Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When We Sang Along With Windows Down

16-17: They Might Be Giants
18-19: The Postal Service
20-21: The Mountain Goats
22-23: Casiotone For The Painfully Alone
24-25: Josh Ritter
26-...: The Avett Brothers

When I was in high school, I sat on my bed and hammered out the chords to simple songs by They Might Be Giants and felt like in a few years I'd be living out Ginsberg's Howl. I was an outsider, and looking back can see that for most of us who felt that way, it was internal. It was a constant view looking outward, and knowing you wern't quite where you're supposed to be. TMBG sang on a variety of topics and non-topics, so to speak, and for all their quirky, up-beat melodies, there was something sinister hovering just below the surface. This, to me, sums up the Geek experience in High School. The whole thing was just a big waiting game, until either you found your tribe (in college, natch) or the rest of the world caught up.
Defining Lyric: "Now it's over I'm dead, and I haven't done anything that I want, or I'm still alive, and there's nothing I want to do."

College blew down from the hills picking up the mess of my ruined plans. I looked around and found myself-thankfully, in retrospect- surrounded by similarly lost individuals. We wandered in the woods and parking lots; we spent too much time thinking about the timing of streetlights going out. We drank and stayed out all night and the one thing we all hated more than the Greek Organizations was ourselves. We were a gang, a tribe, a coven, a cult. We smoked so many cigarettes, some times all at once. We dreamed of sunning on Mexican Pyramids and for us, the future was a gaping void. There were burns. There were tears. I dare you to look any of us in the eye and claim you've laughed louder than we did in those terrible, Holy days. We were sexy and awful. Either you get it, or you don't. And remarkably, This duo of synth-pop hobbyists provided our dreamy, kinetic soundtrack. Defining lyric: "And I'm screaming at the top of my lungs, pretending the echoes belong to some one-some one I used to know."

You never land easy when things fall apart, and you're always sore the next day. For me, the "Next Day" of early adult hood lasted a few years. I washed dishes, I packed boxes, I sold clothes. I thought I could save the world by driving a fork lift and I slept with my boots on. I walked to work, I payed bills, I loved, I hated, I let go, I was let go of. I got by. I toiled, I changed, I waited, I bloomed. And through it all was a band I probably owe a debt to. The Mountain Goats sing of some landscape where the romances and drug deals gone sour are hard to tell apart. Where even love is something to accept with grim finality; because you can't escape it but can get through it if you try. The ghosts of the Old Testament might still haunt your everyday, and their being chased by Mayans and Romans Hungry for blood. Defining Lyric (god, this one's toughest...) "...And we're drunk all the time, and our lives are a mess; and the deathless love we swore to protect with our bodies is stumbling across it's bleak ending."

I found a life I did not like. I left it after three days shooting a student film, and shortly thereafter, my grandmother died. I tried to join the Navy, but was turned away for medical reasons. I got an actual, honest-to-god acting job. I moved in with a freak show. I fell into a tempest. These are the Twenties you write about. The house was nearly condemned, and I lived in the attic, stifling in summer, freezing in winter. There were concerts in my living room, and the next morning I'd either drive to a middle school to do a workshop, ride the train downtown, to rehearse or perform for students on field trips. She and I met in a show we performed at a bar, and she left her husband and eventually I'd leave that attic. Casiotone For The Painfully Alone sings loving of days like these, the loss, the misdirection, the false starts and  true stops. The crummy first dates and even worse second dates, the mistakes, the loyalties, the broken promises and debts never paid. Defining Lyric: "A job that made you crazy, in  town you won't miss, and the drunks you called friends are a means to an end. And this is the end"

The kitchen was too small for dancing, but the tub had claw feet. I acted and made coffee. She took photographs, painted and temped. We thought to plant roots. they did not hold. She moved downstairs, and I slept on couches and in my car. We continued making love, the song had a chorus that wouldn't end. I rode my bike, I drank too much, and again: I was waiting. More. False. Starts. In the Autumn, a circus came to town and I joined it. That winter found me in the desert, found me changed. My lungs were filled and my stride got longer. I think I became 'me'. The road opened up and rolled out before me; when every door is open, the hallway has no walls. What began with my brow furrowed in contemplation of potential,would close with a war-whoop. Along the way there were tears, shouts, doctors and blood. Josh Ritter narrated this growth and transition like Mark Twain humming, the great story of American dreams growing, dying, mutating, adapting keeping step with my own twists and jumps. Fits and angels, boats and trains, guns and blades, heroes and snake oil salesmen; all of them in my life and coming out of my speakers. Defining lyric: "Every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied"

Still rolling. I'm waving to the shore as I pass by; many by now have children while I have a Pirate ship. I've determined to no longer live my life like a terrier on fire. I've cleaned up the mess and poured my drink. I'm walking city streets and always some where else. This chapter is unwritten. The Avett Brothers, drunk and moody and grim and sentimental will walk me through this scene. Defining lyric: "I want to have friends in whom I can trust, that love me for the man I've become not the man that I was."

Now, I should point out, that none of these necessarily represent my favorite lyric or song by each artist, simply the line that best sums up what I feel, looking back. And that looking back is important, at the time I was living these (mis)adventures, I likely would have shouted a different line, possibly even quoted a different band...but probably not. I wanted to share these connections, because We all have a soundtrack to each Zeitgeist we've made it stumblingly through.

"The future is a stereo, that eats your favorite tapes, the soundtrack to your youth that can never be replaced"
-Josh Joplin


  1. Wow, you are a great writer, very heartfelt.

  2. There is a hollow ache in my gut as I digest these words. Very poignant and revealing. You are brave, and much older than your years.