Riding a bus from Boston over to New Hampshire, I was scribbling something in a notebook, worried about a disease I did not have, looking out the window and watching the hillier country pass. I was on my way to start rehearsing for a national tour of two separate shows for children, shows I would be performing with one other person, a girl, who I had not met and had not seen, but only talked to briefly over email.
“I’ve been learning to drive my whole life”
–Arcade Fire, In the Backseat
It was required that I memorize both of my scripts for the tour I was about to commence rehearsing. I had not memorized my scripts. I spent a lot of time fretting over not memorizing, but never taking action on that fretting–a refrain of some sort for me. In the back of my mind was how I could possibly talk my way out of my lack of effort. I don’t quite recall, but most likely I was either listening to Funeral by The Arcade Fire or Want One by Rufus Wainwright. Like most things as a 22 year old, I was extremely earnest in the selection of the music I listened to, often fixating on one particular artist or song for long periods of time. These two records, along with the self titled Scissor Sisters record, were the music of this time in my life. I had played Rufus on repeat while living with my best friend. I shared not only an apartment with him, but also a bed and he helped me get a job at the restaurant where he worked. I paid him back by playing Want One on repeat. He was the person who introduced me to Funeral.
As I type this, I am listening to the final track of Funeral. I still don’t know a lot of what the female singer is singing (in fact, I have eschewed finding out what all the lyrics mean, fixating only certain phrases like “Alice Died in the night” and the above quote, “I’ve been learning to drive my whole life”)–but that’s not what drew me to this song, or this entire album for that matter. What drew me is the drama, the sweep, the building of each song. I had little control over my impulses, I took little time to think through decisions–I was passionate and intense and when I was trying to escape myself, I would turn to the same characteristics in the art I pursued. I can’t speak to why that was the case, but if forced to pinpoint, I would say that we know ourselves and proclivities the best and when we try to change ourselves, we go to what we know and hope that will somehow lead to a different result.
The last song on Funeral is called In the Backseat. It is the only song on this record with a female lead singer–Reigine Chassagne; she is married to Win Butler, the band’s leader. Her voice almost sounds off key at times. The vocals sound like she was recorded in a great big room and that the walls are made out of the strings backing her, that the floor is moving under her feet, almost lifting her up. I can just close my eyes and hear the piano, imagining her walking back and forth on the same several keys; the wall coming alive as the bows going up and down on all the stringed instruments. Like the rest of the record, there is a strong overtone of death in both the overall feeling of the song and the lyrics .However, I am not a music critic. I have a very specific and pinpointed and real memory from my time on that tour, and it came while listening to this song.
I can’t say where my tour partner and I were, or where we were going, or how many words we had said to each in the past number of hours; what I remember most is the darkness of that night. My right leg was crossed over my left knee, I was sitting back into the seat and leaning my head against the front passenger window. All I could see on the road were the center lines passing rapidly by, the lights picking up leaves on trees close to the road. In a way, I felt that I was going nowhere, would see nothing on my way there and would just disintegrate on this Western US highway. I felt it beginning as my fingertips tingled against my forehead.
At this time in my life, I had not been so far away from my family that I thought I was going to burst, had not lived alone in a filthy, roach-infested apartment, had not survived on only Chef Boyardee and Ramen, had not hit myself so hard in the head over and over again in front of someone I thought I loved–none of this existed, or mattered. The only reality was this: I was in the van thinking, perhaps, that I was losing everything and had never really held it in the first place. The great truth about experiencing these lonely feelings is that when you go down deep enough into them and you let them pummel you, they then pick you up, exhale you as evaporate and build you solid once again.
The isolation becomes a magic elixir; if you are traveling with someone, long, pregnant, corrupt silences between you–pregnant with such ideas and spite, love and respect, even admiration for experiencing this same thing. Your senses are disrupted, especially at night. I have found the road to be one of the purist places to understand life. That does not mean that life must always be lived on the road to be lived fully, but if you want to really find out what is going on, discover and observe what is growing down there in that deep and dark place, to taste the thrill of autonomous living and come home to all those you love and look them in the eye knowing just a bit more of yourself, take some time and get lost on the road. Learn to drive your whole life.