It could happen anywhere, over a plate of pasta or in class, nuzzling pencils during an exam. But in my life it almost always went something like this: We’re in a club, among let’s say 200 other wayward souls (maybe only a dozen of whom we even know). We’re buzzing in a good way. The two of us don’t know each other nearly as well as we think, we still have wide open eyes and live wire nerves. We showed up in the middle of the opening act, which was way better than expected. Beyond luck, there’s a casually unoccupied corner that we can settle in between bands, and we get mesmerized by the sounds, the experience, each other. Maybe some friends stop by and make plans for after the show—the band’s gonna be at Peter’s place! The smell of clove cigarettes permeates. Maybe we get new earrings, or a quick henna tattoo that won’t show at work on Monday.
Before all this in-between time goes on too long, the sound system clicks off the vintage mixtape, the lights go down, and if we are lucky our beers are refreshed before the headliner kicks in the first song. We sway together, we push the mosh pit away from us in unison so we can stay close to the stage, we look at each other with the jouissance of recognition that they are gonna play <that song>, the one we both know. And we don’t know each other well enough that we can wrap arms around hips, but when they finally slow things down toward the end, our hands touch and we hesitate and finally we hold onto each other that way. And that’s where we finally, really say that we are gonna hang onto each other. And that we’re gonna skip the afterparty and stop at the Majestic for 2AM breakfast together instead.
So there’s that spark, and whether it’s a fire or not is all about: Who did you vote for? Why do you work so much? What’s with your mom calling all the time? Would you do the laundry because the closet smells? Can you not hog the covers?
Yeah, so that spark usually fades, but if your lucky it lights up at least once (and perhaps only once) for you, the last time you go through this scenario, and MEET ME IN THE AFTERGLOW. For Kris and me, it was the Afghan Whigs (who we’d not heard of) touring what we now recognize as the stone classic Congregation as the opener for Teenage Fanclub, who’d finally made it to Atlanta to push 1991’s now sorely underrated Bandwagonesque.
Which reminds me to share my first point, which is: Why does everyone keep complaining about how music is falling apart when sometimes it’s the only thing that brings us together?
My second point is much more mundane: If music is a big part of your life, then it’s gonna be a part of your important relationships. So how do you expand each other’s horizons without driving each other crazy? How does Nick teach Emily to hear in punk rock as defiant self-expression rather than just racket? How does Kris explain to me that she doesn’t like “chaotic jazz” (which really means fast jazz, including Charlie Parker) on Sunday mornings? And what happens to me in return when I end up listening to more female country singers than I thought I needed (I have made my peace with Martina McBride)? How lucky are we that the opening chords of Pylon’s “Crazy” are an instant up, how weird that we both jones for Nick Drake when we are mopey and it’s raining? The alternative to this is too sad to think about.