Monday, June 27, 2005

sounds of summer 1

Throughout my life, I've bought music in order to listen to it on vacations. Listening to new music while embarking on adventures has given me the opportunity to graft the experience of place, people, motion onto that music. Everytime I go back and listen to that music, I'm flooded with memory.

Neko Case's "Furnace Room Lullaby" is one of those albums.

From the opening moment of "Set Out Running" I was sold on the voice. I'd already known that I was drawn to her full voice because MJL put "Thrice All American" on my 24th birthday mix tape. But I finally bought the album in Burlington, VT on a road trip with three friends. It was my last weekend in New England, thus ending the dilettante summer I spent relaxing after completing my Masters degree at Dartmouth. I really wished I could have been alone with one friend in particular. We had so much to sort out before I left for Philadelphia that coming Monday.

But as is the case, life gets in the way and it's always the times when you most need solitude that it's the last thing possible.

Listening to the opening words of that song:
Want to get it all behind me/
You know that everything reminds me/
I can't be myself without you/
Want to crawl down in the back/
Springs inside the mattress where I cry my dirty secrets/
'Cause I just can't shake this feeling that I'm nothing in your eyes

I can't help but think that those words spoke more to my situation than I even realized. I had let go of my dream of becoming an academic and was somewhat stranded with possibility. A sense of possibility that felt crippling because it offered everything but what I wanted.

And that summer I had no idea what I wanted. I just wanted to live. I wanted to swim in the river, bask in the sun, drink bottomless cups of iced coffee and wine, write endlessly and talk endlessly, watch movies I'd never seen before and let books drag on forever.

But I wanted to run away from it all. Everything that felt safe and real was the last thing I wanted. I skirted the edge of flirtation and enjoyed it. I snuck back into the house where I was living for the summer and crawled into my trundle bed at 1 am, careful not to wake my kind friends' 11 year old daughter who'd gone to sleep hours earlier.

I took this path in large part out of deep disappointment. I'd always prided myself on being smart and safe. And look where it brought me: 25 and no inkling of a career. I latched onto my friends and then pushed them away. I stayed up late nights and woke early. I cooked and cleaned and poured myself into being physically present. Be it through listening to friends, riding my bike up and down the hills on campus, writing endlessly to the boy I had a crush on, and staying out late drinking margaritas up and down main street.

I couldn't make up my mind to save my life and for the first time, it just felt good.

The second song on Neko Case's album was equally telling:
I could never choose the ones to love/
And the ones who took the credit left me reelin'/
But i owe much to the nameless and all those surrogates/
Those who're singin' my life back to me

I couldn't figure out for the life of me who I loved. And in a lot of ways, it was due to people totally unrelated to my mixed up love life that I sorted things out.

But all these things were lost to me as I took the long Amtrak trip from White River Junction, VT to Philadelphia's 30th Street Station that late August day. I just knew that the pure, soaring twang of that voice echoed the feeling of escape I needed to leave those pristine mountains and rarified air in order to lose myself again in the messy, smelly jungle of South Philly. And in that space, I figured out how to live in confusion and find a way out of that miasma.

Soon I was listening to crisp, ironic, male indie rock all over again, but at the end of summer 2003, it was all about Neko Case, Kathleen Edwards and Kasey Chambers: country at it's best, yearning and pining but always singing with abandon.


Blogger R J Keefe said...

Most eloquent.

Tue Jun 28, 12:34:00 PM  

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