The Mixtape Project 007. “You’re Gonna Misfire It All” with James Cassar

Posted 3 years ago by Joel Funk

James Cassar is a name that you’re probably familiar with if you are a reader of this website. He is currently a Columnist at Alternative Press, a Managing Editor and Podcaster at Modern Vinyl, one half of Near Mint Records, Manager of up and coming emo superstars The Obsessives, and the world’s biggest Modern Baseball fan. Previously, James was a columnist at PropertyOfZack, which was the website that inspired this website. I know, I know. James is actually the reason that this feature exists and was one of the first people that I approached about contributing. Things happened and life got in the way, and this is all happening a lot later than we initially anticipated. We’re just excited that it’s finally happening. Below is a playlist of songs that have seen careful thought,each of them with a story of their own. These are the stories and the soundtrack of The Life of James Cassar. This is The Mixtape Project. In the immortal words of Jay-Z, serving as the introduction to the best Fall Out Boy record, “Welcome. It’s here.”

“Wicker Park” by Into It. Over It. 

Evan Weiss is probably the reason I, too, am a man of many masks (and stylish glasses). His Into It. Over It. project is one of my favorite examples of whatever wave of emo the blogosphere is riding on right now. By his blending of the past seamlessly with a sensibility very much rooted in 2010s anxiety, my careening mindlessly through college parallel to unforgettable riffs and smooth vocals didn’t seem so alien. Take the opener from his side of a 12” split with the equally talented and fashion-forward glasses guy Koji, a slow burn chronicling a storied situation in the James Cassar canon: arguing over music with a girl. (Our resident Weissman shows off his smarts here by rattling off 1960s record labels and catalog numbers. Aspiring emo writers will never be able to top this astute attention to music-industry organization. Sorry.)

Actually, no, I wouldn’t call my conversations arguments, moreso one-sided fascinations with whatever phase of terrible white-boy rock I had sucked myself into that school year. A one-track mind doesn’t make for too enthralling of date talk, but it makes for one hell of a mixtape maestro. Thanks, 36Vultures, for reaching out to me. No thanks to me for being five months late on this. What was I doing in the meantime, Tinder? (Don’t answer that.)

"Why Don’t You & I (Alt. Version ft. Alex Band of The Calling)” by Santana

I used to live in Michigan, and if you’ve been reading Re-Done or also lived in the Great Lakes State between 1999 and 2010, you may have already known that. Around my time of residency, there were about five solid radio stations in the Metro Detroit area. One of these was 96.3 WDVD, which according to Google, still pumps out adult contemporary airwaves not unlike one a trip to Sears might earn you.

Apparently, the “real” version of this song features Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, but I didn’t know that until Spotify informed me that 96.3 predicted that band’s hellish descent into meme culture a handful of years before it happened. The song itself is pretty lackluster as just another entry in Carlos Santana’s Shred Sessions ft. Oh Yeah, That One White Dude from That One Song from My Older Sister’s Seventh-Grade Dance Playlist might seem. The adjoining story is probably just as silly as a boy’s third-grade crush might read back to the same boy’s twenty year-old counterpart. Sigh.

Fruit Gushers might be the worst thing to happen to grade-school lunchrooms since mystery meat made its way out of the Wayside School book series and onto actual cardboard trays. I didn’t really sling any slop past the plastic-bagged world inside my Old Navy lunchbox, so I was given those juicy jewels every once in a while by my saint of a mom. (Still true. Hi, Mom!) And every time, they ended up in the same girl’s hands.

I don’t know how I misread the signals. A simple fruit snack transaction (a transnacktion?) couldn’t surely have meant anything less than courtship. Apparently not the case. So, to figure this out, I didn’t straight-up ask said female, I hid it behind a musical reference. Jesus H., the storm raged early.

“Do you know that song ‘Why Don’t You & I’ by Santana ft. Alex Band?’” I only remember this sentence because even now, in 2015, that sentence would be stupid to hear out loud.

The answer was no. We weren’t an official couple. She still got the Gushers, though, whether out of consistency or by some thin strain of hope.

