Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Love is love and not fade away

I started keeping pen-and-paper journals when I was eight years old, having received a Ramona diary for my birthday from a friend. I really believe it was that little diary, probably picked up on a whim by the friend's mother, which set me on the path to become a writer. That's probably another story for another day, though.

I mention it because by early high school, I was realizing how my tastes changed from year to year, and started periodically writing down lists of things in my journals so that I could come back and read them in a few years and see how I felt. The most common list was my top five favorite bands or top five albums I'd pick if I could only listen to five albums for the rest of my life. Someday I'll have to dig out the journals and post the lists, because I'm sure at times they were pretty hilarious.

My musical whims change more frequently now than they did, I think, though now I usually find myself rediscovering albums I've had for years, playing the hell out of them for a few weeks or months, and then rediscovering something else. There are some albums, though, that I feel I will always love, that I have loved deeply for so long that I think they are etched on my bones, never to fade from my life.

The first album is Lay It Down by the Cowboy Junkies. I had only heard of them peripherally, maybe once or twice, but then during senior year, my friend H and I were taking on odd jobs to earn money for our post-graduation trip to London. The teachers involved with the trip knew we were broke and tossed tasks our way, and one Sunday the English team coach paid us to rake leaves and mow his huge suburban lawn. When we were done, he offered us a chance to go through the leftovers of a yard sale he and his wife had just held, and said we could take whatever we wanted in addition to the cash he gave us for the mowing. I stumbled upon a big box packed full of his legendary 80s tape collection, and I had to have it. In the box, I would later find a tape of Lay It Down, which interestingly enough, had been made for the English team coach by another of my favorite English teachers, a guy who I would talk music with for the rest of that year and beyond. I have since accumulated a half-dozen Cowboy Junkies albums and listened to them for countless hours. Their lyrics are aching, haunting, beautiful. The music is ... what? Folky meets country meets rock meets something else? Not sure. But I love it.

The second eternal album that comes to mind is Car Wheels on a Gravel Road by Lucinda Williams. Though she is one of my best friends and something of a soul mate, I did not meet Danger until our senior year in high school. By the end of that year, we were metaphorically inseparable, though not literally, as we would in the Fall head off to universities nearly three hours apart. Because we are slightly old, we started college before the absolute ubiquity of email. We had accounts through school, of course, but at my college the internet was accessed by running a huge multi-pin data cable from the phone in the living room into our bedroom and plugging it into the computer. You had to wait in a queue to get into the school's email server, and often the system would hiccup after you'd been waiting for hours and bump you to the back of the line of three hundred some-odd students. The only chat program I knew about was AOL's instant messenger.

Danger and I did talk on IM, and we did email, but we also wrote letters. Pages and pages of letters. Sometimes I wrote to her every week. We sent care packages back and forth, usually chock full of treats we'd purchased using our meal plan points. And mix tapes. We exchanged probably dozens of mix tapes in four years. One tape she sent me was Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, and it stuck.

The third album that comes to mind (and I'm sure I'll think of others as soon as I hit the publish button on this post) is August and Everything After by Counting Crows. Lyrically, probably musically, it doesn't really stand up against the other two, but I still love it. I think this one is a combination of the album itself and the place I was at in my life when I found it. I got it in earlier high school, maybe sophomore year? And the songs are so ingrained in my true growing-up years that I don't think they'll ever wash out. They are the links in the chain link fence and I am the tree that grew into and through and past the fence, swallowing the metal loops behind my bark. They are not staggering works of genius, but the songs of this album have worked their way into the marrow of me, and I'm pretty sure they're here to stay.


  1. Ah, music. I still liove "Speaking Confidentially" and it's all your fault.

  2. I remember making that tape - that was for your big trip out west in 2000. I was so worried you wouldn't like it. I'm so glad you like it!

  3. Great post! I love these origins of fan-dom posts, largely because I do a lot of them myself. 'Car Wheels' is an exceptional album and one that has gotten me through some tough times. And the COwboy Junkies are wonderful - my favorite is Trinity Sessions.