SotD: Buffalo Tom, “Taillights Fade”

Twenty-five years ago I was in the middle of my first semester as a college math professor. That fall my employer provided me and other recent hires with a professional development opportunity: the Lilly Conference on College Teaching, held at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. It’s a lovely campus in a beautiful part of the state; I’ve taken students to undergraduate math conferences there several times over the years.

Back in the 90s Oxford was also home to my favorite radio station, WOXY (97X, The Future of Rock and Roll). My parents lived just on the periphery of its range, so I listened to it when I was home. And of course it’s where the car radio was tuned for the first (or last) 90 minutes of travel between Florence, KY and Urbana, IL. 97X played college/alternative rock–the direction my musical tastes were trending then–and I didn’t know of other stations around me featuring that in those days (WPGU in Champaign wouldn’t go full-on alternative until after I left).

Going to the Lilly Conference was a two-fer, then–during the day I went to interesting talks about good and innovative teaching practices, and I carved out time for 97X in the evenings (time I would no longer be semi-regularly getting, since I didn’t have a reason to be driving inside their radius of service anymore). For whatever reason, I feel certain that I heard “Taillights Fade” at least once in my hotel room during that conference. The album Let Me Come Over had been released that spring, and this was its first single; I can easily imagine it was still getting decent airplay on the station.

What I really like about the song is how the band is able to capture and convey the mood of the piece. Sure, it’s a picture of bleak desolation, but they do it so well! While I don’t get the sense that heading out will make anything better for our narrator, it’s cool that he name-checks Cappy Dick (even if that was one part of the Sunday comics I didn’t read much).

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