"Inside Out” by Yellowcard

For some reason, I never grew out of spending a lot of time in my room. At least I graduated from the hours spent dancing in front of a Phillips stereo in my underwear. Now, I wear pants.

My sister was once a bigger pop-punk fan than I was. This strange shift in hierarchy allowed me to discover the genre at a young age, culminating in me purchasing my first-ever CD, Yellowcard’s major-label banger Ocean Avenue, from a Borders (R.I.P.) in fall 2004. It’s still one of my favorite albums, even though I don’t have that disc anymore. (I gave it to a girl. I’m seeing a pattern here.)

A love for journalism was given a proper start in elementary school, when I was co-anchor of the Davisburg Elementary News, broadcast on closed-circuit television for ten minutes every Thursday. I wrote transcripts, I tried out my deepest anchor voice. As far as I concerned, I was king, and from where I was sitting, you couldn’t see my leg braces. Life was good.

In October 2003, I started “dating” a girl the afternoon I came back from my first off-campus news team meeting, which ended at a local Burger King. This girl asked for my tater rounds. I didn’t have any more, but I still got to play Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Duelists of the Roses on her brother’s PlayStation that weekend. We were a thing; the whole class knew it. The class roster swapped seating arrangements so we could sit together. Class rules were modified to ease this transition into monogamy. A month later, all of these rulings were reversed. We were sick of each other, but one of us was still pining for third-grade intimacy. (Which is what, exactly?) Hint: it was me. Thanks, Yellowcard, for writing a breakup song with such a reversed, optimistic final minute!

On November 9, 2003, Looney Tunes: Back in Action (also known as the movie that isn’t Space Jam) debuted in theaters. The day before its release, I was tasked to deliver a preview as part of the morning bulletin. I did, with my eyes low and my speech stuttering, uncommon for such a reporter with perfect stature. (My spine still seems to disagree with this.)

I was sad, because I knew this girl wasn’t tuning in. Looney, I know.

"Riot Girl” by Good Charlotte”

Being in a punk band seemed like a really obtainable dream in the years directly following School of Rock. I had switched schools; I now attended a private academy that could’ve fit inside a shoebox inside a cubby at my former one. Still, my public school friends reigned supreme over the ones surrounding that transition, and all they wanted to do was rock. Ironically, several of these affiliated wannabe stars have actually started their own bands, albeit with real instruments and better names than Trend.

That being said, Trend did have one “official” “practice” next to an original Xbox that was broadcasting The Return of the King on my best friend’s undersaturated TV. His younger brother was wreaking havoc downstairs. We were practicing our dance moves set to accompany our cover of Good Charlotte’s “Riot Girl.” If you’ve forgotten this song, that’s okay, because it’s one of the worst pop-punk songs the band had recorded.

I don’t really know what girl I was into at this point, probably none. I was chubby and didn’t really have any chance at wooing a ten-year old girl. I just wanted to shred. Flailing my arms to Target-grade rebellion was shredding enough. Yet, this brief hiatus in general disinterest in anything but rocking shredded into a million, hopeless romantic pieces.

"Marching Bands of Manhattan” by Death Cab for Cutie

Plans is what many consider to be one of Death Cab’s worst albums. Those people who think such things probably smell weird. They also probably won’t appreciate the fact that was one of the first full experiences I had with the band’s discography, nor the overabundance of its tracks on mixes I made for one very special, very freckled girl in the eighth grade.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote a Re-Done about it. This particular girl’s impact on my life is one that has made this project – one literally built around building a digital mixtape – an absolute pleasure to construct. We weren’t romantically involved, although one five-second confession on my old Razr cell phone recorded at Dave & Buster’s may have pointed to contrary evidence. (In addition, I took her to the Sadie Hawkins Dance in the tenth grade, which is backwards by definition, but hey, whatever forever.) We were really just friends. It made my life surrounded by too-rich, too-sheltered adolescents not so, well, overdramatic. I could learn to escape. That’s why I’m still escaping into music. I couldn’t be happier about it.

It’s weird to think about a girl who used to trade clothes with someone named Veronica ended up shooting past me in school enough to already have graduated college. I remember she’d read trigonometry textbooks for fun. Basically, she was everything most people in middle school never really aspired to be. Some people in college don’t sink that deeply into learning even now.

