On my way back to the house in October of 2001, I put the CD into the Discman, and waited patiently for the music to come out through the car speakers. When Brent Best warbled (seemingly) drunkenly:
Ten minutes to meltdown, I’m having a drink /And I don’t think you care, no I don’t even think /About you or the hands that you say you don’t love /As you hold them so tight while the sky up above /Opens up and rains down with an unholy bore /There’s holes in the ceiling, there’s holes in the floor /There’s holes in these walls all so covered with grime /Hey Baby, it’s the end of the world, have a good time
It struck a nerve. I had just broken up with my girlfriend of two years, and was looking for something…anything to stop the crushing feeling of doom in my chest. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, when I find myself lost, or full of despair, my natural compass points me to music. By the time the second track, “Placemat Blues”, kicked in with a mighty guitar riff that either could have been straight from the Gods themselves, or from Monday Night Football (just listen to the song), a huge goofy grin appeared on my face. For the briefest of moments, this woman who had destroyed me didn’t exist, and I was rushing headlong down the road at 60 mph eager to see what was around the bend. For 3 minutes and 55 seconds, I was free.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this moment lately. Not because I ran into the ex, or that I enjoy reminiscing the tortures of my past (although some would say I do that regardless), but rather because of a quote I read from Peter Jesperson. Jesperson, if you remember, discovered the Replacements, and eventually became their manager. Ever since he started out running a record store in Minneapolis, his life has been all about music, culminating in his current position as head of A&R at New West Records, home to such acts as the Old 97s, Drive-By Truckers, and the band whose music touched me that day, Slobberbone. He wrote in an interview:
“Your question reminds me of this Albert Camus quote: ‘A man’s work is nothing but the slow trek to discover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.’ It really is that same feeling I keep trying to find, again and again…”
Chances are, we’ve all experienced what Jesperson is talking about, even if we’re unsure of how it relates to something like music. It’s the moment where you hear a song on the radio, and it immediately piques your interest, stopping whatever it is you’re doing to pay attention. It’s the moment when you’re in the record store, and it crackles overhead on the speakers, causing you to look up from the CD racks and take notice. It’s when you’re in the car and you feel absolutely horrible because your girlfriend just broke up with you, that music seems to reach out and embrace your soul. In short, it’s the “What is this?” discovery.
The “What is this?” discovery I believe fuels the music junkies of the world. There’s nothing quite like the moment when it occurs. Given the right time, the memory becomes ingrained. You may not remember what you had for lunch yesterday, but you sure as hell can’t forget the moment you heard the Pixies on the half-broken stereo in your basement ten years ago.
I’ve been lucky to experience this revelation a few times in my life, but never when I was ready for it. Things like this don’t…can’t come along when you want them to, I feel. It’s almost like people are radio antennas in a way. In order for them to get a strong or particular signal, you have to point them in a certain direction (or be in a certain emotional state, or just be open to the possibility that something can happen at its core, I guess.).
For me, the biggest rush has come when listening to new or unfamiliar music. It seems that’s when I feel this certain group or person is speaking directly and only to me. I begrudgingly admit that it’s possible to feel this way when one first encounters the Beatles or Zeppelin, but I’m skeptical. Those groups have been disbanded for years, and have gone beyond ubiquity in the ones that followed. Even before you first really HEAR them, you already (unknowingly) have preconceptions. This doesn’t happen with new or unfamiliar music. You know little to nothing about it except what’s coming out through the speakers at the time. I’ve heard a lot of music so far, but what I HAVEN’T heard is ultimately what moves me.
As I type this paragraph, my latest “What is this?” discovery is playing in the background: Funeral by the Arcade Fire. It doesn’t reach out and grab you though, more like it twists and weaves throughout your being. It’s one of those records that deserve to be played in its entirety. It’s emotional, and beautiful, and haunting. It puts a goofy grin on my face. It’s all that and more. Like Jim Walsh wrote once it’s “Huh? Whazzat? Contact!” Hopefully now, that’s all that needs to be said.