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Archive for the ‘Nostalgia’ Category

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“I’m on my way. Driving at ninety down those country lanes, singing to ‘Tiny Dancer.’ And I miss the way you make me feel, and it’s real. We watched the sunset over the castle on the hill.” ~Ed Sheeran

the_castle_on_the_hill_by_estruda-dalq5st

It’s no surprise that I like to sing. Check out my youTube channel I’m about to take down, and you can hear for yourself how freeform it truly is — kind of like my dancing. More often than not I’ll be singing my song of the moment, whatever song has struck my fancy that day, that week, or that month. Generally it’s a song I play a lot in my car, but sometimes it’s random enough to be maddening even to me.

Currently that song is “Castle on the Hill,” by Ed Sheeran, a soaring anthem that tugs at both the heartstrings and my legendary sense of nostalgia at the same time. I love the whole album (Divide) but something about this one song brings me back to my childhood in a way that few songs not from that era have the ability to achieve. At least for me.

Which is funny because I don’t really have a relationship to look at in the same way as he remembers one of his earliest. I was pretty much strictly friend material to girls back in middle school, even though I would pour my heart out to them in poems I never sent, in songs I never sang, and in words I never said face to face either. It was this dichotomy between the me I wanted to be — strong and determined — and the me I couldn’t help being — fragile and tentative. Like oil and water, they didn’t mix.

So I sang to myself, but my song wasn’t “Tiny Dancer.” It was more often than not “Broken Wings,” or “Get Outta My Dreams,” songs of lost love or unrealized love that resonated with the teenage me much more than anything by Prince or those other guys who sounded like Prince. I was a bit quirkier, preferring “Motown Song” over more sensitive fare.

But that’s always been me, my songs of the moment somehow connected to me in ways only I could ever figure out at the time, then moving on to the next song when my emotions have moved on. I do miss those songs when they fade from my spotlight, though, when they’ve gone back to their regular places on their own albums, when they’ve drifted from my mind like so much snow blowing across the boulevard.

So right now it’s “Castle on the Hill,” and I nearly cry when I hit the chorus. Every single time I hit the chorus. Because it’s SO me right now, and the sun is setting over the hill. I’m just still waiting for my castle.

Sam

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“…and that R.E.M. song was playing in my mind. Three and a half minutes. Felt like a lifetime.” ~Better Than Ezra

remsplitI always wondered what “that R.E.M. song” was, which one from their vast catalog made such an impression on a young Kevin Griffin (lead singer of Better Than Ezra) that he immortalized it in his own song. The song is about the death of a young friend, who after graduation had a car wreck and died, the lyrics a poignant reminder of the brevity of life, and how quickly it can be taken from any of us.

With that in mind, I began to dig deep into what could possibly be the mystery R.E.M. song from the lyrics. It’s a good thing, then, that I own the entire R.E.M. catalogue, because it would take a hell of a lot of digging to arrive at the ultimate truth. For starters, here is the full list of the band’s songs that hit 3:26 – 3:34 on the scale (prior to 2001, when the Better Than Ezra song was written)…

Gardening At Night (3:30)
Disturbance At the Heron House (3:34)
Romance (3:27)
Good Advices (3:30)
Begin the Begin (3:28)
What If We Give It Away? (3:34)
I Don’t Sleep, I Dream (3:28)
Let Me In (3:28)
Moral Kiosk (3:31)
Perfect Circle (3:30)
Departure (3:30)
Low Desert (3:32)
Half a World Away (3:28)
Time After Time (3:34)

That’s an awful lot of songs, so I tried to break them down by lyrics, by which ones might be depressing. I realized as I was doing this that most of R.E.M.’s catalogue is full of depressing, sad songs. Kevin Griffin literally had his choice of songs to complement his own, just by the sheer volume of sad songs to choose from, even from this relatively small list.

For a very long time I thought the song he referenced was “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream,” from the Monster record. It fit nearly every aspect of a depressing song that would hearken back to a premature death. “I’m looking for an interruption. Do you believe? Some medicine for my headache. Hooray.” The only thing that didn’t fit was the length of the song, because while I thought my range was pretty good, the lyric of the song was “Three and a half minutes,” and if I was being literal that one would not fit.

