Listening to REM at the end of another school year as a teacher is an odd prospect. Firstly, the music is different than when you were on the other side. Instead of a teenager struggling with identity,possibly suicide, and the inability to find even the most rudimentary of dates, you are now supposedly an adult professional, one who now listens to this music to remember what it was like to be a teenager.
Once you are that teenager (or at least feel it swimming through your bones like the floaters that pass by like buoys on a choppy channel) you can remember with utmost clarity the daily struggles you went through. And no one brings it home like REM circa ’90.
Because as much as I write this from the point of view of the hidden narrator, where I write generally about what happened, instead of delving into the specific events. Maybe that’s what music is for.
But I can’t think about REM and High School without thinking about David. I knew him as a talented theater student, actor, writer, and to a lesser degree, an aptly skilled mathematician and scientist. But David wanted to be an actor.
And like the archetypal private school parents (and this did happen at an archetypal private High School) they wanted him to be more than just another actor, they wanted him to carry on in their footsteps, notably in the fields of math and science.
David’s favorite band was REM, it was 1990, and it seemed like the whole school was into at least one REM album at the time.
I left that school junior year and moved to a bigger public school. Most of David’s friends graduated, leaving just himself to follow around, and the shadows of last years companions.
One day I was walking to class when I ran into someone I knew back at the private school I had recently attended. She told me about David, and I had to sit down. When the janitors showed up for work that morning, they found David’s body on the basketball court, his brains scattered a few feet in front of him.
REM’s “Losing My Religion” was the next song I listened to, and for me it seemed so appropriate that it was the first song I heard after the news. Sitting in my brown Toyota with the left door smashed smoking a cigarette, I thought about all the times I saw David perform on stage, or dissect literature, all with a outlook on life that was rarely found in a teenager.
It was one of those moments that you know will be with you forever, and while on one hand the memory goes hand in hand with misery, nevertheless its a genuine moment where the music perfectly accompanies a turning point in your life.
So back to my original point, that by listening to music (it is overwhelming to ones favor to be a High School teacher) and to play this music to High School students and have them not connect the emotions they feel to the songs you play in particular. To them its more of a relic, a time in your life doesn’t match with a time in their life, or if it does, the soundtrack is probably not the same.
But now that I think about it, listening to South Central Rain every morning when I was in High School, no one in my grade had ever heard the song before, and neither had the teachers, which brings me back to the always original thesis. That there exists a kind of musical solipsism, for only the ones who had the original memories with the original songs, these are vacuum sealed into a time, and although you may, years later unearth said piece of music or said picture of you and your prom date looking electrified by all the things that were coming at you at once. You can only have one time in your life when the whole cosmodemonic rigmarole turns around enough to where all the pieces fit.
And when you find that moment in time, an album a song that describes the way you are feeling right then and there. Hold onto it, savor it. Because pretty soon a middle aged version of yourself will attempt to relive that feeling, say in 1995 with Pulp’s Different Class and you were jumping up and down on the bed, trying to stay 23 forever.