Hello everyone, Katie here, and I am bringing news from the front that is almost too exciting for me to process. If you’re a Podcast listener, you’ve heard about the first time August Cinjun Tate played a Garden Session. I almost missed it. The team needed to be down at the club to get set up and make sure everything was going as it should be, and Adam asked me if I was going to stick around and see Cinjun. I said I couldn’t, but something about the name pulled at me.
“That’s too bad,” Adam said. “I feel like you’d really like his music. I’ll have to get you a few of his old band’s CDs. I’ve got some extras around here somewhere…” It starts to hit me just as he says, “He was in a band called Remy Zero.”
As I often did with Charlie when he was our intern and I needed to be in two places at once, I yelled, “CHARLIE! You’re me for now. Get to the club!” So Charlie left and I ran straight to the front of the Garden, sat with my legs crossed, and watched like a child. Cinjun played a song called “Ghost,” and one called “Gold”— both beautiful and haunting, and very much the kind of writing I’d grown to expect from Tate during his tenure as Remy Zero’s frontman. (The chorus on “Gold” is actually, “You say everything you love about me is what I love about you,” which seems distinctly familiar if you’ve listened to much of Tate’s writing, but there are other markers that seem more narrative and distinct: “It’s like you’re back from the grave/ You’re covered in gold/ I don’t know what to say.”)
But then, before playing “Life in Rain” from Villa Elaine, he played a song called “Thank You” — and I went into meltdown. That song was all I could think about for weeks but I didn’t know yet how much I would come to lean on it. There he was. August Cinjun Tate.
(I’m including the April 2019 version from our Garden Sessions: I begged him to play it again, and the level of ease and calm he seemed to exude was amazing to me).
Special moments like this happen in the Garden. Everyone has a list of lifelong favorite musicians so when you’re in a place year after year like Adam’s house where everyone who walks through the door is a musician— there are pretty good odds that one day you’ll be sitting in front of someone who means a great deal to you. As if that wasn’t enough meaning for one day, Tate was in remission from cancer and I was still struggling to figure out what “normal” was going to look like for me after my stroke and Ehler’s-Danlos diagnosis. So a song like “Thank You” that normalized both the fear and the gratitude for even one more day was the best gift I could have been given.
It’s a song about never getting to be the same again, something I understand all too well and something he discussed with KEXP: “I'm going to be honest – you are never going to be like you used to be. I've gotten to where I don’t try to complain about it because nobody wants to hear that…”.
But being “the same” doesn’t always mean “better” anyway. I think both he and I have tumbled toward that realization. It’s rough, because our conditions are different, but they’re both lifelong— in fact, the day he was diagnosed and found out how invasive treatment would be, he decided not to fight the cancer. But later that day he found out his wife was pregnant with his son, and he wanted to have the chance to meet him. So he spent three years chemo, radiation, and active treatment: three years in hell.
When he finished playing, I went up to him and tried to say something—but I was overwhelmed, and that’s a time most words fail me, still. And he completely got it. There’s an awful picture out there of me crying and Cinjun very sweetly with his arm around me. He just got it. We were going to be different.
“Thank You” taught me that “different” could mean “better:”
If there’s a piece of me left
After this disease, it’s yours
To do as you see fit
If it’s supposed to be,
Then I guess it’s supposed to be
But I, I’m not ready to quit yet
Today all I really want to say is
Thank you, thank you for everything that you do
If there’s a God above
Keeping secrets from the rest of us
I pray he tells them all to you someday…
(If you’d like to hear a slightly more fleshed out version of “Thank You,” there’s one available on SoundCloud— both versions are perfect in different ways, something, again, that’s an apt metaphor:
I remember this past winter, back on the cane, desperately wanting to be invisible but needing more help than ever. Sometimes I just couldn’t seem to close my fingers around books and I’d torn my shoulder up so bad that I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to use it again. Yet I felt the same way Tate did: I didn’t want to complain. I acted tough. I threw profanity instead of gratitude so that I could pretend I didn’t need the help— and then I would repeat the words to that song, over and over, and hope that I’d be able to hear the song again, that I’d be able to feel this kind of release and joy in life, even as it changed around me every day. I wasn’t sure what Tate’s plans for touring or making a record were: I just knew that whatever he did next, I wanted in.
