I worked at a large medical insurance company in Quincy, MA for a couple years of my 20’s. I did several stints at this company for different reasons and under different circumstances. (They made me interview every single time to make sure I could act like I cared.) Mostly around school breaks. After I decided to stop going to school, I took a job at this company full time. I moved to Boston to go to Berklee College of Music. Four years pass and a lot of school and I find myself working at this meaningless job doing something I hate. This is like a rite of passage in the United States. There is nothing that will break a young person’s spirit more than the meaningless existence of going to an inconsequential job.
I was trying to put together a band at the same time and I was also doing this community theater music in Brookline. There wasn’t a minute of my day that wasn’t scheduled. And I did get a lot done. But there is only so long that you can keep up that kind of pace. To maintain the idealism that keeps a person creative requires a lot of energy. Energy that is sapped by going to a job that you can’t care about.
Every day I would get up and I’d be late. So there would be a ton of stress from opening my eyes. And I would hurry on to the subway and make my way through my day. And yes, this is one of my clinically depressed periods. But the T, the MBTA train system, was the bright part of my morning. The bright part of my day. I loved riding the T to and from work. I loved looking at all the people and seeing the expressions that were probably on my face. I loved the dirty, grimy, cold wetness of winter in the tunnels. The sounds of metal wheels grinding on the track. The moldy smell of a cave. Looking into a dark tunnel and wondering what it would be like just to take off down the track and explore the tunnel. The flash of the third rail.
“Sometimes I see a flash from the third rail and I wonder where it’s from.”
There is all this grey and darkness and then there is this flash of light. And looking around, I always wondered whether anyone else was seeing the contrasts. The purple and white colors flashing on the walls in the darkness. On people’s faces. Lighting up the shadows of those already on the train.
“It’s like a pinhole shot from a 38 that broke the aching sun.”
I’m always amazed at the personal space that people take on public transportation. There is so much privacy there even when it’s packed. Sometimes people don’t follow the etiquette and it’s taken as a grave offense.
I took a short fiction writing class in school once to satisfy an English requirement. It was a strange class because it was at a music school. We had to write a short story a week. One of my stories was about a man that lost his job and became homeless. This story was based on a guy I saw at that time on a corner by one of the T stations I used to get to work. The first time I saw the guy he was wearing a suit and begging for change. My first thought was about how the guy was better dressed than me and he was begging me for change. And he was definitely mentally ill, but it was obvious that he had lost his job in one of the bouts of layoffs that accompanied the recession of the early 90’s. But over the period of a month, I saw the suit disappear, and then he slowly deteriorated. He ended up looking like that’s all he had ever been doing. A homeless guy begging for change on a street corner.
“and every evening someone lingers in a broken doorway shallow
and he knows he’ll have to sleep tonight on concrete wet with breath”
And I think of that guy a lot. Because it’s so easy to see how close we all are to giving up. It’s so easy to see that most of this doesn’t make any sense. There are better ways to think through this life and utilize all of the energy and hope that is born into us and trained out of us.
“We call him crazy but he’s just a prayer sent all the way from somewhere else.”
We are all walking prayers sent from somewhere else and trying to find our way back. Trying to maintain the hope that was sent with us in a world that is trying to destroy hope. And from time to time, we are given fleeting glimpses of the place we came from. In the light of the third rail. In a magical connection with ourselves or another human being. In the sun. In the recognition of our similarities when everything around us celebrates the exploitation of our differences.
“I can’t believe the things we leave, I can’t believe the things we take.”
We have to somehow make this recognition of hope happen over and over again. And it’s damn near impossible with all of the material maintenance that comes with being human. And life can get away from you and the years pass. And you find yourself further and further away from what you thought you were trying to accomplish. And then it’s a whole other effort to find the same beauty in the place you find yourself. Because this darkness is inevitable. It’s a death and rebirth in the light of the third rail.
I love the darkness of the arrangement. The plaintive piano. The attempts of the arrangement and the movement to free itself. And it never quite makes it. I love Aaron Trumm’s phrasing. There ends up being a lot of oddly timed couplets with triplets and quarter note triplets that move the rhythm more than the drums or bass. It’s like the bass and drums are fixtures for the vocal line to play with. And while this really is supposed to be true in general, this is almost never the case. Usually songwriters find a melodic fixture and leave the melodies as fixed as the rhythm. By unhinging the vocal melodies, the door opens for every part of the arrangement to be heard from different perspectives. This gives the ordinary elements of the arrangement an other-worldly feel. Just like the light from the third rail.