“this must be the place (naive melody)” – talking heads (1983)

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I turn 30 next week and I’m flying to New York City on my birthday to spend a few days in the Big Apple.  I booked this trip randomly as a spur of the moment type of thing.  A friend had posted that flights to NYC were only $80 on United and the timing felt right.

Making a random purchase like that is big for me.  I don’t usually spend money on things like flights without putting a ton of thought into it.  Really thinking about it for weeks or even months.  The reason is that money really stresses me out.  I don’t like spending it.  I make enough at my job to enjoy myself and I’m really good at saving money, so I’m not hurting financially.  However, I still hate spending money.

A few years ago, after a nasty break-up, I was flat broke.  I lost my job the same week as that break-up and worked low-paying temp jobs for the last half of the year.  I was scared.  I didn’t know what my future looked like.  I craved stability.

I got the idea in my head that the military was the answer (it was my dad who made one off-handed comment as something to consider).  I spent late summer of 2014 through late winter of 2015 preparing to become an officer in the Air Force.  The only thing driving me was that I wanted financial security and not have a job that I could just lose again.  I was also nursing a broke heart, so I wasn’t feeling great or thinking straight at all.  It was pure survival mode.

I spent my free time reading and studying the AFOQT (Air Force Officer Qualifying Test).  The Chicago Public Library had one copy of a testing guide for the AFOQT and I spent every night with it.  I would read through the concepts, test expectations, and run through practice tests.  Imagine it like studying for the SATs or ACTs, but you have additional sections that test navigation and other skills important to the United States Air Force.

I took the test January 2015 at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Rosemont sitting with 18 and 19-year-old kids.  I got the results a few weeks later and I did fairly well.  The next step, while working through my recruiter, involved getting physicals and working on job placement.  This is where things fell apart.

My career background is in media production and development.  So, upon reviewing all the potential career options in the Air Force, I decided the only thing I wanted to do was work as a Public Affairs officer.  Public Affairs deal with the media and broadcasting arm of the military.  They produce programs for the armed forces radio and television networks as well as work on public relations.

The one issue with this role is that there isn’t a lot of demand for it.  Openings are rare.  So, recruiters don’t usually like working with candidates with such a limited scope.  They have information on quotas and what is needed immediately.  So, they will do what they can to fill those quotas.  My recruiter wanted me to become a radar technician.  I fought that and said I wasn’t going to do anything other than Public Affairs.  Our relationship fizzled soon after.

That outcome was for the best.  By the time that happened, I was permanently hired at the company I am currently employed at. I have the freedom to pursue hobbies, volunteer opportunities, and social engagements with friends.  I also have the freedom to do what I want when I want.  Last year, I went to Europe on a two-week vacation.  I don’t think that could have been done that easily if I was in the military.

That whole Air Force pursuit was an odd experience that came out of fear.  Fear of being alone and destitute.  I’m in a much different place now.

A lot of people do big extravagant things for their milestone birthdays.  I always thought that was a silly thing to do.  My thinking was why wait for a milestone to do something big?  Why not do it whenever?  Before booking the flight, I used vacation time for my birthday and the day after.  So, I was already free.  And then, I saw that Facebook post about flights to NYC.  A good friend of mine named Jean always tells me to live in the moment and listen to the signs the universe is giving you.  I took her advice.

I don’t know exactly what I’m doing and the trip is next week.  And I’m doing my best to not worry about money.  I know I can afford this trip and I tell myself that.  I’ve gotten better at this.  I work very hard at trying not to let the past dictate my future.  I was broke a few years ago.  I’m not anymore.  I could be broke again someday.  Who knows?  But, I can’t let myself be afraid of hypothetical scenarios and my good friend Carolyn says I can’t live my life as a miser.  So, I’m doing this and it will be fun.

While I figure out what I’ll be doing, I’ve been in a New York mood regarding my reading material.  I have already decided that I’m taking Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids with me.  In the meantime, I’ve been reading Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever by Will Hermes.  Hermes was a teenager in New York during the 70s.  In the book, he chronicles all the major players and musical movements that originated or occurred from 1973 through 1977 including the rise of punk, the formation of disco, the salsa explosion, and heady origins of minimalist music.

