(It's A Shame About Ray by the Lemonheads came out on June 2, 1992, but I messed it up and thought it was June 20. So happy belated birthday, It's A Shame About Ray. You are maybe my favorite record from when I was very young.)
Once when I was 17 a girl wrote the words "This world is topsy-turvy, and it is mine to eat" onto a nice piece of paper and I knew right then I would love her forever.
Her name was Mary, I met her on my second night of college. I was in the coffeehouse drinking coffee from a paper cup, wearing a scratchy blue and black sweater, and Mary asked me if I wanted to go to a party with her and her friends. I went, and we drank cans of warm Natural Light beer in a corner and found out we loved a lot of the same things.
We both loved the Lemonheads; we loved Evan Dando.
After that we were together all the time. We'd go to frat parties for the free beer and to the roof of the science building to smoke pot; some nights we'd take the bus up to Providence, some nights we went to the beach and then Burger King; one weekend we went to visit her family out in the woods and made a great big chocolate cake from scratch and ate the cake for breakfast in the morning.
But a lot of the time we'd just hang out in her room and listen to CDs and tapes, lying on her bed and filling up the pages of the drawing pads we used to buy at the CVS at the edge of campus. They were the kind with thick white paper and we'd write out song lyrics in excessively lovely penmanship, then decorate our words with flowers and stars and half-moons and hearts and eyes and teardrops and raindrops. One day Mary wrote: "So we take off out Fiona's door, walk until it's light outside," which is a lyric from "Drug Buddy" by the Lemonheads. "Oh!" I said, because I'd never known Evan was singing "Fiona" -- I'd always thought the line was "out the owner's door." But no, not "the owner" -- Fiona! Fiona was so much better. I was so happy to find out it was Fiona.
The first time we met Evan Dando, Mary and I asked him to play "Drug Buddy" at the show at Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel that night. Evan said "Suuuuuure" in this sweet and easy sort of way, drawling. He was wearing a corduroy jacket and he was so nice, such a nice, warm, corduroy-y presence. He addressed us each as "babe" and we loved that: "Thank you, babe," "You’re welcome, babe," "Of course I can, babe." After that we called each other "babe" too.
Mary and I met Evan the first time just about a year after we met each other, and by the same time the following year we weren't friends anymore. But that first year was really good. We were very good at being buddies.
Sometimes when you're a kid you hear a record and you think, "That's what my life's gonna be like when I grow up," and you start to see how great and glamorous you're going to be when you're finally out of high school and living in some city where everything's wild and dreamy all the time. It's A Shame About Ray came out when I was 14 and one of the most exciting things was how geographically close its world was to mine (the Lemonheads were from Boston, I'm from a city an hour outside of Boston). I started getting ideas about how when I moved to Boston there'd be lots of beautiful/goofy boys in bands and nearly every night we'd walk around the city a long time and end up at parties where you sit on floors and in hallways and someone's playing guitar and the air's smoky and beery and everybody's so cool and gorgeous yet true of heart and pure of spirit.
The walking-around part was the thing -- there is so much walking-around on that album; seven of the 12 songs have the words "walk" or "wander" in their lyrics. It's usually a purposeless sort of walking, walking because you like to walk, walking with nowhere to go, walking with girls. Evan says lots of girls' names on It's A Shame About Ray: not just Fiona but also Hannah, Gabi, Alison, Angela, Mary. One of my favorite parts of the album is the lyric in "Hannah & Gabi" that goes "Though it wasn't hard or far/I walked you to your car." I've been listening to that song for 20 years and I'm still so taken with those words, the kindness in his voice when he sings them.
There's a deep sense of laziness on It's A Shame About Ray -- lazy in the best way, lazy as a synonym for easy or sleepy or some fun word like lackadaisical. There's a feeling that there's no shortage of time and that's something I don't relate to anymore at all: I manage my time so obsessively now.
But in college all you got is time. When I was in school I went to class and I did homework and I studied, sometimes; I also had a job chopping lettuce and washing dishes in the good dining hall. But the rest of the time was for hanging out, wandering around. On the nights Mary and I went up to Providence, we'd walk up and down Thayer Street a dozen times, go to In Your Ear to buy records, go to Meeting Street Cafe for cake and coffee, go to the skate shop to look at t-shirts, eat dinner at the fast-food Indian place (Curry in a Hurry) or the Chinese food place (Asian Paradise), go to the bookstore and read Frog And Toad Are Friends out loud (sitting on the floor, slumped against each other), go to the other record store, go to the store with all the Hello Kitty stuff, buy ourselves Hello Kitty coloring books and crayons and stickers, walk around more, drink more coffee, get back on the bus, go home.
