I fell in love with Jenny Lewis the moment I heard my first Rilo Kiley track. It was “Glendora” from The Initial Friend EP. My friend who turned me on to the song warned me that I would never hear it live. Apparently Jenny still has such strong negative associations with the story behind “Glendora” that she refuses to perform it. I don’t know if that’s true, but for whatever reason, I’ve only ever heard the album version.
I immediately got my hands on Take Offs and Landings. My devotion was instant. As obsessed as I was with Jenny Lewis’s voice, the lyrics spoke to me. I listened to “Science vs. Romance” on repeat: “That’s not to say I don’t have good times / But as for my days / I spend them waiting.” What exactly was I waiting for? I don’t think I could have answered that. Just keep in mind I was a very melodramatic 16-year-old.
This is around the time I started going to Rilo Kiley shows. I soon realized Rilo Kiley was a very L.A. band, and as a rare native Angeleno, I was into it. They were hip (without being so hip that I was intimidated), but more to the point, they seemed so at home in Los Angeles. There were few other groups that really got that.
My first Rilo Kiley concert was at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. It was an all-acoustic concert — very intimate. I remember we saw Tobey Maguire there. When Jenny sang “With Arms Outstretched,” she walked into the audience. It was the closest I would ever get to her. Even as a very gay teenager, I had heart palpitations.
This was around the time I began to suffer from depression. Along with seeing a therapist, my self-care involved listening to The Execution of All Things on repeat. It did me good. “A Better Son/Daughter” was my fucking anthem. I can’t tell you how many times I sang along to these lines in tears (I could, but you’d judge me)—
And sometimes when you’re on you’re really fucking on
And your friends they sing along and they love you
But the lows are so extreme that the good seems fucking cheap
And it teases you for weeks in its absence
But you’ll fight and you’ll make it through
You’ll fake it if you have to
And you’ll show up for work with a smile
And you’ll be be better and you’ll be smarter
More grown up and a better daughter
Or son and a real good friend
And you’ll be awake and you’ll be alert
You’ll be positive though it hurts
And you’ll laugh and embrace all your friends
And you’ll be a real good listener
You’ll be honest, you’ll be brave
You’ll be handsome, you’ll be beautiful
You’ll be happy
When More Adventurous debuted in August of 2004, I went to Amoeba in Hollywood for the in-store release party and concert. I remember having a lot of feelings — more than usual, even! — because I was on the verge of leaving Los Angeles and moving to Berkeley for college. I also got to meet Jenny, finally, and I was lame enough to admit I’d named my iPod after her. “You named it Jenny?” she asked, then smiled. “Cool.” I guess sometimes being a superfan isn’t the worst thing.
More Adventurous got me through my tumultuous first year at college. “Portions for Foxes” was about the emotional consequences of casual sex. The title song spoke to the growth that comes from a broken heart. But it was “The Absence of God” that really resonated with me. To this day, it’s my favorite Rilo Kiley song. This track was just me: “And I say there’s trouble when everything is fine / The need to destroy things creeps up on me every time.”
Home on break from college in late 2005, a friend’s boyfriend shared Rabbit Fur Coat with me. This was Jenny Lewis’s first solo album, a collaboration with The Watson Twins. And it hadn’t been released yet, which made this friend’s boyfriend my new favorite person. He said he didn’t love the album, but I was as smitten as ever. I loved the alt-country sound. And the lyrics felt personal, more than they had on the last Rilo Kiley release.
Rilo Kiley’s next album Under the Blacklight came out in 2007. I was thrilled at the chance to review it for my college paper. Few tracks struck me the way past songs had, though I loved “Silver Lining” and “Under the Blacklight.” I listened to those as much as possible, but mostly I stuck with my Jenny Lewis album. Rabbit Fur Coat was in constant rotation.
Whatever uncertainty I felt about Under the Blacklight vanished with the release of Jenny’s next solo album, Acid Tongue, which was gorgeous and perfect and exactly what I needed it to be. I saw Jenny in concert and even followed her to Portland so I could see her open for Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band. (My love affair with Conor Oberst is a story for another day.)
I finally got to interview Jenny — along with collaborator and boyfriend Johnathan Rice — when the duo released I’m Having Fun Now under the name Jenny and Johnny. Full confession: I didn’t love the album. But I did love chatting with the two (here’s the piece I ended up writing) and hearing about their collaboration. It was always a joy seeing them perform together.
When Blake Sennett announced Rilo Kiley’s break-up, I was sad but not surprised. They hadn’t put out any new music since Under the Blacklight, and it just kind of felt like a done deal. Jenny was touring on her own, and Blake had his band, The Elected. What depressed me the most was Blake talking about the “deception, disloyalty, and greed” that led to the break-up. I guess I’d long sensed trouble in Rilo Kiley paradise, but to actually hear it spelled out — that was rough.
And then, amazing news out of Sundance — Rilo Kiley never broke up. They’re actually releasing a new album of live and rare tracks, which is awesome for a couple reasons: first, new Rilo Kiley, and second, there’s a ton of great music diehard fans have been listening to via bootleg recordings for years. Let’s up the production values and make this legit.
If this is the final Rilo Kiley album — and I expect it will be — I’m confident we’ll continue to hear great music from Jenny Lewis. My passion shows no signs of dying down. Last October I saw Jenny and Conor Oberst play together at the Fox Theatre in Pomona: It was one of the greatest shows of my life.
Whichever path Jenny decides to take next, I’m excited to be along for the journey. So while I know the song “Godspeed” is about a break-up, it’s always sounded hopeful to me. It felt fitting to close with it, even though my love affair with Jenny is very much “to be continued.”
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