In fact, the more I thought about it the more I thought the song I was looking for was exactly 3 minutes and 30 seconds, which left me with Departure, Perfect Circle, Good Advices, and my personal favorite, Gardening At Night. In fact, the lyrics of “Gardening At Night” are very compelling. “We fell up, not to see the sun. Gardening at night just didn’t grow. I see your money on the floor. I felt the pocket change. Though all the feelings that broke down that door just didn’t seem to be too real.” Something about the shifting reality, the yearning to do something that seems right but doesn’t have positive consequences, it clicked in me.

But that wasn’t it. Here is the full lyric of the verse from the Better Than Ezra song from earlier…

“And I know I wasn’t right, but it felt so good
And your mother didn’t mind, like I thought she would
And that R.E.M. song was playing in my mind
Three and a half minutes, felt like a lifetime.”

5b8a1cb234e9b2d7ba2ad332ab262588That part of the song has always hit me like a hammer to the gut, the idea of something feeling so good but not being right, of approval out of nowhere, not for the means to an end, but for the end itself. It’s almost like it is a eulogy, not for the person who has died, but instead for the enterprise itself, for being adventurous. That R.E.M. song felt like a lifetime because when it ends the glory of a life lived for adventure ends as well.

The song was “Perfect Circle,” by the way, the idea that life is indeed this circle. We are born to die, but in the space between the wails of birth and the silence of death we either truly live or we go through the motions. “Perfect Circle” is all about truly living, taking the moment and wringing every ounce of glory from it so we can live on the nostalgia of that moment for years to come.

“Pull your dress on and stay real close. Who might leave you where I left off? A perfect circle of acquaintances and friends…”

Three and a half minutes. Felt like a lifetime.

Sam

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cute_sitting_fox_journalDear Journal,

When I was 10 I got my first journal, and I named it Fox because it had a painting of a fox on the cover. It was rather generic, but I was excited about it anyway. It was my excuse to go into my room and put my thoughts down on lined paper instead of scraps left over from shopping lists and whatnot.

Of course, as happy as I was having a journal at long last, I didn’t know how to begin writing in it. I had no precedent, and I knew no one else who admitted to keeping a journal, only girls with diaries. So I just took out a pen and started writing on page one. It went something like this:

Dear Fox, I am writing in you because I got you as a gift, and I don’t want you to be bored. I don’t know what I will tell you, but I promise I’ll keep you safe. Well, I can’t promise that because there is no lock on you, but I’ll keep you under my bed and no one ever goes under there. I’ll write in you more tomorrow.

I didn’t write in Fox that next day, or the one after it. I got busy with life, and it was three months before I wrote in him again (it took me forever to determine whether he was a girl or a boy). By that time I had pretty much forgotten why I needed a journal in the first place, but I came back to him anyway, and I’m glad I did. Because I finally had some secrets to put down on paper. And put those secrets down I did.

For the next several months I wrote in Fox more days than I didn’t, which was the beginning of getting my thoughts out, thoughts that I would never dare share with another living soul. When I look back at it now, though, it’s funny how irrelevant those secrets and thoughts really were back then.

Dear Fox, thanks for listening.

Sam

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“It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year which makes my eyes feel sore. Oh, I never should have said the books that you read were all I loved you for.” ~The Sundays

audio_mix_tape_wall_decal_singleI don’t remember exactly when I first heard it, but I do remember how it made me feel. Something about it was ethereal, airy in a way that few songs to that point had ever been for me. It had a whimsical side to it that was both lilting and fragile at the same time. It drew me in and I wanted to hear that voice again. The only problem was that I had absolutely no idea who was singing it, and it drove me absolutely insane.

It was on this mixed tape that a girl sent me. Don’t ask me to remember the name of the girl because they all blur together from back then. Needless to say, it was a girl whose musical opinion mattered to me. We didn’t know each other in real life, but in the early days of my Internet obsession it was surprisingly easy to talk to people outside of the cluster of real life acquaintances I had at the time. After we had been conversing for a few weeks, I suggested we exchange mixed tapes. So we did.

