7-inch: If I Should Fall From Grace With God by the Pogues
1988 Pogue Mahone Records FG-1, Red
Favorite Track: If I Should Fall From Grace With God
When he finished hanging the nine records in a grid pattern opposite his dining room table, he sighed, placed his hands over his eyes, and groaned loudly. He uncorked the bottle of Malbec and poured a deep drink, knowing this was a full bottle night. Unconsciously, he had ordered the nine albums from the start of the relationship right to the break up. The very freakin’ album that was playing when Sandra stormed out the door. He had made a tapestry of his misery.
When she finished hanging the nine records in a grid pattern opposite her bed, she sobbed once, fought back the anger, and curled up inside her favorite blanket. With deft precise, she sliced off the label of a Tempranillo and poured a heavy glass, understanding this most likely was going to end up as a full bottle night. Unconsciously, she had ordered the nine break-up albums in order from first relationship (Tommy: high school: ended via text) to her last (Grant: the last five years: February 12 in Grant’s old apartment). She had made a snapshot of her sorrow.
Grant took the first album down and put it on his player. Rubber Soul by the Beatles. How funny one night at trivia, an offhand comment about the different tracks on the UK and US versions of Rubber Soul could actually start a full-blown relationship? At the moment, a sickly sensation surging up from his stomach and making his skin feel cold, he dreamed of keeping his mouth shut. Denying the five years a chance before they were born. What would have his life been like?
She placed the first album on the platter and hit the on button. Then back to the wine for another glass. She settled down with her blanket on her bed as the needle scratched through some dust and began the opening track of Blondie’s Parallel Lines. He had kind eyes, a warm touch, and always had the other boys laughing at the lunch table. His kiss was lackluster and most of the time he hardly paid attention to her words, then later when Gina McDavid, the new girl, came along, her affections. At the best the relationship felt like a roller coaster, but at worst it was a roller-skating party, full of spills, falls, and running into old people. Where was he at this moment and was he the exact same as he had been?
The second album was Grant’s favorite, but he hated to admit to himself that it was all about the sex. One Track Mind (by Egyptian Lover) indeed. They couldn’t wait to touch each other, launching out of their stiff dreams into a passionate embrace that spilled them over the sides as their nakedness warmed with the rising sun and each other’s immediate contact. Afternoons on days off were the best: wrapped around each other on the couch reading or chatting about future plans, only for his intrepid cock to rise to the occasion again and off they were moaning filthy pleasure and forgetting the clock. Already halfway through the first bottle, Grant held back the tears. Looking down, he saw that he was erect.
Sandra’s second boyfriend was short lived. The only good thing Brad did was introduce her to punk rock. Group Sex by the Circle Jerks was as short, violent, and scathing as their three week hell. Tommy had been in puppy dog love with Gina for three weeks now, never missing an opportunity to kiss her in front of Sandra. He never winked at her and almost always seemed embarrassed, yet she was sure it was done on purpose. Brad was just a dark leather jacket nearest her the time it got to her. She grabbed Brad, forcing her mouth to open his, slithering her tongue in like a dart. She tasted beer even though Brad was only fifteen. Her virginity would be lost by midnight.
Two songs into the third album, he wasn’t sure if the self-titled Undertones album was the right choice. He knew that “I Know a Girl”‘s breezy, simplistic guitar work captured his own rather narrow but happy enthusiasm about Sandra, but was everything really peachy keen during that first year? Their friends said they were the “perfect couple”, yet none of them seemed to pick up either Sandra’s or his fears. After all, didn’t he at one time believe she cheated on him with Russell, the stranger they met at the art museum who claimed to be her long lost first kiss? Grant never voiced the doubt. He just trembled every night for two sleepless weeks. Surely, Sandra had her own doubts. When she surprised him at the office and Katie was there, he saw dangerous eye contact. Grant turned the record off before the A-side was down.
