Thursday, November 03, 2011

“I Know, It’s Only In My Head:
How One Album Changed a Mind.”

I tend to judge people by the music they love. Not the music that they just listen to, but the music they are passionate about. Of course, if they’re not passionate about any type of music, I usually don’t spend a lot of time thinking about them.
Ask someone what their favorite album is and they’ll waffle. They’ll hem and haw and give you a list, depending on their mood. I have one answer and it’s been the same since 1994. Many great albums have come out since then, but nothing has made an impact on my life the way Counting Crows’ August and Everything After. Nothing has quite captured the essence of who I believe I am, then and now.
“Beneath the dust and love and sweat that hang on everybody, there's a dead man trying to get out.”
In the early 90s, I was a teenager, not unlike other teenagers, but definitely not like all other teenagers. I won’t say my life was the worst life. I know people have had it worse, but it doesn’t diminish the bad things in my life because that’s the life I had to live. Pain is relative. You see, you will have these things that happen to you, things you don’t control or invite, but they happen nonetheless, and they shape you. People will react to these outside forces differently. Some will act out. Some will internalize. Some seem to shrug it off without a second thought. Some of us crawl inside our own heads and refuse to come out.
“Mama, mama, mama, why am I so alone? I can’t go outside I’m scared I might not make it home.”
I was agoraphobic. For three years, I scarcely left my house, not to go to the movies or concerts or my grandparents’ house for holidays. I finished high school at home, which is the only way I would’ve finished because I was flunking out with astonishing ease. For three years, I heard “It’s only in your head.” The mumbles of doubt resounded in my head, and I hated everyone for not understanding, because unless it’s happening to you, you can’t understand what it’s like to drown in this wave of terror every time you felt you were losing control of the moment.
I would sit alone at night in the dark, headphones on, music seeping into my brain. I’d run my palms in circles on my legs until my thighs were numb. I know now it was a form of meditation. You do what you can to escape. This is what I did to cope. I would listen to these angry songs and all of that pent up rage would just boil inside me and my stomach burned to the point that sometimes it was hard to eat.
Then in early 1994, I heard this song, “Round Here” and the first moments when the organ is rising and the guitar comes in, and then these lyrics, the voice and the words were like nothing I’d ever heard before.
“Step out the front door like a ghost into the fog where no one notices the contrast of white on white…”
I’ve always had diverse taste in music. I was one of only a few people I knew in the small town where I grew up who had listened to things like Run DMC or the Violent Femmes, but I would also listen to Motley Crue and Lynard Skynard. I just loved music. It was something I craved. I think, looking back, I can remember escaping into songs as far back as four or five years-old, listening to 8-tracks of Roy Clark and the Statler Brothers before school.
But this song was something different and I had to have that album. August and Everything After. I was 19 and didn’t have a driver’s license, because the first panic attack I remember having was standing in line at the DMV when I was 16 and I just turned around and left. My mom drove me to the Best Buy that had just opened up on the other side of town. It was a week day, mid-morning. The only time I would even attempt to go places because I knew there would be hardly anyone there and I could get in and out quickly.
I remember taking that CD home and listening to it, start to finish and again and again. Musically, it blew me away. It was miles away from the “grunge” that permeated the radio and MTV at that time. The closest thing I could liken it to was The Band, but these songs hit me on a whole other level. The instruments merged to create this warm envelope of sound and Adam’s voice…I know he’s heard it a million times, but listening to those songs, it was as if he were speaking directly to me. It’s a ridiculous notion, but when you’ve spent so many years adrift from humanity, it can be overwhelming to find a voice who seems to understand that maybe it is just in your head, but that doesn’t make the pain any less real, and here were these songs about people who felt the isolation, the sadness, the desire to just be seen as who you are and to have someone accept that.
“Believe in me because I don't believe in anything, and I want to be someone to believe.”
What was less obvious to me at the time was the notion of hope that the songs held. It took a while for me to understand that the voice in these songs was looking for a reason to live. “Round Here” was an anthem about figuring out who you are and being okay with that decision, because no matter what you decide, you’re not alone.
The story in “A Murder of One” is a man telling a woman that she doesn’t have to remain in an unhappy relationship because there are options, but the universal message is “just because your life is like this now, you can choose to make it something different.” It’s the perfect end to a collection of songs about despair and hope, the repetition of a lament, a plea, a statement, “Change, change, change.”
I still have the copy of that CD that I bought almost 18 years ago. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to that album. I can’t even give you a decent ballpark figure. It doesn’t matter. After a certain point, it just becomes a part of who you are as a person. As I write this, I’m listening again, and every line still resonates. All these years later, these songs still say better what I was feeling then than the thoughts that I can muster and type out.
In the end, I’m not sure if it’s an album that defines me or it’s me that defines that album. The poet Miller Williams said, “A poem should start as the writer’s and end as the reader’s.” I think that’s a notion that holds true for all forms of art, and to me, it definitely stands in the case of this collection of songs, created by a group of talented musicians, accepted by a lonely kid in a dark room, carried forward by a man still carving out his name.

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Chris Fullerton is the epitome of disaffection, a misanthropic attention-whore who at times has considered himself a writer, a musician and a clown. You can find him all over the Internet, but he isn’t really there: Twitter. Tumblr.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I suffered with Agorophobia after I got married. I fell in love with "August & Everything After " after my first child was born and I was home alone and very isolated. Without a doubt, my favorite album of all time. Great blog. You are very brave.