Monday, June 11, 2007

Streetlight People

The story is that when you die, you relive your life episodically. Or at least right before you die. Like when you're hit by a bus, or having your skull crushed by an SUV filled with your grandchildren after being shot in the head.

In most of our cultural references, replaying your life involves a series of scenes, rather than a coherent narrative. And though its never, ever, mentioned or referred to, one living in our culture constantly judges his or her own life in reference to that - will that last experience I had make it to the 'top ten' that I relive in that moment of death? Or maybe not - I maybe just patterning. But, still, it's not a bad way to organize one's experiences.

Don't you agree?

Growing up in the twentieth century has also introduced another aspect to our lives that is almost never mentioned - the concept of soundtrack. Each one of those episodes has its own tune to go along with it. One struggles to imagine it otherwise. Sometimes the music makes one glad to be alive; sometimes the music is an embarrassment - a song that haunts you from the very beginning of its release, confounding you as to why it gnaws at you so. Dear God, please make it stop. But, no, it still plays on and on and on and on...And eventually marks an episode, usually one that will make the top ten for no damn good reason other than God foresaw it (or at least Augustine would have said so)

In the spring of 1984, it was time for me to visit colleges. I visited two. The second was the one I went to, the one that sang to me, Washington University. A good choice, looking back on it a generation later. But I did visit one other.

In the spring of 1984 I visited UC Berkeley. Just me and my dad. Pretty much just a day or two. And I only have two memories of the trip - the first was a visit with a faculty member in the administration. She went on and on and on and on about how the department was amazing, because the first project was to draw the absence of a chair. And I had no problem in getting in, as all I had to provide was my portfolio.

Not even knowing, yet alone giving a shit, about what the 'absence of a chair' was, I certainly wasn't going to put together a non existent portfolio to apply to the place. So I gave up on Berkeley about an hour after arriving.

The next day, I got up with my dad and we went to have breakfast at a place on one of the main streets of the city - I couldn't locate it today with a gun at my head. We walked in, and ordered...well I completely forget what we ordered, other than it included a massive glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. And that's when the memory began.

I'm sitting in this cafe with my dad, drinking a tall glass of the finest orange juice squeezed by mankind (which I can still taste to this day - nothing ever has compared) and suddeny this song comes on the juke box. Yes a juke box at nine fucking in the morning.

And it's by fucking Journey. 'Don't Stop Believing.'

And everything in my life slid into place at that moment. I have a few more months to live with my parents and then I'm on my own. I had just made my first real life decision, on my own, that the next step of my life, the first I would be taking without my parents, I had just made the afternoon before: that I wouldn't be going to Berkeley, that architecture school run by hippie idiots. My first big decision of my life and I had already made it without realizing it. But I realized it suddenly then, in the company of Journey, a crappy band, and my father, one of the most under appreciated people who ever lived on this planet.

And to the day I die, that moment will be one of the top ten of my life. And the soundtrack is a Journey song.

We can't pick the songs for our life - they just happen to us; although we get warning of it in advance. When we first hear a song that will leave a mark, we know it instinctively, even though the 'main event' hasn't happened yet. Often the song needs to build up first before it hammers itself in. Or at least, that's how it seems.

The memory triggers for all of this are rather obvious - the final episode of The Sopranos. The last scene's soundtrack is the same song - 'Don't Stop Believing'. And either Tony's Family sits down in that divey diner and has a lovely meal, or they get rubbed out by the guy heading into the bathroom. The show has always been a bit of a Rorschach test. What happens is up to the viewer - sort of like the ending to the Gospel of Mark. 'And they were afraid.'

I also remember the first time I saw an episode of the Sopranos. Season Two was about to start on HBO, and I was on my own for the first time in years - I had just moved into my own apartment. I had subscribed to HBO for the first time, and I needed to catch up before the show began anew. So I went to the video store on a Friday night to pick up the episodes of Season 1. Of course, it being a Friday night, the DVD copies were all checked out, so I had to settle for a VHS copy that had episodes 1 and 2 on them. I rented it out, took the tape home and plopped it in, cats on my lap, and a bowl of Mac and Cheese for dinner.

I pressed play.

After the opening credits (which, if there is any justice in the world, will become the official film of the state of New Jersey) Tony walks into his shrink's office and starts talking about his day. He's in waste management, you see, and he had a problem with some guy who owed him some money. They sat down to talk about it over coffee, like reasonable people. And then the show cuts to Tony trying to drive the guy down on a college campus, plowing up flowers with his SUV, with nary a care about the rest of the world. And I immediately ejected the tape, returned it to the store, and bought the entire first season on DVD; the first time I ever purchased a TV show.

Years have passed since then. And I have never missed an episode. I will miss them now. For I feel that it is the last show that will sing to me. HBO, in its marketing wisdom, followed the last episode of the Sopranos with the first episode of its new show, 'John from Cincinnati'. And what a show it was - amazing to watch, crazy shit going on. And I don't give a damn. Not a single damn.

TV has changed, for me at least. It's miles better than it was when I was growing up - the only aspect of our culture that has measurably improved over the past 30 years. But I think that we're done now. It's all just a matter of playing catch-up. Miltch gave up on Deadwood to produce 'John,' a show with a terrific cast and interesting things to see which is all just a bunch of sound and fury. But it reminds me of what a friend of mine, Heather, said to me in high school when 'Don't Stop Believing' hit the charts in 1981, two years before I went to Berkley.

'You'd think that musicians with that kind of money would know how to dress better.'