June 11-13, The Knitting Factory and Columbia University
by Elizabeth Bacon-Smith

    Zachary Oberzan--what a name, and he comes by it naturally. I'm not sure if it's because each of its components has the same number of letters and syllables, so it rounds out and completes itself as you speak it, or if it's the repetition of the combination of "z/a" [the last and first letters of the alphabet]. I don't really know. However, the name looks great in print, it is wildly fun to say, and the person bearing the name is delightful to meet.
     A quiet, thoughtful man, Zachary is a person with whom one feels natural and at ease engaging in subdued conversation with, comfortable with sharing the seemingly minor, undramatic, and unexpected details of one's life--as "life is in the details." He was someone totally new to me, a Dartmouth graduate in theatre, and a New York City resident. Out of the blue.
    When Zachary played his guitar and sang at the International House and at the West End pub, his refined, reflective, and focused nature carried through into his performing. Whether he played gently or intensely, it was always attentively, and never by rote, in his rendering of the instrumentation and lyrics of Leonard's songs, as well as with "Amelia Earhart," the insightful and accomplished song of his own writing.
    Leading up to Sunday, as his hands and fingers froze from the high-amp'd A/C at the International House, Zachary listened intently and concerned himself, as apparently most musicians do, with his set list--and what ones, if any, would end up as repetitions. I can't account it to memory, but to my request, that I'm able to provide that list. At the International House, he performed:

(1) Minute Prologue: "Changing a couple lines to be site specific, most notably, 'I think I can heal it with THESE songs.....'." (2) The Future: The song that shows there's so much healing that is needed. (3) Night Comes On: A bittersweet favourite of mine relating to death and love. (4) Amelia Earhart: Wonderful and well-worth hearing. I was intrigued and impressed by the sensibilities that would lead a person to write a song like this, honouring this woman, and looking at 'love' from this totally different perspective. (5) Love Itself: His favourite from Ten New Songs. (6) Don't Go Home With Your Hard On: This is the one that amazed me because it's the song that has always caused me to wonder why Leonard somehow 'compromised' so, to even do it. Perhaps, Zachary's own subtle and genteel manner lent itself to the song taking on a different spirit from what I'd heard in the raucous, poor-sounding recording I've always heard. When he began it, its spirit instantly filled and transformed the room into a joyous, high-spirited, rousing sing-along. I couldn't believe myself, as I was right there singing along, too--every lyric--and at the same volume as everyone else! It could have been a high-school pep rally, us singing the school song; or it could have been a (German?) pub, us singing and raising our mugs in the air, clicking them against those of our mates, and my glass raised with the rest. I never dreamed I could enjoy that song so much! (7) Closing Time: This song was the perfect ending.

    At open mic, Natalie Fuhr spontaneously joined him at the microphone for a you'd-never-believe-it-was-unpracticed duet of "Famous Blue Raincoat." Again, Zachary's contemplative nature is imparted to the song, and Natalie's vocals blended beautifully. After that, he did "Heart With No Companion," another bittersweet favourite of mine.
    Whereas others were cheering after Zachary's performances, I shared with him that I just couldn't bring myself to do anything beyond clapping, heartily and respectfully. His playing had reminded me of a meditation, where I would never consider 'hootin' and hollering' or calling out, "Yay! Great meditation!" He smiled and said, "You got it, then...that's how I intend for it to be."
    Modest and self-effacing in his manner and humour, his humble and unassuming responses to people's compliments often came with a look of surprise, preceding a lift in his voice, with his "Oh really!? Thank you!" He can be, in equal measure, earthy as well. Sincere and genuinely grateful for the positive feedback he receives, he's the kind of performer it's gratifying to compliment.
    At the West End pub, toward the close of the night, people stopped talking to listen, when the lightness of his guitar, the clarity in his voice, and his perfect diction, joined with his intentional, unique pacing of "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye," to absolutely make it his own.
    As Dick Straub commented, "His performances and company were great all weekend." Bobbie Chalou was also motivated to go, a couple weeks after the Event, to see him perform in Portland, Maine, where she also met his family. He has two CDs out, with his own, unique perspectives encased in interesting, intense, and highly-imaginative lyrics. Anyone interested may find him and additional details through
    Zachary's gentle kind of class lent a very special, pleasant timbre to the Event. He's the worthwhile, high-quality kind of person one is pleased, and proud, to introduce with, "This is my friend."
[Photo by Jarkko Arjatsalo]