If you read my post back in Stellastarr week, you may remember me talking about road trips. Unsurprisingly, one of the most frequent car trips that Heather and I take is either to her parents or to mine. To visit her family, it’s just over two hours. There and back is less than five hours. Back when we used to bring CDs instead of phones stocked with mp3s, podcasts and audio books, this was simple. Heather and I would each pick two or three albums. Usually we already had that many in the car, anyway, so sometimes we would just go with what we had. When visiting my family, however, it’s a seven or eight hour drive, depending on traffic and weather (nine or ten hours if a band of lake effect snow is going through Cleveland, Erie and Buffalo). As such, we would each select ten or so CDs for the journey. We put these CDs in the basket and away we would go.
There were certain staples to these trips. There was a solid chance that one of us would pick a Stellastarr album. An Eels album almost always made the mix. Usually there was a Secret Machines album. Heather almost always grabbed a Counting Crows album. There was definitely a Cake album. I would always make the mistake of bringing something a little too hard, like a Coal Chamber or Dethklok, or something she wasn’t really a fan of like The Birthday Massacre. She would usually grab her favorite Paul Simon album. And she almost always brought a Ben Folds Five album.
When we got together in mid-2000, I was not a fan of Ben Folds or the Five. I remembered their one song, Brick, and hated it for purely non-music related reasons. Seriously, fuck that song. Because of this, I never payed any attention to them after that. Plus, I had kind of wandered off in a different direction with my musical preferences, making quite a lot of questionable choices along the way (I mean, what was I thinking when I started listening to Insane Clown Posse; that was really stupid). For a long time, even after we were together, I still thought of Ben Folds Five as “Heather’s music.” I put up with it when she played it, but never listened to it on my own, and barely regarded it when it was on.
The rules for music in the car were simple. The person who is driving picks the music. This was for two reasons. First, you should always get to listen to “your” music when driving. Second, if the passenger falls asleep, it’s important to be stuck with an album you like. The CDs were never reachable by the driver. Safety first, people. I would save the stuff that Heather didn’t like for when she would nod off on me.
One night, we were somewhere between Erie and Cleveland when Heather asked for The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner. She was driving, so I had to agree to it. I made a point to make sure it wasn’t the one with Brick on it (fuck that song). We had been talking about music to that point anyway, so she finally broached the subject of why I didn’t like Ben Folds Five. I explained it to her just as I explained it to you. She told me to give it a chance, since it’s so much better than the one song. She also knows how much I love rock piano. So I did. The album played, we drove through the winter night on Interstate 90. When each song came on, she would get excited and tell me “this one’s really good.” Four tracks into it, she gets all serious and says, “this next song is really amazing, i especially love the timpani part.”
Wait, did she say timpani? What’s timpani doing on a rock album. So I finally listened. The song played, and I stared out the window at the stars on what was a clear and cold winter night. I remember just staring at the trees as they raced along while the song played. And I listened. And I liked it. At some point, Heather reached across and caressed the nape of my neck. I was jarred out of the experience a couple of songs later by Army, but for a bit we were just driving through the night together and all was at peace with the world.
It’s a strange song to find peace during. It was only years later, when I suggested it for the wedding playlist, that I found out that it is not a happy song. I just always associated it with long trips in the car with Heather, and nice moments during those trips. I still do, regardless of the lyrics.