Mostly central and coastal Mass, including the Boston area.
This was the mid-1990s, and I'm loathe to admit what a sort of magical time that was, magical precisely for the lack of 60's (and 2020's) style politics and societal concern; we existed as student and husband, she and I, and we were buried in finding our way in a new world, a new marriage, a new everything. Buried and finding a route.
It was magic. It wasn't happy all the time; some of the very roughest patches of our marriage were there, but it was hard earned and hard edged and cold and we found friends that we still have and love.
So what to do with that? No one but she and I have those memories, and in my many long drives to clients around the commonwealth, it was just me and a soundtrack.
It was the 90s. My soundtrack was a specific techno, a specific ska, specific two-tone, punk, and finding new Americana, folk, lovely stuff that tied me urgently to warmer more southern things, or to weird things, or to New York things, or to experimental, driving things.
But there were specific, exact, pinned and mentally photoed scenes...mental dioramas, exquisite in their mundane, brutal beauty, the kind of detail that you see now in high def that was only experienced then, mental then, only lived then. Nothing produced by dudes and tech could hit those levels of detail; movies don't move me (thanks Tricky!), and pixels could fuck right off.
Last night it was a single visual and sonic tone leading to the memory of a back-alley, dark after a too early winter sunset, cold but not frozen, wet but not snow, the asphalt shimmering, that black old track, diamond crusted with phosphorescent light, sulphur orange and yellow. It happens that my face, then, was against it, cold to the cheek, wet, there I'm trying to sort out where I just was when suddenly I wasn't there, I was fallen, drunk.
The alley, the sound of a city: grit and horns and the constant hiss and shhhh of traffic, the distant and close sounds of people and trains and cars and the exhale of a city at rest.
Boston, 1:00 am. Transfixed in the stares of a million lonely souls, the cold alley and shining asphalt, the smell of it, the sense of being immersed in a thing as organic and inhabited as a city. Strange for a desert dweller.
Strange and cold and new and forever part of my being and certainly my cheek, the city pressing into my drunken flesh, wrecked and wasted and the Specials at the Middle East back there and just over there is the goddamn Citgo sign. Just over there Copley. The pregnant building, Post Office Square where the parking was an improbable and ridiculous $50 a day. My law firm clients, my beer company clients, all of them within shouting distance. Somewhere my sobriety, lying in wait for me to get off the ground.
In my head, Underworld. In my head, whatever was on BCN at the time. Bittersweet Symphony, maybe. Brim Full of Asha. Lager lager lager. Sponge, maybe. That music though, perfectly frozen in my head with that moment. Perfectly high def, better hifi than I can muster now, that moment tattooed with full resolution, surround sound, smell-o-vision, an exact pattern perfect in the diorama of my past.
A million years later, London. Cold and wet, dark October. Wife in the hotel room, me restless and needing to feel the city. London after Paris feels like being in a museum, like you're in a well curated, polite and clean space, everything an arm's length away behind glass. London, met with friends, had this immersive lovely time, had to keep reminding myself that I was actually there. Barkeep at the last bar, asking me to say the name of the beer again because my accent was so television. Everything not foreign but foreign, mirror-world weird.
Walking somewhere, financial district after dark, dead streets. Alleyway, shining with streetlight and window light and suddenly. Light glint just right and suddenly.
Suddenly, struck like that, echoes of Underworld and Verve and 90s so loud in my ears, louder than my tinnitus, and no Spotify to immediately binge on the drug my head demanded, no way to settle this uprising.
A million crickets, a million starlings, a million night birds calling through that time, wanting. Anonymous white noise, but the fingerprint almost identical.
Cold city against the wasted youth. The Specials on ghost patrol. Deep, deep, deep sadness and a realization that no one, no one, no one will know this.
No lineage, no soul, no God, no animal entity drawing any breath could find this junction of these places in this way with this soundtrack by this light. Nothing but cold wet asphalt.
In 1997, the music and the light and the dopamine all hit just right. The alcohol helped.
It's not as stupid as it sounds. It deserves the honor I'm choosing for it. To have had those kinds of moments, and there a so many, in so many places...to have had those? I can't just let them die.
It's not like me to do that. I'm that guy who uses ten million words where five words will do.
I miss all of that, sure, you may know me as that guy who pines for lost avenues. But hey, thing is? Forty eight years old, now three years past my expiration date, three years older than my older brother, it's just nice, those immersive moments. It's not sadness, or overwhelming, it doesn't make me feel like I'm about to burst into orbit. It makes me feel rooted and solid. Packed.
It's a full feeling, in a good way. It's knowing that there's a completeness, an entire human soul back there that I am dragging along with me, that I carry around, that I balance on my head at times and dance with at times and ignore at times and just breathe with. That what I am is what I have amounted to so far, and yeah it's not settled and it isn't perfect or even good some days, but hey, you know what?
Somewhere there's this intersection of things, a sensory combination, a perfect mass of brain-powered chemistry that makes even the most thrown-away moments jump to life, an anchor to a life that I can't now imagine without that kind of prompt.
Nick Drake at 2am. Super humid super green back yard in a rental in Austin, cigarette glowing as the world cools with ticks and contractions, water rushing mosquitoes out of culverts, and me, if you can believe this, standing there, the night before one of my first k5 diaries.
Or how about the moment my heart broke the first fifty times.
Or the times I laughed so hard I lost feeling in my face.
The times I fell.
The times I got up.
Dusted myself off.
Allowed myself to be bruised and bleeding, and indulged in self pity, indulged in depths of despair.
And all the times where time just was.
It's different now. This older me, past some violent thing. I'm no longer so dire. But I do need me some nostalgia.
Some hard syncopated beats, some good layers of sound and vision. But now? It's not there to amplify the emotions; it's there to engage those emotions. Bring them up and let them steep. Dream with them.
Me, the guy who uses a million words where five million will do. I'm the guy who can't write any longer, who lost his callouses. Maybe I'll find all that again, maybe. We'll see. For now, memory. Cold light from a distance.
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