“Into a dream I took a turn and promised to return
The way we were, the way we met, the way I lit your cigarette
The way it trailed into a stream, and lay down in between
You had to chose a side to lose and divide yourself in two
The way you were long before you were a walking civil war
But you forget where the road goes, and tonight it shows.”
~ Mercury Rev
It’s four thousand degrees in my kitchen but here I am, listening to a rickety boombox and sweating over a bowl of hardboiled eggs. No yolks. My bedroom is frigid and zero percent humidity, but there is something nostalgic about doing time at this formica hexagon table that’s older than me.
I’m listening to Mercury Rev’s Deserters Songs, which is a gorgeous album I recently purchased as a tribute to the bleeding passion it was the soundtrack to three years ago. But when I settle down to listen to it again, it sounds different.
I spent that whole summer on my back porch in Winter Hill so drunk I could barely see, listening to this album endlessly. Now it sounds like false passion, fear, and trying to cram things into places where they don’t fit. It sounds like aching to belong to someone, anyone, and grabbing the nearest warm body, trying to convince yourself that you’re in love with it. Just add theatrical music, cheap wine, bad poetry, war torn bleeding heart nights — oh the drama! — spinning under the August stars… so wanting to be part of something powerful that you’re willing to tell yourself the biggest lie of all and drink yourself into a coma to make sure you keep believing it.
On one such night I was drawn to the next door neighbors’ back yard because I heard a drum circle, and headed over with my head swimming, fancying myself a summer poet full of dreams and enamored with life, and I sat across from some gyspyboy who took a quick look at me and asked me why I was in so much pain. I forced a smile but my frightened eyes connected with his and he asked me the question again.
I said I did not know.
This album takes me there because the music sounds so much smaller now, not so dramatically sweeping and pulsing with pain. It is good in a different way. Good in the real way.
I’ve been opening my eyes in a million different directions lately. Things that once confounded me are becoming clearer. I’m beginning to see that true love waits.
I recently wrote about going to Club Passim, hearing Michael Troy by accident and being moved. His music hit me then because it was true. It was real. He was all honesty, no irony. He sang love songs, so carefully rendered and delicately shared. And I imagined him singing them to his wife of forty years — still amazed by her, still inspired by her inherent beauty and wisdom, gray hair, mother of his children, his muse, best friend and lover.
These performers are not of the cheekbones and cute-dog-tricks variety. No bravado, no sideburns, no clever facades, no hip shoes. Just true love. They are the “I want to grow old with you in my bad t-shirt” confessions. It made me ache in recognition.
So I have a bone to pick with Romeo and Juliet. I was for a long time very into Shakespeare’s version of true romance. Oh, heart — how breathtaking to fall in love at first sight… to know just by meeting someone’s eyes that you were meant to be forever. At 15, horny, beautiful — of course it’s love at first sight. They died before they had to walk through their first argument, before spending hours on the phone, before they realized whether they shared common views on life, on values essential to co-existing. They didn’t even know each other’s names.
I can’t picture Juliet in the laundry room, yelling at Romeo to call his mother for Christ’s sake — to put the seat down, to not talk over her when she is trying to explain something but taking too long to get the words out, to stop playing Diablo on the damn computer. She wouldn’t bring up his resistance to participating in social gatherings. That he never wanted to go out and run around the city. That he wasn’t living up to his end of the agreement in the sack.
It’s hard to separate that loinful lusting and intoxication of new fingers from love. You want it to be love. You were meant to be, because you can stay up all night having sex like it’s nobody’s business. Because you giggle at all the right times, because he opens doors and pays for breakfast.
I don’t know.
True Romance — now that’s a love story. I watched it a few days ago and it absolutely kills me every time. I remember another night in Winter Hill, during the square pegs/round-hole-cramming session, when I was courting someone who claimed that True Romance was one of his favorite movies. So in the middle of a crowded party, I slyly took out my lipstick and wrote on a cocktail napkin, “You’re so cool.” I slid it across the table to him with big eyes and a coy smile. He didn’t get it. I waste my energy endlessly.
True love is not looking into the starving blue eyes of a sixteen-year-old Romeo who wants to rip your clothes off. True love is not talking psuedo-philosophy in a crowded bar, trying to get your words to stop slurring. True love is braving your wife’s pimp to get her clothes back, smashing an assailant over the head with the back of a toilet tank because you need to get to your lover that bad.
Which brings us to the pop songs that feed my diatribe — “I’d climb the mountains for you… I’d cross the sea for you… ” Okay, thanks, but would you please pick up your socks from the living room floor when you’re done? Would you kindly introduce me by first name to your friends? Will you listen when I’m reading to you?
I’ve grown more practical in my old age.
All of these things are on my churning mind tonight. I’m realizing it’s more about mutual respect, shared priorities, adoration and compromise than I ever believed. Because I don’t think true love begins with the physical. I think it’s buried somewhere between the heart and the brain. Or the lungs. The lungs seem like a good place to start.
One breathy word at a time.