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By Michael E. Miller
Dear Chris Carrabba:
Hi, this is Annie. Um, I feel kind of weird writing this letter to you. I interviewed you a few weeks ago, and I don't normally do this kind of thing -- violating the whole journalist/ subject, objective/distance thing, you know.
However, I couldn't help but scribble some words to you after our brief talk. I mean, you were on an airplane, set to fly across the country, and you still took the time to talk to me in between announcements about stowing overhead luggage. That simple gesture made me feel like more than just another writer asking you the same questions for the millionth time.
Then again, your entire career as the singer and lyricist behind Dashboard Confessional has been about forging personal connections with people. After you left Florida emo torchbearers Further Seems Forever, you strapped on an acoustic guitar and started writing these absolutely searing songs about breaking up. Stuff like: "And when did your eyes begin to look fake?/I hope you're as happy as you're pretending," from "Screaming Infidelities."
God, have I been there. Stupid asshole men.
Still I can't imagine how you could possibly reveal so many of your innermost thoughts, LiveJournal-style, to audiences night after night. I would feel completely exposed.
"I've said it before, but it's still true. It varies night to night from being very, very cathartic to being very ... just sort of tapping you in a place and never letting you out," you explained to me over the phone. "Because you're constantly reliving and revisiting an experience.
"I don't know if that's healthy. You have that night where you're like, 'Is this healthy? Should I be doing this?' And then you go out the next night, and you get it all out of your system."
Yeah, I can see that. Especially when your first concerts were just you and a guitar swallowed by a cavernous stage. Talk about vulnerable.
But your bravery in doing something like that is really admirable. To have the courage to talk about feelings of loneliness and despair -- from your personal life, no less -- really makes a difference to your fans. You're absolutely heartfelt and real, and fans can see that.
I'm sorry to gush. Ack -- I feel like all of those earnest, tear-streaked teenagers at your concerts screaming about infidelities right back at you. But you know what? As dorky as this is, I think it's pretty cool to go to your shows and see the camaraderie and devotion you inspire. It gives me goose bumps to see how much you mean to people.
"It's powerful for sure, but it's supposed to be the other way around. The audience is supposed to be in awe of the performer," you said, laughing. "I've spent every night in complete awe of my fans and being outplayed by them and inspired by them. Even when it was me in a basement, I thought it should never be ... me on one side and them on the other. It just didn't make any sense to me. That goal that I set out to accomplish, I've been able to maintain, and I'm happy about that. Even though the shows have gotten bigger, the dividing line isn't necessarily any bolder."
And man, have your shows gotten bigger! You opened for Weezer just two summers ago, and now you're handpicking bands to tour with you this time around -- introducing excellent new young bands such as Say Anything to your fans.
Seeing the way you built a fan base with relentless touring and the way you want to give exposure to bands you like reminds me of another band I love. I mean, your last disc, A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar, reminds me so much in places of early R.E.M. "Am I Missing" retains the blissful jangle and sprightly bass line of those boys from Athens, Georgia. Their 1984 album Reckoning, and the twang of "So Beautiful" and "Bend and Not Break" are majestic, mystical catharses.
But Scar certainly isn't Murmur, Part Deux: "Hey Girl" is a full-on alternarocker in the vein of Bob Mould's Nineties band, Sugar, and the acoustic delicacy of "Carry This Picture" sounds like a John Mayer song, only good.
You're too modest to make these comparisons, even though your idols recognize your talent. You recently had the privilege of singing songs from R.E.M.'s classic Automatic for the People for MTV2, and Michael Stipe himself showed up to sing your hit "Hands Down" with you. I probably would have thrown up from excitement and nervousness. I mean, what if Stipey didn't live up to my expectations?
"You'll be happy to know that he's exactly who you hope he would be," you reassured me. "Kind, funny and patient and witty and everything. Everything you'd hope. R.E.M. is an amazing, amazing band. All of my bandmates agree. They're timeless and perfect."
Again, the characteristics you attribute to Stipe are so much like you. That's why it makes me sad to hear the backlash launched against you and your music. People always bitch about how your music is wussy or how you're a crybaby or whatever.