I was driving down the road this evening listening to the radio (which is rare for me since I usually listen to Spotify) and this song came on that took me back to a specific moment in my life. And suddenly I could remember that time, years and years ago, when that song was playing and how I felt at that moment.
The song was 1979 by the Smashing Pumpkins and it takes me back to when I was sixteen years old in El Paso, Texas. My family had moved to El Paso from New Jersey just a year before. For those of you who don’t know, El Paso is right on the border of Mexico. Driving down the freeway you could look to the south and see Jaurez; dry, desert hills covered with tiny, leaning shacks. Many of the little houses had only pieces of cloth covering the windows and entrances and everything looked unkempt and dirty. Up to the north, on the red clay mountains of El Paso you could see how the houses grew bigger and bigger the higher up the mountainside they climbed. It was such a juxtaposition; the privileged west side of El Paso and those impoverished border barrios. Of course, as a teenager I was never grateful for what I had, I only ever just thought, “Geez, that looks like a shitty place to live.”
But I digress.
In El Paso, as a teenager, there were two main things kids did for fun, at least the kids I hung out with. Those two things were either throw bonfire parties out in the desert just on the border of New Mexico, or cross the border and go into Juarez for a night of drinking at places like Tequila Derby where $5 got you all the drinks you could (or couldn’t) handle for the night. All you had to do back then was say, “American” as you walked or drove over the bridge. None of my friend’s parents let them go to Juarez so they all had to sneak around. My dad, having grown up in Mexico, wasn’t used to thinking of it as a dangerous place for kids to go and I guess neither of my parents realized immediately that we were heading across the bridge for a night of underage drinking. So for about a year, until my parents wised up, all my friends would stay at my house because we didn’t have to hide where we were going.
The first night I went to Juarez with Vivienne, who was one of my best friends throughout high school, we were in my bedroom putting on makeup and listening to the radio. I was so damned excited because my best guy friend was coming to pick us up in his mom’s van which was full of football players who were all in the next grade up. And I had SUCH a crush on one of those boys and this was going to be my first chance to talk to him. On the radio 1979 was playing when the van pulled up into the circular driveway.
Now when I hear that song I can picture my teenage room perfectly. The poster of Uma Thurman from Pulp Fiction over my bed, the glossy photos of friends from New Jersey and El Paso thumb-tacked to the walls, the stuffed animals lined up on my bed. I can even remember the outfit I was wearing….these cream-colored wide-legged linen pants with vertical red stripes and a black ballet-neck top. I don’t know how I remember that outfit, I don’t have any pictures of it. Maybe because those pants were my absolute favorite thing in my closet for a long time.
Vivienne and I when we were sweet sixteen. Excuse the wonkiness of the photo. I had to go into an FB album I made years ago to find it and I think I scanned the photos in before I really knew how to use a scanner.
There are so many other songs, and entire CDs, that I hold sacred because of the memories they have. Canciones de mi Padre, a CD by Linda Rondstadt where she sings all in Spanish makes me feel closer to my pops whenever I listen to it. I grew up listening to that CD and playing Canasta and dominoes with my daddy. And as I got older we drank beers and ate cheeses and sipped on amber-colored spirits and called each other bad words in Spanish while we played. My parents called me “prieta linda” (pretty brown-skinned girl) which referenced one of Linda’s songs. I think I was in my late teens before I even learned that Linda Ronstadt was not actually exclusively a Spanish singer. I was listening to “Blue Bayou” and asked someone who was singing and they said, “Linda Ronstadt” and I said, “Nooooo….Linda Rondstadt sings in Spanish.”
This was a few nights before I left the country. We’d finished playing games and were just drinking beers and playing each other different songs on Spotify. I wish I knew what song we were listening to here.
Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and Creedence Clearwater Revival “Chronicle” are both CDs that hold the same significance for me; I listened to them with my dad through my childhood. I liked Paul Simon before any of my friends grew up and got taste and started to like him. I could sing all the words to “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” when I was 10 years old. My friends actually commented about how I listened to really weird music. Years later, I was in a friend’s car after we’d both moved to Austin and the song “Graceland” was playing and he said, “Have you ever listened to Paul Simon, he’s fucking great.” And I said, “Yeah!! I know! I used to play him all the time in the car and you HATED it!”
I’m always cool way before my time. You know those pants I was talking about? I remember friends second-guessing my fashion choices but guess what I saw happening on the runway in the early 2000’s?! And, those overalls I’m wearing in that picture above? They’re totally coming back into fashion now. I’m a harbinger of style and music.
I could go on and on and on about music. There are so many songs that take me back to a time and place and feeling….
Okay, one more….
LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” takes me back to 2015, the first Christmas Tom and I spent together. It was Christmas Eve and we’d just left my parent’s house and a girlfriend called and said, “Want to come have drinks with Porty (her husband) and I?” So we went out and had a great time and at 2 in the morning she and I were in the living room dancing to this song while she pulled different Michael Korrs dresses over my head that she thought I should wear on New Years. I’m not kidding either, we were dancing AND doing that at the same time. And Tom and Portland were in the spare bedroom, Portland’s studio, probably killing themselves with spray paint fumes while they painted this…..
I could be biased but I think it’s pretty darn good. It’s also the night Portland and Tom fell in love. Seriously, they like each other more than I think any friend I’ve made here likes me. I’m really excited for them to get to see each other again over Christmas. Is that cheesy?
Every time I listen to “All My Friends” I feel that same happiness and utter contentedness that I felt that night. I was in a new relationship and head-over-heels in love and not only did I know Tom was awesome, but my friends thought so as well. There was just something so perfect about that night, the four of us hanging out and all having a fantastic time with each other. I remember my girlfriend pulling this tight black sheath over my head that was covered in silver studs. She started at me and squealed, “Ooooh, you HAVE to wear this on New Year’s!” The dress was so completely not me, I don’t think I’ve ever worn anything with studs on it in my life, and I felt absolutely ridiculous in the dress. “If Tom likes it, you’re wearing it!” she said. So we ran down the hallway and I stood in the doorway of the studio with my friend behind me and she said, “Tom, doesn’t Leah look sexy?” and I stared at him with intense, wide eyes and desperately shook my head back and forth as best I could without her noticing. And Tom, being the extra bright fellow that he is, casually said, “Nah, I don’t like that on her.” I was so relieved.
Okay, I’ll stop this rambling of a post now.
I’ve got to go clear out the fridge. There’s an apple pie I bought in there that has gotten past it’s prime because Tom is gone and I’m all alone and couldn’t finish it before it began to turn.
Throwing away part of an apple pie just might be one of the saddest things I’ve ever done.