It’s a cold, bitter morning and although the Sun shines like no other day, I feel cold. The coffee mug in the table has that never ending steam flow emanating; little vapour particles departing the liquid estate.
Just like her.
No note, no conversation, no big, final fight. She just left. How many days have I been like this? I go through the mail. White envelopes with coloured borders, a couple of brown packages for her ceramic business and a lot of bills for me. The TV talks about the 3 hour waits to get gas at the station. Why is it all going to hell in a handbasket? Even if we just left Vietnam, it still feels like it’s the event that destroyed my generation.
One of the brown packages has my name. I open it and find inside 3 cassingles. They have the name The White Album written on them and I wonder for a minute if it’s a copy of The Beatles’ seminal work, but no way could that fit in three cassingles. I guess it’s the name of a band? I’m lucky I changed the Chevy Impala‘s 8 track to a tape player just last week. She said it was a stupid decision that we couldn’t afford, but she doesn’t have any impact in my life now. 11 years together and now…
I grab the mug, a pack of smokes, my ray bans and the keys to the Impala. Fuck this gas crisis, I need to get out of this house, its vinyl seats and the walls that were witness to this heartbreak. Full power, rev it up and I’m out of this suburbian dystopia, driving through towards the mountain range to the west.
Let’s see, the first cassingle says ‘Counting treasures’… I insert it and it sounds like nothing I’ve heard before. It’s slow but not magic like folk. It’s groovy but no funk in it. There’s no distortion, just an intimate collection of sounds. This goes well when I take the 123 through Ozark. I stop to finish the coffee and to turn the tape. The other side reads ‘Seventeen’. I grip the mug strongly: it’s the age when we met. “Revealing little sorrow / and chasing all the girls / believing that tomorrow never comes“. Well, tomorrow finally came and it did know how this was going to end. I hit the steering wheel, but the sounds calm me. I want to scream but this is soothing the beast in me.
I keep driving. Another tape and one side lasts just a little over a minute. ‘Trenches’, an acapella track that feels like those old recordings Grampa Smith used to listen…and made me listen to. Too short but I dig it. Flip the tape. ‘Seasons end’. What are this ethereal sounds? What are they doing to the guitar that sounds like…an echo in reverse? I stop the car by Devil’s Den State Park and let the song repeat over and over again. It’s magical, full of pure mojo. There’s an inherent sadness in both the sounds and the vocals but I can’t help but feel slightly optimistic.
Last cassingle tape. ‘Your mouth is a fist’. I’d laugh it didn’t hurt. What drove her away? We were doing so well and then it was so out of the blue. Hmm, this is more of a folky sound, the traditional one I’d grown to love these last years, with stuff from the Limeys like Fairport Convention really doing the trick. Let’s see where this goes, as I feel tempted to join the band with clapping sounds. The song suddenly explodes and makes me think of those freaky groove outs that The Beatles used to do. The sound becomes overbearing and I’m not sure if the tape is damaged or if it’s supposed to make my speakers tremble like that. The car moved! Yikes!
I turn the tape over. ‘Let’s go out’ is definitely smoother. I get out some instant coffee from the trunk, plug the resistance in the lighter and boil some water. As I pour the coffee, the song goes into a louder part that although it leaves the car unscathed, it gives me goosebumps. The tape stops and I drink my coffee. It’s October, 1973 and after 18:15 minutes of music, my old life has been erased and a new one might be waiting over that hill. I leave the car and then climb the Butterfield hiking trail by myself…
Words: Sam J. Valdés López
Recommended tracks : All of them, but start with ‘Your mouth is a fist’ or ‘Counting treasures’.