It’s 2010 and I’m in high school. My friend has invited me over to listen to her new record player, which she bought at Urban Outfitters with a gift card. “You have to hear this new band,” she proclaims, luxuriating in her white yak fur rug and drowning in her ModCloth skirt. She jumps up and pulls a vinyl out from a still crisp shopping bag. The plastic wrap catches on her fingernail, ripping the cover a tad: “Fuck! Whatever.” She takes the vinyl out and tosses the cover aside, seemingly less worried now than he had been a few minutes ago. “I read about them on Pitchfork, but they don’t know what they’re talking about. That whole site sucks,” she says.
She hits play.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes then blasts through her room, and I cringe, slightly, behind my too-long bangs. I would have gotten up and left if my skinny jeans hadn’t prevented too much lateral movement. No matter, we weren’t friends for much longer.
This memory floats back up from the recesses of my subconscious today. It’s not 2010, it’s 2021, and instead of Edward Sharpe, I’m instead listening to Rusted Root, the aspiring jam band that had major success with their 1994 album When I Woke. I’m on assignment, if it can be called that, courtesy of my editors. (Editor’s note: Yes, it can be called that.)
It began as a newsroom joke. The concept of a ’90s Week had been pitched, and someone laughed and said that we should cover Rusted Root for reasons that are still unclear to me. I asked, as was my duty: “Who the fuck is Rusted Root?” I was then hit with a torrent of links to just one song! Not an arsenal of hits, or even a collection of medleys the “seasoned” people who work at this website still hum to themselves sometimes. No! It was just one song: “Send Me On My Way.”
My editors, basking in their delight at my naivete, asked me to listen to “Send Me On My Way,” on repeat, for an entire day. “This is the sort of stuff we listened to in the ’90s,” one joked with me. “Write about how it makes you feel!” If the premise seems preposterous it’s because it is. I expressed as much quite loudly and frequently in the weeks leading up to their cruel experiment. (Editor’s note: This seems like an overstatement.)
It’s been about 12 hours now, which is not a full day. But I do not get paid for the early morning hours, nor do I get paid to sleep, and so I’ve shouldered this torture for what is now a complete workday. I’ve written multiple blogs to “Send Me On My Way,” conducted a meeting with “Send Me On My Way” blasting through my headphones. I’ve called a doctor and spoken at length about my health while it played, and paid a few bills while my foot tapped out the melody. In total, I’m pretty sure this wretched tune has looped over 200 times by now.
I would like to... reach out my hand...
I’m bordering on an excessive amount of listens when a coworker casually brings up Edward Sharpe to me, and suddenly, the “Send Me On My Way” clicks. Not into a place where I can make sense of it, at least, but to a position in my brain landscape where I can identify it as something familiar. In the band’s equally flop-y debut album, Up From Below, which Pitchfork assigned a four, there was an earnestness, behind which masqueraded something else. A need to be understood as something deeper than it actually probably was.
I’m in that bedroom again, and my friend is telling me about a classmate in our English class where we had been reading Frankenstein. “Did you hear her mom sells weed?” she crows, positively basking in the glow of her rumor.“Apparently, someone bought some from her, and she delivered it in a Cheez-Its box,” she says. “Cheez-Its! Like that isn’t suspicious.”
I couldn’t really see what the big deal was. Having already moved on, she spun around some more to Edward Sharpe’s tambourine playing. “This song is so good!”
The revelation that a classmate’s single mother was selling weed out of snack food boxes to teenagers wasn’t exactly new. We lived in a beach town and my friend’s parents were white people with dreadlocks, or surfers, or operated an “incense store” where other white people with dreadlocks bought yoga mats or earrings with little elephants on them. We surfed before and after school—well, I only did sometimes. Mostly I sat in my Jeep and listened to my Lady Gaga mixtape, occasionally passing out water bottles and thumbs up to all the guys who saw me as a clever little gay pet.
And so there my friend is, spinning to an album that is, to this day, very bad. The tambourines are jangling so loud in my ear, and the record player keeps skipping because it’s cheap and from Urban Outfitters. And I’m sitting there in my little purple American Apparel hoodie, wishing I was anywhere else, and thinking to myself: “Like, of course, she sells weed. Who cares.”
Now I’m at the beach again, and I’m smoking weed from an apple bong, which was wack for me to do because I could have just bought a real bong from my friend who had been held back, and was now 18. Or they could have just sold me one at the store because the clerks didn’t care. They were friends of friends or former 15-year-olds who wanted to smoke weed while their own friends extolled the virtues of that new band, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. What was the big deal, dude?
My arm is going numb on my desk now, because I’ve been cranked up on my elbow, looking out the window at the dreary ash cloud hanging over Los Angeles like a guillotine, daydreaming of a yak fur rug in the house of a friend I didn’t even like that much. The revulsion spreads to most of my teenage self, then back up through my brain and into my headphones, where I’m still listening to “Send Me On My Way.”
I think I’m losing my grip on reality.