I have to back it up a step, though, because back then I exchanged mixed tapes with a LOT of people. In fact, I would go into Tower Records and purchase a package of 20 blank tapes for expressly that purpose, and use them up almost as quickly as I bought them. I had one rule, though, when exchanging mixed tapes. I wanted to come into the experience completely oblivious to what I would be hearing as I listened, so I told each person who was going to send me a tape not to label it in any way.

Hence, my dilemma. Most songs on most mixed tapes I got at that time were easy for me to figure out as they were mostly songs I had in my collection already, or were songs I had heard on the radio. I must have listened to about 50 mixed tapes through those years of swapping, from all kinds of people all around the globe, but there were very few songs on those tapes that I didn’t know. Arguably the song I liked the most from one of those mixed tapes was one I didn’t know, and thus began the journey.

“It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year which makes me wonder why. And it’s the memories of the shed that make me turn red. Surprise. Surprise. Surprise.”

Remember I said this was in my Internet infancy? That would play a huge role in my growing frustration over the next few years. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just email the girl who sent me the tape and ask what the song was, and that would be a good question to ask. However, it took me ages to actually listen to that particular tape for the first time, and in the intervening time I had a falling out with the tape’s sender. For all the beautiful songs she put on that tape for me, it was surprisingly easy for her to completely cut me out of her life. So I was back at square one.

So yes, my Internet infancy… it wasn’t just mine, because the network of sites and resources that we take for granted now wasn’t even remotely in place back in the ’90s. Lycos, or AltaVista, or whatever, didn’t quite have a lyrics engine, so my typing in random parts of the song into the search engine yielded absolutely no results. There was no social media so I couldn’t exactly ask my FB friends if anyone recognized the song. There was no Shazam, so I couldn’t hold up my nonexistent cell phone and capture the song in its clutches. I was stuck.

Years went by, and I wore that tape out from constant listening. It wasn’t the only song on there that I loved to pieces; it was just the only song on there that I didn’t already know. And as the years passed I guess I just forgot about trying to figure out who sang it anymore. I just let it wash over me when I listened to the tape, enjoying it for what it was, and just happy that I had a version of it at all. I even copied it from its location onto other mixed tapes that I sent to others.

Eventually I’m sure the Internet progressed, but I stopped typing lyrics into Lycos, AltaVista, or wherever, anymore. I’m certain at some point along the way if I had kept it up the World Wide Web would have caught up and spit back a name for me. It’s funny how some things happen, though, when we least expect them. By the time I had finally given up on finding out who sang the song it fell from the heavens into my lap. And in the most coincidental of ways too. It was on another mixed tape.

You see, after several years of swapping mixed tapes with others, I relaxed the rule of no labels, and the tapes kept pouring in. So many people were pretty creative with their labels, too, mixing in some artwork around the song titles. I still have so many of those tapes, and I have to say they put playlists to shame. But this post isn’t about that, even though it’s still fascinating to me.

On one of those mixed tapes I heard a voice I had listened to so many times before that I had memorized it for all time. My mouth dropped wide open as I flipped over the tape case and scanned the song titles for the one I wanted. And there it was, at long last, the name of the band that sang the song that had haunted me for what had seemed like forever. Oh, it was the Sundays, by the way. The song was “Here’s Where the Story Ends,” and before too long I had all three of their albums and I was in heaven.

Well worth the wait. Shortly after that, the mixed tape broke.

Sam

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“There’s nothing where we used to lie. Conversation has run dry. That’s what’s going on. Nothing’s right. I’m torn.” ~Natalie Imbruglia

happynewyear_1920x1200

It was my last year in Philadelphia, but I didn’t know it when the year started. Funny how that happens, how the monumental moments in our lives, the seismic shifts, often happen with no warning. I woke up on that New Year’s Day without a hangover, but the day was mostly over, testament to the insane amount of drinking I had been doing the night before and until the early morning hours — in celebration mode. That of course resulted in eventually passing out.

But it was okay. I was a newly minted 21 year old. I thought I was invincible.

