As I disembarked from my regular train this morning at the Montgomery station, I saw this ad for the new Palm Pre. I normally ignore ads but this one struck me because it seemed to run counter to another mantra, upon which, as a dutiful child of the 80’s, I had been raised:
So Ferris told me that life moves quickly and if I don’t slow down, I’ll miss it. Palm is telling me that they have a machine that allows me to keep up with the speed of life so that I don’t miss anything. OMG! You mean I don’t have to miss that awesome tweet from my friend telling me she’s late for work? Where do I sign up?!? I mean really, Palm. Do you think people are that dumb? You’re trying to trade on Ferris’ name yet your product is the anti-Ferris.
I’m not one for schedules. I don’t like my days packed with things to do. In fact, I hate to-do lists. To the extent that I have any social life whatsoever it typically involves, at the most, one “event” in a day. I have no tolerance for running from thing to thing, feeling rushed or otherwise stressed out that I am running late for something. I don’t wear a watch, I rarely ever know what time or day it is, and keeping a calendar is a complete waste of time for me. I just really hate being told that I have to be some “where” at some “time” to do some “thing.”
But obviously I’m a functioning adult, trained in the social norms and mores of the world. I know I can’t take my “you can’t tell me what to do” ethos to it’s logical extreme, though believe me, I try. So I keep a to-do list. I check my phone for the time and date. And I very reluctantly keep a calendar that I very rarely ever check. You know, because you need to do these things in order to have a roof over your head, remain gainfully employed, and have friends.
As I think I’ve made clear in previous posts, I love song lyrics. Song lyrics speak to me in the way that great prose speaks to readers and seminal philosophy texts speak to philosophers. As such, I downloaded an app for my iPhone, PowerLyrics, which allows you to look up the song lyrics to any song currently playing on your phone. It’s a great app, though not perfect by any means (sometimes the lyrics are wrong and it’s not great for obscure music). One of my favorite things to do on weekends is to get some coffee, take Chase to Dolores Park, cop a squat, and just watch the lyrics scroll by as I listen to my tunes. It’s meditative to me and often times, it’s like having a conversation with an old friend. At least that’s how I feel an hour later when I get up to leave.
For the past week, I have been taking the F train home from my job in the Financial District. By way of background, the most direct and quick way for me to get to and from work is the J Church train, which picks me up a half block from my house, runs underground and only has six stops. It takes less than 20 minutes. But on Monday, for some reason, I thought “well, I’m not in a hurry to get home, the sun is still out, and I’d like to just sit and listen to my iPod for a bit.” So I’ve been taking the F, which is horribly unreliable (you can wait upwards of 45 minutes between trains), stops at Every. Single. Block., takes 30 minutes to ride, and then requires me to walk another five blocks to get home. On average, it triples the length of my commute.
But I don’t care. Because the F gives me more time with my music and, since it runs above ground, I can access PowerLyrics and just sink into the words of a lot of my favorite songs. It makes a difference for me to both hear the songs and read the words. I absorb so much more as a reader than a listener.
The past few days I actually didn’t end up accessing PowerLyrics. I stood patiently in the chill evening wind on the little island in the middle of Market Street and Montgomery for 30 minutes, just people watching. Men in questionably coordinated suits (really, I can’t think that GQ rubberstamped the blue blazer/olive slacks look) trying to hail cabs, women who could easily double for Banana Republic mannequins rushing to the underground stations with their purses, laptop bags, and small Kiehls/Banana Republic/Anthropologie paper bags that earlier this morning housed either their lunch or their heels, and the weary East Bay commuters, who slowly walked their way to their public transportation of choice, mentally buckling in for the additional hour and a half commute home.
Upon boarding the antique F trains, many of which have been beautifully restored, I took my seat, cranked my music, and stared out the window with an odd expression of bliss on my face. I am the odd man out. Everyone else on the train looks either lost (lots of tourists take the F to get to Union Square or the theater), weary, or just flat out annoyed at how slow the train is moving. Not me. I’m loving it. I could live on this train. “Take your time!” I scream in my head. I’m all good right here.
I love watching the City pass by as the train slowly makes its way down Market Street. You get the hurried rush of workers lining the streets in the Financial District, annoyed drivers trying desperately to fight their way through traffic to get onto the Bay Bridge (thank God we’re not a honking town), the confused yet excited tourists walking at a glacial pace in Union Square, gawking at every damn window, the grimy Tenderloin, where things that I am totally unfamiliar with and have only seen on The Wire are happening all around, and then the fantabulous Castro, where the boys are just getting ready to do it up. That’s where the F ends and that’s where I hop off, happily strolling to my house amid the faint smell of pot, bears walking their tiny dogs, and neighborhood locals circling the block, head on swivel, attempting to secure a parking spot.
These have been the best hours of my days.
Today, however, I had to work a bit late. Not because my job was particularly onerous. As it happens, it only took me seven days of work, wherein I’m kind of supposed to be in by 9am, to get back to my regular sleeping pattern of falling asleep between 3-4am and waking up at 10:30am. In other words, I was late to work so I had to stay late to log my hours. And, since I was up late, I was quite tired by the end of it all. Walking back to the train I considered just taking the J home. I was tired, I wanted to see my dog, lie down, and catch up on all the internet related stuff I missed all day.
Thankfully, something stopped me. The F was calling my name. So again, I waited in the cold for twenty minutes (keeping myself warm by dancing to “Turn It On” and even doing the handclaps — no really) and finally boarded the green and yellow car that finally pulled up. I didn’t have the energy to marvel at the nuttiness of my city. So I plopped down in a distractingly warm seat (seriously, dude who sat there before me, you should get your temperature checked), fired up my go-to playlist and settled in for the ride home.
