There’s an excellent episode of The Adventures of Pete & Pete where Little Pete takes a shortcut to school and ends up passing by a house where a band is jamming in the garage. He stays for a moment, nodding his head along to the music while the band rocks out, and then he takes off. He continues along for a while, and then suddenly, in the middle of the street, he stops. It hits him. He has a favorite song.
This is, in a broad sense, a good thing – although earlier in the episode Little Pete would disagree (he dismisses those who call into his radio show with song requests as “jerkweeds”). But the awful side of this discovery soon sets in: yeah, he’s got a favorite song, but he has no idea what it’s called – and no idea if he’ll ever find it again. That one moment where it fused with him is gone, and the band that rocked the song out seems to have vanished.
This kind of thing doesn’t happen much anymore. In 2014, if you hear a song that you dig but don’t know, you can just hum it into this thing, and it’ll tell you. Case closed. But in 1994? This type of thing could haunt you.
A year or so after this episode of Pete & Pete aired, I was in Florida with my family for the summer, and while they were all outside on the beach having a blast, I was confined indoors, recovering from an awful sunburn I had gotten the day before. The skin on my shoulders was peeling off, collecting into fleshy knots on the bed I was lying on, and every part of me felt like the surface of the sun. I had all the blinds in the room closed to keep the light out, and my only companion was the radio.
We stayed in a small town not too far away from Daytona Beach, and I have no idea where the FM stations available to me were originating from, or even what they were called. But there was one station in particular I listened to that played a nice mix of the rock stuff I was into at the time: Stone Temple Pilots, Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against The Machine, Pearl Jam. Good stuff. And after a patch of advertisement white noise had dissolved, this quiet song started up. And then I heard these words:
How many special people change?
How many lives are living strange?
Where were you while we were getting high?
The song continued. I can’t quite put the feeling into words, but it made me feel as though the outside I was currently cut off from was actually all around me, in every corner of my darkened room. The burning on my skin eased up, and I felt better. Not *good*, but better.
And then the song was over.
The radio didn’t have any kind of bumper that identified the song, and I didn’t know what I had just listened to or who wrote it, and it remained that way for the rest of the summer. Eventually, when school picked up again, I learned that the song in question was Champagne Supernova by Oasis, and it was on the same album as Wonderwall (which I promptly purchased). If that sounds anticlimactic, well, it was. Intentionally so. I didn’t set off on a madcap quest like Little Pete did to recapture that song as mine, as each piece of it gradually drifted away from me. As much as I would’ve loved to hear the song again, I think part of me was hesitant to chase after it because deep down, I kind of liked that for one moment, that song made me feel better when I was feeling crummy. What would happen the next time I heard it? That was something I decided to leave to fate for a time, and it was a good decision; when vacation was over, every time I tuned into Q101 in Chicago, I’d be brimming with anticipation that maybe I’d hear this song again.
Of course, when the mystery song identified itself, I quickly abandoned this idea – why deprive yourself of a good thing? Once I got my copy of (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, I skipped to the end of the disc and listened to this song again, and again, and again. Champagne Supernova is arguably the best song Oasis has ever written, and it also holds the distinction of being their only song in the 6-8 minute range that doesn’t totally run out of steam midway through. It’s got one of those magical choruses that burrows into your head and stays there for all time, despite it not making a whole lot of sense. But it doesn’t *have* to make sense. That’s the beauty of this whole music thing. It just has to grab you. Noel Gallagher – a man perhaps too famous for speaking first and thinking later – offered an unusually astute rebuttal to an interviewer chiding the lyric “slowly walking down the hall/faster than a cannonball” by saying the following:
I don’t fucking know what it means. But are you telling me, when you’ve got 60,000 people singing it, they don’t know what it means? It means something different to every one of them.
I know what that line means to me: things don’t always stay how you remember them.
I was at a music festival with some friends in the summer of 2006, waiting for Jens Lekman to take the stage. It was still early on in the day, and the sun was just starting to peak out from behind the clouds, and I was feeling great. I’d stumbled across Oh You’re So Silent Jens right at the start of spring, and I couldn’t get enough of it. It was simple, melodic, funny, lovely – the whole package. Jens soon took the stage, and I blissed out. But then about midway through the set, Jens introduced a song that he had written about a friend of his, and it was a song that I hadn’t heard before. And it leveled me. As soon as it was over, I wanted to listen to it again, but I had no way of doing adrift in a sea of people. So once I got in front of a computer, I tried to find out what the song was called by futily trying to force my euphoria into something resembling a Google search, and after about a half-hour or so, I wound up at a Jens Lekman fan site (I think?) which informed me of something awful: this song (A Postcard To Nina), while occasionally played live, wasn’t on any Jens Lekman album. In fact, it wasn’t on any album or recording anywhere. It was a song that had yet to be recorded and released. The only version of this song that I could go back to was the one in my mind.
I tried searching for a bootleg recording of it, now that I knew the name, but was unsuccessful. I played the song in my head as often as I could, hoping not to lose it in the caverns of my memory. Sometimes, I’d catch myself humming certain parts of it while I was idling, or doing something mundane. It just kind of came out of me when there wasn’t a whole lot happening, perhaps to remind me that hey, you might not be up to much now, but you remember this, right?
Time went on, and my relationship to this song had settled in. This was just How It Was. The edges of A Postcard To Nina started to grow dull, the melody becoming warped in the fog of my ever-cluttering mind, and I began to feel a bit like Little Pete, losing piece after piece of this one song that was his and his alone, until all he could remember was one single note. It wasn’t quite that dramatic, but it sure felt like it. Then, in September of 2007 – a year and change after I had first heard it – Jens Lekman released his second album, Night Falls Over Kortedala. And guess what the fourth track was?
I was elated – but my first time listening to A Postcard To Nina in recorded form was an odd one, because it sounded so different from what I had looping around in my brain for fourteen months. The song I heard in 2006 was breezy, and light. The studio version on Kortedala is thick and lush, full of horns and xylophone and tambourine, a flirty bassline, and a wall of soulful, cooing backing vocals. Now I love this song, and I’m glad I can listen to it whenever I’d like, be it with the click of a button, or through a needle on vinyl – but I didn’t realize for a long time that the second I pressed play on track four of Kortedala, the version of A Postcard To Nina I had been carrying along in my head all this time was lost. And I do mean “lost.” I don’t remember how that song sounded anymore when I had first heard it. Not even one note. The only way I was able to get some of it back to contrast with it up above was via a shoddy, 51 second cell phone video on Youtube. The sound of the song is there (kind of), but that’s someone else’s memory, someone else’s experience – not mine. It’s not what I had. And it’s not what I remembered. That, it seems, is gone.
But maybe not. Little Pete did go back to that garage where he first heard that Polaris song, and he was able to pull it out from the void in his mind; his band became the band that played that song. Maybe I just need to head back to Union Park on a partly-cloudy day in July and wait for a while for that old version of A Postcard To Nina to surface again. Set and setting, so to speak.
And if doesn’t come back, that’s okay. It was around.