What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong: The first song is easy – I was born knowing nothing and was exposed to a world where everything was a Sight to See. I think “What a Wonderful World” perfectly captures the beauty and hopefulness of a baby’s naïveté, and it sets a nice tone for a playlist explaining a life.
Bang The Drum Slowly – Emmylou Harris: This song comes across as inspired by a father’s death. It starts:
I meant to ask you how to fix that car / I always meant to ask you about the war / And what you saw across a bridge too far / Did it leave a scar and its chorus is Bang the drum slowly / play the pipe lowly / To dust be returning / from dust we begin / Bang the drum slowly / I’ll speak of things holy / Above and below me world without end
I don’t recall what sort of trauma I went through upon the death of my bio-mom and the abandonment of my bio-dad, and I consider myself lucky for that; however, since at least my late pre-teen years, I’ve considered billions of questions I wish I were able to ask them. Though I’ve come to understand that without Kristi’s death & Kenny’s absence I wouldn’t have lived the lovely life I’ve lead, my thoughts still sometimes drift into sadness. It’s a life-defining sorta thing, and this song nails the emotions I have regarding Kristi’s death.
Blue period Picasso – Peter Bjorn and John: The third song on the playlist is about longing to be somewhere other than where you are, being misunderstood, being lonely.
Growing up a girly boy in southern Arkansas wasn’t 100% easy. I felt isolated much of the time, though looking back I know there were plenty of wonderful times when I didn’t feel so completely left out of the world surrounding me.
I pretty much every day pretended I was someone else or somewhere else or that I had some magical power to change where I was into a place I wanted to be. I apparently told my mom long ago that I would live in New York City. I didn’t ever really consider how I would get here; I just knew that here I someday would be. Maybe this line applied: “The paintings around me, they don’t understand me / I’m a bit too early, I’m seen as development.” Maybe it was that isolation in Arkansas had to happen for freedom & flamboyance in New York City to come to be.
Numb – Pet Shop Boys: My Grandma’s death, and my role in it, shifted my being, I have never felt the same since that day. I had a long list of weekly chores that were impossible to accomplish, so I was popping Vivarin like an addict, which I guess I’ve always been. I was also babysitting and doing summer marching band practice. And I was taking care of my senile, diabetic Grandma.
One day I finally crashed, and while I was zonked out my Grandma died. With all of my responsibilities, abusing Vivarin seemed like my only option. My addict mind, at 15, had been activated, and my abuse of Vivarin caused my Grandma’s death. I have never loved someone so much, felt so safe with someone, felt so loved by someone. For my Grandma’s death I will for all my days be sorry. If Grandma is up in the stars, though, I know she forgives me; now I have to forgive myself.
Being Boring – Pet Shop Boys: Pomfret Hall, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR – my first home away from home. The freedom I felt stepping out onto the circular asphalt drive of this building that would very soon house more students than the population of my hometown was thrilling & terrifying. Finally, I would be able to live life my way – it was what most students were, I imagine, thinking just at that very moment as we readied ourselves for a new home, unpacking cars and van stuffed with new acquirements from our local Wal-Mart. I have to admit, this moment was probably the strongest of my frequent feeling, up to that point, of wishing I were single.
On My Own: So between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I got married to my best friend/girlfriend. She came out to me about six months later. So at last and with a vengeance I came out of the closet. It was an immediate acceptance, as in at the end of her sentence I was prepared for what I knew would be radical acceptance (I didn’t know this theory then, but it applies) and, more importantly, radical disclosure. I told everyone, including my mom, who was thoroughly supportive of my new path – one of acceptance of myself and an honest, unashamed existence.
This song, cheesy as it is, was my theme song; I listened to it every day and sang it in my head as I opened up to my friends about one of the most important aspects of my being. No one was surprised.
Big Time Sensuality: I saw Jeremy C. Fox for the first time as I walked into the University of Arkansas Library – Mullins Library – to sign up for my work-study gig. He was sitting at the guard’s desk, and he was cute. Even though we both worked in the circulation department, I don’t think we spoke for months. After we did start talking, I wished that he’d just leave me alone. He was mean!
Jump ahead to my sophomore year, after I finally came out, and we were lying on my living room floor, chatting for what I remember to be hours; I’m pretty sure I knew then that he’d be a very important part of my life. I still thought he was mean, he just wasn’t mean to me any longer. We started dating, and about a year later we moved to Boston together; I enrolled in Northeastern University to finish my degree, and we played house. Quite successfully, actually, for awhile.
Though our relationship is no longer a romantic one (that thought is kinda cringe-worthy, actually), he remains one of the very most important people in my life and the person I count as my oldest friend. He’s had to put up with me nearly every day since we started dating back in 1998, and in 2006 he literally saved my life (I don’t use “literally” incorrectly). So not only would I not resemble at all the person I am today without his influence, I probably wouldn’t be here to resemble anything at all.
