Soundtrack of My Life: Jonathan Meiburg (Shearwater)

(Note: This originally appeared in March 2004 on my old site, Swizzle-Stick. I’ll be digging into the archives once in a while to bring you content that is worth sharing)

Ever hear a song/album/band that reminds you of a very specific time and/or place in your life? The following was written by Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg:

Pink Floyd. On the 45-minute bus ride to and from the ninth grade in North Carolina they were just about all I listened to, especially a cassette that had Animals on one side and The Final Cut on the other. The trip was a perfect album-length. As soon as I plopped down in the seat (my house was the first stop on the route in the morning, and the last in the afternoon) I crammed the earbuds into my ears and pressed “Play” on my little Walkman, and the first strum of Roger Waters’ acoustic guitar on “Pigs on the Wing, Pt. 1” or the muted French horns of “The Postwar Dream” gave the school parking lot – or my cheerful, suburban neighborhood – an elegiac, desperate feeling that thrilled me. In the wintertime the windows would fog up and I’d rub a blurry little porthole away with my glove, watching the interstate, the endless stretches of pine trees, the crawling morning or afternoon traffic, and the bus driver’s creased, long-suffering face in the mirror.

I had my first electric guitar by then – a white Japanese Stratocaster – but no amp, so I plugged it in to a busted tape player we kept in the basement next to the washing machine. When I turned the volume all the way up, the poor, overloaded speakers gave up the ghost in a way that sounded – almost – like distortion. I’d been studying David Gilmour’s guitar solos on the bus ride and marveled at the rich, howling sound he’d perfected on “Dogs” and “Your Possible Pasts”, and spent hours trying in vain to duplicate it. I didn’t like The Wall or The Dark Side of the Moon so much. But there was something about Animals’ blasted-out moonscape and The Final Cut’s sweet, Britty melodies and tone of absolute resignation that I adored. If I’d been hipper I think I’d have gotten the same thrill out of the Cure, but the black hair and eyeliner didn’t make much sense to me. A girl named Alicia, who sat across from me in Language Arts, used to send letters to other kids who were obsessed with Robert Smith and she signed one of them in her own blood, which she showed me once along with her most prized possession, a snapshot of a dazed looking Smith taken on a suburban deck somewhere. He was eating from a Styrofoam plate and – besides the hairdo – looked like someone I might see in my own neighborhood, lounging in his backyard after mowing the lawn.

I was jealous that Alicia still had a hope of going to see the band she loved. I knew that Pink Floyd had broken up years ago, and that I would never get to see the flying pig or hear a live version of “Southampton Dock”. But that made the records seem even more precious, in a way, as documents of an experience that I could never have. So instead I lived the records every day as best I could, hearing the rocket blast of “Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert” in my head as I walked down the hallways between classes, or the eerie vocoder- drenched ‘stone….stone….stone….” of “Dogs” while I had my head down on the desk during study hall. Singing “The Final Cut” to myself was like a mantra; it had an almost magical ability to turn any high school disappointment into a grand, delicious tragedy.

The tape wore out at about the same time we moved away to Texas, where there were no school buses and no pine trees and no rainy winters. And I didn’t replace it, I think because by that time I didn’t even need to listen to it any more to hear it. But also because it seemed tied to the bus, to the faint smell of diesel and to the growling drone of the engine, to tracing and retracing the same route so often that we seemed to be running in an endless, mindless groove.

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