By day he sells antiques in New York, by night he’s an electro pop star, hell, let’s call him a rock star. On his recent tour of Argentina, Tom Geiger was besieged by women during his live show at Palermo’s Kika club as they passed him notes, was mobbed by the same vixens after the show as they tried to kiss and touch him, and probably mobbed him at glamorous parties or on the way back to his Belgrano apartment. That classifies someone as a rock star, doesn’t it?
Geiger, who has reached the higher echelons of fame, unusually, just in Argentina, spent four weeks at number one on Metro radio’s chart with Can One Day Change Your Life. This simple synth and guitar track won him an army of dedicated fans who headed to Mar del Plata to see him play a beach gig, and Geiger has proved so popular on this second tour that he managed to squeeze in some extras dates — in fact, a taxi driver recognised the 45-year-old and gave him a discount on his cab fare on his journey from Belgrano to San Telmo for this interview. Geiger, in return, gave him a copy of his album Vicious Times.
Friendly and accessible, the New Yorker has found fame over the past few years although he is still finding his feet in the US, which is why, despite the notes, kisses and mobbings, he is accessible. Although Geiger has a tour and event booker, he manages his own press, co-ordinates his own interviews and is happy to chat — our first conversation on the phone lasts a good 30 minutes.
From that chat, I get the feeling he may have been cooped up and only let out for performances, so I suggest he heads to the San Telmo neighbourhood for an airing. Loving the idea, he agrees, because although it is the second time he has toured Argentina, Geiger has never reached the southern pinnacle of the federal capital, and it will give him a chance to browse the antique stores while traipsing down the cobbled streets.
It’s Friday morning, two days after the Kika mobbing, and as I pull a dress over my head, the doorbell rings. The pixie-like Geiger sports a pale blue shirt despite the heat that is beginning to sear, sunglasses and a rucksack. I say pixie-like, he is svelte and of a medium height with blue eyes that can hold a gaze without faltering. With distinguished greying temples, it’s easy to see why the girls are all over him.
Walking up to the second floor, I invite him to check out the apartment while I finish off some work, and he wanders up to the terrace. A good 15 minutes have passed before I suddenly realise his absence, that I may even have misplaced the singer, until I discover him sunbathing topless on a lounger.
Perhaps my gaze makes him uncomfortable (and granted, perhaps it’s an equally penetrative stare as I know I’ll have to report a blow-by-blow account back to several friends) because despite the heat, the shirt goes back on. And so we hang out on the terrace for 45 minutes, talking about 9/11 and relationships under the midday sun.
SEPTEMBER 11. Geiger decided to dedicate his life to music making some 10 years ago, and he recounts investing his cash and dealing with other people’s broken promises to try and make that dream happen. But it was in 2001 following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center that made him pursue this career more decisively. He describes an aftermath that we’ve all seen on the TV and in newspapers and magazines, but returning to September 12, the smell of burned bodies will never leave me, he says. That next day, he recalls going to a liquor store and being asked by the assistant what he wanted. The answer? “Something to make it all go away.”
I ask whether that day was a catalyst to further drive him in pursuit of his goal. Despite being screwed over financially and a lack of family support in a project that seemed to them to be gaining little mileage, every last penny he had went into making an album — and the final result was Vicious Times.
THE EMAIL. Thank God We Have Good Friends, Peace Love, Some Days Are Better Than Others and Empty Girl are all on Vicious Times (which he started working on in 2005), indeed the latter is about a younger girlfriend of his who decided to end their relationship online.
Reflecting on that time, he says, they were incredible together but when it all went sour, he couldn’t believe that she found it acceptable to split up with him by deleting him from her MySpace account. Being from a different generation (she was in her 20s although he doesn’t specify how long ago they were together), he says that was her way of dealing with the end. She’s an empty girl, he adds. She’s from a generation where people communicate via Twitter and Facebook and aren’t used to dealing face to face with another human. I say to Geiger that I too can relate to that hollowness because it equally frustrates me knowing people who feel more comfortable emailing me despite the fact we are in the same room.
In fact, it was almost six months to the day he was deleted from her life that she got back in touch, saying it was time they became friends. Like she was following a set of rules, he says. But he didn’t want that from her and didn’t reply.
Relationships and love and sex formulate the basis of many of Geiger’s songs, and Some Days… is a perfect track about that difficult next stage after splitting up with someone. Perfect, because from the first line it is so simple that it’s almost childish, but insanely precise: Well I call you up / And I say I’m fine / But I guess I’m fine / Only half the time.
It’s Geiger’s ability to clarify complex emotions with simplistic accuracy that has earned him a core fan base. You write to me / And you say you’re fine / But I hope you’re fine / Only half the time, like me / And I, need a little more time / To miss you. He shows me an email from a woman who went to the Kika gig two nights ago — who turns out, by complete coincidence, to be an Argentine friend of mine — and that’s not the only email he’s received. He says he’s always receiving messages from someone who can relate to his songs. In this particular email the author says her relationship ended last year and it took her a long time to get over because she couldn’t get him to fall in love with her. “But he’s a man, and he will always let her down,” says Geiger.
Although he has now returned to New York following his few weeks in Argentina, the simple accuracy in his music and lyrics have already ensured plans for a third tour — next time alongside the DJ who first remixed him and put him on the road to success, John Creamer.
Comfortable enough in Buenos Aires to take the subte and to also sport a national football shirt on his MySpace page, you can bet it won’t be long before Tom Geiger is back, being mobbed and kissed by pretty girls, before, during and after his gigs.
First published in the Buenos Aires Herald in February 2010.