I remember Mary and me walking down a big hill in Providence one Friday night, singing "Frank Mills," singing it the Lemonheads way and not the Hair way. We were wearing Mary Janes and our Mary Janes were clapping against the concrete and we laughed our faces off at how perfectly sing-song we sang the words "tied in a small bow at the back!" We made the rhythm of those words so corny and cute, and we died laughing at that. It is impossible for me to not sing those words that way, whenever I sing "Frank Mills" out loud to myself now.
I don't want to tell you all the sad parts of the story, like how the second time we met Evan he wasn't all that sweet, and how Mary and I stopped being friends forever. Everyone gets in a black mood sometimes and we all fall in love with people we shouldn't, like our best friend's boyfriend, and I'm no longer interested in blaming anyone for anything. Mary gave one of her silver rings to Evan and another to me; I threw mine out the window of a car "in a fit of jealous rage" and I guess we'll never know what happened to Evan's ring -- but it's gotta exist somewhere, right?
When you're in high school, you think that your world after high school is going to be some sort of wonderland where you live so free and everyone around you is infallibly wonderful and each day is even more fun and enchanted than the last. Listening to It's A Shame About Ray, I guess I figured I'd exist in that chill utopia with all the walking around and the beery hallways -- some grubby heaven of sleeping on sheetless mattresses on living room floors, sharing threadbare/spilled-on band t-shirts with the boy who's in love with you, eating ice cream with a knife because you don't own spoons, hanging around all day in coffeehouses like the coffeehouses in popular grunge movies, which means there are lots of sensitive mumbling rock stars there.
I'm well out of high school now and life isn't like that at all and I don't entirely want it to be but it still seems romantic. What I long for most is the laziness. Nowadays buddy hangtime often happens in wine bars where everyone keeps his/her smartphone out on the counter and though I love wine and find great value in the Internet, sometimes I get so down about it, the busy-ness of it all. I know a lot of the modern-day lack of laziness has to do with not being a kid anymore, and some of it's got to do with living in Los Angeles -- but I've also got an overwhelming suspicion that life was cooler before I grew up, and I really did miss out on something, and the world we're living in now just gets progressively lamer and duller and grosser and nastier, day after day after day.
"Which are you: a depressed optimist, or a cheerful pessimist?" Laura Fisher asked me as we walked down Summer Street in Boston two months ago.
It was a Friday afternoon: we'd met up at the Back Bay train station and walked down to Boston Common -- where a white blossom blew off one of the trees and flew into my mouth, just to drive home the point that we were living the most quintessentially idyllic Boston-in-the-springtime day that's ever happened -- then sat in the grass by the water for a while and got back up and walked through downtown and over by the harbor, to a restaurant where we had lobster and beer and Laura drew a nice picture of me on the placemat shortly before spilling her beer everywhere:
Walking down Summer Street, I went to answer Laura's "depressed optimist or cheerful pessimist?" question but then stopped myself. “Wait, are those my only two options of things I can be in life?” I asked, and Laura said no, I could be whatever I wanted.
"I usually refer to myself as a pathological optimist," I told her, because it's true. "Pathologically optimistic" is the best way to describe my disposition: my sunniness is a sickness sometimes, but I like it, and I like it in other people too, especially songwriters. And maybe I would've arrived at that description on my own but I'll never know for sure because when I was 16-years-old I stole it from Reality Bites, which is a really good movie.
Somewhere between making notes to send to Jen so she could make that beautiful picture at the top of the page and arriving at this paragraph tonight (i.e., June 20 at 12:49 a.m.), I decided to stop feeling sorry myself that it's 2012 and I'm not 14 or 17 and everyone spends too much time in wine bars and not enough time walking around with the ones they love/like. Inspired by some things LJ wrote last week, I decided that feeling sorry for yourself isn't very rock-and-roll, and that believing in people is totally punk rock, and "just put it into your fiction" isn't the answer to everything, and I don't know what is the answer, but I hereby open myself up to just walking around and leaving our phones at home, if you ever wanna.
So dear everyone: I hope there are lots of days this summer where all you do is walk around with your buddies and it feels good and you never care what time it is. And I hope you'll also listen to It's A Shame About Ray once or twice or lots, maybe while walking alone or maybe just in your bed, under a fuzzy blanket, eating ice cream with a knife. It's such a perfect pop record in the way it makes you wistful-sad and goofy-happy at the very same time; it's smart and romantic and it's cozy and warm and it'll always love you back, I promise.
And dear Evan, please make your great solo record sometime very soon. You're such a beautiful songwriter.
P.S. I can't believe I actually found this -- you guys only get to see part of it: