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Dr. Strange Desire or: How I Learned to Stop Tarrying and Love the Song

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How I found my favorite album is quite similar to how I found my favorite game and movie. I was interested in Fallout: New Vegas as soon as I saw the ad in Game Informer in 2010, before its release. I watched a short bit of The Shawshank Redemption the night I finally calmed down from a weird mental state. Both of those experiences have one thing in common. I had a small taste of them and then later, when I had full access to them, I fell in love. But something a little different happened with Strange Desire. The gaps for the movie and game occurred without my control. The album, not so much. It is near never that I pour my heart into something. And so, it is very fitting that my favorite album, LP, whatever you wish to call it, came into my life unenthusiastically.

The day is about June 19, 2015.  That was a Friday. School had just ended for my sophomore year. And, much like many of those summer days, I was killing time on Reddit, as it is best used for. At the time,  Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” was nearing the top of the pop charts. It’s a peppy song, with heavy 80s influences. As a person whose entire musical preferences were based on that decade and the one prior, this made me very excited. And so, near that Friday, on Reddit, someone who had no idea that they were going to change my outlook on life and the very direction I was heading in the world, asked if there were other modern songs that had a similar style. That were inspired by the era of Toto, Hall and Oates, and Huey Lewis and the News. Apparently there were. And somewhere in the world, someone described some song as follows.

As someone who heartily enjoys each of those little diddies, I gave this newfangled track a listen. And if this were the Fallout: New Vegas of albums, I would say that something about it caught me, but I couldn’t listen to it because it hadn’t come out yet and even then I didn’t have anything to play it on. But instead, in this era of YouTube and Spotify and full access to any music you like, after about a minute and a half (it’s been over a year, gimme a break on the accuracy and precision of timestamps), I paused the video and said, maybe aloud or maybe just to myself in my head, “I kinda like this. I’ll listen to the rest of it later.” I don’t really know why I stopped. I made a conscious decision to not hear the rest of the song. But what I was conscious of, I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. It was deliberate, but without a clear reason.

So in the seemingly endless summer cycle of staying up too late and sleeping in the same, “Rollercoaster” was promptly forgotten. And so my life continued as it did for many months. Then, as I entered my junior year, Mr. McGregor introduced me to his ginormous compilation of all of the music he liked, entitled “The Platters that Matter”. In the following weeks, I compiled a similar set, called “The Platters that Matter, to Me at least.” I make no claim to have good taste in music, this was just what I liked. Over the course of many months, I added music from the artists that I enjoy. There was a definite trend toward the retro in my preferences. It languished as a labor of love to days gone by, ones I certainly did not live myself, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

And so, this bloated greatest hits album for the entire music industry circa 1955-1992, sat at 406 songs on February 7, 2016. That day was a Sunday. I don’t know what I came home from, or if I did at all. However, I clearly remember setting a bag down in my family’s game room and sitting down in my computer chair. I went to play some tunage, as I usually do when using my PC. I browsed the Platters in an attempt to find a jumping off point for that evening’s musical stylings. Nothing seemed to be just right. At that moment, something immeasurably small changed literally everything. Whether the voice was my own, or from God on high, or from somewhere in between, I won’t know on this side of eternity.

I got the message, in not as many words, to maybe listen to that song from that one Reddit thread about the 80s-ish music where you paused the video for some reason. After scrambling for the name of song or artist for a moment, I quickly found the tune, “Rollercoaster” by Bleachers, that I had paused. And some speculation is required, because I, nor anyone who cares to speak up at the moment, did not journal that experience. Somehow, the song that I kinda liked eight months earlier hibernated in the back of my mind, and when it awoke from a long summer’s and fall’s and half of winter’s nap, it floored me. It was exactly what I wanted out of music. It satisfied everything I thought that such a song should be. And so, with that new understanding of audio, I promised myself to listen to the rest of the album the next day when I got home from school.

And so I did. And what followed somehow fundamentally changed me. I at the time, was heavily pessimistic about what the future held. I am by no means a positive person, but my thoughts are presently much brighter. That people could make music like that, now, made me want to see what else was in store. That someone could capture the experience of being me, wanting so much for music that sounded like a combo of both past and present, without even meaning to, spoke to me on such a level that now, I can’t understand the nostalgia I once had without remembering that I didn’t have this newfound vision.

So it quickly became my favorite album, and the first one I ever purchased, short of The Very Best of Daryl Hall and John Oates, which I don’t count because it’s a compilation. But now, half a year later, what keeps it my favorite album?

Strange Desire, at its core, is a series of songs about love and loss, and the progression that someone goes through from falling in love, to mourning the relationship and what could have been, culminating in stage five of the Kübler-Ross model of grief, acceptance and moving on. Track 10 is literally titled “I’m Ready to Move On”.  

Without giving a biography of their author, Jack Antonoff, as reviewers are wont to do, the songs are, on the whole, simultaneously sad and sweet. They are peppy when they need to be, with some doldrums in the middle, and an overall sense of endearment and heart-opening that I haven’t encountered before. Even though I’ve never lost someone that I was in love with, whether through death or worse, a break-up, I understand how it feels to lose people you love, both from death and just time’s gradual march forward. And what this album is, partially, is a retrospective. Looking from the present full of heartbreak and sadness on a past filled with fun and love. What’s more curious is the point of view is both from said present as well as said past. It is as much a diary as a eulogy.

Odder still about the album is that it changed as I did. Every time I listened to it, I felt like some parts, be they verses or instrumentals, were more prominent. For a while, the songs about excitement when you’re young hit me hard. And then, as many of my friends who were seniors graduated, it spoke to me on a different level, about how some things are temporary, but that’s what makes them all the more important. And then, after that, the closing tracks were more alluring than ever. How to truly know someone is to be with them when you can, but acting like they were even when they aren’t. To act like they’re watching how you treat others. To let them always guide you, and enjoy what you shared even when you can’t share it any longer. I’m tearing up as I write this, because it makes me realize what I’ve done in my life, and how I would have done it differently if some people who I would call influences were looking over my shoulder.

And so, the album is in a strange way a memoir, an older man singing about what he was, and what he realizes he should and could have been. But that’s what being young is about. It’s about doing dumb things that should have gone differently. It’s about connecting with people even though you know you might drift apart. Because if you don’t, you’ll never grow as a person to be someone who can look back and see how stupid you were. And that’s what this album gave me. It helped me to loosen up. To be young. To think a little differently. To maybe wanna get a little better. To open my mind to new influences. And yes, listen to some new gol-durned music.

It somehow draws so much from a decade gone by while feeling timeless. It has strange turns of phrase, both lyrically and musically, that I can’t help but quote without knowing it.  And it was the gateway that allowed me to finally listen to music released this decade. It helped make me some friends, and it, somehow, despite being 39 minutes long, provided months of entertainment and education.

And so if I could describe what Strange Desire means to me, comparing it to one object, in one sentence, it would be this: It is my family’s car. Instantly familiar, yet I still don’t understand it fully. It brought me to new places and showed me new ways to get there. Each time I rode along, it was a little different. It made me appreciate where I was and who I was there with. It was a way to get somewhere I didn’t know I needed to go. And, surprisingly enough,  I enjoyed the journey almost as much as the destination.

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Flushing's High School's Independent Voice
Dr. Strange Desire or: How I Learned to Stop Tarrying and Love the Song