I’ve written before on this blog about the ability of music to recall specific memories: working as a bartender in a jazz bar, or suffering through a hot Brooklyn summer while working on a book. Today’s recalled memories are about a simpler time that might have felt hectic then but feels positively bucolic compared to today.
As the summer of 1997 ended, I found myself, within the confines of New York City, a nomad. A break-up with my girlfriend meant I had to find new accommodations, and it had resulted in my moving thrice in three months. Finally I settled on the Lower East Side, renting a room in an apartment still under construction. I was broke; the moving had cost me; I had lost apartment deposits and spent too much money eating out, drinking beer, whiling away my time in bars playing pool. My meager summer employment hadn’t kept pace with my reckless expenditures and I found myself skimping, saving, borrowing money from friends, just to get by and pay rent. Even more problematically, my doctoral oral examinations awaited; I had an ambitious reading list–in philosophy of language, logic, and science–to get through.
As the fall semester began, I found myself caught, willy-nilly, in a form of monastic discipline. I had wasted enough time over the summer; I had to buckle down now. I had two section of Introductory Philosophy to teach, a long list of journal articles to get through, and very little money to spend. So I did what all abstainers do: I enforced a routine. I tried to wake up at the same time everyday, avoided my old haunts, and kept my nose to the wheel. I felt isolated, cut adrift, even in the midst of the bustling Lower East Side.
There was some relief though. I had borrowed a CD from a friend: the Sneaker Pimps‘ Becoming X. (Wait, ‘borrowed’? Yes, Virginia, there was a time when people loaned and borrowed CDs, passing them around, get this, by hand!) Two tracks, in particular, got ample play-time: Six Underground and Low Place Like Home. I was captivated by Kelli Dayton‘s voice, by the Pimps’ trip-hop, and obsessively played those two tracks again and again. (Incidentally, the Pimps’ decision to fire Kelli Dayton after this album must rank as one of the worst personnel decisions ever; compare Dayton’s version of Low Place like Home with this Chris Corner version; ’nuff said.)
And for some still unfathomable reason my favorite time to listen to them was in the mornings, shortly after waking, with my morning coffee and a newspaper. A newspaper? Yes, because back in 1997, I did not own a computer; and even if I did, I would not have had a viable Internet connection at home. So in sharp contrast to my current habit of sitting down at my desk in the morning, my cuppa Joe handy as I check emails, read blogs, (and blog), instead, I walked out onto Avenue A, bought myself a copy of the New York Times (and sometimes the Daily News when I was keen to concentrate on sports instead), a cup of low-grade fifty-cent coffee from the bodega down the street (the kitchen in my apartment was still under construction and there were no espresso bars, not that I could have afforded one), walked back to my apartment, drank my coffee, read the paper. While being serenaded by Kelli Dayton.
I’m not sure why a pair of trip-hop tracks should have been such a perfect soundtrack for these attempts of mine to calm myself before I walked out to face a day full of teaching recalcitrant undergraduates, reading alone in a dingy office, and returning late at night to that forlorn room of mine, but it worked. Thanks Kelli.