words and music

The otherworldly magic of technology, and how it can act as a time machine back to the past, was demonstrated to me last night as I was sitting on a hard metal bleacher, watching my son at swim practice. Occasionally taking my eyes off the pool, I flipped through my latest copy of New York Magazine (The New Yorker’s drunker, sluttier cousin) when I came across a small blurb on Page 99 of the Nightlife section. It informed me of an upcoming concert by the British electro-pop trio Saint Etienne October 26 (tonight, look at that!) at Webster Hall. It also told me they had a new record out called, simply, Words and Music by Saint Etienne. Here’s a band I had heard of, but never really listened to. Intrigued by the writer’s (Nitsuh Abebe) description (“a remarkably rich and sincere record about pop, and memory, and aging, and what it means to spend decades etching songs and records deep into your life”), I grabbed my new smartphone (here comes the magical technology part), opened up my Spotify app, and (because I am an unrepentant musicophile and premium subscriber at $9.99 per month), downloaded the new album as a playlist, plugged in my Skullcandy headphones, and began listing. All in about 10 seconds. And what did I hear? The whispery voice of lead singer Sarah Cracknell telling me about her childhood in England, growing up absolutely enthralled with music, living in her room, memorizing the charts, cutting articles out of mags like NME, listening to bands like New Order, Dexys Midnight Runners, The Smiths. Suddenly, I was that boy in his room, listening to MurmurLow-Life, or Let It Be over and over. Or making a mixtape, trying to get the needle to drop just right on the vinyl LP as I pressed “record” on my tape deck. Eyes closed, lost in the notes. Sarah sang, “Over the border/I’m growing older/Heaven only knows what’s on its way…”  I literally felt tears well up. This was silly. A few words in the back pages of a magazine, some Swedish coders, and cellular radiation had led me to a place I couldn’t have imagined a half-hour ago and hadn’t even thought about in a very long time. Then, momentarily brought back to reality by the rasp of a coach’s whistle, I looked down over the edge of my balcony to see my son, blue goggles wet with pool water, gap-toothed and smiling, waving up at me. He’s eight and already knows who Beastie Boys are. It’s a start.


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