January, 4th 2009
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
The Street Light Through The Magnolias
Who’s Next was one of the first records that I can remember owning and owning in the way that only a teenager can own a thing. For some people it might have been a book or maybe a movie but for me it was a record, a record that I folded into myself, spinning for hours on repeat, each rotation hung with ever deepening meaning. Inside its record sleeve was another Who record, put there by an absent minded aunt, and the two records formed a sort of individualized double-LP that marked out a few chaotic months sometime right before my first year of high school. The music on those LPs sounded like clean dissatisfaction, teen angst and the sort of petty rebellion that a certain type of boy likes to imagine himself a part of. I loved them.
The aunt who had given me those records died late this summer. I loved her too, in the way I love that whole, unsettled part of my life, as something precious, unknowable, maddening and vital. Starting high school is hard, like trying to steer a boat with a broken rudder; pushing hard against the dense, wet wood will produce a spectacular response, it is just impossible to imagine what that response will be. Or, it is impossible to conceive what it will be at the time. Those records got me through all that unknowable wrenching.
I probably had not listened to the Who in ten years when, bouncing around in the back of a darkened car, making one of those mystical night drives through the country and draped with a drowsy Basset Hound puppy, my fellow travelers and I came upon an old school bus by the side of the road. The bus idled in the thick green grass along the shoulder, muddy tracks dug deep into the red Mississippi dirt by previous customers, hidden by the shadows from the lantern-glow pouring from its half, cardboard-covered windows. The bus was lit like a worn-out barker’s marquee, rope-lights, snapping flags, warm orange sunset-metal and great signs bluntly stating its purpose, “Fireworks.” It was the Magic Bus.
The music started in my head and the pleading insistence of its refrain “too much, the magic bus” threw me into a fugue. The bus was Brigadoon, rising once in a hundred years to cast a spell and pull us all back in time, but the music was all The Who. We bought our fireworks and cast ourselves back into that dark night with a few more hours of narrow roads and barely lit houses hidden behind palmetto flats ahead of us, still a little in the moment’s thrall.
New Years Eve 2008 went off like any other, singular and all darkness, smeared with gushes of flame and the clinking of ice-cubes against highball glasses. New Years Eve has its own way of freezing time, without trying we get to play back the recording of all that has happened that year and it flashes, like roman candles spitting out into the night, into our heads, good, bad and other wise, guttering into the dark and into the past of our lives.
The next morning, mist covered the water, blocking the view of the cypress trees and camps across Lake Bruin. Everyone in the house was still asleep. I stood at the end of the pier, under grey curtains of moss that dripped into the smoky white water, drank coffee and tried to really listen to a record and make it my own like I had, years ago, with my aunt’s albums. I wanted to be there in that spot, on that lake, with that music, swaddled in fog and memories. I wanted to put a whole year inside of myself so that I could look at my past and present like one of those stuffed birds in a bell jar. I wanted frozen and bottled time to cram somewhere in my chest so that it would never be forgotten. So it could never be lost in the night of every little thing that keeps us from being unwaveringly ourselves, still and calm in the storming roar of everyday. Sometimes we try to hold onto an experience like it is a thing that can be grasped and turned and examined. We want, like we want few other things, to remember life just as it is, crystalline and flawless. But, time burns memory off like the sun that rose that New Years Day burned off the fog over the water and we are left with the warming dream that a record or sound will one day bring it all tumbling back, from out of the gloom of a darkened highway, for us to see again.