“Write about a song and the memories or feelings it evokes in you.”
For ages I thought I would never know who sang this song, but it kept haunting me as I would play it over and over again, hoping for some hidden clue. See, I used to trade mixed tapes with other people who I met on the internet. This was the early days of the internet, back when geocities was super cool, and when Yahoo! was the most popular search engine.
I would go in this chatroom called #madlibs and hang out with a host of people I was sure I would never meet in person. In fact, I wasn’t 100% sure those other “people” in the room were real, that they weren’t made up by some company as an experiment, and that I was the lab rat in said experiment. But they seemed real enough and we would have conversations all day (when I was supposed to be in class).
Then I found internet mailing lists and I was hooked. That a group of people who shared some of my same musical interests were talking about those interests and so much more was beyond my wildest dreams. I got addicted, and shortly I had email buddies from around the globe. When I suggested we send each other mixed tapes of some of our favorite songs it spread like wildfire. I even created a template to put in the tape cases before I sent them off. It was a give-and-take scenario, and in any given week I recall receiving at least three tapes from all over the place.
Some of the songs were in English, and some were not, but every single one of them was at least somewhat interesting, and I hoped the tapes I sent out were well-received too. The only problem was that some people sent along song titles and artists, others sent along just song titles, and some sent absolutely nothing by way of paperwork, so it was all a guessing game unless I already knew and owned the song in question. This one girl, who I had enjoyed a frantic exchange of emails with, sent me the perfect mixed tape — just enough fast vs. slow songs, just enough popular vs. obscure songs — but she was in the last group. She sent no kind of song titles or artists, only the tape in a blank case.
And of course I fell in love with her tape, and I was desperate to know who a lot of the artists were who sang the songs. This was back in the era before Spotify, before search engines that took in lyrics and spit out artists like it was going out of style. So I emailed her and got no response. In fact it told me that her AOL account had been disabled. Undaunted, I sent her a physical letter (we called it snail mail), and asked for the song titles, but she never responded. Looking back on it, I think she liked being mysterious. She thrived on the questions instead of the answers, and I never heard from her again.
The music began to take on epic proportions because of the silence from the creator of the mixed tape, and I grew desperate to find those song artists, so I began copying my top three favorite songs from that tape onto mixed tapes that I sent out to others with the explicit orders for them to tell me if they recognized either of the three. This went on for a year, and two of the three songs and artists were identified, but the one that haunted me the most, the one that transformed my dreams, was still unidentified despite my best efforts.
Here’s Where the Story Ends. Time and again the refrain would come to me at odd moments, at startling intervals, so that I began humming it without realizing what I was doing until others told me to shut up. Then, finally, after three years of constant vigilance, of putting the song on at least 25 mixed tapes, with no results, it happened. I GAVE UP. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I made a tape of just that one song over and over again, and I figured that would be the only way I could ever truly own the song, that I would have to make my peace with it. So I did.
And then it happened in a quite unexpected way. I walked into Tower Records on a Friday night, as was my wont, and was drawn to the new CDs. It was the one night a month I would pick out a random CD based simply on its cover artwork. I was one strategically displayed front and center with a moon on its cover, and I liked it. It was by a group called The Sundays, a group I had never heard of, but I liked the cover so I bought the CD. Little did I know what my journey was almost at an end, three years later, after I had completely given it up for lost.
When I got it home, put on my headphones, and started the very first song I knew it. The second that lilting voice came through loud and clear I had my answer. I finally knew who sang that profoundest of songs, and I stopped the music right away and headed back to Tower Records, intent on making it official. You know how some things are a big letdown after you’ve set yourself up for something dynamic for so long? Well, this was the opposite of that. I was in love with the song, with that voice, and with the search, but the end of the search didn’t mean it was the end of my love affair with that voice.
The Sundays were amazing, and I found out just how much when I made it back to the record store and bought their first two CDs, completing the trifecta. In fact, to this day, no matter where I am or who I’m with, the memory of that time, of that anticipation, can wash over me in waves and give me that warmest of feelings. Just the memory of it. Imagine what happens when I play the song.
“People I see, weary of me, showing my good side. I can see how people look down. I’m on the outside. Here’s where the story ends.”