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B86 Issue 6: September Clarity

*Written in September, for September, B86 Columnist Ashley D. Escobar reflects on the passage into Autumn through music*

Autumn hasn’t made itself known yet. I can still feel the sun glaring down on me in Playa del Carmen, passing through the rows of souvenir vendors in order to find a decent taqueria. I’m perpetually caught under a wave during a storm, and I have no reason to get out. I was being quite dramatic, or perhaps hopeful, when I noticed leaves changing in late August last year. They haven’t changed here yet. I think I have changed in subtler ways. I’m more decisive about what I like, what I want, what I have to say. September’s playlist holds a tender place in my heart. Songs still remind me of you. I thought the feeling had faded away but it returns from time to time. My poetry professor loathes adding a month as an adjective, e.g. August sky, but September clarity felt right. 

Whenever a guy tries to categorize which band I am, they always come up with the jangly indie-pop Alvvays. I’m never sure if it’s a pure compliment or a backhanded one; if I’m too sweet, or saccharine for god’s sake, but Alvvays has quite a few downers. They sing more about missed connections and chances if anything. “In Undertow” carries the twee tradition of seemingly upbeat rhythms with sad lyrics. Molly starts the conversation, “You find a wave and try to hold on for as long as you can.” We held onto everything we had ever had for as long as possible. Everything we wanted to have at least. Stretching something out past a natural stopping point never works and becomes pressure put on by your friends, or worse, desire. “What’s left for you and me? / I ask that question rhetorically” mirrors all the questions I held onto but never asked once you asked for space. The circular guitar echoes the effect of waves pulsating back and forth. The repetitive chorus, “No turning / There’s no turning / There’s no turning back after what’s been said,” overlaps in a genius way, emulating the tides. Without argument or aggression, where exactly did we go wrong? I’d like to turn back. 

I’ve never seen the 1962 British film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, but I’ve wanted to run away from society more times than I could possibly count. This underrated track off of Push Barman to Open Old Wounds reflects the loneliness I’ve encountered through the past year. The same loneliness you were able to hide, but only for a little bit. The rain finds a way to trickle in. The song begins, “I take a second of the day / To think about the things that we have done this year / The dark lies down the pouring rain.” I only think of you when I listen to music, and I could never stop listening to it. “You care, I know / I forgot for a while,” Stuart Murdoch sings after sighing that “no one cares.” You cared. I could tell in your letters, no matter how childish the scrawls were. You could not only hear me but understand the long-winded thoughts that circled around like a racetrack. We wanted to make music. We could have. Now, all that’s left are wishful dreams. “On a soggy afternoon spent in dispute / You give yourself a headache, boy / So I spent the day in stories / And in dreaming of the time when we’re on stage.” We hide behind book covers, endlessly reimagining and rediscovering a life caught between a sunbeam. I hope you still run to get away from it all. 

Sitting in my dorm room, I discovered a jangle band from my hometown, San Francisco. Reminiscent of Stephen Pastel, Matt Ferrara admits, “You say I’m too sensitive / And I give too much of my time / To those who don’t deserve / A piece of my heart.” This gentle ballad doesn’t seem to have any purpose but to state the obvious. To ruminate on recurring memories, knowing they won’t dissipate anytime soon. I’ll let the song sing for itself: “I spend all my time these days / Thinking of what could have been / Hopelessly devoted I / Hurt my own feelings again.”

Again, I lied that I’m over The Smiths. Although it has become filler music during my job as a literature office assistant inside a red barn. Morrissey sings, “Spending warm summer days indoors / Writing frightening verse / To a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg.” I know that I’m not from Luxembourg but I was still a confidant during those overwhelming days. A bomb didn’t bring us together but a pandemic. I could never say no. “How could I?” “Shyness is nice and shyness can stop you / From doing all the things in life you’d like to.” I was never shy during those blissful months. I managed to ask the most endearing question of 2020. Answering can be the hardest part. 

All the car rides I’ve spent in the passenger seat, leaning my head against the window to Broadcast… “Come On Let’s Go” fills the silences between conversations, the days of yearning and patience. Perhaps the answer already lies within the song in the form of a question: “What’s the point in wasting time on people that you’ll never know?” As Trish Kennan sings, “When you’re looking for a friend but it’s empty at the end / When everybody disappears, you won’t be alone,” I wonder if you knew how I felt. 

The Clientele is brimming with pure poetry, the usual, you know. I imagine you listening to this song on one of your midnight drives, if you even have the time to anymore. I hope you do. Alasdair MacLean muses, “Here’s a car that we can drive / Come on get in / Through the night that rolls in every room / You’re too beautiful to love these plastic things my friend.” I still haven’t learned to drive. It’s as if Alasdair knows our ordeals: “& I see the sad young friend has gone away / With his promises, his speeches & his poems / But the fields have drifted in to fill his space / Like ghosts.” The blooming fields of Bennington have long replaced that old familiar feeling of adrenaline and you. I’ll think of last autumn for as long as I live. The words. Oh, the words. The silent afternoons I worked at a stationery store so I had an excuse to walk an hour from home. How everything overflowed like an endless mural of color. “The afternoons were grey & overwhelming as they fell to fused lamps & September’s clarity / The way back home is lost to us forever in the night / & the leaves, the falling leaves.” 

Our correspondence intersected music with literature, so naturally, Camera Obscura fits as background music. The last time we spoke, I was reading Emma by Jane Austen and it was late spring. Warm enough to sulk at the End of the World, although you know I’d still do that in the snow, enough gloom to require a raincoat. This soft-spoken ballad reminds me of all the back and forth banter about our favorite literary figures. Our heroes, I should say. “Give me marks out of ten for the clothes I wear / You probably thought I had more upstairs,” Tracyanne sings, reminiscing a failed relationship. A failed friendship perhaps. Like ours. “He likes to read books written for girls / Prides himself on being a man of the world.” You told me you had just finished Emma. You liked her a lot. You want to travel, don’t you? I would have liked to visit Austen’s house. Maybe my problem was that I liked to read books written for guys. Not that I work in binaries. I’m off the Beats now. I’m through with Murakami and Joyce. Can’t give up Cortázar, though. Never. “In the darkest of places he gets his thrills.” I hope you received them. Sometimes I overestimate people. I can’t help it. “People get shattered in many ways / They can disappoint you if you see through their perfect smiles.” Adieu. 

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