“Take a listen to this, you’ll love this guy,” was the words of my late husband back in 2001. We’d been married a year and had made a crazy move to a state we’d only stay in for nine months. We were unpacking boxes and exchanging nervous looks back-and-forth, the anticipation mixing itself up with a hefty dose of anxiety, the stuff that big changes tend to bring. He’d went to run an errand and stumbled upon a record store (always a find when in a new town) and picked up this album. He’d played it in the car on the way home and run in, excited, to share it with me. I can still remember that first moment, that first listen, and the first crackling sound of Life on a Chain.
He gave me many things during our life together, some good, some not so good, but music was always in that good category. I’ll always be grateful for him introducing me to Pete Yorn, and this album. It’s stayed in my favorite albums list, and has become a go-to album when I need to feel better, get motivated, and also as a soundtrack to any big change in my life.
I would later get my own copy through one of those Columbia House/BMG buy 10 CD’s for a penny, mail-order things.It was day before we were meant to move to Michigan –musicforthemorningafter seems to have had its place in many a move/change in my life -and everything was packed away in boxes and loaded into a moving truck that was already on its way. In the mail was a box with 3 CD’s, and as I fell asleep that night, in a sleeping bag on the basement floor, this album played on repeat.
We played it as we drove cross-country, debating which was the best track.
Sometimes the songs played on in the middle of the night where all there was to see was a set of headlights, the white lines of the highway, and an occasional roadside stop. Other times it was at the break of morning, or the sticky heat of a mid-June day.
There was a time I could not hear this album without thinking of that drive, and everything we saw and felt as we drove to the Midwest for the first time.
The memories attached to this album, and the songs in it, evolved though, from the first play in 2001, to that cross-country road trip.
This album had so much more life in it (and still does).
I have soothed a broken heart (and shed a few tears) to Lose You and EZ.
I have rolled down the window, turned the volume up high, and sang-a-long to Life On a Chain and For Nancy (‘Cos It Already Is) while driving up the California Coast, or through the winding streets of the Hollywood Hills.
And, I have thrown nearly every song on to a mix CD, or playlist, both kept for my own pleasure, or gifted to someone I care about.
I eventually found myself a copy that included the four bonus songs, including one of my favorite all-time cover songs – Pete doing his best Bruce Springsteen, with his take on Dancing In the Dark.
This album reminds me of some of my dearest friends, of some of my wins and losses at love, of some of the roads I have traveled on, and, for some reason, it always reminds me of my Los Angeles; the Los Angeles I grew up with, and within, and seen threw my distorted lens.
It also reminds me of all the coffees and conversations, among a few other things, shared between a boy with a guitar and the girl he swept away that I kept mostly as a secret story of mine for years, but that sneaks into much of my writing, and has further chapters that unfolded long after that first meeting.
One of the things that sticks out with this album is that these songs are stories that are told in a half-opened eye sort of way. We don’t get the entire thing, we get glimpses, pieces, snippets of overheard conversations, like when you walk by someone on the city streets and hear a piece of their life, or when your travelling somewhere and get caught up in people watching, making up stories about lives that you can’t honestly know.
Pete gives us just enough to make us long to know more, and also leaves out just enough that we fill in the rest, making the songs our own in the process. There are stories in-between the stories, in-between the notes and lyrics, hidden somewhere inside.
As a writer I love that so much. It’s made these songs sometimes be muses to me, fueling my own storytelling. It has also made these songs mean something to me that transcends their original intent. They’ve become part of my life soundtrack, and part of that path to finding self and understanding. Along with so much of my favorite music, this music, and this album, has helped me feel more alive.
These songs – this album – means a great deal to me.
Happy 15th birthday!
Life On a Chain
“And I was waiting over here
for life to begin.”
You saw me first, or so you always say. I still remember the heat of the afternoon as it poured in through the crooked blinds, the cartoon-pitched voice of the girl who took down our orders, and the gravelly sound of your laughter. I had hit such a road block in life at that moment, and you were one hell of a breath of fresh air.
“Stories and cigarettes
of lesser girls.”
She wrote letters on torn apart cereal boxes and diner napkins, stuffing them into over-sized envelopes that she colored with permanent markers and lipstick kisses. He wanted to know everything about the city of angels, and she wanted to be where any angels would fear to tread. Most of all she wanted to be the one good thing to survive this place.
“You and I,
we’re two of a kind.”
