John Mayer has a bad rep. Once a soulful crooner with a baby face, he’s morphed into a cocky megastar making his way around the proverbial Hollywood block. In 2006, he used his relationship with ex Jennifer Love Hewitt as material for his stand-up and he went on to date (and ditch) Jessica Simpson, Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston. In January, he hit a new low when he appeared to be macking on America’s sweetheart, 20-year-old Taylor Swift. A few weeks later, an interview he did with Playboy came out. The quote that reverberated around the interwebs: “Yeah, [Jessica Simpson] is like crack cocaine to me … Sexually it was crazy. It was like napalm, sexual napalm …”
After that, John became persona non grata. Even this video he posted this month, called “A Life In the Day,” couldn’t redeem him.
But here’s the thing. Even after all the bonkers tweets and swarmy quotes,
See, I have spent countless nights falling asleep to John Mayer’s voice whispering from my speakers. I was a senior in high school when Room for Squares debuted. Before that, I had no point of reference in music. A good jam could get me dancing, but there was no musical artist who activated my soul and left an ineffaceable mark on it. Mayer unbuckled my musical chastity belt. I felt every song, as his lyrics took on a sweet synchronicity with my life and with my thoughts. Listening to his albums was like finishing a long run. Where at the crest of a hill, short of breath, I look at the view and think, “This is me. At least for now.”
I am not the type of fan to paste pictures of him on my wall, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have an inclination for the schmaltzy. I’ve never been to one of his concerts because I am holding out for my boyfriend to take me. I don’t need a concert, though, to celebrate Mayer’s music. It is the places I take his words with me that matter. As a student, with Mayer echoing from my dashboard, I started my five-hour drives between home and school. Despite the long highway, his melodies made me feel like I was home, back in a familiar rhythm. In 2006, when I was living in Paris, I took long walks, tuning out to the song “3×5.” It was during one of these strolls, when I was relishing the Belleville neighborhood I now miss, that I realized the name Mayer sounds like meilleur, the French word for “better.”
Back in the States, over a year later, I found out how much John Mayer’s fame had blown up. I was listening to “Gravity” in the dentist’s office while high-speed drills buzzed as if they were singing backup. Or in the grocery store, Mayer played as the intercom interrupted to announce specials on Country Crock margarine. Then, he himself transformed, going from a shaggy fluff hairdo to luscious locks and round cheeks to a chiseled jawbone. Hunky and borderline pretty, he became a bona fide rock star with a proclivity for high-profile relationships and kissing and telling. Maybe he’s not bothered by the reaction his behavior begets. Yet, for a man who creates original compositions, it seems like he’s stuck on repeat.
Picking up a 2009 magazine interview, I didn’t make it to the third paragraph before his Porsche Cayenne and Land Rover Defender got as many mentions as his manager. Mayer, it seemed, was making the transition from a man of music and depth to a man of acquisition and status. This set a glum and insincere tone to his art of melody for me from then on.
The dichotomy of John Mayer’s image and his tunes left me a confused fan. I wrestled with this for over a year, feeling silly for taking it too seriously, yet not silly enough to throw him back on my dream-time playlist.
When his latest album, Battle Studies, came out I waited months before buying it. I tiptoed past it in the record store and then would look back, unsure which part of the musician I’d be getting, the contrived rock star or the lyrical wunderkind. In order to avoid last-moment register retreat, I took standing in line out of the equation and bought the album on iTunes by simply pressing “enter.” Alone in my room I played the album once, twice, three times, and afterward I kept thinking, Damn John, you did it again. His music peeled away emotional layers that weigh me down, leaving me lucid and light.
I now know that is more than I could ever ask for in a musician. Yes, the fame is there. But the music came first; it always does.