Singer-songwriter Anthony D’Amato left his job as a music publicist—where he got to work closely with the likes of St. Vincent—to pursue his own music. Since then he’s circled the globe numerous times, played countless bars and seen just enough to realize there’s more to life than getting from one city to the next. That inspired his new song, “Passing Through,” which quickly grew in scope from the physical to the metaphorical.
D’Amato, who will perform Friday at Amnesia, wrote about the inspirations of that song and its connection to Amsterdam—the city I just happened to be in when he emailed me the video.
— Roman Gokhman
“Passing Through” started out as a rather literal song. I was home from tour when the idea first planted itself in my brain, and I was looking back on all the remarkable things I’d been lucky enough to see out on the road. One of the joys of making a living with music is that I get to travel the world, but it’s a bittersweet kind of joy, because everything about it is fleeting. Sometimes you’re lucky and you get to spend a whole day in the same place, but more often than not, you have to make the most of just a few hours. You drive and drive and drive, load in, soundcheck, perform, and roll out just in time to get a little bit of sleep and do it all again the next day.
I’m not complaining—it’s the job I signed up for and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But it adds an undercurrent of sadness to everything—one that makes it feel as if you’re already missing a place before you even arrive.
The more I thought about that odd mixture of emotion–gratefulness for the moment, wistfulness at how quickly it’s gone—the more the song turned into a metaphor for life itself. There’s something exquisitely beautiful about our mortality; about the idea that everything that matters to us will someday be gone. But there’s also something genuinely heartbreaking about it, too. We’re all just travelers passing through; hoping we find someone worth stopping for, someone to share the journey for a little while before it all evaporates.
The decision to film the video in Amsterdam was an easy one, both for practical and artistic purposes. Amsterdam has become one of my favorite cities over the years, and I’ve long envied the Dutch approach to life: straightforward and direct, with little time wasted dancing around any matter at hand. I’d met the Utrecht-based filmmaker Matthijs van der Ven on tour in 2017, and I was a fan of his work with The Influences. So when I found myself coming through the Netherlands the following year with some rare time off during a marathon, three-month tour, it seemed like a no-brainer to hit him up and propose a collaboration.
I tend to be a very hands-on collaborator, but this project felt like a chance for me to let go and be a little less of a control freak for once, so I sent Matthijs a copy of the song with the simple instruction to create whatever concept he wanted. I trusted his eye as a filmmaker and his sensibilities as an artist, and I was keen to see where his interpretation of the song would take us. Perhaps because he spends so much time traveling himself, Matthijs approached the video with a very empathetic eye. We wandered around the city for hours that day, capturing little moments of the minutiae that make up a day in the life of a musician who’s a long way from home. I play a little guitar, marvel at some architecture, photograph the canals, fall asleep on a tram, bury my face in my phone when I find a free WiFi connection, and walk until my feet are sore.
On paper it doesn’t sound all that exciting, but in actuality, it was one of the most memorable days of the whole tour because it forced me to be present and find the beauty in even the most seemingly ordinary moments. I often find myself with the impulse to constantly be “doing,” to seize the day by packing each and every minute with meaningful activity. Knowing I only have a few hours in a city means rushing across it to cram in as many cultural highlights as I can in the brief window I’m allotted. Generally, I appreciate that impulse because it’s led me to see more of the world than I ever thought possible, but shooting this video was a reminder that there are other kinds of beauty. Sometimes, just sitting beside a canal with a book for an hour while the sun goes down is as—or more—rewarding than any museum. Sometimes, sitting in a café by yourself listening to everyone around you speak in a language you don’t understand while you wait for a map of tomorrow’s seven-hour drive to download and wonder what the hell it is you’re doing with your life is necessary food for your soul. Sometimes you have to be rather than do.
The narrator of “Passing Through” has this compulsion to keep moving, to keep seeing everything there is to see, but by the end of the song, I think he’s come to recognize that some things are worth sitting still.