Our theme for the month of June is “Celebrities and Me.” Writers were asked to select and write about a celebrity with whom they feel some connection.
I like to think that I know what it feels like to be singer-songwriter Jack Johnson. I’m not a singer or a songwriter or a surfer or from Hawaii or the brand ambassador for the concept of “chill.” But I do know what it means to be completely fine.
Some people hate Jack Johnson. His music—which is a puréed blend of acoustic-pop and soft-rock with echoes of all other beach-appropriate genres throughout—has stayed pretty much the same in sound and function across his twenty-year recording career. Listeners are meant to feel relaxed and uncluttered in the smoothie of a Jack Johnson song, making him omnipresent in spaces aggressively curated for vibes™ such as coffee shops or brunch restaurants. In these spaces, Johnson can feel like a heavily (beach) scented candle—an overbearing dose of something meant to be a good experience.
Others love him. If Jack Johnson really works for you, his low-key personality, aversion to the spotlight, island upbringing, and lifelong commitment to the protection of oceans and island habitats make him the embodiment of the type of unbusy, unbothered yet engaged tone of his songs. His art and his interests are intertwined. Whether he’s writing songs or planting gardens in schools, Johnson is walking through life with a rare and unpretentious generosity, leaning into what he knows and leaving the rest behind. Engaging with his art becomes an opportunity to become as blissful as its creator, making Johnson a sort of enlightened Jimmy Buffet figure to his own, more hippy version of Buffet’s parrotheads.
I don’t find Jack Johnson as annoying or saccharine as his detractors or as exemplary and accessible as his most ardent fans. He’s neither a particularly inspiring songwriter nor a vapid lifestyle brand posing as one. He’s fine. Some of his songs are nice; some are not. And I find that comforting.
I feel very mediocre at this stage in my life. At twenty-seven years old I’m not sure what it means to build towards anything, and I don’t know where I’m going. I just kind of am. Growing up there’s a lot of talk about potential—the things you’ll do and the places you’ll go. But I feel like I’ve arrived somewhere now and it’s just sort of this, like, jogging class of existence. I’m moving enough to not feel inert, but I don’t really know if I have a goal and that almost makes it harder than if I was really training hard for something.
I think some of my feelings might be depression or a symptom of not feeling inspired by the typical motivators in one’s adult life, but another part of me thinks that this season is meant for just being good enough. Not everyone and everything is spectacular at all times. To believe that I need to be would probably cause me to contort into strange and perhaps damaging shapes for the sake of feeling some kind of edge. Like, maybe this is the part where I go to grad school or something.
Jack Johnson’s seventh full-length studio album All the Light Above It Too came out in 2017 and was largely inspired by environmental decay and the election of Donald Trump, which on paper are more specific inspirations than the typical Jack Johnson album cycle usually markets itself on. I listened to it for the first time today, and at times that specificity felt like it came through; other times, it felt like just more of the same type of work he always produces. Johnson probably pushed himself in the writing of the album, but I don’t know that he had a whole new destination in mind. The result is an album that is just fine.
Jordan Petersen Kamp graduated in 2017. He works as the controller for Trellis, a certified Herman Miller furniture dealer located in West Michigan. In his spare time he enjoys talking about the books and albums he looks forward to reading and listening to someday—the ones that he’s definitely heard of but not heard or read yet.