Soon, though, even my invincible armor would be tested, as my engagement fell apart, my school lies began to unravel, and my relationship with my mother hit a huge wall. It was all my fault, but as a 21 year old I was angry with everyone else. I couldn’t blame myself because we just didn’t do that. It wasn’t the age of self-reflection; it was instead the era of pointing fingers and asking questions later. So that bluster took me from a young man who had hopes and dreams to a scared rabbit who was reacting instead of acting.

And I didn’t let anyone in, past the facade that masqueraded as my fearlessness, as the bravado that would ultimately lead to so many ridiculous and harmful decisions in my life. For me, 1998 was the turning point because so much could have gone differently in my journey if I had simply accessed and addressed my emotional state early on. It was like I dreamwalked through the year and woke up on the other side dazed and confused, and so much worse for wear.

“I don’t wanna close my eyes. I don’t wanna fall asleep, ’cause I’d miss you baby, and I don’t wanna miss a thing.” ~Aerosmith

By year’s end I was an outcast, shuffling off to Tennessee with a few boxes of my possessions, under cover of night because it was more appropriate that way. I was a married man then, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt like a prison break, yet I was still natalie-imbruglia-tornsomehow in prison, as if I had escaped a maze to be told it was part of a larger maze that I was only just beginning. Leaving the city of my birth was devastating, and yet it was my own decision making that precipitated it; I could blame no one but myself.

I still blame no one but myself. But if I had never left I wouldn’t be where I am now. I make myself remember that part because as 1998 ticked down, as I turned 22 in an entirely different place (both physically and emotionally), I was worn down. It was so drastic and so sudden that I guess you could say I was in a state of shock, all my problems and issues center stage that I would have to deal with sooner or later, but probably sooner. As much as I could see all of that even then, it was a whole different story¬† trying to rectify the situation, to reconcile myself to the loss, to grieve and to move on.

Maybe that’s what it was all about, that year, after all. Perhaps it was more than just a turning point. It might very well have been the beginning of my whole life, the old me turned to ash and bone, eventually fading over the passage of time. I do know that the promise I felt the year owed me was quickly snuffed out, and I have never been good at adjusting to change, so it festered and left me empty instead. So I went to Tennessee, and rung in the new year with absolutely no fanfare, fast asleep with no future in mind.

Only thinking about the past, and what went so astronomically wrong. In 1998.

Sam

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xp-worlds_greatest_tall-40_year_old_female-leftIf you had approached 10-year old me and told him where he would be at 40, he probably would have laughed in your face. Because 10-year old me wasn’t remotely interested in the future, for what would pass for life after… well, 10. It was all about the present then, all about the moment, and I was living firmly in it.

Of course, though, as years pass, the focus starts to shift, probably because there isn’t enough wide open future there to ignore anymore. It happens like clockwork (no pun intended), the passing of the years a metronome ticking louder the further we advance into life. But at 10 there’s no way of knowing that things will change, no way to savor the moment because they are fleeting.

When I turned 20 there was an anticipation in the air, a sense that life was just beginning. There were still no bags under my eyes, getting out of bed wasn’t a creak and a groan, and I wasn’t hyper aware of the advancing years. In fact, I was looking forward to 21 with a vengeance, because it would mean I was an adult. My life wasn’t perfect but I could tell it was headed somewhere, which was a first for me.

I was keenly aware of the passage of time even then, though. I wasn’t like 10-year old me, wide eyed and innocent, anymore. Life wasn’t all about getting the physical things I wanted. I was also looking for happiness, for whatever would fulfill the hole that had already begun to widen itself in my life. I’m not sure if I realized back then that it was because I had no concrete relationship with my father. That would come later.

What I do remember feeling the most was that there was an untapped potential, but that I had no way of reaching it. There was possibility at 20 that I had never really explored before, a life that I hadn’t questioned. That was the tipping point with me and religion, with me and my mother, with me and the city of Philadelphia, as it turned out. Significant change was coming. I just didn’t see it yet.

