I’m taking the long way home again. I need a few more minutes — enough to get through The Cars’ Just What I Needed and, inexplicably, Laid by James. “You’re driving me crazy … when are you coming home?”
We’re running out of time. Just a couple of months left and we have so many chapters left to cover.
I’m almost seven months pregnant and I’m not craving pickles or ice cream (although both sound delicious). Instead, I’m craving music.
Like the songs we played on repeat in middle school: Green Day’s Welcome to Paradise, The Offspring’s Come Out and Play.
The songs I listened to in high school while driving alone on small town, star-filled nights. A CD-to-cassette adapter stuck in my ancient car radio. REM’s Crush With Eyeliner. The Breeders’ Cannonball. Veruca Salt’s Seether
On a family vacation the summer before college, I grabbed a pen and my older cousin’s CD binder and made notes: Tom Waits, Dead Can Dance, Nina Simone. They all made their way into my rotation. Waits’ Blue Valentines and Christmas Card From a Hooker in a Minneapolis are two of the few songs I can sing all the way through a cappella. Those and Steve Miller Band’s The Joker (thanks Dad). Are these songs you can sing to an infant? That’s a problem for a different time.
More pressing are the albums I bought on late nights wandering through the Virgin Megastore in the valley with my first college boyfriend. He was a jazz pianist and introduced me to standards like Scrapple From the Apple and Autumn Leaves, but he also loved the Beach Boys and the entirety of Pet Sounds has been one of my strongest cravings.
After seeing “The Pixies” written in chalk on a wall at UCLA when I was a sophomore, I mainlined Surfer Rosa, Doolittle and Bossa Nova.
I circle the block so we can hear Gigantic all the way to the end.
My next boyfriend stayed up late burning music onto silver CDs, writing album names in Sharpie with his scratchy handwriting. Napster was getting sued and we didn’t know how long the pipeline would stay open.
Together we went to more concerts than we could probably afford… Gossip, Sleater-Kinney, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
When we broke up, I packed all his chicken scratch CDs into my own boxes while he wasn’t looking.
A dozen years later, they’re still how I listen to Fugazi, Black Flag and the Repo Man soundtrack.
“I think you’re gonna like this,” I tell my baby, cuing up The Plugz’ Hombre Secreto, “you’re half Mexican Angeleno, after-all.”
After a couple of dates, my first serious girlfriend made me a mix layered like black eyeliner with The Smiths, Depeche Mode and The Cure.
Shortly after, finding myself in my own Bizarre Love Triangle, I listened to New Order’s on repeat while chain smoking on the stoop of my crumbling studio apartment.
Smoke-free, I search for it at a stoplight and let it roll, nice and loud. The baby responds with a kick to my bladder.
And then there are the outliers. Songs I didn’t even know I knew, like Laura Branigan’s Gloria. We’ve listened to it probably ten times in the last few weeks. And that’s not even counting when it came on at Trader Joe’s.
“I’m drawing the line at Sonic Youth,” I tell my wife. “I don’t want our baby to be an art rocker.”
“But you love art rock,” she tells me.
“Exactly, I don’t want us to outnumber you.”
She thanks me.
Ten years after she introduced me to Hand in Glove and Boys Don’t Cry we got married. Our wedding playlist was a true test of our fidelity. We divided it into sections. “Drunken friends” was the easiest — all the songs we find ourselves dancing to over and over again in dark rooms holding half empty beers. Q Lazarus’ Goodbye Horses. New Order’s Temptation.
“80’s-Cool Cocktail Hour” was the toughest. After I submitted my picks, she circled a quarter of them and left a note: “please pick ONE Talking Heads song.”
I hit play on This Must Be the Place and remember that perfect evening in Eagle Rock. Late April 2016. The day between my deceased grandmother and her deceased dad’s birthdays. The trees were green and the sky was pink. All our friends and family laughing and drinking on the lawn.
The time doesn’t quite seem right for Daniel Johnston’s True Love Will Find You in the End, which was the song we played as we walked down the aisle. That might be an eight months kind of thing.
Finally, we’ll get to Pavement’s Date with Ikea. My favorite song of all time. The one I always turn to when something is lacking or overwhelming in my life, or when it’s a hot summer night and I’m driving with the windows down. “I want to stay but my time is wasting. The magic lands call my name. They want to fire a missile launcher, but I know I need to stay.”
There are lots of ways to tell a story. Just as many people who want to hear a good one. Years ago when my wife and I start writing screenplays together, we found our niche telling stories about fish out of water (like we both were), crafting a chosen family out of the strangers who finally got them (like we both did).
But right now, there’s one story burning a hole in my brain and my audience is the size of a large cucumber. I have to knit these songs together, one by one, to explain myself… where I’ve been, who I’ve been, who I am.
What if this is the closest we ever are, little baby? What if this is my best chance to lay down this mixed up trail of breadcrumbs and explain to you who gave you whatever it is I’ll give you? For some reason, I feel like these songs are the answer.
I exit the freeway early. Side streets are slower. You’ve got to hear this.