SONGS FOR SOMETHING BROKEN, FOR EVOLUTION by C.C. Russell
These songs that glue you to a place or time. The songs that sedate or inflate you. The songs that keep you, define you. The songs that explain that there was a there, a then – the songs that place you within that.
New York. Long Island. My commute to work runs from twenty to fifty minutes depending on traffic. This is my first car with a CD player, first car that I am paying for in monthly payments. I’ve moved away from all of my friends, from my family. Those first few months were driving – driving and music to push away the loneliness. Beth Orton was my companion for a long series of hours in the car. Daybreaker my lifeline. And This One’s Gonna Bruise was the song that I would repeat, sometimes three and four times in that commute. “Constellations turn into little Polaroids in a cardboard box…” I hear that song now. I can still feel the humid oppression of that first summer, still smell the traffic simmering on the parkway. I hear her voice singing and I still feel a tightness in my chest. She sang to me from the passenger seat. She sang to me and she kept me alive.
Also, New York. Later. Death Cab for Cutie. Transatlanticism. The entire album. But that is a story that I am not quite ready to tell.
From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea by The Cure. I see Jennifer in Colorado. We’ve either just broken up or just gotten back together. Either one is a pretty safe guess, the way that we were with each other. We are sleeping on the floor in Cindy’s house. I am wishing that I was sleeping in Cindy’s bed and feeling guilty for that thought. My ears are still ringing from the feedback of A Forest closing out the show. I’ve been listening to this song for a couple of months and at this moment I am still riding a high from hearing it live, from finally seeing Robert Smith in person. Jen smiles and puts her hand out to me. I slide my fingers in between hers. I think of how we are waves in opposite directions, how we clash and merge. I watch lights from the cars come through the crack in the curtains, let that rhythm carry me towards sleep.
Radiohead. Kid A. For a few months, this was my everything. I would walk across campus from the house of a girl that I was sleeping with who I shouldn’t have been sleeping with towards the art building. A long enough walk to hear half of an album if I walked slowly enough. I thought that I was an artist, then, that everything I did fed into my art. The album allowed me to believe that for a time.
And here is the day we are pulling in to the city limits of Casper after leaving New York and Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol comes on. Sure, it’s silly. It’s one of those songs that has become a joke, one of those songs that plays as you are shopping Ikea. But that day, it was crushing. It was that weight on my chest as I looked back, as I looked forward into the rain on the window. I listened to it on repeat for a week, that small breakdown as I stood in my new and empty kitchen staring at the apartment complex behind our house. As I called my friends in New York. As they sounded so far away.
Our first new car as a married couple. The first that either of us has had with a CD player. The car that will eventually accompany us to New York. On the drive back home from the dealership, we listen to David Gray’s White Ladder album. And so it is that any song from that album is a silver Ford Focus climbing the mountain through a thunderstorm. Every song is that moment, that rain.
Joey by Concrete Blonde. The song that took me from Top 40 Cassette singles into the world of what was then called alternative. The lyrics, Johnette’s haunting voice. Concrete Blonde takes me to a riot of memories. M. coming out to me at the trailer, Georgette, the train bridge in Laramie. Wheatland and the need to escape, to have that town as a pin in the map that I never need to return to. Later, addiction. Understanding the lyrics in a completely different way than my teenaged self. A rare song that grew with me, that unwrapped its layers as I aged.
After the birth of my daughter, I hadn’t written in about three years and honestly wasn’t sure if I ever would. I hear The Mountain Goats on the radio and something opens again. This Year surprises me in a way that music hadn’t in some time. I order The Sunset Tree and listen to it on repeat in my car for over a month. I listen to it every chance that I get and I start writing again. I fill a notebook, two. I think of writing a letter to John Darnielle and thanking him for bringing me back to myself, decide that it is far too cliché. And so I write my thanks into a story years later while listening again to “Pale Green Things,” still very much in love.
Meeting Caroline and waiting to see if she would call back. So. Central Rain. R.E.M. “Did you never call? I waited for your call. These rivers of suggestion are driving me away.” Those days when it felt like the wait was all there was.
Larae. A few months after we broke up. We are sitting on the couch in my house and Jewel comes on MTV. You Were Meant For Me. I am surprised that Larae, goth and punk as she is, even knows the lyrics. I am even more surprised when she tells me that the song was always me for her. This unguarded moment. Years later, years after her death, I find myself openly weeping when it comes over the speakers at a grocery store as I push a cart through the produce section. It’s easy to be too cool for Jewel, to say that you never liked her unironically but I still cannot listen to the song with dry eyes. “Same old story, not much to say – hearts are broken every day.”
Mike Doughty. Too many songs linked to so many things. The Only Answer, True Dreams of Wichita, Down on the River by the Sugar Plant, I Can’t Believe I Found You in That Town… Listening to Soul Coughing while drunk. Later reading his autobiography, The Book of Drugs, as I am coming to terms with the fact that I am an alcoholic. In Mike Doughty, I often found a voice in the darkness. I found something to reach out towards.
Pulp’s Common People. There are so many songs that remind me of those years when I would DJ late into the night in those dingy bars where I worked, so many songs that can take me back to that unforgettable smell of stale beer and cigarettes. To the memory of picking a song long enough that I could join the dance for a bit. So many songs carry the bar and that small booth back to me. For some reason, though, Common People is the first to mind. “She told me that her dad was loaded. I said in that case I’ll have rum and Coca Cola…” It was an anthem of sorts. We sang along loudly, drunkenly. Soaked in well whiskey and a misguided kind of hope.
It is these songs that haunt us, these songs that allow our memories to infect their lyrics. These songs that we use to describe the moments of our lives. These bars lead me back through the tangles of time, its rests and allegros. I hear my past bobbing its head along to the beat, all of these old and much-missed voices singing along beside me. It’s a lovely, chaotic sort of chorus and I lose myself in it.