Sometimes I listen to the same song over and over; maybe fifteen or twenty times in a sitting.
I wish I could remember what song I listened to at the kitchen table in Silver Spring, Maryland when I was 23, with a plate of under-cooked brownies, pressing the same plastic button on the boom box when the track ended. The combination of chords somehow dovetailed with the gaps in my brain. Whatever it was, it carried me to the next breath, the next bite of chocolate, the next digital minute on the microwave clock. I’d been up all night and the sun was rising over the half-suburban partial-wasteland, washing over lawns and bushes chainsawed into submission, sneaking through the slats of our dusty plastic blinds, unwelcome rays, brassy as the cheap handles on the veneered cabinets. I watched the light without wonder, another bite of brownie, sometimes resting my flushed cheek on the cool formica table. Listening one more time.
I never know what song will save me. Once it was singing Like A Rolling Stone with Casey and the windows down, after the grad school fair that we hated. Long ago there was the “I Want You to Want Me” cover by Letters to Cleo that somehow stopped the pounding in my ears when I lived alone in Cincinnati for a summer. I danced barefoot on the carpet between reading chapters of Ender’s Game aloud to myself. Sometimes terrible music helps just fine. A Hanson CD was in the car I borrowed from my parents to drive from DC to New York at night in blinding rain, and I listened to the same song over and over, the one track that somehow had whatever chords numbed the fear long enough for me to see between the raindrops. In an airport I listened to Devon Sproule, unsleeping but exhausted, laying on the vinyl seats and waiting for the storms to stop. In high school it was REM, Nightswimming; the time signature calmed my heartbeat. When I first moved to Chicago I listened to some Bright Eyes song five times a day on scuffed and windy train platforms, on a CD walkman with the batteries taped in the back.
Now I’m remembering music. For months I haven’t listened to much here — my mp3s are on a computer in Chicago that’s been cold for months, and it’s rare to hear Western music unless you’re in an expat bar or something. But it’s back in my life. A guitar lesson in the park just before the rains came; new songs from JP in my inbox, Max’s playlist on a sunny afternoon, my big headphones on my ears again. I’m feeling voracious, with a gap in my ribs, needing to play the same songs over and over.