In the living room there was a piano

By: JD Thursday, November 11th, 2010 01:05 am GMT -5 1,796 views 4 Comments

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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?

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4 Comments »

  • T.I.P. said:

    Nice post, JD!
    Moments like that are some of the best in life. I would cherish them forever.

    I have a great memory tied to a song. It’s not a mediocre song in my opinion but still.
    When I was 3 weeks old I moved to Zaïre (Africa) because of the job my Dad had there. I’ve lived in Africa until I was 12 years old. And in that time I traveled twice a year during holidays to Belgium (Euope) and back to visit family. So I flew a lot, an I loved it. I still love flying. During one of my last flights to Africa the song “Desert Rose” by Sting was played during the boarding of the plane. I don’t know why it happened with that song at that specific moment, but from that moment on this song reminds of flying to Africa and the great childhood I’v had there. Whenever I hear it, this song puts me in the exact emotional state I was in when I was boarding that plane. It’s wonderful.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ECFEJFl1LA

    • Ernie the Dancing Weasel said:

      Nice one, JD.

      Me? The Guess Who – Running Back to Saskatoon. And, thirty eight years later, that story is still too painful to tell…

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLzRoeU6q5M&feature=artist

      • TheMix said:

        I tie a lot of songs to people, which may be unfortunate, because I nearly destroy the songs when I do.

        There’s a few sad ties and there’s a few just hilarious ties.

        The sad ones involve ex-girlfriends. One of the songs is Motorcycle Drive-By by Third Eye Blind. I always used to say that I lived “a Motorcycle Drive-by” away from this ex. Without fail, I would turn the tune on as I was leaving her place and it would be ending as I pulled into my garage. It was an absolute. It was painful to lose that when we split for college. I re-lived it last year though when I went to her place for a theatre reunion……11 years post-relationship, and it still worked (though I must’ve looked creepy pulling into the driveway that wasn’t my family’s anymore :D ) The other song was Passenger Seat by Death Cab For Cutie. The memory associated with that is driving back from an amazing, spur of the moment, weekend trip to Denver, CO. I had called in sick to work and turned to my girlfriend and said “wanna go to Denver?”. We had a great time, visited a coffee shop that had two different kinds of coffee, a specialty coffee and “generic coffee for old guys”. Anyway, on the way back home I had Transatlanticism on and it was warm enough to the point where I could have the sunroof open and the girl could put her legs on the dash (as it is in the song). Unfortunately that relationship ended very VERY badly, but despite all of her craziness….I still find much redeeming value in her just by listening to that song.

        As for funny memories of not good songs……I once did a mock performance of That Thing You Do before a pep rally in high school with some of my friends, so whenever I watch that movie I think about me mock singing and mock playing my guitar with my best friends at the time. Right now my girlfriend and I have a running theme with just awful pop songs, such as All I Do Is Win by DJ Khaled because everybody’s hands go up………….and they stay there. Also on the playlist is Love Like Woah by The Ready Set……and what playlist of ridiculous music would be complete without Party In The USA by Miley Cyrus.

        Good times.

        • Ashley said:

          Loved this. Thanks for sharing. My song is “Haven’t Seen For a While” by Pat McGee. It was a song I listened to over and over my Freshman year of college. I had moved away from my boyfriend and the time and it helped me. The relationship turned out to not make a huge impact on my life, but hearing that song reminds me of those feelings which were very unique for me at the time.

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