Is It All Inside My Head?

Our day-to-day functioning has been reasonably disrupted by some remodeling chez Harris for the past month, one result of which has been eating out a little more often than the norm. A couple of weeks ago we found ourselves at one of the local chicken-oriented fast-food places on our way to choir practice. Like pretty much every other restaurant, they were piping music in as background noise for patrons. Well…it’s background noise for most patrons. For some—trust me on this—it can be an opportunity to play mental hopscotch through time and space all while putting fork to mouth over, say, a ten-minute span. Here’s what Martha had to endure for dinner conversation that evening: vignettes about three songs that were played back-to-back-to-back, spanning sixteen years and three states. Just for kicks, you get a bonus track from each scene.

1. July 1995: The Rembrandts, “I’ll Be There for You”
The scene: a two-lane highway in southern Ohio

Martha and I had met six months prior, and it’s fair to say we’d already begun contemplating a future together. She’s nowhere to be found here, though—she was in the middle of a vacation to Germany with her sister Ruth. A black-and-white stray cat had started hanging outside my house in May; I made the mistake of offering her food, and a few weeks later she rewarded my largesse by shepherding her five kittens into the back yard. Ultimately I kept the mother, whom I named Tori—after Tori Amos, of course—and two of her babies (Ruth took in one of the others). One of those kittens was with us until Spring 2013. I had new wheels, having just traded in my light blue 86 Camry for a teal Geo Prizm. And I was in my first summer of working PAEMS, the science/math camp for high schoolers my school runs.

Those early years of PAEMS included an overnight trip. On this occasion, we drove Friday afternoon to a nature park/campsite an hour or so up the Ohio River from Cincinnati. It was beastly hot, and our accommodations were unventilated yurts—not a restful night. My student assistant was Alex, the son of a faculty colleague. Alex was majoring in math with an eye on med school, and was a few years older than the typical college senior—this was his second degree.  It was easy to trust him to drive one of our twelve-passenger vans on the way home while I rode shotgun, commanding the radio. (The next week, Alex and I would take one night off to see Wilco and the Jayhawks play in Lexington—one of my all-time favorite concerts.)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an episode of Friends; wasn’t even aware until I was writing this up that there’s a 25th anniversary celebration going on. I did come to know most of the characters’ names back in the day, was well aware of Lisa Kudrow’s “Smelly Cat,” and couldn’t escape its theme song on the radio through much of 1995. It was #1 on Billboard’s Airplay Chart at this moment, but wouldn’t get released as a single until well past peak interest (it made #17 on the Hot 100 in October).

Bonus Track: Collective Soul, “December”

2. October 2002: Sixpence None the Richer, “Breathe Your Name”
The scene: Cleaning out the garage

We’re the parents of a soon-to-be two-year-old. He’s fully mobile now but we’re grateful to learn that he’s not inclined toward climbing or other potentially dangerous levels of curiosity. We’ve recently exchanged the Prizm for a minivan—the day we purchase it, Ben strings two words together for the first time: “New car!” We more than occasionally play a cassette by the Wiggles while driving around. The van came with a CD player, and before long I’ll be burning mix CDs for listening on longer trips.

Martha’s father is dying of pancreatic cancer. We will celebrate his 85th birthday on the last Friday of the month at the nursing home where he’s now residing. I learn about the airplane crash that killed Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone and his wife watching CNN while we’re there.

Having a child means that we’re accumulating toys and kiddie modes of transportation at an increasing rate, leading to some Saturday re-organization. The season’s definitely changing; it’s cool and cloudy, and a decent wind is coming from some combination of north and west, directly into the garage. Since I’m starting to knock on the door of forty, my boombox is tuned less often to alternative music and more to Adult Top 40. The chock-full-of-accidentals “Breathe Your Name” is one of my favorites (I’d been charmed by “Kiss Me” three years earlier, too). 

Bonus Track: U2, “Electrical Storm”

3. November 1986: Peter Cetera and Amy Grant, “The Next Time I Fall”
The scene: 457 Sherman Hall

This is ground I’ve already trod (see, for instance, here and here), but in brief: not having office space with the other new math grads, I spent evenings that first semester in Champaign-Urbana in my cramped dorm room, doing homework, writing letters to college friends back in Kentucky, and learning my way around the radio dial. I could barely pick up a Top 40 station from Bloomington-Normal that utilized an automated service similar to what I’d heard a few years earlier in Lexington. Nostalgia (yes, I’ve suffered from it almost my whole life) kept me tuned in for quite a few weeks; it’s one of the primary ways I staved off falling out of the loop vis-à-vis what the cool kids were digging that autumn.

I was definitely not a fan of “The Glory of Love” back in the summer. But this follow-up, which also hit #1, well, it hits a soft spot, maybe in part because of how, and where, it transports me.

Bonus Track: Wang Chung, “Everybody Have Fun Tonight”

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