So do you ever wake up and find yourself thinking fondly about someone from the past? And then trying to remember why you broke up, the reasons seem so flimsy, there must have been more to it, or maybe there wasn’t…and then speculating, what happened to them, where are they now? You know what would be a kick, to give them a call, out of the blue, catch up, just hear their voice again…

That never happens to me. I’m not someone who feels like they’ve left a lot on the table when it comes to past relationships. Syd Straw is, and this is a sweet, rocking song about just such a phone call. “Do you remember me?” she begins, “We met ten years ago, at CBGB’s, on New Year’s Eve.” The accumulation of specific details betrays her fear and awkwardness: she’ll be devastated if he doesn’t remember, she wants to make it as easy for him as possible. She reminds him of taking her to see “Soylent Green” (a personal guilty favorite–“It’s people. Soylent Green is made out of people!”), wonders why they’ve never crossed paths in the time since. She admits she’s heard some details about him through the grapevine. Is it true he has twins now?

So far, so polite. But then the tone of the call changes, becomes more confrontational, even resentful. “Are you doing what you wanna do, did you follow your intentions?” she asks. All the dreams for his future she shared with him, “did even a single one of them come true?”

She seems to realize how aggressive these questions must sound, coming in this phone call from out of nowhere. “I ask myself as I’m asking you,” she says, backtracking, and then, defensively, “I’m just asking.” A guitar solo gives them both a few moments to cool off.

Then comes my favorite part of the song, her own confession, her own compressed version of the last ten years:

    I was married for a while
    It ended in tragedy
    Oh well, enough about me

That’s so perfect for the moment, so offhandedly sad…but she’s true to her word. It is enough about her. She asks him again whether his life followed the direction he’d hoped, if what he’s achieved matches up with his early ambitions, but in a softer tone, drained of resentment. She’d have heard if they had. She realizes he has his own history of disappointment and accommodation, as we all do. She closes the phone call with a benediction: hey, if your dreams haven’t come true yet, hang in there, there’s still time. There’s still time for both of us.

(A friend of mine told me a story about getting just such a phone call, from an old girlfriend he hadn’t spoke with in twenty years. The call was pleasant; they caught up on current events–he was in a relationship, she wasn’t–reminisced about hanging out together, the trip they took down to Florida, how he’d repaired the clutch on his car with a paper clip. After the call he had such a warm feeling, and he thought about how sad it was that when you separate with someone you in a sense lose the memories too. Without someone to share them with, they’re diminished, they seem less real. Three weeks later she called again, later at night, and haranged him for a half hour about how George Bush was getting a bad rap. He probably hated George Bush, she accused, and this girlfriend of his, she probably hated Bush, too, but they didn’t understand. He couldn’t get off the phone fast enough, and every time it rang for the next month he was afraid it would be her again. He was still checking caller ID in the evening. And now he was thinking: you know what? Twenty years without those memories we shared, it’s okay. I’ve done fine.)

soylentgreen

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