One of the most incredible aspects of listening to music is that, at the same time, it is deeply personal yet still everybody can find something to relate to it. There are always songs/albums/bands that tend to have general appeal because they speak to some sort of personal experience that we have had. At certain times a song, which has never meant much to me, suddenly carries my emotions because of a particular set of events at that point in my life. Sometimes songs and the moments in our lives can come together so powerfully that specific songs still make us feel the way we did when we first had that emotion days/weeks/months/years ago. I’d like to share with you one of those moments in my life.
In October 2007 I was driving with my then partner, Stacey, down route 11 at 2 in the morning in the north country of New York. We were in hour 3 of a 5-hour drive from Buffalo back to Canton, NY. A few months earlier I had purchased tickets to see Ani Difranco in her hometown because, let’s face it, I like a little lady rage about equality. The day of the show, we left at 3 in the afternoon when our class let out, booking our way to Buffalo to try to catch the beginning of the show. The concert itself was wonderful, set in a repurposed church. Now, usually I don’t set foot in churches for fear of burning up as those who are viewed as evil incarnate tend to do. After crossing the threshold and only feeling a slight burning sensation (from what was, as it turns out, a completely unrelated set of events, but that is a story for another music review), we heard the interesting performance stylings of Hamell on Trial. He regaled the audience with songs of his son and of eating some pussy. Although, unfortunately, not in the same song as that would truly be a lyrical feat. Then, Ani walks on stage and plays all the big songs with her usual incredible energy. She is such a dynamic performer who is able to lure in everybody in the audience with a mixture of poetry, power, and raw energy. This concert had Stacey and me feeling incredible, ready to face the 5-hour drive back to Canton.
Stacey and I had been together for the better part of 3 years at college. It was the beginning of our senior year and we had our whole lives ahead of us. She was bound for amazing things as I puttered along trying to figure things out. As we cruise down the highway without another car in sight for the past hour or so, Stacey pops in one of our favorite CDs: Nickel Creek by Nickel Creek, newgrass at its finest. The haunting vocals of Sara Watkins blend perfectly well with the high harmony of Chris Thile as they sing a mixture of old traditional songs like “The Fox” and “Cuckoo’s Nest.” Chris Thile, a virtuoso on mandolin, is able to effortlessly whisk his fingers up and down the fret board as he performs “Ode to A Butterfly,” an original composition. Nickel Creek already had a special place in mine and Stacey’s relationship, as it was the first concert that we went to together and realized just how strong our feelings were for each other. Two years before the night of the October concert, we had spoken for hours about the tragic love story in “The Lighthouse’s Tale” having, ourselves, previously never experienced a connection with another person as strong as the people in the song. Listening to that song moved us, despite its tragic story of love lost, to explore our feelings for one another. From that point on we built a beautiful relationship together, often times with Nickel Creek in the background.
As we cruise along that night in October, the song “When You Come Back Down” comes on. It’s a beautiful song that starts off softly with a combination of a long solemn note on the violin; the pluck of the mandolin unusually somber; and the guitar picked to back-up the mood. My hand is holding tightly on to Stacey’s as was customary for our long drives together. The lyrics pick up:
Her fingers are tapping in rhythm against my hand as we pass by the old playground of some random elementary school. Stacey squeezes my hand as Chris Thile sings “You got to leave me now.” We are about an hour away from our university, exhausted from 10 hours of driving. The lyrics continue:
We’re passing through a typical north-country town. Houses set back from the road; colonial revival and Victorian architecture dominates our view. Some houses have freshly laid siding that shine exceptionally brightly while most other houses struggle to keep their wood façade. As these lyrics seep through the speakers they pass through me and Stacey. Tears start rolling down my face. Stacey squeezes my hand again and I look at her—eyes red from crying. Without discussing it both of us were coming to the same realization. We were coming to a point in our lives where we were about to head off in different directions no longer able to be the person of comfort and support that we had been for each other for the past 3 years. The song had captured a tension in our relationship and marked the genesis of an extremely painful transition from best friends and lovers to mere acquaintances that are no longer close enough to feel any fire.
The album in itself is musically very strong and a joy to listen to. Lyrically they border on neo-gospel religious malarkey. However, there is still “When You Come Back Down.” Five years later when that song comes through my speakers, I still get a chill as it always brings me back to that night.
Now, this works a bit differently than other ranking systems. A low score (1 Couric) is a positive review because it is the smallest pile of shit possible. A maximum score of 5 is reserved for the biggest piece of shit you have ever heard.
For this particular Nickel Creek album, I would give it a score of 2 Couric’s. It is, overall, an extremely solid album. However, the religious lyrics make it a bigger pile of shit than it would have been had those songs been left off of the album.