Saturday, August 7, 2010

Using Graham Parker For Evil, Part 2

Here's Where It Gets Bad

Read Part 1 first, I'm not gonna recap it...

So I'd just finished a semester of reading Kierkegaard, which is a mind-f*ck even under the best of conditions.

And then I started listening to Another Grey Area. And repeating over and over again the title of one of Kierkegaard's books. Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing.

I needed a plan.

And then it hit me. I had to really want to get her back. Then, by sheer force of will, I could make it happen.

No room for doubts. No room for questions. Just want it bad enough.

But how?

I had no clue. But I know that Another Grey Area got me in the right mood. (And there's really no harm in that. It's like when actors or athletes listening to one piece of music over and over again to get them psyched, right? Right?)

So I started to listen to this record. Over and over again.

Often three or four times a day. (And a long-overdue apology to my roommates Eric & Dave -- the repeated listenings probably drove you crazy.)

I knew every strum and downbeat, every intake of breath, every backing vocal part, and every keyboard riff (and each and every click and pop on the deteriorating vinyl).

And although I was going to classes and doing some normal things, every spare ounce of energy and far too much thought went into willing myself to get her back.

Not by doing anything, just by wanting it.

My friends and roommates all told me it was impossible and I cheerfully agreed. I'd never get her back. I knew this.

Days blurred into weeks and into months. Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. Graham Parker's Another Grey Area.

Ironies were lost on me -- including the irony that Kierkegaard's title meant something very, very different. (Plus, in all likelihood, Graham Parker would have been appalled that I was using his record as the musical and romantic equivalent of weight training.)

Like I said before, I'm not proud of this.

And then the impossible happened.


Things thawed between us. We started spending time together.

I remembered all the many little things I liked about her. (Presumably she remembered what she liked about me too.)

I ignored my still-strong desire to label the relationship. And I still listened to Another Grey Area several times a day and repeated the Kierkegaard title like a mantra.

Song titles and lyrics echoed through my brain. "No More Excuses," "You Hit the Spot," "It's All Worth Nothing Alone," "Can't Waste a Minute," "Crying for Attention," and especially "Fear Not." Clearly (at least to my 21-year-old lovesick brain), the record was a call to action.

I didn't eat much during this time. I certainly wasn't sleeping. I was concentrating. Every ounce of energy.

And then one night it happened.

If this had been a normal relationship or I hadn't been so obsessed, we would have been more responsible. Or at least I would have been. But I knew instinctively that having that talk would pull us back. And then it would never happen.

And purity of heart is to will one thing, right?

So, knowing I was being irresponsible, I plunged ahead. (It's not something I did before or have done since... and, like I said, I'm not proud of this.)

You can probably guess where this is going.

She got pregnant. And had no desire to be pregnant.

I certainly didn't want her to be pregnant (or at least not until years in the future), but was confused about what I was supposed to do. And I felt guilty because I had the chance to stop and be responsible... but chose not to. (And before anyone says she could have been responsible too -- I knew she never would be. I knew it was up to me.)

In the weeks that followed, I tried to get her to talk about it. She never wanted to. (In the years that followed, I didn't realize how big this event was, so I never told anyone until years later.)

And then it was over.

She wouldn't let me go with her. And after she just associated the entire event with me. She wanted to put it behind her and pretend it didn't happen. And if that meant having nothing to do with me, that was fine with her.

I had a million questions I never got to ask, but I was feeling so guilty that I just sucked it up. I put Kierkegaard and Another Grey Area away. I kept going to classes, started eating more regularly. Eventually I graduated.

She moved to another state to go to grad school. (And we wouldn't speak again for many years.)

Months after all this happened, I had another dream.

Graham Parker was strumming an acoustic guitar in a coffeeshop when I walked in. He nodded to me, then said "See? I told you you could get her back."

And I shook my head angrily. "You never told me what the cost would be."

Dream Graham Parker nodded, staring at me, weighing his words carefully. "There's always a cost," he said eventually. "The more impossible the task, the greater the cost. Hell, I'm just a songwriter -- not even that, I'm your dream of a songwriter -- but even I know that."

And then he started playing songs from Another Grey Area. Each one was slowed down and rearranged, the energetic calls to action now slow dirges. The hunger and yearning reduced to melancholy and loss.

Every step is another chance
Every moment slips through our hands
Every kiss is another flame
I don't want to put out
Every night when I fall asleep
I know I never want to wake up
Into a world where you're not around...

Smart guy, that Dream Graham Parker.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Recently, I listened to Another Grey Area. From start to finish. For the first time in 15 years.

From the very first note, I was 21 again. Determination and hope swelled up inside me. Purity of heart is to will one thing.

Fuck yeah.

I could do it. Even now after all these years, I could get her back. Hell, I could get anyone back. As long as I really, really, really wanted to. Purity of heart, baby.

All I had to do was listen to the record again. And again and again and again.

When the album ended, I turned it over. Picked up the tone arm. Then I asked a question my younger self never would have considered: What's the cost?

And I turned off the stereo. Sat in a silence made noisy by too many memories.

I know now I was selfish, blinded by determination. I'd harnessed energy in a way it wasn't supposed to be harnessed. Convinced I could do the impossible if only I wanted it badly enough, if only I ignored the costs. I'd sinned against the music gods and used Graham Parker for evil, not for good.

And I paid the price for it.

So now, after all this time, after everything... you still want me to tell you if the album's any good?

Damned if I know.

Most likely, I'll ever know.

But I'll tell you this: the record is burned forever into my soul. For better or worse.


Holly A Hughes said...

Ooooh. Shivers up my spine.

I imagine that the real Graham Parker would have been pretty much like dream Graham Parker. He wouldn't have warned you about the cost ahead of time, even though he knew it for damn sure. It was your mistake to make -- or not make, but that wasn't in the cards...

Anonymous said...


Just fuck.

asiangrrl said...

Alex, this post and the last just blow me away. You speak so eloquently as to the power of will and tragically as to the cost thereof. Beautiful.

WZJN said...

Who doesn't have a somewhat similar story? Only difference is that you've put a heat lamp to the heart of the matter, exposing all the entrails.

Wonderfully written with haunting visuals from a time gone by that continues into the present.

William V. Madison said...


whiteray said...

Holy shit. Brilliant work.