Saving “Grace”

This evening while having a post-movie beer with a friend, we started to (shocker) talk about music. My friend had told me earlier at dinner that she had “ruined” the CD I had given her last week, Jeff Buckley’s Grace. When she said ruined, I thought she meant that she had scratched it, or run it over, or set it on fire, a problem which could be quickly fixed with a new burned copy, or two–one for backup. She explained however, that she had listened to the album during intimate moments with a recent ex, post-breakup, who she’s not quite over yet. “My roommate put it on and I couldn’t listen to it,” she said. Later, after the movie, while we were standing around at the bar I work at listening to a barrage of ridiculous music that a coworker was foisting upon us, I was reminded of the tragedy of my friend’s loss–not the boyfriend, Grace. It is, without a doubt, the one album I would choose if I had to listen to one thing for the rest of my life, on a desert island, what have you. Forget Bob, and Jimi, and Tori, and Kurt, and Jim, and all of my other Love-em-forevers, and give me Grace. The man may have drowned in the Mississippi under mysterious circumstances in the heart of his prime, but he never made a bad studio album, because he only made one, and it was–is–brilliant.

About five years ago, shortly after meeting my friend Bryant, he and I took a music-oriented drive down the Coast Highway from Monterey to Big Sur, California. I had brought a crate full of my CDs and he’d brought a case full of his. It was my turn to play something and I’d put a CD in the player, but Bryant interrupted my song (I don’t remember what it was) before the intro had even finished and shoved another CD in. “You have to listen to this,” he said, and cranked the volume. The song was “Last Goodbye,” the third song on Grace. It was love at first listen. We blasted the entire album from the beginning of Big Sur to the end and back again, and the next day (this was before every computer had a burner in it) I went out and bought it, listening to it relentlessly for weeks afterward. To this day, I probably listen to the album at least three times a week, sometimes three times in one day. It never leaves my CD player. Ever. I have a 3-disc changer, but one of the trays is permanently reserved for Grace.

When I am restless and cannot sleep, I listen to Buckley’s masterful version of Hallelujah (he owns that song, regardless of the reverence I have for Leonard Cohen, who wrote it–it starts with that heart-grabbing accidental sigh, and just gets better). When I am distraught over a man, or stewing in inappropriate nostalgia, I listen to “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over.” When I feel like breaking things, I listen to “Eternal Life.” When I’m feeling listless and depressed, which is often, I listen to the whole damn thing, and it’s so fucking beautiful I find myself surprised anew nearly every time, half of me wanting desperately to resurrect him so he could make more music, the other half relieved that he will never disappoint me.

“You have to un-ruin Grace,” I said to my friend.

“I have to stop associating music with people,” she said, “in general.”

I know what she meant, because I do it too–but though the sound of a certain song may bring me to the verge of tears because of a memory it evokes, as many do, I listen to it anyway. It may be painful, as Grace often is, but it’s worth it. Some songs are worth it only for the memories they recall, such as, for me, The Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week.” The first time I went to my ex-boyfriend’s home town with him–for Thanksgiving, shortly after we’d gotten together–he sang the entirety of this obnoxious song to me during a moonlit walk to the loca Circle-K store for cigarettes. The song is annoying, ridiculous, nonsensical and obnoxiously catchy. But it’s his, and it’s mine, therefore I love it, and when I hear it, seven years later, I smile. Every time. Even though that relationship was short-lived and kind of tragic, and the aftermath of it is still not over. Even though I bought the album and couldn’t bear to listen to the rest of it. They Might Be Giants’ “Birdhouse In Your Soul” is another one. He used to sing it to me on car rides, looking at me across the back seat of our friend’s shitbox car with a look that said, Can I keep you? I am gutted every time I hear it, but I cannot not listen to it. It’s all the more special because it hurts.

Music for me has long been about association. There are dozens of songs which I can remember exactly where I was the first time I heard them, or the first time I got sick of hearing them. The first time I heard The Verve Pipe’s “The Freshmen,” I was in the passenger seat of my then-friend Lauren’s car, driving over the drawbridge that separates Vineyard Haven from Oak Bluffs. Five minutes later, her engine flooded and we found ourselves coasting to a slow stop in a parking lot, while her Chrysler LeBaron’s internal computer told us out loud, “all monitored systems are malfunctioning.” The music of Sublime was ruined for me by my high school best friend, Chris, who was obsessed for a time with the song, “Caress Me Down,” particularly the line, I didn’t know she had the G.I. Joe/Kung-Fu grip. I must have heard that song twenty times a day for half a year, and it didn’t get any less obnoxious the more stoned we got. Now, however, “Caress Me Down” is the only Sublime song I can stand to listen to–because of the memory of those carefree days of driving around aimlessly, listening to one of a dozen translucent grey recorded-from-someone-else’s-CD cassette tapes that were kicking around his car, smoking ourselves absolutely stupid.

The girl in me, the romantic in me, the heartbreak survivor in me, understands my friend’s reservations about Grace, and her reasons for considering it “ruined.” The music lover in me, however, hopes beyond hope that she can eventually either loose the associations from around the neck of the album and listen through them, feel them and accept that they are painful–that the music is at times almost eviscerating (if it’s that good, and Grace is), but that it is worth it.

To prove it, I’m listening to Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman,” the song I’ve cried to every time I’ve broken up with anyone, and I’m gonna follow it up with Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven,” which I played until the tape became garbled and warbly after my mother died when I was twelve. After that, I might even dig up U2’s “All I Want Is You,” the song I’ve always wanted a man to play for me but no one ever has. After all, the music is simply the music, and it’s never been the music that’s betrayed me, or hurt me, or gone insane, or forgotten me, or died. The music is just the music. Period. And if it’s good, it’s good.

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~ by saltgirlspeaks on 2 May, 2007.

4 Responses to “Saving “Grace””

  1. every time i hitch anywhere i end up singing janis joplin, this a habit i assosiate with you. resently on the side of the road in Dacau i discovered i couldn;t remenber the last verse of mercedes benz and odly the boy i was traveling with had all the words writen in his notebook, proving to me once again that everything happens for a reason and it all fits together. or something like that.

  2. hi, i love you. absolutely no worries. ok?

  3. Roisin: “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town? I’m counting on you, Lord, please don’t let me down! Prove that you love me, and buy the next round. Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town…Everybody!”

  4. I am going to go buy Grace.

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