So, in my attempt to match this slowly awakening, slightly awkward upswing in intelligence, I opted to give her a CD-R, inked in red Sharpie. Track one was “What Sarah Said,” a coasting, morose meditation on human mortality that on second thought probably wasn’t the greatest way to kick off an auditory friendship. Nevertheless, it clicked with her. (Thanks to my sister for showing off this piano intro on a family road trip to Maryland. You enabled this, Kristi.)

In attempt to eulogize this unrequited series of CD-Rs (honestly, I never asked for a return mixtape; those didn’t really enter the girl-James equation until much later), I’ll remember her using the actual first track of Plans, the first verse of which found residence under this girl’s Facebook profile picture, back when the social network had the option to have a few lines of text in a box under one’s default photo like some self-congratulatory plaque. Well, congratulations, you’ve changed my life for the better, R.R. Never forget that.

"Sirens” by Angels & Airwaves

I was on Skype with a fellow admin of the Defend Pop Punk Facebook Group (yep, I help lord over thousands of teenagers) and jokingly referred to my life using two distinct two time periods: Before Modern Baseball (BMB) and After Modern Baseball (AMB). This pair of measurement units will either fall in line with how annoying I am when referring to that band (just wait a few tracks, they’re on here) or how grateful I am that that band exists at all. At any rate, in 2007 BMB, my favorite band was blink-182.

blink-182 wasn’t a band when I entered their target demographic (13-17 year old white male, I’d assume), but plenty of side projects lingered in and out of my consciousness during those formative years. While I listened to Untitled while unloading the dishwasher, I soon discovered Tom DeLonge probably listened to U2 while unloading his, so much so that Angels & Airwaves invaded the industry long enough for everyone to realize haircuts were really never Thomas’ forte.

Those first two LPs – We Don’t Need to Whisper and I-Empire – destroyed any preconception I held onto concerning how simple DeLonge’s songwriting could be. That being said, that’s not to say "Sirens” was anything less than blink-182 in Space: guitars still cascaded, bass hopped underneath, and Tom’s pipes accented words that English didn’t have a phonetic map for. Girls seemed to match this strange summit in creativity by being just as you’d expect at thirteen: confusing.

I mentioned a girl named Veronica earlier because that same girl dated my best friend for what seemed like sixteen years that November. In reality, MySpace saw their brief courtship clocking in at around three weeks. It just felt so much excruciatingly lengthier, mainly because (allegedly) Veronica crushed on me the year previous before she started wearing contracts and teased her hair out of careful ponytails. There weren’t that many people attending the same middle school; I left eighth grade with seven other classmates. That small size equaled explosive melodrama. We were all doomed. Me, especially, with the grade-D acne.

I-Empire dropped worldwide on November 1, 2007 (BMB), the day after Halloween, which by James’ Halloween Standards, was the second worst. Having your limp being mistook for “clever acting” in a pirate costume by a substitute teacher in the third grade is traumatic. Seeing two of your classmates full-on make out with their girlfriends from across a basement is pretty bad, too. “Sirens” became my hopeless MySpace song, and the night I changed my profile playlist, I asked a girl to be my girlfriend via AIM, the same girl who moved away to Mexico in the sixth grade four days after some idiot told her I had a crush on her and the weekend after a send-off party which laughably included Taco Bell. Fast forward through two years of rebuilding a broken friendship via computers and this pivotal moment, lost in green text on a black background forever, somewhere in the chatlogs of user “maltaking13,” would be the reason I would never leave the Internet again. I’m so sorry.

“More Than Useless” by Relient K

Turns out, this girl really liked Relient K.

It’s fair to say everyone accidentally fell in love with "Christian rock” at some point, whether it came as diluted as it could come (Switchfoot is a great example of this) or as heavy-handed yet as heavy-sounding as it possibly could (Underoath defined this great line). I guess I hit that cognitive growth spurt early, long before my voice transitioned along with it. Relient K was inoffensive enough to placate even the most stringent of Christian Rock Followers and inconsequential enough to confuse even the most seasoned pop-punk veteran. And, here I was, illegally downloading Mmhmm to reuse on a mix CD for the same girl I asked out over the Internet. She moved back home in January that year, and we had probably said thirty-six words to each other since she returned to Michigan’s eighth grade.