Hyperballad: My life with Jeremy Fox was a good one for several years, but my head started playing little tricks on me about four years into things, when I was 23. I can’t be certain, but I believe this is when bipolar disorder first started interfering with my affairs, which makes sense, as the disorder tends to manifest in the early 20s. This song is meant to convey the confusion that was swirling in my head – the confusion that would lead to tremendous upheaval in my life, would become mania, and would wreak havoc that, looking back, seems unreal.
Tragedy – Emmy Lou Harris: Jeremy & I broke up. Jeremy was my first true romantic love & our breakup cracked my heart, to be melodramatic, as I am wont to be. We searched for a way to stay together because we were bored; we had become more brothers than boyfriends. That involved some rather interesting circumstances – “we cast our nets out on the sea,” and nothing we had gathered came for free. We paid with our relationship, and with that my new life began.
We Are Nowhere And It’s Now: Without the anchor of my relationship with Jeremy, I was lost. I started drinking more, and my anxiety was uncontrollable. We still lived together, so it was actually a nice thing to have him physically if not emotionally there, but that came with its own set of problems. This song captures really well the way I felt in those days – days I couldn’t have traversed without Alison Brazil Brundage. Thanks, hurnty.
Flamboyant: Resurfacing after the breakup, I did so with what I consider a vengeance, so to speak. This was the time of my life when going out became the point; it was the time of my 24 year-old gay existence in Boston as a partier, a writer, a flamboyant caricature, and possibly a “mean girl.” It was perhaps the most amusing, fun period of my life so far, but it wasn’t rewarding. I was a lost little boy having too much fun to notice the danger that awaited – Hansel in the house of cake & candy.
The Living: This is another hard one. I’d not yet been diagnosed as having bipolar disorder, and in what was apparently the lowest I’ve ever been, I walked home from a bar feeling not sad but rather feeling nothing, washed down a bottle of Tylenol PM with a glass of red wine, and emailed my closest friends a goodbye note. Jeremy Fox read that email, or someone called him (he was the only of my close friends living in Boston at the time), and somehow he & a hospital saved me.
Such Great Heights: This song is the one that always makes me think of the second of my three loves. Less than a month after I tried to off myself this happened:
I’ve met a fellow, and it is total infatuation. Sitting here in his apartment, having aggressively introduced myself during Turkey Trot at Club Cafe last night, I ponder the possibility of a full-fledged relationship with this fellow I initially imagined simply a one-night stand.
I find out from a mutual friend that this fellow tells him he is “on the train to boyfriend town.” I consider falling in love with this fellow & do so. One of my closest friends & I pretty much part ways because she thinks I’m jumping into a relationship rather than dealing with the whys of my suicide attempt. I’m just happy to feel “normal” after that silliness.
New York: In an apparently manic period (as in actual bipolar hypomania, though I’d still not yet been diagnosed), I moved to NYC. Truly, I suddenly decided to move, and two and a half weeks later, with hardly any preparation (Thanks, J Fox, for cleaning up *that* mess), I was living in the biggest city in the United States. I always knew I’d live in NYC, but I also always assumed there would be a plan.
My first year was positively terrible. Capital T – terrible. I was mugged. I was mugged again. I got into an argument with a cop, which taught me not to argue with cops. My fella peaced out. I drank my days into my nights, every day and night failing to outrun my misery. I lost my job. New York City would not defeat me – of that I was sure. If you can make it here….
A Man:Me:Then Jim: The fella and I broke up shortly after I arrived in NYC, as did he, and this song captures the complications of that break-up. It was a disaster; it was mean; it was heartbreaking. I still don’t think I’ve processed what happened because I’ve not yet made it that far in my Step Two, but I know the relationship happened for a reason. I just wish it had ended differently. As in I’m glad that it ended so that I was able to get to where I am, but I wish it had been a more pleasant affair.
Marching Bands of Manhattan: I was so sad in NYC. My closest friends weren’t here, I was a bit heartbroken by the breakup, I had been mugged twice, I had had an unpleasant run-in with a cop, I had been fired from my job, and I was drinking heavily every day. Fun!
Poses: For a long time, I found myself not unhappy in New York but not happy either. New York has a way of chewing you up and spitting you out at the beginning, I’ve read & experienced, but some of us stand up and dust ourselves off. That doesn’t mean we’re standing there all smiles & giggles, though. I just existed, though I knew I wanted more than what I had, that I had once thought I would have more than I had. Rufus captures it in this song: “I did go from wanting to be someone / now I’m drunk and wearing flip-flops on Fifth Avenue.”
The Origin of Love: I met Phillip.