This is a question about growing up—well—this answer is about growing up.
In ’97 I was almost 14 and starting high school; it was in the spring of that school year or the next fall that Sarah said something like, “Jackie, you need to listen to Counting Crows,” and sent me home with August and Everything After on cassette. That was the first time someone outside my family had pressed a piece of music into my hand and said, even if not in so many words, this is important. And this is for you. Take it. Listen to it.
Summer of ’99 I saved up my paychecks from my job cleaning at the community school and parlayed them into the purchase of a stereo. Three disc changer, two tape decks, one happy girl who sat on the floor in her bedroom for hours, playing and rewinding and playing and rewinding each Counting Crows song till I knew all the words. Till Adam Duritz and his way of thinking about things filled up all the spaces in my head–so much so that less than a year later when I got my PSAT scores back and I hadn’t earned enough to be in the running for a National Merit scholarship, the thing running through my head were lines from “A Murder of One”: All your life is such a shame, shame, shame . . . You should be ashamed . . . You don’t wanna waste your life, baby.
…as if that was what Adam was singing about.
There were others beyond Counting Crows: Tonic, Our Lady Peace, Lifehouse, Gin Blossoms, Matchbox 20. Fuel. Paula Cole. The Cranberries. Shawn Colvin. Semisonic. Beastie Boys. And The Goo Goo Dolls–and Johnny Rzeznik.
I felt like a badass when learned to spell his last name. Consonant CONSONANT vowel consonant consonant VOWEL consonant. Because somehow knowing that meant something. Insider info. Ish. The internet wasn’t really a thing yet so it wasn’t like we were all running off to smart phones when we wanted to know who was in such-and-such band. You’d have to watch it on VH1 or read it in Rolling Stone or Spin or wait for your music-magazine reading friend (Sarah) to tell you (me) the name of the Goo Goo Dolls’ hot frontman. And then you’d talk about what you knew. And stare at his picture. And try to fathom if his sexiness in the video for “Iris” was actually real, actually possible. Because you knew him, you kind of knew him. You knew how his name was spelled and you considered him–you pondered the way his hair hung in his face, and, fuck, he didn’t care. He WANTED his hair in his face.
I don’t know if my response to “Slide” was immediate and organic or if it was some joint negotiation between Sarah and me, born out of a fanaticism that had to be somehow bigger than simply LIKING the songs by a band, because when you’re 15 and living in Guttenberg, Iowa, there’s no outlet for you. There’s no music, not really. There’s reading RS and Spin, and watching the video countdown after school if you’re lucky enough to have cable, and listening to the radio–all this to try to figure out which new CDs to save up $20+ dollars for; which CDs merited an hour’s drive to Dubuque to purchase.
So when I was home, when I was in my room for hours working on homework, and “Slide” would come on the radio, I’d throw myself onto my bed back first. A swoon. Because I loved that song that much. Because I loved him that much. So I decided to be still while the song played, in an act of warped reverence that really didn’t have anything to do with adoration so much as cleaning out my head of everything but HIM and THAT and making space for whatever it was he wanted to tell me.
I didn’t know until only a few minutes ago when I was on Wikipedia that “Slide” is probably about a girl who gets pregnant and considers an abortion (Sarah, you’re probably going, Jackie, you are such a dummy!). I guess when you’re 15 and you’re kind of a romantic, all you hear is yourself in every song. You hear that there’s a boy who is in love with a girl and that yeah things are kind of messed up but damn it all, yes–yes to you, girl. Let’s run away. Let’s get married. It’s deviant and normative all at once (oh, a sexy hot man shows up professing his love and saying, hey, let’s get together, girl, but also I’m interested in marriage and I bet your parents will like that so, see. We’re good).
And that’s how it happens–these revisions of self. You find something that lays neatly across what you think and know and what you COULD think, and you consider it and decide what to let in. What’s part of your okay. How you can see love, in this case. How it can look and how it can come to be. And even while you love this song and it makes you ache in a way you like because you’re longing for something that seems spectacular, it also hurts you a little. Makes you feel muddled, confused, even. But there’s something energizing about this longing and this pain–something you like about feeling yourself on the cusp of possible change, change coming at the hands of a song that you love and you chose, you and your friends, your own personal vetting process. Pushing you forward, regardless of what you decide. Making you grow up.
Today on the drive home I pulled out my copy of Dizzy Up the Girl and put it in my car stereo. Hit the next button once to get to “Slide.” Tried to wrap myself up in all the old feelings; tried to let the song tell me what the song meant to me, what I should write about to satisfy this blog prompt–to satisfy myself.
But the song didn’t wait for me to take from it what I wanted to–and the weather didn’t wait for me today, either. As I took the exit for Washington Street I saw the panhandler at the end of the ramp lift his cardboard sign over his head and stagger back to his pack. Then the wind was pelting rain into my car, distracting me with unplanned noise, and I was trying desperately to hold on to whatever it was I was thinking about “Slide,” the Jackie that first loved this song, and the space between her and me–and I couldn’t do it; I couldn’t hold it all together–it was all driven out by the big-ness of the storm. Or maybe my thoughts weren’t so much driven out of me as they were pressed into me, numbing me, returning me to a place of pure feeling, absorbing guitar, vocals, drums, rain, rain, rain.
I drove the last mile and a half to my house. The rain wasn’t over when I got home, so I stayed in my car for a minute. Put it in park. Shut off the wipers. Waited. Felt it all for a moment. Then said, “fuck it” and ran from the car into the downpour.