Friday Night Videos In tenth grade, every Friday night at 11:30, Friday Night Videos - a whole hour of music videos - came on one of our local television stations. The medium was a brand new sensation - "video killed the radio star", "on a mexican radio-oh-e-oh...", "money for nothing" - all the early ones buried their imagery in my head, visual brain worms I'm still working out.
A good friend at the time told me watching videos made him feel funny inside.
"Like they're bad for you, I dunno. They make me think differently after hearing a song the first time and getting it in my head what I thought was going on." He struggled to explain it before losing me - forever.
"It's like the devil's talking to me." He continued. "Like our preacher told us, evil straight from the TV to my head."
In what I thought was going on - my internal version - a man swung a railroad pick and spike hammer with another man, in synch to the beat. One man made of mud, one of muscle and blood. There was an actual straw boss (made of straw!) and Saint Peter in a black turtleneck (modeled after the hip, dickied turtleneck-wearing young preacher my mind's eye forever holds as the gatekeeper.)
And the line "one fist of iron, the other of steel", well that was all it took for me to love this song starting when I first heard it at three or four. My parents spinning that lp so many times the needle knocked the grooves smooth (Dad thinks they wore out three of the same Tennessee Ernie Ford album - I say at least five), hearing it hundreds of times, my neuropathways are forever etched deep with what I imagined in our living room thirty years ago.
My literal interpretation included Caspar the Friendly Ghost - the man's soul - shackled to my hometown's grocery store. Even now, I think of Miller's Market - the sole produce/grocery/sundry option for miles - as The Company Store where the neglected town is actually a coal mine with shabby rails running where alleys and streets should be. The store still creeps me out with its four dollar gallons of milk and cornmeal stocked during the Nixon administration. I always look for the ghost, wanting to free it, especially now that Tennessee Ernie Ford's resting in the dirt.
After Friday Night Videos, I began writing down video ideas, only I wasn't thinking video. I'd close my eyes and see the action play out on my internal screen, in some ways experiencing it as part of my own life. I haven't watched a music video in years, actually avoid them. I'm told MTV and VH1 hardly show anything but reality shows and that doesn't seem right, but no matter. I have my own versions, and writing them down has been an exercise most enjoyable.
My routine has evolved, having just last year settled on what I think will be its last iteration. When melodic and lyrical beauty spring to life in my mind (as defined by a song capable of inspiring images that don't erode one listening to the next), the drill is to play the song again and start writing with the stipulation that the first draft MUST be completed before the end of the song. Subsequent drafts can elaborate and clarify imagery, but the finished product cannot be longer than it takes to me to comfortably read during a single playing of the song.
Last month I found the notebook where I keep all my songs' "videos". Here's Arcade Fire's, In the back seat, one of my all-time favorite late summer driving songs. I wrote this down the second time I heard the song, the week the album came out. Queue it up and hit play...now read, slowly (please). Most people read faster than I do - just another difference that makes living worthwhile, I tell myself.
The light is thick, bright - full mid-summer honey falling from the sky. Aside from the song, the only other constant sound is that of sea breeze and breakers.
We're on a beach - not a public beach despite having driven there in someone's car. Friends are with us - the car's driver standing between his passenger's legs where she sits on the hood. Her hair rides the wind three feet behind as they make out, howling laughter together between clenches.
You and I are near the water- seated on warm, damp sand, killdeer screaching nearby chasing foam and gulls.
I'm not sure I know you, yet seeing you rouses a familiar ache. Your strong limbs, silky hair framing your face - a group of strands caught in the corner of your mouth, cleared again and again when you laugh, only to catch, windblown, in the same place - casting spells. In me, somewhere exists a memory living and breathing these details, all my life.
I stare, because anything less is an insult. I look at you and think, "stellar" and smile, wanting to shout it like Stanley Kowalski shouts "Stella!" , digging deep into my gut for a sound strong enough to push back waves and wind, part seas.
Shades of brown and tinges of green never witnessed before appear behind the sun's reflection, colors swimming deep in your eyes, langorous motes where I'd remain stranded forever if I could. A gold starburst flicks on and off each time you raise your hand to block the light, sunlight passing through your fingers, catching me staring.
Staring at you. Smiling.
I look into your eyes and know that somewhere between the moss greens and tanned heathers, I'll find me, what's left of me, that island I've swum to, the tree I've clung to, a way to survive it all.
We are commanded into the backseat of the foreign sedan convertible whose ribbed, sun-cracked vinyl should hurt, but is cool to the touch as if iced.
You slide close.
When we lace fingers, your head hits my shoulder and sinks in as if someone carved you from me then realized their terrible error and put you back in, whole again.
Country roads. Live oaks. Pin oaks. Spanish moss. The moon. Stars. Your eyes.
Wind whips a clot of your hair into my mouth and I think it's like kissing you, only through your hair, possibly the same locks that had landed again and again in your mouth. I try to tell you what I'm thinking and you put a finger to my lips and slide away, to the far side of the back seat.
Before I figure out what you're doing, your absence feels like a tooth I never knew I had has been jerked from my mouth while heavy feet turn my stomach to wine.
Music and the slipstream fill the air. You smile and mouth to me one word. "Trouble."
You smile more broadly and I want to faint, leaning close to hear what I think you've said.
Both your hands are on my shoulders and I think, this is it, this is the kiss, but you turn me, lay me down on my back, my head coming to rest - face up - in your lap, your jaw cutting a wedge against stars, trees flying above, your hair a thousand, million glowing strands anchored above your silhouette.
"Trouble." You lean in and repeat. "This night, the stars, the back seat. You."
Smiling cramps muscles in my cheeks and temples. Delicious.
I blink and we've been driven into the city.
Lights and fog replace stars and trees, stoplights clipping past a frame at a time - red, yellow, and green strobes caught in your hair's web.
Slowing, you lean forward.
"Trouble." You whisper and kiss my head.
I'm captured. The skin on my head burns and fire spreads to my face, my lips, inside me.
The cage of your hair, your thighs cradling my head and neck, one hand toying with an ear, the other responsible for my heartbeat. I reach up, pull your lips to mine and we kiss.
The car stops. I lean up to see the driver and passenger suddenly gone.
A streetlight off in the corner of whatever parking lot we've landed glows orange, a setting sun behind your head.
There will come a time when we have to go, when daylight or hunger or thirst drag our bodies kicking and screaming. Lost with you in a sodium halide sunrise, a boiling supernova would go unnoticed.