Thursday, October 4, 2012

"Nobody Knows Me"

Nobody Knows Me - Lyle Lovett (mp3)

The Christmas break of my sophomore year of high school, Jen came down from “up North” to visit her friend, Andy. Andy just happened to be my three-years-older best friend.

Jen and Andy had bonded their first semester. He had developed an immediate and heart-agonizing crush on Jen, but they were just friends. Because that’s the inevitable curse of comic-book collecting nerds, to forever befriend those about whom he pines.

I got to meet Jen the first night she was in Chattanooga, and I instantly knew why Andy was smitten, because I felt it, too. She was like this whirlpool, drawing in lost ships to her core. Her EQ was through the roof, and she could sense our extreme thirst for female acceptance. She wasn’t a tease; her accepting us felt genuine and kind and, in hindsight, a bit scientifically curious as well.

She was 19 and spending a long weekend hanging around her college buddy and two high school kids, and I still remember large moments of that weekend like they were on old film in my attic.

We went to a park and sat four abreast on these huge swings, and we swung for what felt like hours, bundled up and watching our breaths crystallize in the air. We talked of hopes and fears, music and movies. When the three males would drift into our own long-honed private lexicon, she just let it slide.

Later, Andy, Jen and I were all in separate sleeping bags, lined up next to the fireplace in my house, continuing this amazing experience of an adorable older female who actually cared to listen to the thoughts and feelings of socially-awkward boys starving to be relevant.

At one point, Jen made me grab my jambox -- yes, you may laugh -- and she inserted a cassette and pushed play. She made us promise not to say anything at all while the tape played. “We can talk after. You have to promise to just let the music go through you.”

We listened to all 41 minutes of Lyle Lovett and His Large Band. I’d never heard of Lyle or his band in December of 1987. Twenty-five years later, I own nine of his CDs. Lyle Lovett’s music has been included on Bottom of the Glass more than almost any other artist. His song “Nobody Knows Me” was required on all first-time mixtapes I made for anyone for more than a decade.

In 1987, before I’d dated, before I’d loved and lost, loved and lost again, been married and seen those around me in various states of singularity and coupledom, I thought "Nobody Knows Me" was a love song.


Lyrics need not be complicated to be complex, and this simple-seeming song tells a deep and heartbreaking tale.

And she cried man how could you do it
And I swore that there weren’t nothing to it

In 1987 -- hell, even in 1997 -- I misunderstood these lines. I thought these were the words of the humble cowboy (“‘Tweren’t nuthin’ to it, ma’am. Just happy to help. Mighty obliged” yada yada). Betrayal never crossed my mind.

“Nobody Knows Me” is the timeless story of lascivious males and the yarns they spin, told with the pinpoint specificity of a particular couple, a specific relationship, a real moment of personal betrayal that stabs in ways that generalizations cannot. It is the story of lascivious males left alone in their messy kitchens to wonder how they got to that place, to mull why they didn’t see their punishment coming, to wish they could have back the love they’ve lost.

In 1987, as we sat snuggled inside our separate sleeping bags, I knew how strongly Andy felt about Jen, and I knew she would never care for him the same way in return. Like most silly boys, I fooled myself into thinking I might be different, that she might be willing to try romancing with a nerdy 16-year-old boy. Had the opportunity presented itself in reality rather than merely my imagination, I would probably have betrayed my best childhood friend for the attentions of a young woman I hadn’t known even 48 hours. If betrayal is what that's called, to destroy something which was never going to happen in the first place.

That night, in the glow of those dying fireplace embers, Andy knew this about me, and so did Jen, and so did I.

Seeds of betrayal come in all shapes and sizes. Do those seeds exist in all of us? How are they planted? How do they blossom, or how can we wither them away? Jen and Andy eventually fell asleep. I watched the light of dawn begin to finger-claw its way into our living room windows, wondering if there was any way to be different.

Nobody knows me
like my baby

1 comment:

Daisy said...

I like irreverent sarcastic Billy. I'm fine with indignant self-righteous Billy. Politically minded left-leaning Billy is okay, but it is nostalgic teenage angst Billy that I adore. I love the phrase "socially awkward boys starving to be relevant" . Bonus points for making me like a music post!