A few years back after my wife and I first moved into semi-voluntary exile in this southern waste, we both suffered from a nostalgic malaise that I now diagnose as more a function of lifetime transition syndrome than any true and permanent issue with our new home. See, any time you make those big leaps in life from school to work or single life to married life, there can be a period of adjustment after the initial excitement that is somewhat like depression (and sometimes makes the transition to actual depression). I witnessed similar fugues in the lives of friends after we left undergrad or years after marriages (weeks and months after bad ones).
My wife and I had a special case of this malaise because we stayed at ‘summer camp’ (the unreality of undergraduate school and graduate school where friends are always around, responsibilities are limited and drinking on Tuesday nights is socially tolerable) until we were almost thirty. As a result, the adjustment to real life was extremely difficult. We were uprooted from the embrace of dozens of friends, a city we loved, and the limited daily expectations of graduate school and dropped into the repetitive grind of work in surburbia. We were not unhappy, but we weren’t as happy as we thought we’d be.
I used to waste entire days watching and rewatching the same television shows only to shake off my soporific sorrow in the mid afternoon to stumble into a gym. I would fake my way through a work out and return home to start it all over again. But one day, I was disrupted from my reverie and pulled into another when Rusted Root’s “Send Me on My Way” came on the radio.
Now, what was more than slightly disturbing about this moment wasn’t my reaction–I did get a bit teary eyed–but the disconnect between the way I felt about this song in 2008 and how I felt about it nearly 15 years earlier when it first came out (released on my birthday, of all days) in 1994. When the song first came out, it was immediately beloved by the crustier fringe of the alt-rock set, the wannabe hippies and many members of the Lilith fair set. The band’s use of world music motifs and their ‘earthy’ sound also made them appeal to the crunchier granola-yuppie fringe. It was almost as if Dave Matthews was coming again.
So, of course, I decided to hate the song and the band. The only problem was that my very earnest girlfriend at the time–the same girl who loved Celine Dion and Pearl Jam at once–absolutely loved the song. To torture her, I would pretend to misunderstand the lyrics and ask why he was singing about a “simian way”. Even today, when I reflect on them, the lyrics seem so simplistic as to be moronic. Yet, they do have a certain sweetness:
I would like to reach out my hand
I may see you, I may tell you to run (On my way, on my way)
You know what they say about the young.
Some strange nostalgic concoction of my memory of this song and that girl from nearly half my life ago disarmed me. Again, it wasn’t as if I was unhappy with my life, it was that I was unhappy with my memory of that self from my former life, the spiteful cynic who couldn’t take the simple pleasure of someone else’s joy in a song. (And this is one of the great gifts of parenthood; we learn how to find pleasure in someone else’s delight even if we do not share this delight.)
See, this girl was the last girl of childhood. I mean, we were both teenagers, but the relationship was the kind of pre-sexual romance that teenagers are either too afraid to leave or too impetuous to appreciate. And the very type of relationship melancholy adults who have lived a bit too much romanticize and idealize. So, that day on the treadmill I let the first verse of a song I used to loathe transport me back in time to a place that never was.
Here is a live version to slake my thirst and yours…
As is my usual custom, I needed to hear the song all the time. I loved its rhythm and unrestrained vocals. It not only seemed filled with joy but it even brimmed with optimism and energy, two things that are too often in short supply in your 30s. I downloaded the album and was forlorn when all of the other songs seemed so pallid and tepid in comparison. Could it be that the band was so bad that not one other song was memorable or was it that I only had memories attached to one?
In any case, the song has became a staple of my running playlists. Even when it shows up on commercials I smile. Now it calls both of those memories, it pulls me back to the young me who thought himself good enough to judge others and to the older me who was finally learning to be a better judge of himself.
And what about you my brother? I know that our friend the Professor has many songs that he loves for their context rather than their content….