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To ‘All My Friends’

| Friday, March 20, 2020

Jackie Junco | The Observer

“It comes apart / the way it does in bad films.”

Three years on and more — the hang of things still elusive — approaching a sequence “when the moral kicks in,” bringing four years of triumphs and foibles into fresh perspective.

How was I supposed to know the approach would be asymptotic, getting me just close enough to read a glaring message on the line I’ll never cross?

“And to tell the truth / Oh, this could be the last time.”

When the words register (in truth, they haven’t and probably won’t), the lukewarm beers and tearstained keyboard before me come into cold focus.

“If I could see all my friends tonight If I could see all my friends tonight If I could see all my friends tonight,” the chorus goes, a mantra strong enough to draw tears from the people I looked up to, learned from, danced with, drank with as they crossed the line (friends at their side) and I approached the asymptote remotely.

Self-isolated, I return to sounds culled from over-packed common rooms (in every nook and cranny, a pretzel), dingy basements (spores of a fledgling scene), grassless yards on sunny afternoons, and a scrappy little radio station tucked away in the corner of LaFun (2nd floor): easy access memories filed into 250 or so meticulously crafted playlists.

These playlists, designed for use with noise cancelling headphones, started as a source of readymade hermitage, a buffer against the constant company of others.  Two taps and a swipe turned seas of warm bodies spewing hot air into the solipsistic haze of my umpteenth time streaming through “Cardinal,” “Teens of Denial,” “Alvvays” or “Tim.”

But, as calls for “social distance” reverberated around a world halfway to s–t — loneliness quickly becoming the dominant echo of deafening cacophony — the playlists shed their surface level solipsism, exposing the time-stamped machinery underneath.

“This is a memorial device,” they said.

“We thought it was important, what was happening. We thought it was important to document it.”

“From those first few weeks, when you’d unload your predilections on anyone with ears, most of whom still listen (to you, not the music).”

“To your weekly journeys with Spicy Nach to the borderland on which you’d execute every transition sandy smooth.”

“Let’s not forget all those times you talked down the apocalypse (and how it wasn’t so bad): first on election night, then through a series of less than stellar bouts with academic requirements.  Quite prescient of you to call out small potatoes in the face of what was soon to come.”

“You wouldn’t let a few events, setbacks, annoyances — things so unassuming as a heavy heart, a poor decision, a few sleepless nights — get in the way of your oddball expeditions.”

“Memorializing Catalino in Weezer and White.”

“Dreaming of, flubbing, eventually perfecting the quad-based punk show.”

“Dueling finance textbooks in the deep south.”

“Dancing on the edge of sanity in Honor, Michigan.”

“All the boy-girl beer parties (don’t tell Cameron) with Beans and Toast and H-Train and Spicy Nach and The Captain and also Spoltz and Scrag and the rest of the P-Gang.”

“The months embedded in public houses on the edge of Europe following a wiley Wexfordian, holding a pot of the tastiest soup anyone’s ever sniffed (in two parts).”

“An extended ride north to finally get a taste of that small pop (or mini soda), not to mention a yearlong ban, compliments of the house.”

“House shows and fink nights, squeezing songs, poems, comedy, wine and cheese from the shady, undisturbed alcoves of a University better known for its sports (!) and Catholics (!) than its artists.”

“Milkwalker says it’s been a time. He’s not wrong.”

To which I reply (in phrases mostly stolen):

“And if the sun comes up, if the sun comes up, if the sun comes up, if the sun comes up / And I still don’t want to stagger home / Then it’s the memories of our betters / That are keeping us on our feet.”

It was a bad film with a cult following: full of strange (yet lovable) characters, outlandish non sequiturs, clunky pacing, half-hazard performances, writing either improvised or hallucinated and a disaster-trope ending absurd enough to make “2012” look Oscar-worthy.

But, “If I made a fool on the road there’s always this / And if I’m sewn into submission / I can still come home to this” — the soundtrack to our shenanigans.

The songs are pretty much all we have left to keep us occupied until we’re swept up “like a salesforce into the night” where we’ll begin new lives as analysts, advertisers, coders, consultants, scientists, engineers and teachers.

They can sing what might have been to times taken away.

That’s why I’m asking you — “All My Friends” in quarantine — to help me out. Help me build one last playlist for our college years, something to document the memories we’ll never create. It won’t be the same as the those desperately “stupid decisions” we were saving for our final weeks, but it’s better than silence.

Add something, so when we ask ourselves — “Where are your friends tonight?” — we have something to show for it: a collective memorial device.

“That’s how it starts.”

Contribute your songs to the playlist below. 

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