At Java Joe's last Friday night, local luminary Gregory Page unloaded his pretty songs to a small crowd and said it would be his last performance of the year.
“San Diego's tired of me,” he candidly admitted afterwards.
Are they? Tired of a songwriter who has been featured in Rolling Stone, a man who has penned tunes for punk legend John Doe? Are they tired of Page, or is San Diego, as a vacation culture, incapable of appreciating the art of melancholy, duped into a perpetual pursuit of bliss?
The test may lie in Page's artistic compatriot, Tom Brosseau, though he may not be around long enough for the results.
“My music is sad. And I'm just one guy. I don't really think I can do the type of music that I do in San Diego,” says Brosseau, who just released his EP, 5 Songs, on Page's Bed Pan Recordings. “It's a beach town; the sun is always out-people seem to like music that's more upbeat.”
Let's be clear: Brosseau's not complaining. But I am, pressing him as to why he's considering leaving San Diego for Boston. Brosseau's melancholy croon-a sweet, high-lonesome warble that sounds plucked from the 1930s-and literate songs garnered him a nomination for “Best Acoustic” at this year's San Diego Music Awards, despite only releasing his debut album late last year.
I initially discovered Brosseau at the behest of Adam Gimbel, vocalist for Rookie Card and curator of M-Theory Records' weekly acoustic showcases. “My favorite local artist right now-Tom Brosseau,” he told me.
I discovered an effeminate voice that can break your heart. And simple, rustic imagery like, “All the birds on the lines on the telephone pole/bend to the ground all in a row/far away it looks like a necklace of stones.”
Brosseau grew up in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He started playing guitar at age 11, inspired by his multi-instrumentalist grandfather. In the late '90s, a 500-year flood destroyed his family home (they had no insurance). Worse, an intruder entered his fiancée's apartment, bound her and raped her at gunpoint. It changed Brosseau's life, and music, forever.
“I think that's one of the main reasons I come from a sadder place,” says the soft-spoken 26-year-old. “It was an overwhelming situation. I couldn't buy a gun and hunt him down. You have to trust the justice system.”
The rapist was eventually caught, and, after a series of trials, he confessed. He's still serving time, but Brosseau's relationship with is fiancée never recovered. He says she lost trust in everyone, including him, though the two remain friends and she's since married and had a child.
“I think I have a bit of sadness because of it,” he says. “It affected how I am as a human being and opened my eyes to different terrors. I wish it hadn't, but it happened, and you grow from it.”
For the songwriter, who moved to San Diego two years ago, growing means setting goals. “I will be somewhere within a year,” he says, joking that while he's “always talking existential, I'm talking about my music in this case.”
So far, so good. Last year, Gregory Page handed Brosseau's debut album to John Doe. Doe liked what he heard, passing it off to friends-Jakob Dylan, Aimee Mann, Rhett Miller, Juliana Hatfield, etc. A few months back, Hatfield's tour manager called and asked Brosseau to open up three dates, one in Boston, two in New York.
“I heard that it was received well,” he says, cautiously humble. “It's nice. I heard there was something written up in the Village Voice, but I never saw it.”