Monday, August 03, 2009

Pause Button: Why These Songs? (From The Cheesecake Truck To The End Of The Line, 7)

It occurred to me, yesterday while driving, that I was not in any way attaching the songs on the Honeymoon Mixtape to the story to which the Honeymoon Mixtape was the soundtrack. I realized that belatedly, and realized that was a mistake, to not do that, because each song on the Honeymoon Mixtape was put there for a reason. Sometimes for a good reason. Sometimes for a mediocre reason. Sometimes for a reason that needed a little explaining.

But each song was on that tape because of a Sweetie-and-Me related reason, and here I am, 6/whateverths through the tape and I haven't yet explained why any of those songs are on that tape. That's an especially big omission in light of the fact that most of the songs are not what you'd consider to be very romantic songs. I consider them romantic songs, but, then, I have a skewed sense of what's romantic. Skewed, that is, in comparison to the rest of the world. It's not skewed when you understand that romance is more than just hearts and flowers and dumb love songs that repeat trite phrases over and over, like a Hallmark card set to a slow clap.

Romance is, for me, about life, and why you choose to share your life with one particular person... and why you continue to go on sharing your life with one particular person. Romance, love, isn't frozen in time like the songs on a mixtape. It grows and shifts and changes and if you're lucky (as I am) that growing and shifting and changing is like an ivy that slowly covers the house, ultimately enveloping it in something alive and ever-changing, while leaving the structure underneath the same: older, more comfortable, but the same.

That's why I find some songs romantic that others wouldn't, and that's why I understand that romance lies not just in the words and music of a song, but also in the meaning of the song -- including when that meaning may only exist (like the My Aunt's Dog Theorem says) in the ears of the listener, or listeners, maybe. A song can start out being just a goofy little song, and end up being one of the most romantic songs you'll ever hear.

That's what happened with The Cheesecake Truck Song, and that's why The Cheesecake Truck Song led off the Honeymoon Mixtape.

Before I ever met Sweetie, I spent a summer trying to be an actor, because it occurred to me that I might like being in a play and I had nothing much else to do at the time. I landed a part in a play Brother Truckers, about a murderous pair of garbagemen. The director, during scene changes, would play snippets of songs related to trucking, or garbage. Songs like Low Rider or The Cheesecake Truck.

The song The Cheesecake Truck was, as you know, a bouncy, happy tune, and one day I asked her "What's the name of that song, the one you play while we set up for Act II?" She answered: "I don't know." She explained that she'd gotten it from her son and thought it was just a part of the song and didn't know who sang it or what it was called.

The play ran for four nights, and rehearsals lasted the bulk of the summer, so I heard that song a lot. And while I never acted in a play again... yet... I never forgot that song, and I told Sweetie about it one time, when I was telling her about the play. I didn't know what the song was called; I just called it The Cheesecake Truck Song.

About a year after Sweetie and I began dating, when we were engaged but not yet married, we celebrated our second Christmas together. Sweetie gave me a small present, one I recognized instantly as a CD, but I had no idea what CD it might be. I opened it up, and saw a double-CD of King Missile's Greatest Hits. Wondering what that was all about, I thought for a second as I began to turn it over.

Sweetie has given me some phenomenal gifts in the past. She gave me an actual set of bagpipes, working bagpipes that can actually be played, albeit played by someone who's better at bagpipes than I am, since even with a few lessons I couldn't get the hang of it and eventually (and somewhat guiltily) gave it up. Sweetie also gave me a gift certificate for time at a recording studio, back when we first started dating, when I would play guitar more. "You can make a CD," she told me, and I practiced and practiced to do just that, playing my songs over and over on my old guitar that had been with me since way back in 1993 when I first took up guitar to get an art credit in college (only to learn that guitar would not count towards the art credit.)

I never made the CD, either -- I didn't play the bagpipes and I got distracted by life and my career and the fact that I'm not very good at guitar, either, and never made the CD, but that didn't make it any less wonderful of a present.

Though I didn't immediately know it upon opening up the King Missile CD, this was the greatest gift Sweetie had gotten me yet, and still. I made the connection in a second, only a split second before I turned the package over to see what songs were on it. Sweetie and I had discovered, a while before, that there was a song called The Cheesecake Truck by some group called King Missile, and I'd checked from time-to-time at record stores and Barnes & Noble, but had never found the CD.

Now, it was in my hand on Christmas morning.

"Do you like it?" Sweetie asked me.

"I do!" I said. "Where'd you find it?" And Sweetie told me a story, then, about using the Internet-- still a relatively new thing back then, and not available on every computer and phone everywhere, as it is now. They had the Internet at her office, but only on her boss's computers, not on hers. (I had the internet, too, on my crummy computer at my crummy sole-practitioner office with my secondhand furniture and 20 files, but didn't use it much because I didn't know what it was good for, and it wasn't good for much back then.)

Sweetie had talked to her boss about my love for that song and the fact that we could never find it around here, and she had gotten permission to use her boss' computer to look up the CD. She'd then discovered which CD it was on and had been able to locate a website -- remember, this was all new and strange back then, before there was a Google or iTunes or much of anything on the Internet -- that she could order the CD through and had bought it, online (a strange experience, then, even for someone like Sweetie who was used to catalog shopping) and had it shipped to our house, where it had arrived in time for Christmas.

None of that made much sense to me. Like I said, I had the Internet on my computer and used it for almost nothing. I didn't have email or Westlaw or anything that I needed it for; my Internet subscription was based on a then-existing free service that was free because there was an ad bar across the page at all times, one that had to be moved around while you read the Internet page, which I almost never did. I'd never shopped online. I'd never really done anything online, to that point.

But that didn't matter. What mattered to me was first, that I was actually holding the CD in my hand, the long-sought CD with The Cheesecake Truck on it, able to hear, in its entirety, the song that for years had been only a snippet in my mind, some jaunty music with a guy talking over it about cheesecake delivery.

What mattered second, and more, was that I was holding that CD because of Sweetie, who had not only listened when I'd told her about the play and the song, but had watched and listened while I looked for the CD, every now and then, and had then taken that watching and listening and turned it into action: she'd gone out of her way to get me a present that in terms of sheer money, didn't cost very much and wasn't very impressive, but which was the greatest present I'd ever gotten, then and now, because Sweetie had put such thought into it.

I've gotten Sweetie what I thought were pretty good gifts during our relationship: diamond jewelry, a trip to Mexico, a cat, stuff that I think she really liked and enjoyed and wanted. But I've never matched Sweetie's talent for gift-giving. She's a pro at it. And above all the great gifts she's given me over the years stands The Cheesecake Truck Song, proof that not only is Sweetie great at giving presents but also great at listening and caring.

So when I sat down, in the week or two before our wedding, to make a mixtape to listen to as we drove from Madison to Niagara Falls to New York City and back, it was only natural that The Cheesecake Truck Song would lead off the tape.

It may not sound romantic to you, but I can't hear "And I miss everybody a lot, but I'm not really sorry because they were very delicious cheesecakes" without getting a lump in my throat.

1 comment:

lisapepin said...

Aww... Modern love.