You tucked a key into the palm of my hand before I left that morning, pulling me close for one last embrace, burying your head in my hair and whispering “so you can come back anytime you want“. I breathed you in deeply, mentally recalling every moment from the night before, adhering it to my forever memories because truly I believed I would never see you again. I thought the key was a throwaway gesture, and that I was just another girl to you.
“I am just for you,
As you are not for me.”
She would linger around the back side door longer than she needed to, waiting and wondering if he would be back again. Months went by and after awhile she started to realize it was just something that they once stumbled into, not something forevers are made of. When he snuck up behind, hands covering both her eyes, she half believed he was a figment of her wishful imagination.
“Stop before you fall,
into the hole,
that I have dug here.”
She would be the one to leave him. Sometimes she tells the tale to herself in the middle of the night in some cautionary way, justifying to her sleepless self that he would have grown tired of her soon enough and left her far behind, that she had just saved him the effort. Mostly, though, she knows she has much to regret for keeping the key, but never going back to use it, or to return to him, again.
For Nancy (‘Cos It Already Is)
“Convince yourself that everything is alright,
‘cos it already is.”
Too early in the morning, stuck in god-forsaken Los Angeles traffic, half-spilling her coffee, she finds herself wishing she had not quit smoking because what does one do when all your vices are gone? She turns the music up so loud she can feel the whir and buzz in her ears, so loud that she can no longer hear her strained voice singing-a-long. She is going nowhere fast and everywhere is far too slow, and no, she does not miss him at all.
“Don’t say goodbye,
Three whiskeys in and he tells her that she has Father issues. She orders another and turns to face him, trying her very best not to slur her words, and says wryly “God and I broke up long ago.” She has already decided what she will allow him to do, how far and for how long, erasing the letters of his name in the process, hurrying up to get to forgetting.
“It’s alright if I was older,
it’s ok to lose your age.”
In the front room he had five guitars, crates of records that were filled with so many of her favorites, and books piled everywhere and anywhere that space allowed. She felt instantly at home in a way that made her feel instantly ill at ease. Sometimes she wonders if it has changed at all, or if he has, without her.
“Is something wrong with me?
I show you things you’ve never seen.”
He confronted her outside of the coffee place where they’d first met, asking for some kind of reason, for some kind of why. He asked her if there was something he had done wrong, if there was anything he could change. He told her the dogs miss her, and that he never plays that song anymore, but he never once said how he felt about her now.
“I want you to say my name again.”
The road stretched out ahead of them, so far they wondered out loud if they would ever make it in time. They laughed together, welcoming this escape to the Midwest, never admitting out loud that they both knew this was their last best chance. This – them – well it was all theirs to lose now.
On Your Side
“And I listen,
yeah I listen.
Can you listen?
Now I’m listening.”
There have been three times that the girl drove back up to his house, key in her hand, heart pounding in her chest, with every intention of going up to the door. Each time she winds up stuck at the end of the long drive, sitting in her car with the windows rolled up and the music playing, frozen in the knowing that it has been way too long to show up now, much less use a key to a lock that has to have been changed, by now. She wonders what she would do if he saw her there, parked on his side of the street up in those Malibu hills.
“So she won’t sleep better alone,
And he won’t sleep better alone,
No they won’t feel better alone.”
They were fated from the start to fail, five stops and starts should have told them that, yet they insisted on persisting. They lasted three years in their Midwest last chance, the final battle rounds taking a toll, but still not enough to throw up the white flag surrender. They were so sure they would never sleep better alone, yet they never made it through an entire night of sleep together.
“Some new day,
I could understand your face,
you could even hold my hand if you would like to.”
The last time she saw him, really saw him, he came up behind her, surprising her once again. He lifted her up in his arms and spun her around, turning her dizzy, and filling her with desire. He put her down then, smiling at her with a question in his eyes that he never asked, instead he ordered her a drink (if only he had asked).
“I never thought we’d meet until I said,
‘How do you do, my love?'”
She was there with friends and soon they crowded around her, pulling her away. He leaned in close for only a moment and said “it’s good to see you“, and then he was gone, just a blur in the crowd. There is a list of things never said that night that she still thinks about some nights, nights like this, nights just like tonight.
A Girl Like You
“And even if
I don’t know what the day will bring,
still I can tell most anything,
to a girl like you.”
She doesn’t harbor regrets, not really, not much if ,at all. Instead she tries to write out the storms and sorrows, weaving them into musical reflective recollections. It doesn’t always make it hurt less, but it rarely hurts more, the act of remembering this way.