Seventeen and Other Tunes

Dearest Rachel –

I have to confess, I’m trying to find a style of music that I can listen to without being reminded of the many mix tape memories that we shared throughout our college and courtship days. Even stuff that grew on us by way of anime music videos can take a psychic toll on me (and I rarely have exact change for it), because it’s stuff that we could (and did) enjoy together. All of which makes it hard to enjoy, now that we’re apart.

One of the genres – or maybe time periods would be a more accurate description – that I’ve started listening to, in lieu of the old familiar stuff, is music from the 1970’s. Not disco – gosh, no! – but the more folky, AM-radio style stuff that would have been popular with the average individual who they’d never had let into the likes of Studio 54 (and who would likely have been so much better off for it). Names like Joni Mitchell, Dan Fogelberg, Judy Collins, Cat Stevens and Gordon Lightfoot will play on my phone (and, thanks to the wonder of Bluetooth, on my car speaker) when I feed the algorithm with a song from that era that I’m at least familiar enough to come up with and tell it about.

So, what song do I ask it for in order to listen to a sequence like this? It’s one that I was only dimly aware of (although I think I actually managed to find and listen to it before your departure) through, of all things, a quote from it by Dr. James Dobson in one of his books my dad encouraged me to read back in the days when I was ‘Preparing for Adolescence’ (and yes, that was the title of the one that kicked things off, although it wasn’t the one quoting the song, as far as I can remember). Given his descriptions of life at that age, you can probably see why:

These sorts of lyrics resonate with just about everyone, because popularity is like wealth; no matter how much you have, you never have enough, and there’s always someone in your orbit who has appreciably more than you do. Despite being among the brainy kids in high school, there were a few beauty queens and golden boys among that echelon, but if you were to ask them about their supposed status, I could almost guarantee most of them would demur, and point to someone else who they perceived as ‘better’ than them in that department. And let’s not even begin to address those listening to this at an older age who had come to the realization that they had peaked in high school, and it was all downhill since then. The sadness in this song is something we can all relate to – which is probably why it spent five months on Billboard’s Top 100.

One of the curious things about Janis Ian I discovered is that her apparent experience growing up (although you never really know if certain songs sung in the first person are truly autobiographical or not), seems to have caused her to eschew pursuing relationships like the ones she was dreaming of at that age. That is to say, she gave up on men long before it was cool, like it seems to be today. Back then, it left society at large looking at you askance; these days, it’s practically celebrated: so stunning and brave you are, to come out like this (and sometimes I wonder if there aren’t those who do so these days just for the attention and approval, but what do I know?).

But I digress.

When I first got the chance to listen to it, it was with a sort of wistful anti-nostalgia; a nod to the fact that, ‘yeah, life was pretty lousy back then, but isn’t it nice to have it all behind me now? I’ve got someone at my side, and I never have to worry about that kind of loneliness again.’ How little I knew that it would get something of a reprise in my life.

Then again, if misery loves company, I suppose there’s comfort to be taken in the fact that I have plenty of it. As the year has just turned over, there are articles about the year in review, but also about plans for the coming year. It doesn’t come as a great surprise – you’d expect to see it in the top ten or five in any given year or any given location – but the fact that my situation (or, more to the point, the resolution to said situation) is the top resolution for the state suggests that I’m in very good company:

Granted, the word ‘dating’ as a resolution is pretty nebulous – is one planning to date more, or less? Beginning to home in on one specific person, or play a wider field? So many diametrically opposed options, here – but there’s some consolation that I’m not the only one out there looking, it would seem. Granted, it’s likely that most of the rest of the state is out of my league, but still…

Anyway, the one thing about this new-found playlist is that a few old standards will creep in from time to time. After all, these are artists who were popular before we were even paying attention to popular music; naturally, the ones we used to listen to (and even set each other) run the risk of being fed to me by the algorithm. Indeed, the first song played after ‘At Seventeen’ was one by one of your favorite artists, and a song I knew best from the days when anime music videos were a big thing, as this was a classic (granted, you and I could recognize most of these characters in a way that the average reader might not – one of those inside joke type of situations)

It doesn’t help that the lyrics have broad enough descriptions that I can see you in them (just as any man might recognize ‘his’ woman from them), leaving me thinking about and missing you just a little bit more than I’d like to at the moment.

And then, there are the surprises that sneak up on you; I’d never heard of this song before, and while I realize it’s specifically meant to describe the relationship between a single mother and her child, the lines about “when one of us is gone / and one of us is left to carry on” and how “remembering will have to do” cut awfully deep.

It doesn’t help to hear “I love you, mommy” at the end, and realize that, while Daniel’s a long way from calling you ‘mommy,’ he’ll never get a chance to tell you that again. Even writing it down chokes me up just a little bit. I know you knew he did – he doesn’t have to say it – but the fact that he literally can’t tell you anymore seems so sad.

Guess I should be trying to find yet another genre of music if I want to avoid this kind of reaction. You wouldn’t happen to have any suggestions, would you?

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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