Tago Mago by Can. A double album for a duplicitous relationship. At first, she was carried away by the complex rhythms of Ivan’s wandering lifestyle. He pulled her through worlds she had never witnessed before: movie sets, garrulous agents, flashing photographers, stunning magazine models, Italian sports cars, rabid fans, and, even, the brutal dance performance of the matador. Before Ivan, she had never left her state, and now she had not only traveled to two dozen countries with him, but she caught the bug herself and replaced comics with travel guides. It was, on self-reflection, easy to become one his accessories, which she in her gullibility became. His confidence was never tested, his will to continue doing what he did unfazed by any of her questions. Everyone always asked her how she did not know that he slept with his secretary, the models (male and female), the director’s assistant, the Macy’s girl, a few from various pubs around London, and even his sister’s best friend, Matilda. Sandra could only point to the A-bomb explosion of “Mushroom”. She didn’t know. Or she didn’t care to know.
Grant filled up his glass, took his socks off and then put them back on when he realized how cold the floor was. The fourth LP wasn’t a mystery as to why it described the most difficult part of their relationship: the death of Sandra’s father. The album brooded in its own sadness, wallowing like a drowning horse in a murky, dank swamp. Each track secretly whispered: suicide, suicide, suicide. Grant wished he was listening to Suicide instead, or, hell, even Tim Buckley’s Starsailor. The album wasn’t even his; it was Sandra’s. She must have left it behind because she knew he would do this: catalog their life together in music and this album was the only way to describe 2016. Which was like her. She could always see through his fake indifferent face and tell when he was hiding something. Then, with a simple gesture or sentence or look, she could extract the confession with ease. However, during 2016, when he needed to get inside her head, he found all his attempts useless. She remained impassive, a stricken bundle of dirty clothes and ruined make-up. He shuddered when he flipped the record over to Side-B. The latter half of the year was even worse. Grant just wished he could forget it.
22. The Rolling Stones concert. Sandra had met Adam a few days before at a trivia night competition. He was brought in because of his extensive knowledge of literature, which netted them five points for Tom Wolfe being dressed in all-white for a magazine cover and the final bonus question, which he singularly answered the locations for five novels. He smiled too much and seemed too eager, but he had an extra ticket and seemed a little wounded. Sandra didn’t realize how wounded she was from Ivan. The Stones were better than she gave credit for, but it also may have been Adam’s primo weed. He put his hand around her waist during “Brown Sugar” and she let him feel a little ass. He tried to kiss her before getting in the car, but she put a finger to his lips, gave a coy smile, and made him drive her all the way home before she blew him to his immediate satisfaction. Maybe it was a control thing, she thought later when Adam tried to bring up the subject of sex–she certainly dangled it in front of him, but often never let him have it. Her dreams were filled with Ivan’s rough hands and she was certain that Adam would never understand. A year into the relationship, he surprised her with a gift, his first as they often talked about how nerve-wracking buying gifts in relationships were: Aftermath by the Rolling Stones. Sandra flipped it over to side B, a little too nervous to hear “I am Waiting”–a song Adam played relentlessly the second and briefest year of their relationship. Words choked her throat as part of her past she blocked out returned to her. She had always suspected him of listening to “I am Waiting” because he was cheating on her. He wasn’t, but she was cheated on him.
