Easy come, easy go

Christine Beaderstadt

In her 2002 Michigan Theatre review of a performance by musician Pete Yorn, Christine Di Bella said, “In its current incarnation [Yorn is] virtually indistinguishable from that of just about any other middle of the road male rock act, more suited to Bryan Adams than the next alternative rock idol.” One thing Bella failed to mention, however, is Yorn’s musical likeability. Simply put, his songs are good, not exceptional, but easy to listen to while driving to work or flipping through radio stations.
Does Pete Yorn lack this passion and drive that other musicians (seem to) display? If so, why has Yorn stayed at the forefront of pop music? At recent performances, one wouldn’t have recognized the man Di Bella described. On stage, Yorn is lively and enthusiastic, if not occasionally awkward at the attention teenage fans flaunt. He played his popular songs vigorously, and clearly enjoyed himself when the audience sang along to ones that were not released.
Yet, it was hard not to notice how hard Yorn tried to look like a musician, or more adequately, a rock star. Pretending not to hear young girls screaming his name, he kept his long hair in his face and wore a long black shirt despite the summer heat and blistering spotlights. This contrast between confident stage performer and Hollywood heartthrob begs the question: Is Yorn real? Which person is he? Just how has he gotten so far without original songs? Is the formula for American music simply just good looks and charming personality mixed with a little feel-good music?
For the past four years, Yorn has perpetuated mainstream pop. His first song release in 2001, “For Nancy (‘Cus It Already Is’),” made a splash, getting frequent airplay on the radio, MTV and VH1. His debut album, “musicforthemorningafter,” was not particularly unique to current rock music, but had enough appeal to attract and hold listeners’ attention. Several other songs were released from “morningafter” which received equal media interest and separated Yorn from other one-hit wonders. His music has appeared in several big Hollywood blockbusters, including the Jim Carrey comedy “Me, Myself, and Irene,” “Igby Goes Down” and “Orange County.” This consistent airplay, combined with television interviews, music videos and tabloids highlighting his personal life, ensured us that Yorn was here to stay.
With the anticipated release of his subsequent album, “Day I Forgot” (2003), Yorn did exhibit some potential to push past his formulaic songs. Even though his lyrics are uniform and unprofound, Yorn manages to maintain his popularity because of his easygoing sound and fun performances. He even imparts, “I’m not a topical songwriter …. [but] a lot of people have the misconception that my songs are about me.” His compositions are likable and emotionally undemanding. The media’s affection toward Yorn is obvious; the crowded audience and young girls hanging onto the edge of the stage, mouthing the words and shouting out their favorite songs, is a clear indication of his commercial success. He says of his songwriting, “I’ve never experienced writer’s block. It just flows out of me.” As far as reflecting on his work he says, “I never listen to my songs. I finish and then let it go.”
Perhaps “letting it go” will ultimately result in the public letting him go, and he will go down as a simple musical fluke from the late ’90s. If Yorn doesn’t push himself more creatively, he risks fading from the mainstream. After all, looks and charm can only go so far.