This is a wildly self-indulgent post that doesn’t make much sense, and for that I apologize. But really, it’s my blog, and if I can’t be nonsensical and self-indulgent here, where can I be?
In 2002, I lived in a ramshackle house with my friends near the railroad tracks in Columbia, S.C. Sitting between what we thought was a halfway-house and a vacant lot, and for some reason diagonally cornered from the back of the governor’s mansion, the place was perfect. Just dumpy enough that you didn’t worry too much about damaging it, and just nice enough to sleep easy. Right now it’s for sale and listed at $94,000. It also calls itself a 2-bedroom, 2-bath. One of those bathrooms is as big as a bedroom, but all the fixtures are crammed over in one corner, and the other is the laundry room with a toilet and sink. The back yard is brick pavers. The sewage lines are made of clay pipes, and would overflow into the yard.
I moved in with three of my friends in April or May, from a dorm. I was graduating in December, so signing a full-year contract with the college’s res life department was dumb. Our rent was $800 a month, split 4 ways. I still can’t believe it.
I was 20 years old. I didn’t know what to do with my life, and the days were counting down to when I’d graduate and need to have that figured out. I alternated between feelings of complete panic and reluctance, and a strange satisfaction with my everyday life. Classes were going well, we lived near a park, I was dating someone I liked to be around. I had great friends and a sports car and things to do and was generally okay with everything. But any thoughts of what would happen after December 2002 sent me into a wide-awake nightmare. What do I want from my life? What am I going to do? Why don’t I have this figured out yet?
That year “Lifted” by Bright Eyes came out. It was one of a few albums I listened to constantly.
To be honest, I can’t remember buying it, and I can’t remember how I found out about it, or how I liked it, or who told me about it. Did I read about it? Did a friend tell me? I have absolutely no idea.
There’s something about it (as well as subsequent Bright Eyes releases) that I just love. Something about the simultaneous simplicity and grandiose sound. Conor Oberst’s strange and imperfectly perfect voice. And a general feeling of anxiety, excitement, sadness, joy and everything else. It felt how I felt, in a way I couldn’t put into words.
When I moved to Atlanta last year, my friend Matt introduced me to his friend Jason. Jason is a couple years older than me and he’s great. Funny, loves good food and friends and lives in a house perfectly suited for wonderful evenings of cooking, eating and enjoying good company. He’s really easy to be around, and has a spirit of adventure combined with a sense of down-to-earth-ness that’s very comfortable. He and I got along great from the start, and I don’t know how it took so long, but we discovered we have the same ridiculously weak spot for 90s-2000s indie rock.
(And not to sound stereotypical, but before this, I’d only ever met very typical guys who like indie rock: dangerously chubby or skinny, socially awkward, timid and brash at the same time, straight and with jerkily high standards for girls, working at record stores or copy shops or as designers or artists, etc. Jason is a tall, good-looking, has-his-shit-together gay guy with a law degree.)
So last night, Jason and I went to see Bright Eyes. They’re on a farewell tour of sorts. I read that Oberst wants to wrap up that alt-folk-country-rock-amalgam that is Bright Eyes and close the door, with a nice loving goodbye. It was a fantastic show, entertaining and brilliant and beautiful, at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, a huge dramatic old church downtown. The floor was filled mostly with people our age (late 20s, early 30s), but near us in the crowd was a teenage couple I couldn’t take my eyes off. They sang along to every word of every song, even the new ones, with their heads thrown back and their eyes closed, or jumping and waving their hands.*
Simultaneously I felt old and jaded and boring and somehow incapable of feeling that kind of unrestrained joy publicly. That unjaded, reckless enjoyment of something. The feeling in the crowd was so positive, so lovely, even Oberst himself sounded genuine and honest when he told us how much he loved playing here, and how we were just the nicest audience. I love seeing and being around people that are just so happy and enjoying what’s happening and who have an energy that’s palpable almost.
People who know me are aware of my reluctances and difficulties with being emotional. I get easily overwhelmed with feelings and can’t function like a regular, sensible person in society. It’s not that I don’t have feelings, it’s just that it’s almost physically painful sometimes to feel this much inside all at once. If I had to feel things all the time, I’d probably just stay in bed crying all the time — not just from sadness or happiness, but the combined, compounded effect of 29-years’ worth of feelings I can’t let go of. And then how would I get any work done?
It’s so hard to be happy sometimes, but I was happy when I went to bed last night. Thanks to Jason and Matt and Conor and a little bit, I guess, thanks to me. Not everything is perfect, and my life isn’t figured out or settled, but there’s something to be said for feeling OK about it, even just for a little while.
Playlist for today: I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning by Bright Eyes, of course.
*The show had a lot of really fantastic moments. For example, during the encore, Oberst introduced a song by saying “This song is a little mischievous, and for that I apologize.” Then they launched into a loud, boisterous “Lover I Don’t Have to Love,” which is a song I wouldn’t call mischievous (it isn’t cheeky and cutesy or told with a wink, it’s about love and hurt and using people, which is a lot worse than just mischief). But something is really interesting about the dichotomy. Let me apologize for this song that’s pretty hurtful and severe, but while I’m apologizing, I’m going to totally downplay that it’s so harsh. That conflict, somehow, is just so human. So flawed and so perfect all at once.