Sandra snapped up in alert one morning and squeezed against him. It was a warmer sense of bodily contact since the death of her father. She didn’t need a hug, or silence, or someone to listen, or encouragement. She needed him. It was brief, but it lifted a heavy stone from his chest and, well, his testicles. Each morning, she returned to him: clouds lifting away from her green eyes like a leaving fog; the corners of her mouth turning up; a trip to the museum which lead to the symphony which lead to a three-day vacation in the woods; the strange obsession with the Cramps. So album five naturally had to be Songs the Lord Taught Us. There was a spontaneous burst of sexual activity, even more than when they first met. Each track reminded him of a specific time: “TV Set” doggy-style on the couch to a midnight creature feature; “”Rock on the Moon” her on top with her billowing red hair framed by the eclipsing moon; “Garbageman” interrupted by a knock on the door; “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” again outside in the Jewish cemetery down the road (which he still felt a little guilty about but they were pressed up against a tree, not a grave); “Sunglasses After Dark” a threesome with a drunk blonde from the bar that taught him a thing about his prostate gland and ice cubes; “The Mad Daddy” when a morning bout ended up with her sobbing–the death of her father returning to mind; “Mystery Plane” when they couldn’t get away with joining the Mile High Club on a flight to Chicago, but play-acted it in the Hotel room’s shabby bathroom; “Zombie Dance” where both of them went through the motion after a bottle of wine; “What’s Behind the Mask” the most epic Halloween night of his life; “Strychnine” more a fingering and heavy petting during an acid trip; “I’m Cramped” a failed attempt which left him washing the bedsheets at three in the morning; and “Tear it Up” when they both lost buttons to their favorite clothes. When Songs the Lord Taught Us finished, Grant opened up another bottle of wine.
Seeing the Stones in concert and had brought Sandra to a ’60’s music phase. At times, she suspected she was chasing her indifferent father through each album, catching coattails of his personality, his tastes, and, perhaps, his penchant for psychedelic drugs and free love. Sandra herself considered free love. Why entomb yourself with a person whose love for you will only die or become hatred? She saw what happened to her parents and she remembered being five years old and aware she was uncomfortable and sad, but couldn’t further explain away the despondent feelings. But Adam wanted nothing to do with free love; he had eyes only for her he said over and over. When Carl came along to the bar one night and he began expounding on the influence of American jazz on the French and the Argentinian cultures, all while wearing that flippant smile, a Moody Blues T-Shirt, and that wet, shiny, carefree ponytail of his, Sandra found herself holding his callused hand (because of course he played guitar) underneath the table. Adam was in a sour mood that day–his work had become increasing erratic with the promotion of a co-worker–and he decided to dip out after one drink. Carl, Sandra, and Lily stayed until closing. Lily left with a pool hustler with a gold tooth and the swagger of a man about to get laid. Carl kissed her the minute Lily turned her back. Sandra hadn’t feel this much love in years. It was almost like falling in love for the first time all over again: that precious delicate moment when your childhood erases itself with the thudding of your heart and a lascivious flash through the mind and body. But afterwards, wrapped in Carl’s arms in his gross bachelor pad, Sandra could only think about Adam. The reasons she was with him came back hard and fast. But she found she couldn’t resist the temptation of Carl. A line from Blood on the Tracks–her fifth choice–came to her mind almost thirty seconds before it came out of the speakers: “And when finally the bottom fell out / I became withdrawn / The only thing I knew how to do / Was to keep on keeping on like a bird that flew / Tangled up in blue.” Carl was more like a color, an abstraction, a maze to get lost in and to mess up. Once again, she considered she was just chasing her father, but did she even know if he really cheated on her mother? Then Adam found out. There is no album for that. Tonight, Sandra sang to herself her favorite track of the album, crying when she mouthed: “If she’s passin’ back this way, I’m not that hard to find / Tell her she can look me up if she’s got the time.”
