You gave me a language to dwell in — a gift so perfect, it seems my own invention. I have been thinking your spoken and written thoughts so long, I believed they were mine. I have been seeing the world through your eyes so long, I believed that clear, clear view was my own.“James Baldwin’s Eulogy” by Toni Morrison, The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations
I’m just going to come out and say it: I cried. Multiple, big, crocodile tears at multiple, big, crocodile moments. Seeing Sara Bareilles live — let alone Sara Bareilles at a sold out Madison Square Garden — was a dream I had been harboring in my heart since early 2008. And yet, when she walked out on stage, I almost missed her because of the lack of pomp she possessed. Striding out confidently but without fanfare in a red pantsuit, she moved to the piano to open with the chorus of “Orpheus,” the track whose lyrics gave her the title for her 2019 album Amidst the Chaos. Despite the fact that I had been slowly working my way into seeing a concert of her own portfolio for years — having seen her at the Hollywood Bowl during Little Mermaid Live and as the lead in Waitress on Broadway — nothing could have prepared me for this. The entire set lasted 2 hours and encompassed not only her newest album but key tracks and fan favorites from all albums (including What’s Inside, the pre-release for Waitress). Some highlights: (1) the soaring incorporation of “Satellite Call” in “No Such Thing”; (2) the absolute silence in the audience when she closed with “Gravity” and (3) the way she adored her band and opener, Emily King, to the point of showering them with praise and recognition during the set. Not only was she talented, she was kind.
Which, in all honesty, only cements that my borderline infatuation with this artist has been justified since my mother took me to Best Buy in 2008 before my basketball awards dinner to pick up Little Voice based upon the fact that I liked her cameo in a television provider commercial where she sang the chorus of “Love Song.” We — we being the Sara Bareilles fan base — all know the one. But my mom took me all the same. I had been attending weekly voice lessons for three years at this point. We sat in the car outside Panera Bread in her Yukon listening to the album, “Love Song”‘s iconic Gm, C, F, Bb surrounding us. Track played to track. She turned to me, “You should take this for your next session with Ms. Parker.”
Her voice floated through the speakers that day in 2008 and nestled her understanding deep into my skin, my lungs, my heart, to a point where she allowed me to echo its reverberations in a way that enunciated and empowered my very own self. In her eulogy for James Baldwin, Toni Morrison said that he gave her a voice. Sara — her first name feeling as comfortable as that of a dear friend — was my foremother for years, and continues to be. She knew the joys and absolute terrors of jumping into a world unknown (“Uncharted,” “Chasing the Sun,” “If I Dare”). She bolstered me with not just one move across an ocean but two. She knew heartbreak: the deep, despondent lows of unrequited love (“1000 times,” “One Sweet Love,” “Between The Lines”), the destructive realization that some relationships just don’t work out (“Manhattan”) and even the more cursed combination of the two when you love someone who you just can’t move beyond (“No Such Thing,” “Poetry By Dead Men,” “Morningside,” “Gravity”). She also remarkably was there when I did move on from each of these heartbreaks (“Little Black Dress,” “Fire”). She embraced me in my quest to find independence and — dare I make the pun — bravery in my femininity (“Brave,” “Armor,” “Eden,” “Let the Rain”). She was there for each of my a cappella auditions (“Bluebird,” “Gonna Get Over You”) and my final performance (“Stay”). She heard me when I felt lost, depraved, unworthy, and yet desperate for a glimmer of hope (“She Used To Be Mine”). And one day, I will walk down the aisle to her voice (“I Choose U”) and sing my children to sleep with her music (“Everything Changes”).
Yes, this is my Love Song to Sara Bareilles. And while it is not that Gm, C, F, Bb chord progression that sticks in everyone’s ear since that Comcast commercial way back in the early millennia, it is the best I have to offer: my words. Thank you, Sara, for a magic from that moment ’til now and what promises to continue. I’m just grateful — from the remainder of my thirteen year old heart — that I was able to witness the magic in person.