There was a time in my life when I tried to live in one second of an Elliott Smith song.
I have always been obsessed with the drop. I like songs that take sharp turns. I will replay a song ad infinitum, honing in on that moment where everything shifts, until I’m not even repeating the song itself: I’m just playing a five-second, ten-second burst, preserving it in amber for future study, listening for the point where the track bursts into something else. In electronic music, and in hip-hop, this is a drop, or a break, but I listen for it in other types of music, too. I am sure there is a better word for this. I don’t know it. I call it the rupture.
I like turning points. I like the edge of things.
The 2:18 mark is not the rupture of “King’s Crossing.” That comes a few seconds later, at 2:23. (These numbers have ossified in my mind. More amber talk. I am repetitive, to a fault.) 2:18 is a lateral shift, a liminal exhalation of pure dizziness that slides down the scale. Vertigo: the world sliding to the side. The earth moving underneath your feet. One second of heady dizziness, before the world drops back into focus.
I listen, compulsively, for this split-second. Each time, I am twenty-one years old and I am sitting on a low stone ledge. I am outside the dorm of a boy who I have been sleeping with, and it is cold. It is February in New England, and I am thinking about the best way to disappear, and that split-second seems like a viable option. I keep tugging the playback tracker into the past so I can hear that second again. I want to live in that second; I want to go to the place on the other side of that lateral shift. Repeat, repeat.
This is not just one night: it’s a month of nights, stretching into March, that see me perched on the stone wall, my breath hot on the night air, my ears swelling with sound. Repeat, repeat. I will switch to a different song, a different album, a different artist, and then I will come back. Repeat, repeat. Eventually, I will let the song pass 2:18 by, and that’s when I stand up and walk home. It’s dark – three or four in the morning – and I have to cross the main road out of town in order to get home. The town is sleeping, the song keeps playing, and sometimes I stand in the middle of the street, place my feet on the double yellow line, and listen from the in-between.
I often think about those interstitial spaces, about what it means to be in transit, about what it means to be between the beginning and the end of something. Of life, which is just another word for the betweenness, and of crossings.
March molted into April and the summer came and I stopped listening to “King’s Crossing,” because it’s hard to listen to Elliott Smith in the summer, and because sometimes I gravitate away from the things I love. I always come back, though; by nature, I orbit.
Last August, I was twenty-three years old and on a road trip with a girl, and I was in love, and I was playing her the music I loved, which is something you do when you’re trying to show off. I almost passed “King’s Crossing” by; the sun was high in the sky and we were driving to New Orleans and 2:18 felt very far away. I hit play. I tapped out the beat on the dashboard – a maddening habit of mine, to constantly beat against the surface of things – and when 2:18 came I said, “Listen, isn’t this beautiful?” She didn’t say much of anything, but that was okay. I was already far away. I was in 2:18, and there were snowflakes in my eyes and I could taste the night sky on my tongue, and a double yellow line curved into the black horizon.
If 2:18 is on the edge of something, if it is a shift between, and I say that I wanted to go to its end, where would that be?
The obvious answer is the true one. It ends in what comes next, in the second after: 2:19.
I Googled “king’s crossing elliott smith” just now, to see if anyone else had written about the split-second. A hit from a Blogspot account called “Suicide Watch Songs” pops up, and I exit the window. I know that story already. 2:19 (to 2:23) rings unbidden in my ears: I can’t prepare for death anymore than I already have…
No. I don’t want what comes next; I don’t want the split-second to end. I want that exhalation of dizziness, of breathlessness, of being on the edge but not over the precipice, to last forever. (To live forever.) Call it purgatory, call it limbo, but also call it the rapture: the state of being carried away to… The rapture is, after all, a mode of transportation. More divine than the MTA but undeniably a way to get from Point A to Point B. To god, to heaven, to ecstasy, to the end beyond the end— which is another way of saying, to more life, to more betweenness.
I try Google again: “2:18 of king’s crossing.” I am looking for the moment before the drop. Has anyone else noticed it?
An excerpt from the Book of Kings, in the Old Testament, is at the top of my search results: 2 Kings 2:1-18. I click, and the first line unfurls before me. When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal… I keep reading, all the way through the between, and until the end, and I imagine that Elijah has noticed it. A man who waits for a whirlwind must have thought about the drop.
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 to firstname.lastname@example.org 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)**
Kate Flanagan is a writer and photographer living in Newburgh, NY. Much of their previous work can be found at Should Does, where they were a contributing writer for several years. They send missives into the stratosphere as@remotedispatch, and they tell you what to read every week at This Is Your Required Reading.