The music detective
Do you have a brother who makes you mixtapes? I have a brother who makes me mixtapes. They used to be actual cassette tapes, with the unrecordable tab thing taped over and everything. Then they were CDs. There is one song from a particular cassette tape and one song from a CD that I have wanted to look up again but couldn’t remember enough information about them to do so. And thus my career as a music detective began. I solved both mysteries this week.
The Case of the All of the Feelings Song
The target: a song from a cassette tape, white with duct tape on it. Played near-continuously in my old Honda Accord ca. 1997-1999.
Known associates: Papermoon, The Lemonheads, Fiddler’s Green.
Background: This song meant EVERYTHING to me as an angsty (but also legit depressed) teenager. I would listen to it on repeat in the car while driving by myself. (Note: please know that in those days, “repeat” meant rewinding it after every play, so you’d have to, like, PAUSE your feelings every once in a while in order to listen to a song endlessly. It was an imperfect system but it’s all we had.) I am sure that I packed this casette tape with me when I left for college, but listening opportunities were few and far between since I had neither a car nor a tape player. Gradually the memory of the exact song faded away, though never the feelings associated with it.
The evidence: Literally all I could remember about the song, despite having played it on repeat for long stretches of time, was that it was gutiar-y and lyrical and maaaaayyyyybe by Pearl Jam. MAYBE.
The investigation: Over the years, I have looked for the actual, physical tape. I found boxes with other mixtapes in there, but never this one. Eventually it became clear that even if I did find the tape, I would be hard-pressed to track down a tape player to put it in, but still I tried.
As the digital age dawned, I turned my investigative attentions toward iTunes, namely typing in “Pearl Jam” and previewing all of their songs to try to find one that matched. But, you guys, Pearl Jam has made a TON of songs. I can’t say for sure that I went through every single one of their songs but I never did come across my mystery song. (I chose to focus on Pearl Jam because it was the only solid piece of maybe-evidence I had.)
I of course also asked my brother, but he couldn’t remember and even said that sometimes he would put things on those mixtapes that were bootleg recordings of a bootleg performance and therefore wouldn’t even exist on iTunes. A major setback!
The resolution: Turns out that jetlag is a music detective’s friend! During one slow stretch of extreme sleepiness this week I got down to business. I googled “Pearl Jam slow songs” and found a Spotify playlist. I eliminated any song that had been released after 2000 (just in case the version I heard was some kind of early release of a later studio song) and got to work. As I did so, I skipped the songs tagged “explicit,” figuring Blair wouldn’t put something like that on a mixtape for his little sister. But that jogged a memory that somewhere in this mystery song was a swear word!!!! It was the breakthrough I’d been waiting for. I couldn’t remember which swear word or the line of lyrics it was in but I knew it was there. Once I had Pearl Jam + slow song + pre-2000 + explicit it was only a matter of time before I found, ladies and gentlemen, Off He Goes (1996). I sang “garbage” in place of the s-bomb.
The Case of the Honeymoon/Early Marriage Years Song
The target: a song from a mix CD that Blair made for us when we got married in 2001. I don’t necessarily LOVE this song but it would bring back a lot of memories from when Jeremy and I first got married. The original mix CD spent one summer in a CD wallet in the car in Arizona and died.
Known associates: Belle & Sebastian, Smashing Pumpkins.
The evidence: with this song, I could remember a scratchy voice and a partial first line: “Time ——— away, and —————- enough” and that was it.
The investigation: Blair and I have gone back and forth about this song for literally years. In 2017 I had the breakthrough that it might have been Chris Cornell singing it, though Blair said Eddie Vedder (ha) was more likely. I went through both bands’ songs but never found it. I even sang the first line for Blair the best I could a few times over the last several years with no result until this summer, when on the drive up to Mt. Hood for a trail race something clicked and he said “I think that might be Pete Yorn!”
Pete Yorn, I am so, so sorry that anyone could mistake my horrible rendition of a half-recollected first line for ANY of your work, but we needed something to go on and this was it. I started going through Pete Yorn’s stuff on YouTube Music but we ran out of reception before I could get very far.
The resolution: this week, during the aforementioned jet lag session, I kept looking through Pete Yorn’s repertoire and found Sense:
And now I can spend the last days of my jet lag happily awash in nostalgic songs that have eluded me for years!