had slipped through the cracks, or he added it at the last minute, because I found it out there online. I found where he was going to be at the Palace Theatre, a mere hour and a half away. It was a sign. It was meant to be, that 20 years after I had first seen him live, I was destined to see him again.
Which is why I found myself in that hallway outside the theater, waiting for Marc Cohn to arrive to sign autographs. I was dancing on my tiptoes in anticipation, talking to the ladies before me and after me in the line. I found out that they were groupies, that they had seen Marc several times this year, but it was the first he was going to be signing autographs where there wasn’t a massive line. It was going to be their first time meeting him too, and we were all giddy like schoolgirls. I didn’t care.
It was everything I wanted it to be, meeting Marc Cohn. He was everything I expected and more. So humble, even though he is so gifted, so soulful in every way. I had bought a shirt there at the show, but I didn’t offer it to him to sign. Instead, I said, “I saw you twenty years ago, and I thought it was the best show ever. Tonight you topped that. I just want you to know how instrumental you were to my coming of age, to my growth as a human being. Thank you.”
I never saw his pocket comb, but boy, did that man measure up to his plan. It was well worth the 20 year wait.