The vacation. Grant was pretty sure he did something here, well actually he did something in Paris that was the beginning of the end. C’est Chic: French Girl Singers of the 1960’s was a breezy romp through the catchy pop tunes of the revolutionary times. Sandra was a fan of those bizarre directors who seemed more interested in cutting-up film to make political statements (Godard) or using pulpy crime noir as a means to espouse cafe philosophy (Truffaut, Melville, Malle). She bought this record as a surprise gift to him, explaining he didn’t seem interested in the trip, or in anything, until he understood its music. Sandra went on to say she just found it sexy. Grant remembered them pouring over maps, leafing through museum websites, Google searching landmarks and bookstores, and eating plenty of pastries and drinking more than enough overpriced red blends. For all the bohemian nature of Sandra, Grant never understood why she did not just want to fly over there and explore, discover whatever they happen to stumble upon. But she was insisted that they plan everything, as if in the very process of planning they could visit half the tourist spots and then be able to skip past them when on actual French soil. Grant had to admit, about a week before the trip, he wanted to cancel. A band previously broken up for almost twenty years was reunited. The only chance he had to see them (they were volatile enough to maybe not even make the 12-city tour in its entirety) was smack dab in the middle of the trip. He knew it was a mistake when he brought it up. That night he stayed up until three in the morning while she snored on the couch, looking up the perfect apartment to rent in the Latin Quarter. This surprise had seemed to do wonders. And then they arrived at De Gaulle airport and quickly things began to unravel. They had trouble buying a phone and then the instructions were only in French. They took the wrong train and spend two and a half hours trying to find their way back to the other side of the Seine. Their first night’s dinner was spectacular and has they pressed their longing lips together in the shade of the tree in the Jardin, Grant forgot the troubles of the day for one lingering moment. The next morning, Sandra seemed distant. She kept returning to the Mona Lisa, staring at it from all different angles, pushing people out of the crowd with her elbows, fuming, then setting off for the Egyptian Wing only to turn around and come back. Finally, as they were leaving, he asked her. Her reply: “It seems too small.”
The seventh relationship was foggy but the album was not. Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks always rang as clear as a church bell on a cloudless summer Sunday. Van Morrison’s vocal delivery sent pulses and waves cresting along her ear canals, brain lobes, and spine. From the opening track–a hypnotic drugged feeling–to the sweet release of the closer, Sandra danced in dirty white socks and her pants halfway undone. Because she could not really remember Nicholas–a beanstalk with curly red hair or was he the broad-shouldered beast with the shiny blond hair?–she found herself just enjoying the music with no associations, even starting to formulate ideas that Astral Weeks was created specifically for her by a secret lover, or, now wine drunk, by a young (and more handsome according to her standards) Van Morrison himself. It even dawned on her how much she was tainted her own taste in music by hanging albums up defined by relationships–by boys! What good was that? How would she truly see herself if she limited her perspective through the filters of the men that barely understood her, hurt her, or ignored her? She–like all the other women out there–needed their own song, their own individual power. She held hers now. No wait, she dropped the wine glass, but she would not fall to her knees and sob into the stained carpet even though she wanted to not because she had ruined the beige apartment carpet that felt like small rocks under her bare feet, but because she had wasted a copious amount of good wine, and was she so sure it was her idea to cry over spilled alcohol or did she fear her friends would rib and tease her relentlessly for wasting a good portion of Syrah, but at age twenty-seven, wasn’t this the only time where it was appropriate to cry over lost alcohol? Did Nicholas ever cry? She was nodding her head at herself in the mirror. Her cheeks were rosy she noticed. Yes, Nicholas cried and the sight of his tears had made Sandra feel embarrassed more than anything. She was Nicholas’s first girlfriend and she had to push aside the ugly thought that it was pity more than love that brought them together. Nicholas and his tears and his musical taste in acoustic rocker chicks, ambient snoozedom, and Van Morrison. God, so much Van Morrison. Was this is album or did she buy it after she broke up with him? Why would she do that? But what girl hasn’t done something stupid because of a man? Why did some of them wedge into the very core of your being like a metal splinter and why are some of them so on the peripheral that they may have well been spectacular comets or barren moons? She retreated from the mirror and looked down at the purple bruise on her floor. She almost missed Nicholas now for he didn’t even feel like a ghost–the way thoughts of Brad still made her flinch. Nicholas was free, carried away by invisible winds, roaming in search of love or perhaps settled down and anchored in warmth and companionship. She was too, she realized, yet she still felt a prisoner. Just like wine in a bottle, waiting to be poured forth.
*I’m on a crazy writing schedule this week, trying to do 500 words every day. I will return to this story. Check back soon!