I hid that CD-R in the school gym, which actually was a larger structure than the actual educational building (or series of buildings, or an archipelago of grey-colored conduits to Hell). The gym teacher never knew, perhaps an indication of how clueless the administration was about the daily operations of a small middle school, or at least, how invisible and inconsequential a waddling thirteen year-old was to the machinations of an institution that nearly always attempted to place brawn over brains. Maybe I’m remembering this wrong, but we sucked at all team sports save for one golden year of boys’ soccer, so this six-figure investment didn’t pay off. It didn’t, I guess, until I hid a CD, Sharpie’d and stuffed in a red plastic case, somewhere in there.

I printed out a note, typeset in Lucida Console. I quoted the Jonas Brothers’ “What I Go to School For.” James. Come on.

I got an email that night going through the tracklist. Songs like blink-182’s “First Date” and Hawk Nelson’s “Ancient History” were parsed and pulled apart in only the way a girl a year old than you but on the same level of hormonal awkwardness could do. It was honestly the first time my art had been analyzed to such a fine degree. It wasn’t even my art, but that gym wasn’t for me to really enjoy, either.

I never kissed this girl. I said I would once, in the closing months of ninth grade, after a night pretending to not melt into her parents’ hardwood floors. It never happened. And that’s okay. Mmhmm.

“Thrash Unreal” by Against Me!

When I entered the ninth grade, two things became social norms. First came the uniform: a forest-green polo shirt got bunched up at the bottom and tucked into khakis. Second came the Friday Lunchtime Ritual, a routine involving my $5-a-week meal allowance, two (2) Bosco Sticks (essentially breadsticks filled with cheese; I’m still not over it), a single serving of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, a 20oz bottle of Mountain Dew and a Snickers. I was really gross. But, I got all that for five dollars every Friday. Secondly, and probably most importantly, the lunch table arrangement reached its Final Form: a hodgepodge of wannabe basketball stars, computer nerds, and well, me. I don’t know what clique I mattered to most – I didn’t join the robotics team until I was a sophomore and I wasn’t versed in any hoops past the NBA Street series – but for some reason I mattered to the circular setup’s only female member, a girl who learned to wear too much eye makeup.

The only reason I know who Against Me! is is because my uncle blogged about the band’s choice to create a music video for "Stop!” using drastic urges to get young punks to the ballot box. His response, downcast in e.e. cummings lowercase, was plastered in a MySpace bulletin: “you’re supposed to be an anarchist, baby. anarchists don’t vote.” I doubt my relative still feels this way, but I still enjoy laughing at this stage of post-adolescent anger. I cringe at the times I acted like this. Like in 2008, I spat out this couple of phrases verbatim to this girl, across a sea of white-paneled lockers, when she told me her favorite song was “Thrash Unreal.” It’s a pretty strange choice for anyone to peg down as their ultimate listening choice at thirteen (fourteen? I actually think she was fifteen), but it’s even more strange for a girl whose first date with me was to see Jim Carrey play Third Eye Blind covers in Yes Man after her mom, clad in Old Navy hiphuggers, introduced herself while my mouth was full of Taco Bell quesadilla mush. Good job, champ.

We dated for sixteen days – much to the chagrin and surprise of my Relient K pal – and my first New York family vacation was spent texting “ily” with stubby Motorola RAZR thumbs, creating smileys with a hard bracket instead of a close parenthesis, as if to say, “yo, this first relationship isn’t an afterthought. It’s the only one I’ll ever be in – ever!” She hovered in my MySpace Top Friends for like, six weeks after we imploded and she went off to date a lacrosse player with ruddier skin than my eczema-touting frame. I’m not an anarchist, baby. I just was never anarchkissed. But again, it only came in time!