I got lucky. His next plan was “Play the Garden Sessions Again in April 2019” and I was already signed up to be there. In April, he had a crowd— including his family— instead of just me, sitting like a kid. He played some old crowd favorites (one of which I promise I’ll get to at the end) and, as at his previous Garden Session, some stunning newer material.
One thing I love about seeing Tate play live is that you can watch him visualize where the other instruments will be— where they’ll come in, where there’s going to be space for a solo, where he’s going to double his low and high vocals. He’s constantly thinking while he’s playing. That’s part of why it’s so special to see him play acoustic: you get to see the skeleton of all the things he’s creating, still, even if there’s a final product.
For example, a song like “Shoes”—
— seems simple from the outset. The first lines are, “I kinda like your smile/ Your teeth look kind of strange…” which is an easy way to draw people in. He’s not talking to your stereotypical “Uptown girl” here— this is someone with character, and he notes he also likes her “brand new shoes.” I’d posit that it’s not necessarily “shoes” he likes but the idea of someone finding something for themselves that feels special to them, and then the idea of meeting someone else who identifies with that thing, or that feeling, too. It’s a short song: a lot of his are right now, because he’s playing acoustic. (I have a theory he could get the seven minute “Sub Balloon” from Remy Zero’s 2001 album The Golden Hum under three minutes if he just sang it straight through. Also? I really love “Sub Balloon” and will take it however I can get it, but don’t take that as a challenge, Cinjun, haha.)
There are some other great lines from “Shoes,” and I especially like, “I’m your right, your wrong, your ‘at last”— but the way the chorus is tweaked in the last verse is where Tate’s buried the killshot.
I kinda like your smile
Your teeth look kinda strange
I bet you’ve got some darkness
I’d like to rearrange
I bet you’ve got an old man
Who really did a number on you
Still I like your brand new shoes
First of all, “darkness I’d like to rearrange” is one of the most interesting ways I’ve ever heard someone say, “I know you’ve got your problems, and maybe if we put our problems together, we can at least put them in an order that makes sense.” But the way he extrapolates out from the first “kinda like your smile” really shows off Tate’s storytelling prowess: he’s got the ability to see one element of a person and then build a story out from there, both in a narrative and an abstract way. Plus, focusing on the smile— that’s a choice only Tate would make. He can still see the darkness, the scars, the people who did a number on her, everything— but through the smile.
I’ve been a fan of his writing for so long, I wasn’t shocked to see some familiar images show up in the new music: wings that may not quite carry the person to where they thought they wanted to be; light as a beacon, but also something that a person or being can become; water and rain as both cleansing and heavy. Tate isn’t writing completely different material, but there is a directness to it: in fact, his most recent release on SoundCloud is a short song, but it feels like it’s got three completely different movements. Lyrically reminiscent of Tori Amos’s “Past the Mission” and with some throwbacks to Hamlet, Tate is in dark territory with “Underwater”—
I needed to write about this. I have needed to write about this since I first heard Cinjun Tate express what it’s like to find “yourself” in an unfamiliar body that kind of looks like yours, with an uncertain future, the result of a past you never saw coming. I needed to write about someone who understood something I needed help understanding.
I’m sure many of you probably know “Save Me,” because it was a huge hit, and because it was the theme song to Smallville. But more of you may know Remy Zero than you think: almost every person in my generation owns the Garden State soundtrack and that includes “Fair,” from Remy Zero’s 1998 masterpiece Villa Elaine. I don’t think I have to say anything about this song, as it speaks for itself— but I will say, if I write one verse as good as this, I can retire—
But you're alive!
Well, it's only
Fallen frames, they told me
You stand out, it's so loud
And so what if it is?
It's cold as you face into the wind
Where'd it go to? tonight the sun shall see its light
So my parting gift to you will be August Cinjun Tate’s parting gift to us in April…
And we hope you’ll be with us to see him play in November at the Rockwood Music Hall. It promises to be an intimate, interesting, and musically diverse set. My guess is it’ll be all of those things by the time he finishes his first song.