Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Things You Can't Forget Vol. 2: Isis

It was a Saturday night, and Drew, Thomas and I were at a house party at our friend Celia's duplex. It was March, I think, of 2006. Second semester of junior year at U. of South Carolina. My collegiate stint was far enough along that graduation was now more than a vague ghostship on the horizon, yet my perception of it was an unhurried acknowledgment of its existence rather than any sort of broiling anxiety. I felt rooted in my situation, padded between the confidence accrued over two and a half years on campus, and another year of dense, work-intensive semesters ahead. However, that night I felt adrift...

A few weeks before Celia's party, I was toiling on a graphics project, attempting to mount my print on foam board. While paring down a piece of the board, I committed the cardinal sin of Exacto-knife usage: I cut towards my stabilizing hand, not away from it. The blade skidded out of the foam, slid across the ruler and sliced through the right third of my left index finger. The wound was a half an inch long; the flayed chunk of fingertip was only attached along the underside of my finger. If I'd dragged the knife even a half-inch more, I'd have severed the fingertip completely. I screamed some string of unspeakable vulgarity and flung the knife, causing it to lodge itself in the floorboard:

For those of you with a stomach for such things, here's a picture of the fresh wound, which I was able to compose myself enough to document photographically. You'll note I'm actually holding the finger together with my thumb.

I'll never forget what song was on my stereo when this happened: "Isis", by Bob Dylan.

After the incident, I fell into a funk. This was mostly the result of being sidelined musically--in fact, I had to withdraw from a talent show because my fretting hand was virtually useless. But it also had some dulling effect on my overall temperament. I became aware of my impending adulthood, depressed by my failures, and generally sluggish and pitiful. I needed a kick in the ass, someone or something to grab me by the shoulders and just fuckin' shake until the storm cloud dissipated.

The lord works in mysterious ways, and by "the lord" I of course mean Bob Dylan. The same man who soundtracked my infamous self-butchering would also orchestrate the moment at Celia's party that burned off the lingering fog. The party was densely populated, with roughly thirty or so folks huddled in the first floor, laughing and yammering and getting progressively drunker. It was a college pad, to be sure: Unflashy; plastered with posters of musicians and artists; hand-me-down furniture that was aged and wonderful. That night I met my good friend Patrick., a man whose innate ability to analyze music through the written word is something I've long coveted. He and Thomas and I talked music for most of the evening, discussing the merits and flaws of alternative country and why Menomena's new album was so good, among other things. I already felt more relaxed than I had since the accident.

The party was in full swing, thanks in no small part to the brilliant mix Celia had composed for the night, a playlist that was both hip and engaging. She and a few other girls had staked a spot in front of the stereo and were drunkenly frolicking, twirling one another with the utmost agility and grace, so as not to spill a drop of their beverage. The music rolled through a veritable greatest hits of hipster party tracks.

When "Isis" began, I was reminded that it was to the strains of this song that I'd laid waste to my fingertip only weeks before. As it is and was my favorite Dylan song, I feared that it would forever serve as a chilling reminder of that bloodletting. But thanks to the events of that night, the song was repositioned in my memory.

"Isis" and it's slow rhythmic pulse captured the room, and each body in the room moved with each bass note as Dylan evangelically howled his tale of a spontaneous journey, faraway tombs, and the far-reaching gravity of his beloved Isis. I'm not sure if the stereo was cranked when the song started, but it wouldn't surprise me, as it rose above the din in a grand way. The beat injected itself into the atmosphere, made all the more palpable by the extra-large Dylan poster in prominent display on the living room wall. For nearly 7 minutes, that song became the party. It was a moment of such inspired, unified perfection that it seemed choreographed.

The funniest part is I might be the only one in that room who paid any attention to that little slice of the night. Moreover, it might not have resonated with anyone else to a level beyond basic appreciation of the song or the party atmosphere. Yet it's one of my fondest memories from college, so what does it matter if I'm the only one who noticed? If a tree falls in the woods, and I'm the only one around to hear it, then so be it!

To conclude: It's kind of ridiculous that watching a bunch of drunk, white hipsters bounce around to a thirty-year-old song was lifted my spirits. But it was a moment of clarity, a microcosmic reminder that being a pitiful sack of crap is not only unpleasant, but its a waste of valuable time. I suppose it also reinforced the affirming quality of music. When a beloved song architects an indelible moment such as this, it sort of validates one's fandom and obsessions. You can analyze lyrics or chord structures to bits, but nothing trumps that sort of intrinsic response. And such is the inspiration for this feature in the first place.

A photo from the evening. Left to right: Me (w/bandaged finger), Patrick, Drew, Celia, and Thomas.

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