March 11th, 2004

So Many Suns

Driving up Campbell this afternoon, I realize that the traffic light at Fort Lowell is backing up and make a sudden right onto Hedrick to bypass the intersection. I'm listening to one of the two mix CDs I made for last Thanksgiving at the Berrys. As I near the first stop sign, I hear the piano chord and Elton John's voice along with it: "Hello/Baby, hello/Haven't seen your face for awhile."

The light is right, Catalinas looming warmly in the corner of my eye, and I feel the song in that way that comes harder than it once did. "Happy" is too one-sided, "melancholy" too dark. You know how wine experts describe the mingling of tastes? "It's _____ and _____ with a _____ finish." That's what it's like, feelings layered, overlapping.

My mind washes away with the flood. I have a vision of playing a song during the breaks in my classes, a way to share. I recognize that I would probably be too uncomfortable to sit there in the classroom, watching students listen to music I care so deeply about. It worked at the end of the English 300 final, but that's because I had an animus. Shellac fit the mood.

What is it about this song "Harmony" that resonates with me, even though I'm listening to a crappy AAC version of a crappily mastered CD? I think of Kim, our nights of debauched domesticity. Friday was our night to clean under the influence, stereo blasting, then watch X-Files and Homicide.

There's a bottle of champagne in the fridge, a good one by American standards. I bought it for the Thanksgiving before last, our first one at the Berrys. My intention was to "celebrate" a break from the terrible English 300 experience of Tuesday's class. But I didn't muster the nerve to drink it. David's strange, bitter cocktail was more than enough.

Will I ever drink champagne again? The last time was in the summer of 2000, when we were staying at Greg's apartment in Starr Pass, and celebrated our selection of a place to live. I'm not sure my post-September 11th consciousness can handle that much freedom.

So the music will have to suffice. "Harmony" reminds me of my favorite David Bowie ballad, "Star Man," and the Tiffany stained glass stilll in Breaking the Waves the song plays over. Dan Bejar sounds like Elton John too: "Barred/From the temple."

I need to let go. But I can't do it on my own. I need to find something that will let me go. "Harmony and me/We're pretty good company."

After I came home from teaching tonight, Kim watched The Virgin Suicides and worked on her film notes for its International Arts Society screening Friday. I cooked and puttered, hearing the already detached voice-over at another remove.

The first time I saw the film, I barely noticed Air's soundtrack, it blended so seamlessly into the story. Not seeing the images, not following the story, however, I was able to hear it in its fullness. It's really wonderful.

Better still, though, was the contrast between Air's weightless electronica and the 70s pop songs that the boys in the film play over the telephone to the sisters imprisoned in their suburban bedrooms. The effect has something in common with the one in Breaking the Waves, when the tension between music-free narrative and musical interlude generates such remarkable energy.

My favorite moment came as I stood over the kitchen sink. Again the piano. But the voice takes longer to come. "So far away/Doesn't anybody stay/ In one place anymore?"

Kim and I have separate CD collections. But Tapestry is mine. I bought it when I first moved to Tucson.

For two-and-a-half weeks, Tibbs and I lived alone at Hummingbird House. I wandered around aimlessly at night. I took the Beast for night strolls on a leash and almost stepped on a rattlesnake hunting in the wake of a monsoon thunderstorm. I spent hours in the aisles of the Super K-Mart on Ina.

And I bought music: Carole King, the Replacements' Pleased To Meet Me, the Allmann Brothers Band's Brothers and Sisters, and finally Magnetic Fields's Sixty-nine Love Songs. It's hard for me to listen to any of these records now, because I'm transported back to that exhausting time.

But when "So Far Away" comes on the radio, I feel a strange tingle, the one I felt tonight. The song always conjures "It's Too Late" for me, with all that connection implies.

As Mr. Malkmus sings on Terror Twilight's "Ann Don't Cry," foreshadowing Pavement's demise, "The damage has been done/I am not having fun now/Anymore."

Thinking tonight about where the contrast between Carole King and Air took me, where Elton John took me hours before, I wonder which mode of transport is better.

Back to Vallejo, with candles on the rim of the bathtub and the ambient pleasures of the alley shooting through the side windows?

Or back to my first weeks in Tucson, sprawling on the bed with the Beast, figuring out how to cook without a stove, withstanding the misery?

Why did I include both "Harmony" and "So Far Away" on my Thanksgiving mix CDs?

While we went for our constitutional after dinner, David and Kim stayed behind. She later told me that he would rapidly forward the CD to the next track if a song didn't appeal to him.

I used to think I wanted "the passage back/To the place I was before."

Now I'm not so sure.

Richly Rewarded

You know that stereotype of the nice guy who never gets the girl, even though he's a better friend to her than the assholes she decides to screw?
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