“Soco Amaretto Lime” by Brand New

Reading someone recount the first time they discovered Brand New is like hearing someone retell their inaugural experience eating tofu. It’s either something that changes them forever (they become vegetarian, start listening to Morrissey, get Edward Cullen haircuts, whatever) or it’s just something that curdles in their gut eternally, infinitely, until they digest better cultures. (Too bad tofu isn’t dairy otherwise I’d have a winning metaphor right there.) At any rate, my prep school experience still had Manic Pixie Dream Girls (trademark under review), and one of them blasted "Sic Transit Gloria…Glory Fades” on her iPhone 3G in the art room after hours. I pretended I knew what that song meant to represent, in between bouts of AFI and Mindless Self-Indulgence. I went home, downloaded everything Brand New had recorded (Daisy wasn’t out yet so Jesse Lacey couldn’t point his finger at me muttering “You Stole”) and grew a few mustache hairs. I’d never be the same. I’m still not.

Tenth grade came like a potential growth spurt. I say “potential” because my spine fought any actual vertical advancement and my heart didn’t really allow for any emotional progress, either. It was the same gig, really, except this time I was prompted via Facebook Messenger: “yo, we’ve been trying to get this girl a boyfriend for like, two whole semesters.” I’m still not sure why I volunteered as tribute. It’s not like you can audition to be someone’s boyfriend and then magically assume that starring role. I just didn’t understand that. I wasn’t good at acting.

So, instead, I acted out – nine tracks were laser-etched into a red-penned CD on 9/9/2009. The last track (the parting shot, the moneyball, the song in Guitar Hero II before the encore that you don’t unlock because you’re playing the game on Easy mode) was “Soco Amaretto Lime,” the last track on Your Favorite Weapon, the one that covered itself in surface noise and vinyl scratches to be kitschy before Brand New realized they could be kitschy.

Mixes were my favorite weapon, I just wasn’t ready to misfire this badly. I asked this mix’s recipient to homecoming two weeks later in the brand-new band room. I had my brother apply a ring of Scotch tape to a Paras Pokemon card, onto which I affixed a custom printout of the “Homecoming” card. Second move listed: “Burning Question.” I remember the call to action: “Flip a coin. Regardless of what it says, answer this question: will you go to homecoming with me?”

Two hundred eyes watched her say no, but in the nicest way possible. Those same eyes blinked and saw me turn ghost-white. Two hundred ears heard me scuffle out of there, not like a crab, but more like a Paras stung by its own poison dust. No one mentioned it again.

I still went to homecoming because I was promised pizza beforehand. I saw her amid the Usher tracks and watched her smile and twirl around. That was enough. No one really needs to be anyone’s anything if you see things like that happen. It’s still true.

“Speak Slow” by Tegan & Sara

There came a time at the end of tenth grade when I watched another room of two hundred eyes look, crestfallen, at a different pale surface. This time, they groaned, because for some evil chance dice-roll in the College Board’s Casino of Doom, we had to write a DBQ essay on the Sun Belt. Isn’t that where raisins come from?

In the same way raisins wrinkle up and dry out from being supple, delicious grapes, I too was sapped of most of my energy. I watched as my ragtag rock band, Cut Through Static, folded into a complicated mess of practice-less cover-playing origami. I filled my iPod with the "deep” and “brooding” musings of Muse’s Matt Bellamy, praying for absolution. I felt like my brain needed a major resuscitation or I’d drool all over my final exams. Instead, I drooled over a string of text messages and a cell phone number my idiot savant mind still remembers. That’s why that exam seemed hard. I had a date six hours after it. I felt my street clothes shift in my backpack, aching for release.

My mom would probably still drive me to dates if I needed the transport, but I remember getting carted to the mall (in 2010 BMB) while the latest James Cassar Mix blared through the speakers. This one had a title – Autumn Leaves – because if you weren’t carrying around a copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower in suburban Michigan at this point in your teenage life cycle, you were as good as dead. Track two on that disc was this cut by Tegan and Sara: the worst song off So Jealous, and most likely one of the worst songs in their catalog. (The best song by this Canadian duo is “Downtown” from the same record. I know you don’t care but I figured I’d divulge some indie wisdom.) We headed downtown, not speaking slow – not speaking at all. Mom was firing off small talk from the Saab’s driver’s seat like it was her sworn duty.

