I’m 13 years old. I’m my English Lit teacher’s prodigy, my school bag is covered in colourful pin badges from that stall in the Brighton Lanes, my haircut and colour can only be described as ‘attempted emo’, and my favourite thing to do upon getting home from school is grab a handful of bourbon biscuits and settle on the sofa to binge on E4’s collection of American comedies.
Back then, all my peers were just discovering ‘Friends’, which I liked, sure, but my absolute favourite had to be ‘Scrubs’. I loved following the adventures of John Dorian, aka JD; the daydreaming intern who danced to George Michael’s best bangers before starting shifts, idolised the grumpiest, meanest physician and coined the hair styling technique of ‘mousse and twist’. I learned so many fancy medical terms, saw every kind of friendship – and became obsessed with the songs they’d play in particularly emotional scenes.
This was how I came across Joshua Radin, the self-taught singer-songwriter from Ohio, who actually attended Northwestern university with Zach Braff (JD) and Cary Brothers (who became another regular contributor to the ‘Scrubs’ soundtrack) and sang the most gorgeous, sombre songs in his unique, whispery voice. I first heard his most famous song – the first he ever wrote, and one he still plays at every gig – ‘Winter’ when it was played during a surprise funeral scene. Yes, I know, whut? Trust me, it was a shocker nobody expected… and sure enough, when I type ‘Scrubs’ into YouTube, the first auto-complete search result I get is ‘where do you think we are?’ – also known as the gut punching moment when we realised it wasn’t a kid’s birthday party, but a beloved character’s funeral. Ughh, my feels.
Anyway, I was soon firing up iTunes on the family computer – after waiting patiently for the phone line to connect – and listening to the 30-second sample a couple hundred times before ordering the album We Were Here on that big warehouse website I will not mention (but was parodied perfectly in a recent episode of ‘Doctor Who’).
I can’t explain what I felt the first time I heard the opening track on that sweet little album. I remember it seemed very strange to hear the voice I’d come to know so well singing just one particular song – a beautifully dreamy, hauntingly melancholy song – suddenly making different sounds, the hushed voice now working, and playing, with a different tune.
I remember not being sure about ‘Sundrenched World’. That one was a slow burn. ‘Star Mile’ will forever be a classic (‘remember the face; the girl who had made you her own, and how you left her alone’), and ‘What If You’ is a favourite I discovered years later upon re-listening (‘when the sun hits your eyes, through your window… there’ll be nothing you can do’). ‘Amy’s Song’ is unexpectedly dark (‘sometimes, sometimes I wanna be – I scream that I wanna be – anyone but me’), while ‘Today’, the song he wrote for a beautiful older woman he sat next to on the train once, as a kid, is perfectly bright and hopeful (‘I sat beside you and became myself, today) – no wonder Ellen Degeneres had to have him perform it during her wedding!
Soon, I came to know the words to every song on this album. Then two years later, I saw Joshua (she says, as if he’s a dear pal) perform in a teeny rock club in Brighton, situated almost under the pier; his voice warmed the room, drowned out the sound of the angry sea, and made the black walls sparkle. I enjoyed his sweet chattering between songs – in a voice that at first seemed drastically different to his singing one – much deeper, and somehow more American-sounding – but after hearing it between songs all evening, the two different tones blended and complimented each other perfectly. He would tell his audience why and how he wrote each song, before playing it, and sometimes this would be a story (“A fan once gave me a photo to sign, and it was of me and my ex. I shut myself away and wrote for the rest of that day”) or just a few words (“this might be my saddest song… so far” / “this was the first song I ever wrote, when I lived in New York”), and I lapped it up, storing all the information. And now, a decade on from that night, I have seen him a dozen or so times in total and can tell you what song he’s about to play from what he says before it; “he just mentioned his friend’s kid, that means he’s gonna play ‘Everything’ll Be Alright’!”, “he’s talking about his punctured eardrum, we’ll hear ‘Underwater’ next”, etc. And yes, that can annoy whoever’s with me at the gig…
I think any album that comes out of this guy will be special to me. But the songs that never fail to make me weep at his gigs are the ones on this album. Once, he opened a gig at the beautiful Union Chapel in Islington, with his gentle cover of ‘Only You’, and I sobbed. I really cannot think of a better first love, album-wise.