The first song that came on was “Burn, Don’t Freeze” by…wait for it…Sleater-Kinney. A perfectly fine song, but never one that I remember as a favorite. As I sat and listened to the familiar guitar intro, I realized that I actually don’t know the words to this song. And despite turning up the volume and straining to listen in, I couldn’t make out the words in any meaningful way. Sometimes this doesn’t bother me. I can listen to a song and not have a full understanding of the lyrics. It doesn’t necessarily bother me. But something about this song was bothering me. Well, “bothering” is probably not the right word. But in that moment I was drawn to it.
“Burn, Don’t Freeze” is written in a style that Sleater-Kinney perfected: It is literally two songs at once. Carrie and Corin sang on top of each other with melody and counter-melody, each with different words. That in and of itself wasn’t enough to compel me to crack the song. But two elements stood out: (1) I always want to know what Carrie’s singing because I think she has a way with words and wit and (2) Carrie and Corin’s vocal affects were flipped. Normally Carrie has a very disaffected and unemotive way of singing and Corin, even when she belts it, has a sweetness or emotion to her voice. But even though I didn’t know what they were singing about, on this song, Carrie sounded like she was purposefully singing rather sweetly and Corin sounded, well, pissed or bitter about something. Hence my curiosity peaked. As their disparate vocal styles, melodies, and lyrics intertwined I realized that purely listening wasn’t going to help me solve this song.
Frustrated, I fired up PowerLyrics. As I read the lyrics, a slow grin crept across my face. Remember, Carrie and Corin are singing simultaneously. You can listen to the album version here.
Carrie: I’d set your heart on fire, but arson is no way to make a love burn brighter. Always thought that the devil was the only one who knew the ins and the outs of the ways of love. So I sold off my heart to see how this would end. Now I can’t move an inch for fear it will begin.
Corin: When you saw me on that first day, said I’d blossom under your care. Wrap me up tight inside your wing. Is it safe now, is it safe to breathe?
Carrie: You come in between me and the darkness. Please don’t you ever leave.
Corin: I force my eyes open and now who has changed? You look different, so different today.
Corin: Holding your eyes in the hardest stare. Running around like you wanted me there. Looking at me like I’m the hottest in town, then turning your back when you’re moving around.
Carrie: Backwards, forwards going out of my mind, spinning way off time.
Corin: I ain’t gonna listen to you no more. Breaking outta this place throwing open the door. Use me up just to fan the flame. But you’ll be sorry as I’m walking away.
Carrie: Fire to water, baby’s putting me out.
Carrie: You’re the truest light I’ve known. But someday I’ll learn I don’t need your fuel to burn. Always thought that hell was the only place hot enough to melt our hearts into a locked embrace. There’s something so safe about a lack of air. It’s the only way to make sure that you’ll always be there.
Corin: I’m the one who decides who I am. I’m the one who will shed this old skin. I force my eyes open, and now who has changed? I feel different, so different today.
Carrie: We’re buried underground. That’s where these hearts are found. Devil spins this world around. Only Love can save us now. Do you want to go underground? Lay buried underground?
Corin: I’m gone! I’m gone! I’m gone! I’m gone!
Corin: Don’t you wanna
Carrie: Did you really change your mind?
Corin: Ain’t you gonna?
Corin: Was this fire way too bright?
Corin: Don’t you wanna?
Carrie: Could this be your only crime?
Corin: Ain’t you gonna?
Carrie: Did you really change your mind?
I listened to this song on repeat at least 6 times, scrolling through the lyrics on each. I would listen to Carrie’s part all the way through. Then I would focus on Corin’s. Then Carrie’s. Then Corin’s. Then try and process both together. It was so much fun and it turned, what was otherwise a minor SK cut, to one of my favorite SK songs. Because I had only caught bits and pieces of the lyrics on my prior listenings, I had no idea this was a love on the rocks/break-up song. I had no idea how poetic Carrie’s lyrics were. She sounds so desperate and needy (“You’re the truest light I’ve known. But someday I’ll learn I don’t need your fuel to burn. Always thought that hell was the only place hot enough to melt our hearts into a locked embrace. There’s something so safe about a lack of air. It’s the only way to make sure that you’ll always be there.”) and Corin’s so fucking bitter (“Looking at me like I’m the hottest in town, then turning your back when you’re moving around.”). It’s so awesome. I was feeling the high I get after discovering a new band or song that I never knew existed. I literally skipped home, I was so excited.
I never would have experienced this had I just lazily taken the J home. But thankfully, I broke my usual patterns and habits and my penchant for meandering about by myself, wanting to feel the pulse and rhythms of the City, not feeling wedded to a timetable or what was “sensible” created this moment for me. I’m really grateful for that.
With the developments in technology there’s so much pressure to compress as much as possible into our waking hours. And while that might work for some people it doesn’t work for everyone. I am constantly amazed at how heeding that not-so-small voice in my head that screams “HOLY SHIT! SLOW THE FUCK DOWN! WHAT’S THE RUSH???” often leads to those moments where I feel most alive and at peace with my life and with myself. Getting caught in the race, I’m definitely guilty of thinking that to do = doing something = living life. Thus I must “do” as much as possible. Otherwise, what evidence is there that I was here? But sometimes, not doing anything, relaxing, and letting life take you wherever it goes *is* living.
Fuck Palm. Ferris had it right the whole time.
PS — Dear dude who laughed at me when I did my little handclap dance. I’m glad that me, my iPhone, and Sleater-Kinney were able to bring a smile to your face.