Then change came, and with it a shifting of location, an acceptance of what I could not change, and the courage to change the things I could. I guess you could say it was similar to having an addiction because the more I realized it was bad for me, the more I couldn’t say no to it. And I mean everything. Between 20 and 30 was the time of most change in my life, even as things began to finally stabilize. It was the time for opposites to both be true, and for a little introspection. For the first time in my life.

At 30 I knew the world was changing around me. I was no longer the youngest person in most rooms, and I was keenly aware of that. When I told people I was 21 they laughed at me, and I knew I was supposed to possess a maturity I didn’t feel I truly had at that point. Others looked at me differently, not just as a young man, but the way I looked at my father when I was young. I was married, and I already had a child by then, so my priorities had done a 180. It was a transitional time, in every sense of the term.

And this past decade has been nothing short of a whirlwind, this experiment taking a few twists and turns along the way. I’ve had two huge happenings in my life, a few scatterings of focus shifts, and a whole lot of that earlier introspection, magnified to defcon 10. It’s like my 30s were a battle ground to see who was left standing at the end, and somehow I’m still here, looking at 40 candles on this cheesecake.

The word that comes to mind is blessed, but that’s from 10-year old, clear-eyed, innocent me. I haven’t been that… uncluttered in a very long time. Because life is complicated. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned over these past 40 years, that life is a series of moments strung together that create what we have before us now, for better or for worse. It’s decisions that have consequences, and repercussions, and often unforeseen side effects. But it’s also a beautiful thing.

Creaks, groans, and all.

Sam

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“Congratulations, San Francisco! You’ve ruined pizza!” ~Anger (Inside Out)

san-francisco_sightseeingI miss California — the smell of the ocean being wafted to shore on the breeze. That scent of salt in the air, there’s just nothing like it. The seagulls swooping in with the tide, landing on the sand as if they were cats and the beach was one giant litter box. There’s just something about San Francisco, with its slanted street, with its Golden Gate Bridge, with its hippie pizza places, that makes me feel like I’m home.

I’ve never lived there, mind you. In fact, most of what I know about the city is through television shows and movies that depict it, but the small amount of time I spent there was enough to draw me in, to spark my imagination in ways that it has rarely been sparked before.

When I was 12, the Giants went to the World Series, and while I wasn’t really a baseball fan back then my favorite player was Will Clark, and he played for the Giants. So I was fascinated by that World Series, by that entire postseason really. Before every game I would study the lineups. Because the series was a “battle across the bay,” there was a lot of coverage of both Oakland and San Francisco, so I got to see a ton of footage from those cities. I loved every second of it.

I had been there myself just a few years earlier, while traveling with a couple of elementary teachers and a passel of students on a summer trip cross-country. We had seen so much on that trip, but what stuck with me the most was those two days in San Francisco. Only two days out of a dynamic summer, but there was just something about the place that gave me chills.

fisherman-wharf-san-francisco1Fisherman’s Wharf was phenomenal, that cool air, all the thick, corded rope that blocked off the end of the platforms, the restaurants that stretched on for what seemed like miles on end. We rode a double-decker bus and a trolley through the city, one mode of transportation a day, and both had extraordinary views of the city in all its unique glory. I remember wondering if we were going to fall off the edge of the world when we were on that trolley going almost vertical down one of the streets.

And even though that was nearly 30 years ago, I will never forget it. I haven’t forgotten it. It’s funny that the setting of my favorite animated film, Inside Out, was San Francisco, because it reminded me of all that was wonderfully strange about the city itself. From the organic pizza parlors, to the hippie vibe on the streets, to the thriving art scene, the city is a prime example of everything “different” in this world.

When Anger said, “Congratulations, San Francisco! You’ve ruined pizza!” I nodded right along, and let out a few laughs as well, because to him ruining pizza means putting broccoli on it, and I love that topping.

Maybe that’s why I miss California so much, and San Francisco in particular, because I like things that are odd, situations and places that are off the beaten track, that don’t conform to any expectations. Because that’s who I am as well, and a city after my very heart is one I won’t forget any time soon. And that Golden Gate Bridge all lit up at night is my idea of heaven.

Sam

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