High school again. Maybe just barely post-high-school. Same people. My lifelong friends and advisors. This album ruined me.
I remember my friend Bill W. and I in his hand-me-down Volvo, like some kind of weird European boat, with this tape playing, racing through the midnight back roads of Lake County Florida, barreling along the low hills and jungled curves of Old Highway 50. The moon was a nickel in the sky, shining down through branches black as ink spills.
And I remember when the first song started; “Sky Saw”. I remember a sense of divergence coming over me, a sense that this road we were on would never lead us back to where we’d started. That the emotions and ideas illuminated by the insane beauty of this music would remain a beacon by which I would make my way through the world from that point forward.
We were not in a shitty Volvo screaming through the pensive inky Floridian jungle. We were on the bow of a ship breaking through invisible waves. We were in the middle of a weird ocean flying toward unfamiliar shores with no idea what would happen when we arrived.
When the album came to St. Elmo’s Fire, we crested a curve and the trees broke open and the moon shone its titanium light onto us just as the intro swept into the instrumental refrain and I almost burst into tears. There I was in the presence of wild wisdom, on the argent road across the ocean under a coke bottle moon and this music was informing me in its alien chorus: you are not alone.
In Dark Trees comes on next, a song like a warning sign. You are not alone, but oh kid, yes you are. It’s like this: there is an invisible college and the curriculum, the only course, the degree you receive is nothing more than an understanding of yourself being beautiful and alone in a world of beautiful people who are also alone. The language we use to send memos, to declare edicts, to point the way, to create for each other maps of our discoveries in the idea territories wherein we are lost 19th-century mad botanist romantics, that language is the art we create once we shoot past all known boundaries into the unknown weird. We are threshold addicts.
This album rescued me. This music rescued me. I was aimed down a four-laned top 40 radio highway of mullet cuts and long conversations about football underscored by Molly Hatchet and AC/DC, always keeping my eyes on the yellow line in the middle of the asphalt because out there in the darkened scrub were wild, deadly ideas.
Instead, my friends, these wizards I ran with, shoved me into a decrepit car and drove me directly into those moonlit trees, hands full of a harpoon, hunting those wild ideas.
That weird fearless beacon has never failed to guide me and I have never looked back, not even once.