Reading through this book, you get a strong feeling like you missed out on something.  These legendary artists like Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Grandmaster Flash, Willie Colon, and Steve Reich were doing big things and often with each other.  The book makes it seem like you couldn’t walk down the street without seeing a rising star.  New York City, despite the crippling economy and rising crime, was the hip place to be if you were young and loved music.  Sigh.

This book has really put me in the mood to explore the city as much as I can over the five days that I’m there.  I am someone who gets out there and walks all over the place seeing and doing and living as much as I can.  Reading this book prior to my trip has really taken my mind off the things the typically stress me out.  This book puts me in the mindset that I will go and have a great time.  And, you know what?  I know deep down that is true.  Sometimes I just need some help remembering that.

I love and adore many of the artists profiled in the book.  I own a few dozen Dylan album and almost all of Patti Smith’s studio releases.  Bruce Springsteen is someone I really appreciate having read his memoir.  I spent my high school days wearing Clash shirts declaring them “The Only Band That Matters.”  Television and the Stooges furthered my musical exploration during my college years.  And Grace Jones and Steve Reich have entered my life fairly recently, but have made significant impacts.

However, it is Talking Heads that stand out to me in this book.  I own one record of theirs (Fear of Music) and I don’t listen to them as much as the other artists I previously mentioned.  However, I feel a connection with them that I don’t quite understand.  They affect me on a different level that is primal and emotional.

When I listen to Fear of Music or Remain in Light, I’m enamored by their rhythms and New Wave world beat styles.  I want to dance.  I want to shed all the technological shackles of modern man and regress to being driven by a primitive musical desire.  When I listen to Talking Heads, I don’t think a lot.  I just feel.

There’s one song in their catalogue that just absolutely wrecks me.  “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” was released as a single for their 1983 studio album Speaking in Tongues.  According to David Byrne, the lyrics contain non-sequiturs that “may have a strong emotional resonance but don’t have any narrative qualities.”  Listening to these lyrics, I certainly experience that strong emotional resonance.  The lines are simple to understand and very relatable.  It evokes in me strong feelings of need, fear, lust, and confusion.  The song sounds both hopeful and devastating.  It represents a past self and future desire.  It appeals to a human side of me that has existed for thousands of years and free of our modern burdens.

When I listen to this song, a lot of images come to mind. I see my past and future selves.  I see moments that I lived, experience I could have had, imaginary settings with me in another time and another place, where I see my current self going, where I realistically expect my future self to be, and what my future self could have experienced if variations of my past self if they were allowed to blossom and continue.  Basically, a lot of what ifs that I shouldn’t be concerned with that come out when this song plays.  This song is very bad for someone who actively works to live more in the moment.

A few months ago, a friend and colleague at the community radio station I volunteer with, published his own account of this song.  His name is Tony Breed and he’s a well-known local comics illustrator who lost his partner Eric a few years ago after being together for 20 years.  He has published a few different web comics described as a “queer slice of life.”  However, this recently published work is his first autobiographical comic.

The comic, titled That Night: This Must Be the Place (Link), is a work that serves as an important part of his healing process.  In the comic, Breed goes out to a bar to have a few drinks and then quietly walks home. On his way home, he is listening to a cover of “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” by Kishi Bashi.  While listening to the song, Breed remembers the time they attended a wedding together and, a decade later, when he lost Eric.  Breed walks down the streets with the song’s lyrics appearing in the panel and Breed shedding a silent tear.  I haven’t experienced that particular pain Breed has gone through, but I have expressed my listening the same way.

I’m going on this trip next week.  I’m going to have a great time.  I will spend my time walking all over the place and seeing interesting things.  I will do so while living in the moment.  I will plan an itinerary, but allow myself some freedom to allow at least a little spontaneity.  I will think about my life and the good things that have happened along the way.  I will feel grateful to be alive.  I will appreciate this.  I will live in the moment the best way that I can.  I deserve this.  I deserve love and happiness.