Fans from here to Tokyo idolize the sensitive, big-eyed boy through Websites, poetry, art projects, stalkathons, and proclamations shrieked during quieter concert moments (“I love you, Conor!
”), and though he could have transplanted his hip nerdiness just about anywhere, Oberst stuck to the heartland. It was an unlikely decision for a songwriter who is widely considered the creative cornerstone of Omaha’s burgeoning independent-music scene, an artist so concerned with commercial purity that he refused to play Clear Channel venues on his upcoming tour.
Ward said over drinks at the Gramercy Park Hotel recently, just before going on tour with Oberst and Jim James of My Morning Jacket.
In “Old Soul Song (For the New World Order),” about an antiwar protest, Oberst describes walking “40 blocks to the middle / of the place we heard that everything would be.” “Lua,” an early release that hit Billboard’s No.
1 singles slot (a historic ratings achievement for an indie rocker), follows a drugged-out couple on a freezing New York night as they fail to hail a taxi to ‘’a party at some actor’s West Side loft,’’ the girl ‘’looking skinny like a model with your eyes all painted black”; finally they share a flask on the subway and try to stay conscious. “Train Under Water” works a folk-rock twist on one of the city’s age-old perks—thrilling impersonality and the constant prospect of urban serendipity: “I was a postcard, I was a record, I was a camera, until I went blind / Now I’m riding all over this island / Looking for something to open my eyes.” Oberst has toured the globe, but you won’t find meaningful allusions to, say, Munich or Amsterdam, or L. A place has to become personal to him to show up in his music.
“Conor lives in his own world,” says Emmylou Harris, who sings on three tracks of I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.
Oberst still keeps the twenties-era bungalow he bought a few years ago in Omaha, on a leafy old street near his parents and next door to his former childhood sweetheart, Neely Jenkins, the singer for Tilly.
“It’s funny, because when we would first tour, when I was a teenager and stuff, New York was always my least favorite place because it’s so overwhelming,” he says. He took a share on Tompkins Square Park with his booking agent, Eric Dimenstein of Ground Control Touring.
“I liked it, but I was always anxious to get out of the city. He’s usually there, or six blocks away at Krenkel’s, working out some bit of Team Love business in the narrow bedroom turned office where Krenkel’s friend Norah Jones bunked when she first moved to the city; or drinking at St. Marks Place, appropriate given Oberst’s matrilineal Irishness.
Conor Oberst (born February 15, 1980) is an American singer-songwriter best known for his work in Bright Eyes.
He has also played in several other bands, including Desaparecidos, The Faint (previously named Norman Bailer), Commander Venus, Park Ave., Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, and Monsters of Folk.