zerode – a sensibility


film, music, text, city, spectacle, pleasure

Song of the Day: John Gorka, “I Saw a Stranger with Your Hair”

There was a woman in Michigan, when I was in grad school.  She was sitting on the N Judah yesterday evening when I boarded, and from the way my whole body went cold when I saw her you could have guessed how much I feel I hurt her.

It wasn’t her—someone who sat in the same way, bending over her book with a particular intensity that was so familiar to me, her hands clenching just so, the line of her jaw, and her dark hair… But as I said, it wasn’t her. I saw a stranger with her hair.

John Gorka, “I Saw a Stranger with Your Hair” – from his debut album, I Know (1987)

And here it is live, which is really how this kind of music is best heard…

Telling stories. Connecting with our lives in powerful ways—riding that shortcut through the limbic system to our hearts and hormones. Songwriters like John Gorka and Warren Zevon take a guitar and a few words—words that you and I use every day, to no particular effect most of the time—and make wonderful new things. Tell stories that move us, shake us, or make us laugh. And tell us what we’re feeling—as Gorka here captures some of what went on for me when I saw that stranger with her hair on the streetcar yesterday.

John Gorka (born 1958) is a contemporary American folk musician. In 1991, Rolling Stone magazine called him “the preeminent male singer-songwriter of what has been dubbed the New Folk Movement.” (via Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

It seems strange to think of Janelle Monáe and Prince, Betty Everett and Linda Ronstadt, Billy Bragg, John Gorka and Warren Zevon, Fela Kuti, and Leopold and His Fiction—maybe even Bach and Glenn Gould—as all engaged in the same project. I guess that’s why we make these genre distinctions—classical, pop, rock, soul, folk, and so on—but even so… Maybe the project is only the same in the broadest possible sense—the making of culture. Maybe Bach’s Goldberg Variations have more in common with a painting than they do with John Gorka, and Gorka is more like a short story than like Janelle Monáe—who, by the way, in case you were wondering, totally danced up on them haters on Friday.

But music… no, there is a way in which all those disparate musicians are indeed involved in the same project, and it is different from short stories and paintings. Part of that difference, part of the key to understanding that difference is in that shortcut to the limbic system. Our brains process music in ways different to how we process words and pictures. And how marvelous the diversity of ways in which we humans have found to explore that process—from Bach composing complex but soothing keyboard exercises for an insomniac to John Gorka singing of how he “saw a stranger with your hair.”

I guess this means we’re back in heartbreak territory, though…

Filed under: Song of the Day, ,

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Creative Commons License
zerode by nick chapman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Oh - and hello to Jason Isaacs.

The 400 Blows


is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.


What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

tweeting my mind



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