Between 2010 and 2013, I must have passed by the San Onofre Nuclear Generator at least three dozen times. The shoreline piped with sea foam during the day. Sunglasses reflecting orbs of light. On the floor of my girlfriend’s car, beads of water in an old Dasani bottle rocked back and forth. Chance the Rapper’s name crudely scribbled across a CD-R – she had downloaded the mixtape off of Datpiff, and then quickly burned the MP3s onto a Memorex disc. We listened to 10 Day so many times that it was only eclipsed by Kendrick’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City (she knew every word to “Backseat Freestyle”, and would rap it, rather well, while we were passing Katella Avenue in Anaheim). Our tastes in music had diverged somewhat during this time. I would listen to “I Will Be” by Dum Dum Girls, and she would have no part of the record. The last album I remember listening to with her, in its entirety, was Eleanor Friedberger’s prickly and deliberately scatterbrained “Last Summer”. That said, we still spent our subsequent years together bellowing out the lyrics to My Morning Jacket’s cover of “Tyrone”. When drunk, there was no better choice than “Fader” by Temper Trap. We still shared songs in a relationship that was built on music, even if static was slowly leaking into the station.
Years earlier, when I first met her, she was a DJ at WTBU, “The Beat of Boston University”. During this time, she introduced me to Animal Collective, Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Great Lake Swimmers, Arcade Fire, and Neutral Milk Hotel. For a kid that had listened, almost exclusively, to hip-hop growing up, my mind turned into pulp when I first heard “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts” by Wolf Parade and “Over and Over Again (Lost and Found)” by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. This was a color wheel I never knew existed. The happy discord of wailing voices. The distorted dissonance of exploration. Spencer Krug was imperfect: his unorthodox style was like listening to someone push their palms through unmined dreams. Dan Boeckner’s voice cracked and bayed with immediacy. Meanwhile, Jeff Mangum’s aching jubilation and earnest defeat rang out with urgency. Jesus Christ.
She made me mix CDs of these strange bands. Made me divining rods to navigate this esoteric topography. She steered me from Of Montreal, cared little for Belle and Sebastian, and absolutely loved Band of Horses’ “Everything All the Time”. We grew older, loved strongly, and sometimes battled each other with acidic might. Eventually she stopped searching for music. “I gave up looking,” she told me one night, years later. I began, frantically, searching for new songs to share with her – this only worked to abbreviated success. The lights dimmed. Our relationship gave in. The static rose. Now, when I interview bands, attend live shows, and write about new music, her impact runs through me. Propels me. I close my eyes and hear the soft and erratic brushstrokes of “Grass”. A song so beautiful, so odd, and so perfect that it only reminds me of everything I am thankful for.