by Benjamin J. Kirby
It happened today, Friday, October 5th.
I had gone to lunch with my friend Michael and the subject of former Journey front-man Steve Perry came up. Look, we're a couple of guys in our early forties. These conversations are going to happen. I wouldn't over-analyze it.
We were heading down the road, and after about my fourth or fifth awful rendition of "Oh, Sherry," I mentioned that Journey's Departure was the very first CD I ever owned. This lead naturally to a conversation about the kind of music we listened to in high school. He claimed to be surprised to learn that I was a die-hard classic rock nut -- and still am.
It's true. The second, third, and fourth CDs I owned were The Eagle's Greatest Hits Vol. II, something by .38 Special, and Jimmy Buffett (either Changes in Lattitude, Changes in Attitude, or Living and Dying in 3/4 Time, I forget).
There are probably three, maybe four living people in the world who can truly appreciate this, but the truth is that I didn't branch out from the predictable likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zepplin until college. And even then it was sometimes a struggle.
It was in my first year of college that I was introduced to a whole new sound which has absolutely continued to influence the way I listen to music, even today. It was 1989 and I was in Boston, so you couldn't have picked a better time or place to introduce a southern kid like me to alternative music. (Well, you could've, but I was 18 in 1989 and Curry College was in Boston, so we work with what we have.)
Sure, I'd heard R.E.M. and U2, but by the time I was headed to Curry, those guys were very mainstream. What I was wholly unprepared for was the alternative rock pumped out of radio stations like WFNX, which are still doing their thing today, albeit in a different sort of format.
I was mesmerized.
This was a world entirely unexplored.
One of my prized possessions is a cassette recording of an afternoon of WFNX programming. Most of it is just so-so stuff, and it gets boring, fast.
But at some point during the recording session, I'd managed to get a song... with no introduction. No introduction from the DJ, and no mention of the song after it ended.
I was instantly in love with the song. I don't even really know if I can explain why.
And for years -- years -- I had no idea who sang it, or what it was called.
Remember, this was pre-Internet. No Google. No Facebook.
Just me, sheepishly asking my friends if they knew it. No one did.
I did the only thing I could do: carry around the cassette tape from adventure to adventure, and play it every now and then, see if any of the semi-hard-to-understand lyrics made any sense at all.
They never did.
Life went on. After a year in Boston, I moved back to Arkansas, up to Jonesboro and Arkansas State. Then back home to Little Rock again. Then to Washington, DC, where I moved more than a half-dozen times around the area in eight years. Then New York City. Then Florida. Arkansas, again. Washington again.
I gave up trying to figure out the song a long time ago, even after the rise of Google. I knew some of the lyrics -- they're not all impossible -- but even Googling them brought back nothing. Nothing.
I'm a little embarrassed to tell you I spent hours on the Internet trying to find this song. Look, I'm the son of a librarian. I'm not an expert, but I've learned a thing or two about searching for stuff. I don't know if my mother the librarian would be pleased or horrified to know that I expended a lot of intellectual capital trying to figure this one out. It just wasn't there.
Until this afternoon, apparently.
I was humming the song to my son. Emmy and Duncan were out back working on their garden.
Why, why, why, why, why did she leave?
I was thinking about it because of my earlier conversation with Michael and how different things influence us at different moments in our life.
I figured, what the hell, and I Googled some of the lyrics on my iPhone.
We kissed away the fumes of the Sauce Factory...
And there were the results. Boom.
Twenty-three years later, an old, worn cassette tape can finally find rest.
His name is Bill Pritchard and though he's British, he's really only been very popular in France, which shouldn't have made it so hard to find him, but here we are. The song, in proper weirdo indie form, is actually called "Tommy & Co." (for years this was a critical lyric I just couldn't crack. Who in the hell writes a song called "Tommy & Co." and sings it as "...Tommy and Co." Not "Tommy and Company"? Bill Pritchard, apparently.) Hell, there's even a YouTube video:
By the way, if you're curious, that is exactly what my hair looked like in 1989. Flip and all.
I don't know how many miles passed by with that tape in the deck (every car I've had has had a tape deck -- including the Subaru I drive today), me hitting rewind over and over again. I don't know how many hours I spent sitting in my room wherever in the country I was at the time playing it again and again, waiting for the WFNX deejay to cut in at the end.
I listened to it a lot. I often wondered what would happen if I ever figured it out. How would I celebrate cracking this impossible code?
I sang it. Loudly and poorly, I sang and sang. I was grossly off-key and missing way too many notes. But Finn and I danced back and forth, me singing horribly, him smiling, laughing.
In 23 years, I could never have imagined singing it a better way.