I can think myself out of most anything. I can squeeze the joy out of an experience in exchange for the dry and the logical with ease. But as I’ve gotten older and more invested in holding close those things that make me feel happy, I’ve gotten better at stopping myself before all of that begins.
I’ve never been cool about music. I rarely know what’s new and hip. I’ve spent most of my life absorbing musical knowledge from those around me. It’s not that I don’t have opinions, don’t prefer some genres over others, but unlike so much of my other learning I don’t actively seek out new information. I’ve never hid in the nooks and crannies of bookstores devouring astronomically-priced music industry glossies like I often have with those centered on fashion. Instead I happily left the bulk of my education in the hands of others.
I am, and have been for more than half of my life, a Dave Matthews Band fan. For the large majority of that stretch, I’ve been a hidden and rather shameful one. I’m not immune to caring what others think of me, and I am aware of the full-throated ridicule that one gets for admitting such things outside of the east coast prep school community.
I never attended a concert, there was little interest on my part and never enough money for it anyway. No, I kept most of my enjoyment confined to my room, playing CDs that ran from 1994’s Remember Two Things to 2002’s Busted Stuff while staring plaintively at the ceiling.
My love, as love so often does, has multiple layers, but the root rests with those who introduced the music into my life. Although I have a number of issues, some unresolved, with many of the institutions of my youth, there were people in those places that I loved and who loved this quiet, awkward girl in return.
When I moved back home from New York City in 2009, I constructed an emotional life raft for myself made out of stories. I filled my time with books and films and paintings and music because they distracted me from job applications and cover letters and the failure that greeted me at every turn. The books and films were chosen almost at random and ran the gamut from histories to comedies to sweeping fantasies. But in the music I was searching for a certain type of story. It was no surprise that I returned to those Dave Matthews Band CDs and once again took to listening to them while staring plaintively at the ceiling of my childhood bedroom. It wasn’t nostalgia. I find nostalgia limiting. To yearn for a past that you can’t return to, to gild it and erase all of its problems, is an exercise in futility.
I didn’t want to return to the past, there was love there but there was also pain, but I enjoyed playfully romping through the good bits like learning how to chop down a tree in the Vermont wilderness and softly swinging in a hammock and standing on a deck as the city below is brought to stillness by seemingly endless snow. And I liked thinking of those who were near me as those events unfolded.
One day during my first extended stay at home after college, I walked into my room to find a small person asleep in my bed. My niece was splayed across it with my iPod clenched in her hand and the cord from my headphones messily draped across her chest. She had a penchant for borrowing my things, wearing my denim jacket even though it swam on her tiny frame and carrying her school books in one of my messenger bags. She would shrug her shoulders when asked why, but it can be hard for someone to admit the need to feel close to another. As I moved nearer, I began to make out the mumbled words of the song that was blasting into her poor little ears on a loop.
I laughed quietly to myself before removing the earbuds, carefully untangling the cord, and sliding the iPod out of her hand. She aimed a sleepy swat in my direction before rolling over and settling back into whatever dream she’d been having before I so callously disturbed her in my effort to protect her eardrums.
Apparently she had found yet another thing to borrow.