I found this interesting. The other day I read that songs store themselves in an area of the brain affected only later by memory loss. I was standing in a bookshop at Grand Central when I read that — my train was delayed, perhaps I should mention — and I found myself thinking of you. At least, it sounded like one of those little facts you used to drop in casual conversation (although perhaps “arrange” is a better verb than “drop”). This area of the brain, the “medial prefrontal cortex” — yesterday I stood in front of the mirror just repeating that to myself — rests at its very tip, as if you could reach your hand to your forehead and feel a minuscule lump of memories gathering there, tying themselves to each other as well as to songs. “Yes,” I nodded to my reflection. “That explains the stubbornness.”
For months, whenever that song has come on — the one you loved enough to sing in the shower, even though you knew I’d hear you — it’s been hard not to, just for a moment, pause. And as if I’m there again, standing around the corner, I listen; I lean forward with the nostalgia needed to catch whispers of a past life. (All of this being instinctive, of course. All of this working towards redefinition.)
I suppose I cannot blame you entirely. Before we met, I dated the girl who introduced me to the band who sings the song you loved. One night, dashing forty blocks uptown from the East Village, sweating even in winter, I hailed a cab to meet her at a crowded bar not too far from Times Square. Forced encounters with her friends (“Oh, have you met…?”); names distorted in the noise or forgotten; an umbrella orphaned — and she and I were off, seeking shelter under awnings and ducking into the cove of an abandoned cafe. Prettier than I’d expected. “Did you watch that video I sent?” she asked. “The frontman made it himself. So of course I loved it.”
Another moment, weeks later: she and I sorted through records on her living room floor. The gray chevron rug had, the first time I had come over, been soaked by the radiator leaking in the corner; water had covered the hardwood like a tarp. She had laughed when I got my socks wet. Then the cat had frightened himself by chasing a fly into the puddle; for the rest of the night, he had hidden in his carrier, attentive, terrified. “Let’s go to my room,” she had said after a while, fixing her hair and gesturing with a nod of the head to her roommate’s door. Sorting records, she didn’t have to say that. In the act of sorting — deliberately slow, distracted — it was already assumed.
So perhaps I have already mastered the art of redefinition, given that you came after her. Though it must require persistent dedication: recently I have not been taking it seriously and fragments have been coming to mind. For example, someone saying, “Let’s put on some music.” Then you, continuing the conversation: “You only think they don’t wear makeup.” Your friends, exchanging looks and laughing. That night it was snowing and we had preferred to crack the window open. I don’t know what I retorted.
Or do you remember when we met the frontman in line for the bathroom? You came out and, awed, shook his hand with yours dripping wet because the dryer was out-of-order and all the towels gone. For a second, fleeting but noticeable, a microexpression, he glanced down before wiping his hand on his jacket. You were mortified (“I could cry,” you said) but thank god it had happened before and not after the show — that way, there was still time to make a good impression; it wasn’t too late. But, as luck would have it, we never got another chance. That night, they didn’t play the song you loved. They were promoting newer material — even though they were playing a residency at the back of a dim, wooden bar, so well hidden we had circled the block four times searching for it, our desperate exodus for beer and a good time; even though no one would have minded. “We’ll watch the music video when we get home,” I promised, and we did: later, huddled together on the bedspread, we turned off the lights and watched our own private encore, the drums tinny through the laptop speakers. “It’s not the same,” you said, passing the wine — and of course it wasn’t. “But it’s more intimate.”
Occasionally thoughts like these effervesce and give forth; synapses fire spontaneously like a steam pipe bursting. To be fair, I have since met other frontmen. After Daniel Rossen’s solo show, I found Robin Pecknold standing at the back of the music hall; he had shaved his beard. And then, just last week, I saw Daniel Rossen himself at an art opening in Chelsea, although I did not say hello to him. The exhibition modestly contained itself in a small, white room at the end of a winding hallway; it felt cheap to approach anyone but the artist. Not to mention I was with someone. I am trying to take redefinition more seriously.
Sometimes I wonder: when the song you loved comes on, do you ever touch your forehead and think of me? Am I in that little bundle of memories just above your eyelids? Or maybe the event is far less conscious for you. Maybe you were at a party recently, sitting on someone’s lap, where everyone was drinking and laughing. But suddenly someone put on that song and you had to say, “Please change the music, I’ve got a headache,” and everyone was baffled. “What, just now?” “Yes, inexplicably.” “I don’t understand it.” “Neither do I.”
That would make me happy, because I do find it unfair how songs acquire meaning through a process of violence rather than kindness. Lovers don’t lie intertwined in bed and whisper into each other’s ears, “This song is for you.” They don’t pick them out of glass cases during the holidays. The beauty of a song’s meaning comes instead from the fact that it has been stolen from oneself — stolen as you stole, and as I maybe did, too.
Not that you did a good job of it. To find the culprit, all I have to do is put your records on. I don’t do that, of course. But if I did — if I were to — perhaps that’s where I would find you: standing there with arms crossed and hands red and lips drawn into a smirk, saying, as you always did, “Took you long enough.” And I could tell you how my train was delayed.