We escaped. She asked me if I read the ancient philosophers and rattled off Confucian wisdom. She talked about Ayn Rand. We pawed at CDs (this is before I discovered vinyl) and grabbed ice cream. We ended up seeing Iron Man 2 the day it opened and the theater was surprisingly only half-full. That’s where I had my first kiss. She texted me asking for me to initiate it. I think I’m shaking from the residual shock of that question. I dropped her off at her doorstep and got a hug. I hobbled back to the car and my mom asked me why I was so quiet.

That relative muteness lasted for two more weeks. She came over to watch TV and drink Coke Zero. She turned fifteen the week before, so I emptied my wallet on a copy of Atlas Shrugged and The Catcher in the Rye like an asshole. She got another CD, this time with a better Tegan & Sara track, “Sentimental Tune,” and a fair deal of awkward silence. She was scooped up by her mom before dark. Our two empty Coke Zero cans sat on the kitchen island, presiding over my teenage heart problems like a caramel-colored omen.

She disappeared. Not literally, this isn’t a John Green book (but it sounds like one on paper, doesn’t it?). There was just an incalculable amount of radio silence – even more silent than the rides to and from our first date – and there’s still a handful of Facebook messages from me that I could look up right now to prove I tried to bridge it. No one likes a pusher. I didn’t learn that until the summer when I was being pushed out of Michigan and southbound to Virginia.

So I told her, six days before I was gone from the Great Lakes State for good. I was watching Tegan & Sara open for Paramore. It seemed like the perfect time to break the news.

I saw this girl one more time two weeks after I set up shop in Virginia. My family and I had taken a weekend trip back to Michigan for my brother’s confirmation and we all confirmed we weren’t over missing our uniform school’s football games. She was there. She handed me a CD. It’s still buried in my disc wallet, because you never forget exchanges like that. Even if they come out of teenage angst and awkward firsts, they’ll always be a part of that coming-of-age story you end up blogging about on the Internet five years later, a twinkle of nostalgia permanently jammed in your eye.

“Blue and Yellow” by The Used

Let’s say you hate tomatoes but love salsa. Are you going to discount the fact that salsa is delicious just because you find its principal ingredient disagreeable? Probably not, because you love that tomato-based product so much. (Am I using my own plight as an example to lead in to this? Absolutely.)

This one entry hurts more than any of the others, partly because I’m too much of an idiot to realize I can’t fix it and because I owe so much of who I am to what existed before it broke. I hate the way this tomato got squished into every part of my brain, but I remember what that salsa was like – all that intermingling of experience and getting to know someone as they figure out what kind of person they want to be – that was worth sinking my teeth into something I’d end up having to spit out.

I met a girl on Tumblr who liked blink-182, skateboarding and creating art so much that for a while I was concerned I was talking to a mirror (a mirror with better legs and a driver’s license, anyway). She lived in Virginia, too, but at the opposite pole and a lack of wheels made any sort of interaction impossible. The only thing I could think of was making her a mixtape for her sixteenth birthday. It was twenty-eight tracks long, I remember the full running order. I remember the artwork. It took three hours and I road-tested it in Costco before I sent it off to her. That’s how it started.

For a while, that’s as far as we got. I realized that distance sucked and instead poured my heart into writing my first book, The Asphalt Diaries, which she helped supervise and proofread. We never lost touch, I just figured I’d be better off trying to date people in my immediate vicinity: a high school where I’d ultimately be eighth in its first graduating class. She didn’t let up. I don’t know what magnetized her to me but through all the turmoil of being faraway friends, it was a crush she held close. I knew everything about her but didn’t want to take the leap, so I almost never did.

The day I turned seventeen was the day I got a mixtape from her called ”…And This is My Mixtape for James.“ (Jack’s Mannequin rules.) Track four was "Blue and Yellow.” I heard that song once via the first girl I ever traded music with (the same one Death Cab will always remind of) and realized why this artist painted in her comparatively brisk (14 tracks) creation. “You’ll never find it if you’re looking for it,” Bert McCracken once whined. I guess it clicked.

