In the living room there was a piano
This song is One of These Days by Michelle Branch. It’s not a great song, it might not even be a good song. I’ll never know because it means so much more to me than the derivative pop that it probably is. For me it’s wrapped up in a story, in a moment of meaning that I’ll never forget and from which this song cannot be extricated.
It was 2005 and I was a senior in college. Because of my girlfriend at the time—or because I was much more sentimental—I listened to a lot of this kind of music. And since it was college I made a lot of mixed CDs. One of these was for my friend who was living in Boston at the time. This song was on it.
I was very close with this friend, we’d spent a great deal of time together the previous summer. I had introduced her to one of my best friends whom she had started dating. Throughout their relationship and despite my own her and I were very close. We had a spark and a chemistry that I really cherished. I liked the way I felt when I was around her. She had, as so many beautiful women do, a certain kind of magic.
Due, I believe, to a feeling of disconnection and loneliness she would often talk with me on the phone. She was not from America and her English, while good, was spoken with a thick accent and not the most self confidence. She was in Boston designing shoes for a major brand—a job I helped her get by proof reading her resume, cover letters, and other correspondance. Being without friends there she had rented a room from an older woman. In the living room there was a piano.
Maybe it was her boyfriend’s predilection for music. Maybe it was the enthusiastic spark that made her so fun to be around. Whatever it was she decided to learn to play that piano. She had told me this when I visited her over Halloween and gave her the mixed CD. I hadn’t thought of it again until she called me one night.
I was driving to the office out of which I ran a small web design business with friends. It was winter and Rochester was cold and covered with snow. She called to say she had a surprise for me. She put the phone down and played this song. Garbled as it was through the phone there was no hiding her novice skill as both a player and singer. Her accent was thick, her voice was flat, and her rhythm was off. But I recognized the song and I listened to her play the entire thing. When she was finished she got back on the phone and I could hear the excitement in her voice. What I couldn’t hear was embarrassment or shame. To her she’d performed perfectly. “I know you love that song. I do too.”
I can’t remember what I said, only how it made me feel. This was possibly the nicest surprise I’d ever received. The effort she put into finding the music, learning it and the lyrics, all just to play it for me over the phone. It wasn’t even my birthday. How long had she worked on this? I made no mistake, there was no ulterior motive or hidden meaning. There was no message in the lyrics that she intended me to perceive. This was just a pure gesture of affection.
I don’t talk to this girl anymore. Life happened and things changed. She’s married and living on the other side of the country. I know she still designs shoes but I wonder if she kept up the piano. I hadn’t heard this song in a very long time until yesterday when it came up during a rare All-Library-Shuffle of iTunes. Immediately I was brought back to that day, in that car, listening to a truly awful version sung just for me as the snow fell.
Do you have a personal experience with mediocre music? Is a great memory tied to a forgettable song?