Back in the early 2000’s, a favorite pastime of mine would be traveling to the East Village to bum around Kim’s Video for an afternoon. Kim’s had everything…B List movies, impossible to find artistic indie films, 70’s porn and the main reason for my pilgrimage, one of the best music collections in the city. Kim’s had all the hard to find European and Japanese imports, live bootlegs, and everything else under the sun. I’d spend the afternoon sifting through the racks while the attendant played what was to their liking.
It was during a visit in the summer of 2001 as I sifted through a rack of Woody Guthrie recordings, that I first heard Stew. The album being played was Guest Host and it grabbed me within the first minute. I wandered the racks making pretend I was searching for something but really was just entranced by the album and Stew. By no means was it revolutionary in its form, just a songwriter and acoustic guitar, but something connected with me and it seemed new. The combination of Stew’s voice and perfect storytelling were both familiar and groundbreaking at the same time.
I grabbed a copy for myself and hurried back home to listen again. The song that really sold me on Stew was Rehab. I know what you are thinking, but this Rehab has nothing in common with the Amy Winehouse version. The structure is similar to the Crash Test Dummies hit song Hmm Hmm Hmm. Stew takes you on a journey through his eyes of a drug addict friend that is constantly going back to rehab. The lyrics paint a simple picture of a happy go lucky girl struggling with addiction. Unlike most true life addicts though, this story ends on a happy note, sort of. I’ve listened to this album a hundred times and it’s in the company of albums that are always there to go back to, Pinkerton, Definitely Maybe, The Wall, Mermaid Ave, AM, Heartbreaker etc.
Years later while driving on the BQE I heard an advertisement for a new Broadway show. The voice was unmistakable, it was Stew. The ad was for his soon to be Tony Award winning play Passing Strange. I was shocked to hear the same voice from years ago playing over a Z-100 advertisement, I would have never believed it back in Kim’s. All those years Stew had been my secret find and now everyone would know him. A few weeks later the missus and I saw the play and it was absolutely amazing. Spike Lee even filmed it so if you never had the chance to catch it live, you can watch the DVD.
Here’s the song that got me hooked on Stew, Rehab :
Bonus: Ordinary Love