“I’m fine, Mom. How’s Washington?”

March 23, 2011

9:30 Club

Sometimes, after a breakup or a falling out or some crazy emotional experience I need to distance myself from, I lose music. The songs that once offered a soundtrack to a connection have to go into hibernation for a while until the battered parts of my psyche repair themselves enough to deal with hearing a particular melody or a chord again.

Last summer, I lost Postal Service, because a boy I cared about had a habit of strumming Recycled Air on his guitar. (Once, hanging out after wed broken up, I begged him not to play any new songs, because I couldn’t deal with losing more music. He played a Radiohead song, and I muttered a silent thank you in my head, because who gives a damn about Radiohead?)

I measured my return to normalcy by how I would feel when a Postal Service song came on, which, in the hipster-infested corners of DC, happened a few times a month. One night in October or November, drinking with Dave and Jack at Wonderland, it launched me into a rant about how Over It All I was, which of course meant that I really wasn’t. One afternoon a few weeks later, I was feeling confident and used the album to launch me through an afternoon of designing at work. “I got Postal Service back,” I e-mailed to Katy, and I had, mostly. “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” was still pang-inducing, but that one had the double hit of being a breakup song ABOUT SOMEONE LIVING IN DC, so it took a while longer.

In the meantime, I found Owl City, which sounds exactly like Postal Service but doesn’t have all the baggage my brain associated with the latter. This is vital, because I need some sort of background music to my life sometimes, something I dont have to listen to but that can alter my mood on a dime. And the ambient background nature of artists like Owl City and Postal Service do that pretty well, which lets me get down to the business of designing something or writing something or photographing something. Losing Postal Service for a while meant losing time while I tried to concentrate on doing the things I love.

Late one night at the end of February, stopped at a rest stop in Maryland on the way back from securing a place to live in New York, “Such Great Heights.” I had just accepted a job that would take me away from my city and my friends, the two main sources of strength I had come to rely on over the last six years. The move was (is) the right call, but that doesn’t mean I don’t waver about it from time to time. Hearing it then, near midnight on a Saturday night when it was just me, my friend Dave and the lonely Cinnabon worker who was getting me some hot water for tea, I knew everything was going to be OK.
But now, two weeks into New York, I’ve lost other songs. The Washington Songs — Dismemberment Plan’s “The City” (“all I ever say now is goodbye”), Magnetic Fields’ “Washington DC” (“It’s paradise to me”), all of Fugazi, a few fun Henry Rollins videos on YouTube — these sounds have a sense of place and that place screams Washington. The songs that are about the Washington D.C. I loved have to go hibernate for a while.

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