I’m in love, have been since March 23, 2002. That was the day my twenty-five-year-old eyes first took in the woman who would one day become my wife.
I can cue the image on my mind’s movie projector as though the scene played for the first time mere moments ago. It was a rainy Sunday afternoon in the college town of Gainesville, Florida. I’m standing in the kitchen of a friend’s house, half full beer on the counter in front of me, Miles Davis's Kind of Blue on the stereo. In she walks through the front door.
She wasn’t out to steal any hearts that day. Her rain-soaked auburn hair was scooped in a ponytail. Her battered jeans had the kind of rips and tears earned from a life on the move. A pink tank-top and beach bum flip-flops (a Florida staple) rounded out her ensemble.
At twenty-five, I was in a groove of care-free life only the young and naive get to enjoy. I was drumming in three bands and publishing a music magazine that had gotten off the ground and found its audience. No one would confuse me with Dave Grohl or Larry Flint—I was poor and innocuous—but the bills were paid.
Life for me up until the day my world stood still had been good, easy even. Then I saw her.
Beautiful, yes. Arresting, absolutely.
In hindsight, she was the most stunning woman to ever grace the planet. Still is. But beautiful was in those days, believe it or not, common in Gainesville. Just beautiful girls were everywhere, ubiquitous as Spanish moss dangling from a Florida pine or sink-or-swim beer specials at hole-in-the-wall bars on University Avenue.
It was what she held in her hands that grabbed my attention in a chokehold and almost made me spit up my beer—unheard of in those days when I was a self-proclaimed suds-guzzling pro.
She was returning a CD. (That’s Compact Disc™, for readers born in the '80s or later. Successor to the cassette tape. Digital predecessor to free streaming.)
Having come of age in the '90s, I fully understood that the returning of a CD to its lender and rightful owner was anything but a routine gesture. It was the highest sign of character a person could display.
In those days, (again I’m speaking mainly to readers born after the shuttle Challenger blew up and Bill Buckner made the most famous error in Red Sox history) music wasn’t simply a click away on the world wide web, where every song your heart desired could be instantly cued and streamed for free.
Well, not instantly anyway.
Say you had a hankering to hear “Giant Steps” by the immortal John Coltrane. You could, if you were so inclined and motivated, try your luck at Napster—the infamous file sharing service that history credits with inciting the music industry’s forced march into the digital century.
The good news: Napster was free. You typed the desired song's name and artist, hit return and if the internet gods were on your side, you’d download the real McCoy and be listening to Trane’s immortal tenor sax in less than fifteen minutes.
The bad news: Napster was never quite in tune with the internet gods. So a search for “Giant Steps” could easily yield a spate of songs by They Might be Giants or worse, twelve different versions of “Step by Step” by the New Kids on the Block. All due to the mislabeling of song files by well-intentioned cyber pirates from around the globe, whose erring behavior wouldn’t be realized until after you’ve spent the better part of an afternoon downloading and listening to each false file.
Better to borrow the CD from a friend, assuming the two of you have fostered an unbreakable bond of trust and said friend would lend his cherished copy of the album in question to you in the first place.
For a '90s kid, exchanging CDs with friends was a rite of passage, a solemn exchange with an unspoken understanding that failure to return the lender’s CD in exactly the same condition as it was lent was punishable by social excommunication.
Think I’m kidding? You must not be from the '90s.
I’ve lost friends over CDs that I loaned into the circle of trust—never to return.
My all-time top five list of discs lent with unrequited faith that went the way of enmity:
Fela Kuti—Live! Fela and the Africa 70. Ginger Baker on drums, backing the Godfather of Afrobeat. Life changing.
Jimi Hendrix Experience—Live at Monterrey (Japanese import). The late Mitch Mitchell was at his best in this gem that featured an electric version of “Like a Rolling Stone” that even Bob Dylan worshipped.
Red Hot Chili Peppers—Freaky Styley. Back when the Peppers were more than lukewarm.
Janis Joplin—Greatest Hits No one like Janis. Not then. Not Now. Not Ever. (This one would eventually be returned, albeit with a crippling scratch in the second verse of “Try, just a little bit harder”.)
Primus—Sailing the Seas of Cheese “Tommy the Cat” (with the incomparable Tom Waits providing the gravelly voice of the virile title character) is the greatest song of the '90’s. No debate.
The one that hurt the most to lose was Primus, a band whose mark left on my musical soul was indelible. Seas of Cheese was their Sergeant Pepper’s, a magnum opus from an avant-trio whose quirky funk was trail-blazing in 1991 and still sounds fresh today.
Singer/vocalist Les Claypool’s spoken word verses over finger tapping thumb-slapping bass lines were the universal envy of every bass player born in the '70s. Drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander, who would later join the Blue Man Group, was a hero of mine. Still is.
For the record, I know the culprit behind each of my top five lost CD gems. They shall remain nameless and referred to only as scum from here forth. Except for the scum to whom I lent Sailing the Seas of Cheese, never to be seen again. His name was Steve.
Sounds harsh to the Spotify generation, doesn’t it?
These days, kids share their favorite music with the world via public playlists. In our time, you kept your friends close and your CDs closer.
Back to the goddess who’d just walked into my life, CD in hand, making good on her end of the social contract by returning the music she’d borrowed to a friend—a mutual friend she and I shared.
Something in common! I saw it as a glimmer of hope.
And what CD was the goddess returning? I had to know. The curious urge was innate. If she were returning a book, I’d have to know everything about it. Title. Author. Edition. If she were returning a blender, I’d have to know what brand it was. How many speeds? Does it pulse and chop?
The goddess entered the house, crossed to the kitchen telling our friend about the CD as she set it on the counter. It was then I realized her role in the exchange was as lender.
She was the trusting one, the extender of faith willing to part with a piece of her soul because she believed it would guide a friend's musical journey for a spell.
And what was the CD?
The suspense was crippling. I stole a casual peek, just enough to quell my curiosity. The recognition didn’t induce an embarrassing spit up of beer. It couldn’t, because my discerning mystery album's title caused me to knock my half-full bottle off the counter and onto the floor, where its thud on the linoleum created an instant puddle of foam at my feet.
I was now the goofy clutz in the room, but it didn't matter once I saw the album the goddess was lending to my friend.
Serendipity has never been more love-struck.
Primus. Sailing the Seas of Cheese.
There were fireworks at our wedding.
Fred Smith's latest book of short stories, The Closet, is now available on Amazon HERE.
Sailing the Seas of Cheese by Primus is available for instant, free, guiltless streaming on the world wide web: HERE.
Fred Smith was born in the '70s, wore long socks and short shorts in the '80s, played drums in bands in the '90s, and became a husband (to the greatest woman on the planet) and a father in the 2000s. This decade he's made a few movies and written a few books you can check out on this site. Stick around. Have a few rounds on the house. Then, you know...buy something.