Do It Again (And Again)

As far as my mother is concerned, I am finally a bona fide success.

The Nadas are midway through the second set of their third night at the Iowa State Fair. The Anderson Erickson Amphitheater is jam-packed. Josh Davis and I are pacing backstage, sharing a water to sober up. He’s fiddling with his hair. “Your hair looks great,” I assure him.

Josh and I stand behind swinging, smoked-glass doors. Red and yellow light spills through the cracks. I hear Jason speak over the din of the riotous audience.

“We started our label, Authentic Records, to put out our own records. And recently we’ve asked some of our musician friends to be on the label. This next guy is one of ’em. He lives in New York City, and had his first corn dog today. Please welcome our friend Benjamin Wagner.”

I step into the light, shielded from the gaze of a few thousand Nadas’ fans by a well-worn cowboy hat. The audience roars its welcome. I look up to a sea of anonymous faces stretching hundreds of feet in each direction. Jason hands me a guitar, and I begin strumming “Do It Again.”

“I was born in Iowa City…”

The crowd roars.

“Both my parents grew up in Waterloo…”

The crowd roars.

“And when I told my mother I was performing at the state fair, well, she told me that I’d really arrived.”

I begin singing. The band comes in. We’re huge. I stomp around the stage. I strut along the front row, gesturing to each fan. I fall to my knees during Mike’s solo. I call Josh onto the stage for the last chorus. He and I lean into one mic, Jason and Mike into the other. I am stone drunk on adrenaline. I am twenty miles high and rising. I never want the feeling to end. I step onto Justin’s drum riser, raise my left fist, and leap. Justin crashes his cymbals. We are done. I mouth the words “Thank you” to each member of the band, and slide off stage.

It may not make sense to some why I would leave New York for ten days in the Midwest, then turn around four days later and, well, do it again. It may not make sense to some why I would make a record here, some one thousand miles from my apartment. I think it’s just starting to make sense to me.

Every album, Jason reminds me, is a historical document. “Crash Site” is reckoning with my parent’s divorce. “Almost Home” is about my doomed bicoastal relationship. “Love & Other Indoor Games” is about all my other doomed relationships, and my intent to get it right… someday.

“Heartland,” I think, finds me one step closer. To what or whom I’m still figuring out. But I’m pretty sure it has something to do with Jason and Stephanie, Mike and Jon and Justin, Smitty, Charidy, Mandy, and a whole bunch of other good people I’ve met along the way. It has something to do with the drone of locusts, the whisper of crickets, fireworks, crescent moons, and deep, brown, rich earth. It has something to do with slowing down, opening up, letting go, and doing it again.

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