June 2012, I walked out of the Fillmore in San Francisco with a poster from The Head and the Heart. My sister and I had swayed and sang along to words and sounds that were gaining more and more traction in the world.
I’ve listened to The Head and the Heart’s music many times since that show, without much thought of who these people really were and what was going on their lives. Meanwhile, they’ve been evolving in their own storylines.
Fast forward to last night, I found myself at another San Francisco music venue, Cafe du Nord, smaller and more intimate, lining up to see Josiah Johnson. Josiah was one of the main singers and songwriters from The Head and the Heart. He was no longer playing with the group. He had struggled with the touring life, with addiction, and had to pull away from the band’s momentum.
Back on stage, he said “I’m grateful to be here. Sometimes I’m just grateful that I get to do anything at all.” I looked back at the audience behind me, faces aglow, many seemed to know the band members personally. I realized I was at a very special show for the musicians on stage, many members reuniting after some time apart, the three bands all collaborating and playing together in different constellations. It had the kind of intimacy I wish all live music could hold onto.
It felt like everyone knew Josiah’s journey, and had some sense of what he had to grapple on the way to being up on stage again in new form. Between the lyrics from the band The Feelings Parade and Josiah’s new songs about loss and recovery, I had never heard so much self-awareness woven into song structures that still felt catchy and contemporary. I felt like I was in therapy.
With songs from The Feelings Parade about ‘avoidant attachment styles’ and processing trauma that comes from being made unsafe in your body, and songs from Josiah about the world not falling apart when you have a bad day and to remain open to the magic in other people, I saw all of us as kindergartners.
We were being reminded of the basics — feel your feelings, be nice to others, be nice to yourself, love fully.
I shed tears many times. The sweet earnestness of all the musicians on stage, their words landed right in my tender places. And it made me think of how the world could be made better if adults were sung to, were talked to, with soft and strong messages of the basics.
What little I knew about this man’s journey — the jump from seeing Josiah play at the Fillmore, when I didn’t know his name, to seeing him play new songs with a new band, for old friends, and a whole lot more learning having been done — fit squarely in my growing awareness about what evolution as someone transitioning squarely into adulthood looks like.
I’ve been thinking about growth and how it doesn’t always look like someone continuing to see win after win. Growth isn’t always about getting bigger and healthier, at least not in that young looking kind of way. I see people around me grappling with big questions, looking inward and trying to make sense and come to terms with what they see inside, and it often leads to withdrawal, sadness, break downs. It isn’t always pretty. Sometimes it doesn’t clearly look like growth, but something closer to regression. As people seek to heal childhood wounds, they have to go back before they can move forward.
It feels like there are certain golden times, ‘heydays’ for a group of people. And, since “nothing gold can stay”, the time passes. Some people struggle more than others with the change, they cling to how things once were. Others move on quicker than it feels they should.
The Head and the Heart had their heyday. And then things fell apart. Now the original band has mostly regrouped but are playing songs made with different songwriters, trying to embrace a new pop rock sound. Josiah is writing his own songs, deeply personal and even more emotive. It feels like “the Head” and “the Heart” separated and I am reminded of how, if I had to choose, I would prefer the heart, but how the original pairing felt in balance. People really responded to the balance.
So both sections of the band, have arguably grown, but it doesn’t look as linear as you think. It’s more that they just learned some things and are showing up in the world with energies and messages that reflect where they want to go next. It isn’t about being better. It is just about being where they are. It’s about evolving into whatever next phase you need to be you.
Sometimes that more honest, clear version is a tired but resilient one that feels somehow both more broken and whole.