An Essay about Musician Andrew Bird by James Bonner

Discovering Andrew Bird: A Personal Journey Through His Music, Violin, and Whistling

His shows seemed artsy-fartsy. Almost as if an artist had made life his medium, and then, in a stretch, pained himself to express his dissatisfaction through music. A musical portrayal of suicide by art, that’s how his music came across to me early on—I remember that, although I’m not sure why his music before I started listening to and appreciating it, came across to me that way.

And then, sometime between the release of the Mysterious Production of Eggs and Armchair Apocrypha (I can’t remember exactly), I heard a few scattered songs, maybe in the background of a house party that I never should have been at in the first place; music compilations, movies, “song similar to,” on Pandora, I have no idea. In some ways, I feel as if Andrew Bird has always been a part of my life, in other ways, it's as if discovering him was an accident; serendipitous perhaps, and altogether dissimilar to the music I had been listening to at the time. In any case, Andrew Bird has evolved to be one of my favorite musicians. I might live the rest of my life in its entirety listening to only a handful of artists as they write and produce new music and Andrew Bird will always be one of them. He’s a violinist and a “professional,” whistler, and he uses a variety of instruments and sounds when making his music.

One thing I can’t decide if I like about Andrew Bird’s songwriting is that he’ll continue to work on a song, even after it’s been released—like a remix, except not—until he thinks the song is perfect. Even if it’s already pretty damn perfect; he’ll go and rewrite it, and rerecord it, and one song might become three, or four, or five songs. Bird is as OCD about his music as one can come and a perfectionist. Andrew Bird will stop a live performance if a song misses the tempo if something doesn’t sound right, and then restart the song. I’ve never seen anyone else do that. I've seen musicians like Dylan or Oberst forget their lyrics because they're drunk and continue singing hoping no one's noticed what's happened. Aside from Andrew Bird, I have never seen a musician interrupt a song because it doesn't sound how they expect it to sound.

Perhaps, my inexplicable connection to Andrew Bird’s music has something to do with the fact that he seems to follow me everywhere I go. I walked into the Guggenheim only a couple of times in my life--the Guggenheim was not a museum I visited regularly--yet I walked through the doors and Andrew Bird was playing a small, free show. On another occasion, while I was living in Salt Lake City, the first time I went to the Twilight Concert Series in downtown Salt Lake, and by chance, Andrew Bird was headlining--I had no idea. I did see him at the Paramount in Austin, Texas, and the Lensic in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Neither of which were coincidental. Bird always seemed to be where I was. I’m not complaining, his music is among the most intentional and nuanced that I’ve known; he’s an incredible musician, and the genius in his songwriting is remarkably underrated.            

Obviously, I've come to appreciate his music, and now I can listen to the Mysterious Production of Eggs and Armchair Apocrypha again and again from beginning to end, and even after hearing each album dozens and dozens of times I still hear something new. If you haven’t yet listened to Andrew Bird, start with Roma Fade (Live at WFUV)  Are You Serious (Live on KEXP), or Danse Caribe Bluegrass Underground (PBS), they’re all live and available on YouTube or, for something a little different, Tables & Chairs Live at Bonnaroo (this song doesn’t illustrate his talent, nevertheless it’s a fun song), only Tables & Chairs, of the songs named above, track on either Mysterious Production or Armchair Apocrypha, yet they are some of my favorite Singles in Bird’s catalog.

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