I entered high school at the TURN OF THE CENTURY (awesome that I'm allowed to say that), when big pants and Paul Frank were still a thing. Technically Paul Frank is still a thing, but when they start handing out toys from the favorite clothing line of your adolescent youth in Happy Meals, it's time to hang it up and call it a friggin' day.
(Just kidding, I wish I owned all of these.)
Like a lot of my friends, my musical repertoire was mainly steeped in pop punk and ska, with some "ironic" boy band love thrown in for good measure. In my junior year, I started driving myself to school in my mom's car. Because I didn't have a car of my own, it meant bringing my own CDs to listen to on the way, then bringing them back inside to listen to in my room. On the semi-frequent occasion that I'd forget to bring my own music, it meant listening to whatever my mom had in the car. I listened to a lot of Celine Dion that year. I also listened to a lot of Boston, Styx and Kansas. The more I listened to my mom's music, the more I realized that I liked it. And not ironically.
The CD I listened to the most, though, was a cheap compilation my mom had picked up at Wal-Mart, entitled "18 Rock Classics." I could write blogs about several of the tracks on that album, like how I used to associate Starship's "Sara" with an older lady of the same name who was the treasurer at my dad's church in Alabama; her house always smelled thickly of roses and she used to let us swim in her inground pool and she eventually got caught embezzling from the church. Or how Toto's "Africa" was my number one college karaoke jam. Or how I, like Foreigner, want to know what love is.
My favorite track, though, was number 8, "Telephone Line" by the Electric Light Orchestra. I remember the first time I heard it: I almost didn't get past the (admittedly quite cheesy) synth/dial tone opening. But then a voice came through, saying (appropriately): "Hello? How are you?" in the most fragile tone you could hope to muster in song. I was listening.
What follows, of course, is a musical representation, high in drama, of what it feels like to call up somebody you used to love, somebody you lost. I had almost zero experience with romantic relationships when I was a teenager. Like I said, high school was weird for me. Or rather, I was in high school and I was weird, and nobody wanted to date me. Except other people who were in high school and also weird. I dated one guy because we started a ska band together for about a week, even though it was just the two of us, and we were both trumpet players. Then I realized I didn't really like ska anymore. So we broke up. C'est la vie, and all that.
Even though I didn't really have a point of reference for the lyrics, that chorus used to tear me up: building and swelling, with those strings doing their arpeggios in the background, and the heartbroken voice proclaiming "I'm living in twilight!" I used to sit in the car, singing this song to the top of my lungs, crying. I wasn't sad because I'd been dumped, but because I was sure, one day, I would be.
Which, of course, I was. Years down the road, I came back to ELO. I sat in my car again, in the Taco Bell parking lot, holding a soft taco and singing as loudly as I could: "And I wonder why! The little things you planned ain't comin' true!"
In point of fact, the melodrama surrounding my past break-ups is hilarious, per the aforementioned soft taco. In the present, you're embarrassed at how broken up you got about it, how many people you complained to, how many hours you spent listening to torch songs while eating how much fast food.
One night in the recent past, on the way home from a rare solo movie date, I stopped at Five Guys to pick up some food for me and Anthony. As I was waiting, "Telephone Line" came on over the loudspeaker. For a moment, I was back in the car at Taco Bell.
But it never takes me long to remember: I might be standing alone in a Five Guys eating peanuts and remembering the loneliest time in my life, but I'm not lonely now.
Still, it felt nice to remember that loneliness, that highest of high drama. When was the last time I was able to feel something so frivolously, for all of my thoughts to be wrapped up in myself? Break-ups bring out the toddler in everybody, no matter what side you're on, but as a mom, I'm not allowed to be the toddler anymore. I mean, I'm not selfless by any means, but I don't have time to put on socks sometimes, much less dwell endlessly on my own thoughts and feelings. Maybe I was reveling in something other than happiness for the moment, but at least I was reveling.
The bleak memories, combined with the happy knowledge that, though I'm scatter-brained and perpetually harried, I love my family and (probably) never have to go through another break-up, gave this song a new level of significance that night. I downloaded it to my phone, and listened to it the whole drive home.
Bonus material: here's a cover of the song that I recorded half a year ago, on my iPad, in my closet. It's too fast and some of the chords are wrong, among other things. Enjoy.