Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ain't Supposed to Die on a Saturday Night

The '59 Sound - The Gaslight Anthem (mp3)
Love U More - Sunscreem (mp3)

Music is my primary emotional siphon. Inserting those ear buds is akin to shoving a plastic tube into my gas tank, and what usually emerges from me are the heavy, unglamorous feelings of despair, agony, melancholia or fear. This musical bloodletting happens most often, appropriately enough, when I'm in my car. (Or, yes, on my scooter.)

Struggling to express ugly emotions with those I trust and who love me isn't unique. The world is full of people who keep the bad shit bottled up. What does seem ironic is that I'm somehow more comfortable weeping or screaming or punching the top of my car while on the road, inviting strangers to witness my little tirades, which probably resemble something like "The Fast and The Exorcist."

Songs that can at the right moment draw forth the poison from inside me are legion. Not like they're squeezing blood from a stone, fer Chrissakes. These songs are squeezing water from an overburdened sponge. In college, the Sunscreem song "Love U More" was on frequent repeat in my car, and I'd often drive blurry-eyed and wiping away tears. The lyrics are downright embarrassing at times, and the music ain't much better. But I'd just broken up with someone and haunted by the feeling I had failed to hold up my end of our relationship bargain. I didn't enjoy it coming to an end, but I couldn't see any other option. It felt like the lesser of two awfuls, but awful nonetheless. Something in that song helped siphoned out the poison.

Lately, "The '59 Sound" by The Gaslight Anthem has been getting heavy rotation in my ears when I'm alone in the car. The song's got teenagers, tragedy, and the mention of a gospel choir. It's a top-notch weeper that works even though it's not "quiet and minor and peaceful and slow."

Part of the reason this song has lingered on my radar is because, as Bob mentioned yesterday, our school celebrated the graduation of its Class of 2009 last weekend. The pending close of another year is always bittersweet and begs for emotional siphoning. Working with high schoolers, if one is committed to it and passionate about it, often makes you feel like Calypso. You've helped to shelter and care for these vulnerable sticks of dynamite. You've watched them grow stronger and more confident. You've glimpsed moments of their far-away mysterious home lives, some of which are less than dreamy, as Bob so wonderfully noted yesterday.

You release them into the world knowing full well there's plenty of growing up still to do, but you can't help them, and you can't even witness it happen anymore. Instead, you replace them with a new crop and start the damn thing over again. It's this weird "Time to make the donuts" "Groundhog Day" kind of feeling.

The chains I've been hearin' now for most of my life.

This particular senior class experienced some heavy shit on their journey. Two student deaths over a 2-year span, and both off-the-charts unusual and tragic. While the deaths of those boys were most especially painful to their parents and relatives, tragedies kill parts of everyone they touch, and those deaths touched every student in one way or another. Every adult, too, for that matter. "The '59 Sound" is the sound of tormented teenage souls, desperately clawing and fighting to accept the unacceptable.

As a sophomore in college, one of the more beloved guys in my dorm was killed in a car wreck. Drunk driver slammed into him. Jaws of life didn't live up to their billing. Bob had been dead mere hours when the news careened into us.

And I wonder, were you scared when the metal hit the glass?

Although I was by no means his best friend, we had spent plenty of time in one another's company. The weekend before he was killed, he'd been going through the dorm with permanent markers, writing his name on pillars and walls and doors. "Bob was here '72." He wrote the "'72" part in the hopes it would look like some old alum had returned to make his mark for old times' sake.

Maybe four nights before his death, Bob came into my room and wrote it several times on our loft. We talked for probably half an hour, and it was the kind of conversation that meant very little to me at the time. But the night of his death, as about eight of us gathered silently on the balcony and struggled to understand how to feel and how much of it to share, I desperately tried to retrieve that conversation.

Surely it was no coincidence that he was leaving his mark on that dorm mere days before he died. Surely it was no coincidence that my longest personal conversation with the guy happened mere days before he was gone. Yet I could only remember bits and phrases, and none of those orphaned pieces felt meaningful enough to justify the symbolism of a young man imparting some last crucial wisdom on his friends. I was still too young and clueless to realize that nothing he had said would ever allow his death to feel meaningful.

Young boys, young girls
Ain't supposed to die on a Saturday night.

No offense to the God in which I believe, but I can think of many worse things than getting to spend an eternity listening to my favorite songs, or even getting the gift of having one or two of them release me from life's waning moments. And sometimes the only way to swim through the sadness is to take great hope in the little things.


Daisy said...

Not exactly light reading first thing in the morning, but eloquent as always. Now to try to banish the mental image of a grown man in a seater vest weeping openly while driving a scooter.

BeckEye said...

What a lovely post. And "The '59 Sound" is a beautiful song. It's a goosebump-producer for sure.

Tockstar said...

Great post. I also found myself listening to "The '59 Sound" a lot over the weekend. Sometimes I think about how I will continue getting older while the kids stay the same age and it makes my head spin. Today in Chapel, I missed those guys - as much as they were ready to go (and we were ready to get them out of here) - I missed them.

I think "The Vineyard" by JackoPierce is a great song to remind us of the students' perspective - you shouldn't stay, but part of you really, really wants to. That's been on heavy repeat as well.

The Big Nichols said...

Certainly on my short-list for song of the year. Year meaning songs I've discovered in the last 12 months since it's an '08 release.