03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros: Has the Happiest Band in America Made '09's Best Song?

When it's time to name the Song of the Year, list-makers who don't put "Home" in their Top Five may come to feel...sheepish.

That's because there's a medicine show coming your way, guaranteed to cure whatever ails you. And the best service someone like me can provide is to prepare you for it. That's simple: you're going to dance. Pretty much from minute one. With whomever you're with. With strangers. And with a massive, how-the-fuck-did-this happen, shit-eating grin on your face.

Maybe you could know a bit more. Like: there is no "Edward Sharpe" in the 9-to-12-member band that calls itself Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. Alex Ebert, the lead singer, looks like a guy who's just back from an ashram in India: underfed, long hair up in a bun, loose white shirt and pants, and bare feet. The female lead singer is so enthusiastic and awake -- a knockout in a thrift-shop dress, cardigan sweater and running shoes -- that you can't take your eyes off her. "A beautiful woman," Proust wrote, "is an invitation to a happiness she alone can fulfill." That is Jade Castrinos.

I love everything about this crew -- its large cast, its back story, and, most of all, its simple formula for happiness. Just watch their debut appearance on Letterman, and you will too. They sing "Home", and be warned -- if there's anything you need to do today that requires all of your attention, think twice about listening to it now, because once this music gets in your head...

How much does it matter that you're seeing a live performance? Some. But less than you think. Here -- because you miss it already -- is the recorded version:

Okay, so the lyrics are mostly unabashed cornball ("Alabama, Arkansas/ I do love my Ma and Pa/ But not as much as I do love you"). I love how the song starts with a whistled echo of an Ennio Morricone theme from a Clint Eastwood western. I love the band and its soloists. Most of all, I'm a sucker for the refrain: "Home, let me come home/ Home is wherever I'm with you."

I have read the reviews, and it's the same deal in every city -- Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros are a traveling Woodstock, a throwback to the great lost days when bands thought of themselves as families and concerts were foaming whirlpools of joy.

Who are they? How did they happen? What do they mean?

Pass the peace pipe, kids, and I'll tell you a story that may make you -- depending on your age -- nostalgic or jealous.

We start with Alex Ebert, lead singer of a band called Ima Robot. He is cynical and negative, drunk on a daily basis. Desperate to be someone else, he breaks up the band, leaves his girlfriend for a small apartment with a blow-up mattress and joins Alcoholics Anonymous.
A year later, Ebert has written many pages about Edward Sharpe, who was "sent down to Earth to heal and save mankind --- but he kept getting distracted by girls and falling in love." Then, in downtown Los Angeles, he meets Jade Castrinos. They "hit it off and made a run for freedom." They start writing songs. They acquire a school bus and a band.

Want yet another reason to mourn Heath Ledger? He gives the band seed money to record a CD. Which they do -- using a 24-track tape machine from 1979 and bargain-basement reels of 2-inch tape." In July of 2009, the launch party for Up from Below was, unsurprisingly, a benefit, with the money going to help the Gulu Widows Group of Uganda start a farm to sustain their community. And then they went on the road....

The young 'uns and the folks who missed it first time around know hippies only as caricatures. Ebert's much closer to the real deal: "If we go to your town, I can imagine a time when we're rolling up to a parking lot and parking the bus and setting up the stage and the bleed from the audience to us, it's just not even there. It's like a river, you know?"

Audiences do know. And they jump in. Ebert: "The night I went into the crowd [at the Echo] and everybody was singing, you could almost feel their hearts."

That's pretty much any night for this band. Because what it offers is not being sold anywhere else -- a reversion to childhood. He's a child and she's a child, and they have a childish belief that their love will last forever, and the band feels the same way. That's a lot of permission on one stage.

Enduring love, a family of friends, a place that felt like home -- when I stumbled out of college into the Real World, I craved nothing more. Escapism? Maybe. But also a recognition that the Real World isn't the only one, that there's a door over here, and all you have to do is open it to feel the freedom you had as a kid.

See Edward Sharp, if you can. But for the sake of your soul, at least spend a buck on the MP3 download of "Home" and keep it near you. Because there's always a psychic emergency ahead. And if there's a better First Aid kit, I don't know it.

[Cross-posted from ]