We dated for two years – she’d drive up to my corner from Virginia and I’d take a bus down when I got disposable income and a pending college degree while she finished out her senior year. I learned so much in those two years, from helping a kid of divorce negotiate the weird world of watching your parents date to what art school promised someone who knew nothing else. It was a show I never got bored with. She was the one to turn it off. She can’t stop the static, though: the memories of playing our mixtapes out a convertible sunroof, my first Warped Tour, the way she cleaned up my knees after Warped almost landed me in the hospital. It’s the little things that sting worse than the explosive ones sometimes, especially if you can still smell the hydrogen peroxide.

It’s weird getting broken up over the Internet for someone else and it’s weirder when the aftermath explodes in binary code all over Twitter. Neither of us were innocent of being immature and messy and awful and I’ll own up to that dark past now. It doesn’t matter. I think we’re both happy. At least I’m getting there very slowly.

We chose, together, to try distance when both of us juggled university education and I was already saving up to bridge that gap. When that didn’t work, I could only suture the separation between my own head and heart when we weren’t able to keep our friendship alive. It’s a common thread, one that I helped sew, and I’m honestly still regretful that I poked so many of her fingers with my needle. When someone puts a handprint on your life, don’t you want that indelible stain to last forever, even if it ends up being made of tomato juice? How do you move past that? She’s the one who showed me Modern Vinyl, the one who urged me to try freelance work for Alternative Press, who called me when she saw Modern Baseball play “Tears Over Beers” to a crowd of fifty people. All three of those random acts of kindness – that steady current of belief and care – will never lose their mark. I’m where I am because of that patience. I guess I’m at the point in my life to admit that.

“Hours Outside in the Snow” by Modern Baseball

(Told you.)

I was in an attic that smelled like smoke on November 22, 2014 (AMB) when a former roommate, a writer on my newspaper section staff and I hooked up two microphones to a laptop and covered this song. This came after two landmark experiences with this track: (1) watching side A of Sports wind down on a turntable in southern Virginia with that girl, the one I honestly thought I’d be with for long(er) and (2) watching this band wind down a New York set of their first headlining tour with that song as their encore with a different girl, one who let me at stage left to soak in the crowdsurf. That band struck a nerve in me that very few things had, maybe it’s because they wrote the songs that matched the worldview swimming in my post-K-12 haze.

It’s interesting because this mix, this song and this third song-specific memory all end the same way – with a voicemail message playing out to its robotic call to action. I walked home in the late-fall cold after bruising my timid vocal cords for a person that I’d never met. I called them, knees braced for the inevitable click of an answered call but only heard their voice broadcasted back, in the same measured (slightly sleepy) tone I’d heard before. I didn’t leave them a message. I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to. I just didn’t know if my feelings were valid, if eight weeks of building up a relationship with a person equaled anything more than a really admirable acquaintanceship. Nevertheless, I had that cover pressed into plastic on a 7” lathe-cut record alongside three others. The only one that’s worth listening to is that one. I carried that song-holding square all the way to Baltimore to see Modern Baseball during my finals week. That person nudged me during “Hours Outside in the Snow.” They knew I had shouted for them. We were shouting right back, this time at the band that brought that voice out of me in the first place.

I fell in love with this song the night of a girl’s senior prom, the night we both heard that song fade out to voicemail in our Sunday best. I fell in love with the idea of carrying a band’s memory past the person who thrust it into my universe. I could move forward with those songs and not necessarily those people. Because there will always be others to sing those lyrics for. They’ll always sleep soundly knowing you were there to shout the words alongside them when the time came. Maybe they won’t. But that’s not the point.

My run-ins with romance were not about music or modern hormones or Modern Baseball. It never was. They were wrapped up in learning how to deal with people and the only way I could trust myself to do that was through the words of other people. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I fucked up. That’s because I wasn’t letting myself speak. I handed the megaphone to someone else spinning in my disc drive.

At the expense of feeling like I’ve spoken too much, I’ve made my peace with these stories. I’ll always have these songs and these anecdotes and they’ll always go together in my head. It doesn’t mean I can’t hear new notes in them in time. I’m still growing up to stomach new tones. This was just the primer course.

Don’t let me go back.

If this playlist isn’t working, click here to listen in Spotify