(Found on YouTube: a camera-phone video from Friday night’s show)
Some of you know about my obsession with the movie “Once.” It’s really not a healthy thing. I’ve seen the movie four or five times now, listened to the soundtrack probably 100 times, watched all the DVD extras, read way too many interviews with the stars. This is all time I could have spent working out or cutting the grass or maybe reading the philosophy I now have as homework for one of my classes. Maybe by now I would have been able to understand John Stuart Mill. Probably not.
The couple at the heart of “Once” — Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova — were playing in concert up here, so of course we went. The show was at the Boston University hockey arena — not exactly the perfect venue for soul-searching acoustic music — but when you have a hit movie and 5,000 people want to see you, a hockey arena it is.
Hansard is the frontman for the Irish band The Frames, who were onstage about half the time and closed the show with their signature song, “Fitzcarraldo.” A few people hollered out requests for Frames songs. But most of us came to see Hansard and Irglova. A beefy guy in a Red Sox cap three rows in front of us kept screaming for “The Hill” — Irglova’s heartwrenching piano ballad about a woman who feels invisible to her lover. It was like watching a dockworker beg Barry Manilow to play “Mandy.”
But when you strip away the beefy guy and the hockey arena and everything else, you’re left with two people making music. This is why “Once” hit me so hard. It’s not just a story with music in it, it’s a story ABOUT music, why it means so much to people, why people are willing to sacrifice so much for it — fixing vacuum cleaners to pay the bills or playing in the street all day for tourists who never throw you a dime.
(One of my ironclad rules to live by is this: Always pay the street musician. This turns out to be a problem here in Cambridge, where at any given moment in Harvard Square there are roughly 642 street musicians.)
It turns out that Hansard and Irglova were walking around Boston the afternoon of the show and ran into a street musician. It also turned out that the guy was coming to the show. So — you know what comes next, right? — halfway through the show they invited the guy up on stage to do one of his songs. (You know you’re in Boston when… the street musician has a Web site.)
Hansard was a busker himself in Dublin, back when he was a teenager, and he still plays the beat-up acoustic guitar he had back then — it has jagged holes where the pick guard should be. He plays it hard. But he can also play it slow and pretty — usually when he’s singing with his partner in music and in life.
“Falling Slowly” won an Oscar for Hansard and Irglova — they had the best moment in the Oscar show, where Irglova got cut off trying to give her speech and they brought her back after the commercial. They’re both professional musicians now, making serious money, but they give off the feeling that they’re still scrambling — Hansard was proud to announce that he had shopped the Boston thrift stores and paid 3 bucks for his shirt.
Sting isn’t a real person to me — he’s such a star that he’s somehow other than human. Prince, the same way. Even Springsteen, even though he tries harder than anyone to prove that beneath it all he’s a regular guy.
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova still feel like real people. Maybe it’s just because we’re catching them at the right time. But maybe it’s because they’re just as surprised as we are at the moments when we find our gifts, and the moments when we fall in love.
They played “Falling Slowly” early in the set Friday night, and when their voices came together you had to imagine that they heard what we heard, that no matter whether it was love or friendship or whatever, once they made one voice out of two, they had to be together.