In this series of posts called Project Personal, I’m exploring new territories while telling personal stories. Most of the times the starting point will be a recent cinematic or television experience, but now and then I will wander off to other domains like in this case of The Night Game. I hope that these “madeleine moments” will bring back memories and tales worth to be told and shared with a broader audience. With these pieces, I aspire to give you something more to think and feel about.
It All Started in NYC
To kick-off Project Personal I am going to write about a personal obsession of mine, how I got to discover my favourite band of all time, their debut album and why creative living is crucial. It is not strictly a Chick Flick Guide thing, but it is significant for a certain chick: me. I am talking about an inspiring music project called The Night Game and the man behind it: Martin Johnson. But let’s go back to the beginning.
It all started in New York on the day of my 29th birthday in 2017. It was my first time in the city, and the only one so far, because I live in Budapest, Hungary. There are a solid 7 000 km, a 10-hour-long flight and an entire ocean between us. So I don’t usually hang out in NYC. But that day was my last birthday before turning 30, so it was supposed to be magic. It had better be freaking magical because it was the last birthday before my youth ended, the world stopped spinning, and the universe was doomed forever. So there was a tiny bit of pressure, but still, I went on.
So I was in New York City, but I wasn’t alone. I had a bunch of great lady friends accompanying me on this self-reflective, contemplating, I-have-no-idea-what-to-do-with-the-rest-of-my-life kind of journey. So there we went. I had my girl squad, and I was the youngest of the group, and we were in New York, life was okay after all. Or at least that’s what I told myself. My girls, as I call them, planned the whole day out. I had no clue about the sights and programs, but I was mourning my twenties a year early, so I didn’t care.
Our first stop was The High Line, an abandoned railway that now functions as an elevated linear park and hipster extravaganza. Wooden water tanks on rooftops are not just an iconic New York thing, but also my thing. I can’t help loving a technology reminiscent of old times, but still here with us in this postmodern era. I love nostalgia with an edge, independent spirit and creative ideas, but more about that later.
A Walk Down Memory Lane
So you already know that I am in love with water towers, but my biggest passion is cinema. Films are at the very top of my imaginary list of things worth living for and television series come at a close second. I know bloggers are weird indeed. Who else loves movies and tv shows and wooden water tanks?
My girl squad took me on a ride down memory lane visiting New York City’s famous quarters of Movieland and District TV. We went to see the apartment in Friends. I mean the building from the exterior wide-shot before they cut into the built set where the six friends would live their lives full of fun, everyday drama and love. Then we visited Carrie’s brownstone from Sex and the City with the iconic stairs in front where our favourite 30-something single woman would kiss and cry and contemplate existence.
Then my girls pulled out the big guns, took me to a very New Yorker spot called Katz’s Delicatessen and didn’t say a word. The walls were decorated with hundreds of framed photos of celebrities, athletes and politicians visiting Katz’s. And it seemed like the place to be if you want to eat enormous pastrami on rye, but I still had no idea why we would visit this exact spot in NYC. So we ordered, met the last Jewish waiter in the deli and tried our best to eat half of the pastrami sandwich. Needless to say that I failed miserably.
I also couldn’t figure out why this place would be special to me. Then it hit me. Katz’s Delicatessen was the ultimate chick flick location indeed, where Sally fakes an orgasm in public to prove her point to Harry. Of course, it was the very diner from When Harry Met Sally. My squad knows me better than I do. When Harry Met Sally is one of the best romantic comedies ever made and my favourite movie of all times. It was a true Chick Flick Guide moment.
To finish off the day with a bang we headed over to Brooklyn, to an indie music venue called Baby’s All Right. Because (surprise!) I love indie bands. The place was packed, full with the hipster youth of Williamsburg. There was some band playing on stage, but we decided to head over the bar instead. There was also a free table by the backstage door. Miracles do happen in Brooklyn. Having nothing else to do we started what anyone in their right mind would do in a situation like this: people watching. Mean girls in action that’s what happened.
