Right before my high school graduation, when the threat of dispersion and uncertainty got real, I wrote a guy I liked a last-ditch confessional letter. I knew he had a girlfriend because she was a close friend of mine. I acknowledged this in the letter and made a point to mention that my aim was not to disrupt their relationship at all. I wasn’t out to hurt or threaten them. I just wanted him to know that I was overwhelmed with affection for his cynicism and artwork and taste in music. I was too young and blinded to realize that he would be the first person I felt this connection with, not the only person.
When he called me later he was cool about it, weirdly. He told me I was mature for approaching him in a respectful way. He said he thought I was cute “You know, before Alexis and I started dating.” It was important to him that we start hanging out more as friends instead of deciding to ignore each other to avoid the potential awkwardness. And so we started going out alone and talking about music.
I was already a snob at that point and thought the iTunes downloads I collected reflected the sum of my identity. I hung on to good music like a lost limb. Miles understood this.
We listened to Radiohead a lot in my car, usually in the parking lots of places like Denny’s and never mentioned Alexis. He made me a CD of the tracks from OK Computer and In Rainbows woven together with the the help of a binary code, explaining to me that it was Thom Yorke’s intentional cryptic masterpiece. The albums were released ten years apart, but they intermixed with each other in a way that was perfect and inevitable. We talked a lot about the integrity of songs being consumed in context and this was the ultimate expression of that. Music as an experience, or as a relationship.
Sharing this pretentious, insular love for the super-album with him was as close as we got to real intimacy. Always an anxious, percussive knot was tightening in my chest.
At the beginning of fall, when college uprooted all of us, he was still dating her and was committed to making long distance work. I was trying to forget about him by experimenting with drugs and grad students. It was not effective. I was a faltering mess without even texting him back.
He called me one night after weeks of mutual silence and told me he had been driving in the dark listening to “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”. He wanted me to know how beautiful it was to hear it in that exact moment doing exactly what he was doing. He wanted me to put the song on at that moment too.
Arpeggi is the plural form of the word arpeggio, which refers to a group of notes playing one after another in a sequence, rather than simultaneously. Sounds that are close to each other but never touch.
After we hung up, I listened to the song through headphones and ran hard beneath streetlights and birch trees with skinny, weak branches and thought about him in his car driving somewhere that had to be even farther away from me. I remember feeling that the song was tangible that night and I remember how it felt to touch it.
Music can hold enormous power in memories and experiences, transporting us instantly to an age, location, or person. What sonic joys, mysteries, disbelief, and clarity have you experienced? Identify songs of influence in your life and explore them like variations on a theme, melding syntax and song structure, recalling the seriousness or levity that accompanies. Whether it’s an account of when a specific song first entered your life, the process of learning to play a song, teaching someone a song, experiencing the same song in different places as it weaves through your life, unbelievable radio timing, sharing songs with those in need, tracking the passing down of songs, creative song analysis etc, I am interested in those ineffable moments and welcoming submissions of your own variations on a theme, as drawn from your life’s soundtrack. Please email submissions email@example.com and keep an eye out for others’ Variations.
**(“song” is a broad phrase: could be a pop song, a traditional tune, a symphony, commercial jingles, a hummed lullaby, 2nd grade recorder class horror stories, etc)**
Caitlin Bosko (b. 1993) is a writer living in Los Angeles. Follow her on Tumblr.