However, not a single eligible man landed on our radar, just a piece of paper stuck on the wall saying that The Night Game is up next. I liked the name, and I happened to be the birthday girl, so we stayed, even though no male seemed interesting enough to stick around anymore. Girls dream of a prince in shining armour, I dream of a man with character. And there he was a tall guy in skinny jeans and a red Marlboro sweater rocking a messy Bundesliga hair. And striking blue eyes. Blue eyes like that will kill me one day leaving me desperate and heartbroken in the meantime. Marlboro Man was a rock star from another era. And there he went leaving only a fantasy of him behind.
It was midnight and The Night Game was about to start, so we headed over to the stage. My birthday was officially over, but I was still expecting a present of some sort. The band was getting ready, and they started playing. I liked the intro: ’80s inspired airy rock beats with a touch of dream pop. Just my thing. And there he was, Marlboro Man himself on stage. He changed his red armour to a white T-shirt but kept his character. I was praying: ‘Please, let him have a good voice.’ Fortunately, he has it all: the voice, the stage presence, the authorship and the rare ability to tell stories and get personal. The universe did give me a final gift that night packaged in a flawless live performance. It really was the gig of a lifetime, and I am a fan of The Night Game ever since.
A Self-Titled Debut Album: The Night Game
As it turns out The Night Game is the love project of a certain Martin Johnson aka Marlboro Man. In the noughties, Johnson was the frontman of the successful indie pop-rock band Boys Like Girls. After he built up a career as a songwriter for artists like Avril Lavigne, Jason Derulo or Taylor Swift. The Night Game released a self-titled debut album with 11 tracks on 7th September 2018.
‘The Night Game’ is a rare kind of album because it has a certain mood ingrained at its very core. It evokes feelings of nostalgia, without being overly sentimental. The album brings up memories but avoids falling into the usual traps of tear-jerking lyricism and sugarcoated musicality. It captures the feeling of going home and wondering about where our youth went, how things turned out and what could have been different. What I love about ‘The Night Game’ album most is Martin Johnson’s elaborate way of storytelling and his boldness to get deeply personal. I adore that each song tells a different story. In an interview given to Billboard, Martin Johnson talks about the inspirations behind the debut album.
“The Outfield” is the opening track of the album. As Johnson said:
“When “The Outfield” clicked, so did the rest of the album. The early versions dictated a lot of the production for the other tracks. I have a bit of difficulty talking about the subject matter because I feel like it gives it too much power. “The one that got away,” some might say, though it was quite some time ago now.”
“Do You Think About Us?” is a song about the sliding doors moment, what might have happened if you made a different decision. Featuring Caroline Polachek the track adds a female voice to the picture and shows the other side of the story too.
“The Photograph” is one of the lyrical and emotional highlights of the album where the chorus begins with the following:
Cause it’s gone, in the past
But we’ll always be together in the photograph
No, our love didn’t last
But we’ll always be together in the photograph
No, I won’t forget all the things she said
And the way she looked at me that night
Cause it’s stuck under glass
Yeah, we’ll always be together in the photograph
“American Nights” is also a remarkable song and a great piece of storytelling. As Martin Johnson phrased it:
“I grew up in America courtesy of FM radio — my best friends were Tommy and Tina, Jack and Diane, Jimmy and Jody and Wendy from “Born to Run.” “American Nights” originally started out as a party anthem, but I realized I was leaving a lot of people out. It’s a bittersweet time to be American. surely unclear what “The American Dream” means these days. Maybe it was always unclear. Maybe this is still a party anthem, but this time it includes the morning after.”
My favourite song of the album is “Die a Little.” It is about coming to terms with the idea that we go through life all alone and every single hardship we face is the very thing that makes us stronger in the end.
What killed me yesterday, baby it’s still a part of me
I had to die a little, to learn to survive a little
And after all the pain, baby there’s nothing I would change
I had to die a little, to learn to survive a little
It has been a long wait since that early gig until the album release, but it was worth it. I turned 30, and I received an even bigger present. The self-titled debut album of The Night Game is now out there. All I wish now is someone to write a song about me, even a bittersweet melody reminiscent of old times.
So this is the kick-off of Project Personal. What do you think about the album and the piece above? What was your latest artistic discovery that genuinely resonated with your challenges and feelings? Has any piece of art ever left a permanent mark on your life? Please leave your comments below. I would love to hear your personal stories.
“The Night Game Reveals Inspiration For Every Song on Self-Titled Debut: Exclusive.” Taylor Weatherby. Billboard.com. 9 September 2018.