I'm trying to remember what job I was doing when I heard the above song. Probably between job #25 and job #40 or so.. Maybe I was working at Rainbow Records. Maybe I read an album review somewhere. It really doesn't matter. What matters is what it happened.
I was at the bottom. Broken car. Let my insurance lapse. Got in an accident. CHP at the door a week later.. you get the idea.
Did I mention the door was at my mom's house?
But that song.
You can listen to it now I'll wait.
It's a cover, and yeah it's a little bright and fluffy and what-have-you but for me at that time, living at home, trying to imagine a different life... it was exactly what I needed. It was so.. open, so wide, so like "the Missouri sky" - although I didn't yet know what that sky looked like. I'd been across the country, but it was in a crammed Jeep in August with no air conditioning. I don't really remember the skies.
I was at a very low point in life, maybe the lowest, and I needed a life preserver. I needed a light to shine through the darkness. I've written about this time, age 25-27, before so I won't belabor the point, but with many of my friends moved away and/or on to normal things like marriage and full time jobs, I was hanging on by a very thin thread.
I'm trying now to think of just what got me to think a big convertible would save me. Maybe a movie, My Cousin Vinny? No, that was more of a mid-size. Maybe it was Love Shack.. "I got a Chrysler, it seats about twenty..."
Actually the Chrysler in the video is clearly a '65, not a 66' , but maybe.
I don't know exactly what did it but whatever it was thanks be to God. When I was taking the bus to work - remember I was living at my mom's house - taking the BUS to work from Sonoma to SANTA ROSA - a loooong bus ride for eight hours of $9/ hr work. When I was taking that bus, trying to think of a better future for myself, that song, The Precious Jewel by the great guitarist Pat Metheny and bass legend Charlie Haden, is what I pictured I'd be listening to as I drove across the country, top down, wind in my hair, free as a bird. Free from that bus, free from that lousy job, free...
But it didn't happen right away. It was a lot of saving and penny pinching and I even bought a different car and sold it for a profit during the saving up, anything to get my dream.
And what was my dream? My dream was to get a huge boat of a convertible and re-learn just being happy. Being happy in EACH moment.
I know the obvious question so I'll answer. Yes, I'd forgotten how to be happy.
That song was the first opening in a dark sky. The crack.
And then the heavens opened.
Talk about worth it.
The car and the trip turned out different than I thought but that's because they really happened. I flew to Chicago and then hopped an 18-seat puddle jumper to Indy, showed up with a cashiers check and paid for a 40 year old car I'd never driven and drove it through Montana in the snow and over 2,400 miles to get home.
That's what that song made me do.
Yes a song.
That girl could have been my wife
I know, I know. Do I really want to blame my all time favorite artist, well, tied for first place favorite artist at least (Paul Simon vs Tom Petty is a debate I can't bear to finish) for causing me to break up with a potential Mrs. Olmsted?
Well I guess that's what I'm saying so maybe I should own it.
Yes I do.
Look there's more to the story of course, the cracks existed in the relationship before the song but follow me here.
I get the new car. Well it was old but new to me. I'm on a high, I've got confidence, I've got a skip in my step. I'm done taking crap from life, from anyone. I wash my new car, get my California plates and it sinks in that it's really mine. All that hard work. All those hours on that freaking bus. I earned it, I really did.
I head out to the blue Pacific of Bodega Bay to just enjoy the fruits of my labor, and I put on the new album by my mentor-in-chief, Tom Petty.
Maybe I shouldn't have listened to track 12.
"No more, no more
I ain't gonna do it,
It used to be,
a big deal
but I ain't gonna do it,
if it ain't real."
What ain't I gonna do anymore Tom?
I had a girlfriend at the time, my first serious, but we had some rocky parts. I was on the fence on certain aspects.. like putting up with her family and their general disdain for me. But when I was driving my boat, with the stars out and the heat toasting my toes, all I kept hearing was.. "no more.."
I don't want to do it.
Years later I would learn that was Tom's "divorce" album. Great.
Hold on Tom this girl is cute!
And in love with me!
There's always a but.
But after three years of trying to please her family, to convince them I was worthy, that I wasn't here to whisk away their sister/ daughter off on some crazy adventure only to return with a couple of kids and tall tales, I'd had enough. If they didn't want me as is then I was done.
And I wanted no more.
Did I make a mistake? Maybe.
But hey she's happy now, has four kids - maybe five, and who am I kidding - I probably WOULD have whisked her off on some crazy adventure, in fact that probably was my EXACT m.o. - maybe it was just that her family saw it clearer than I did.
They wouldn't be the last.
Buying old convertibles out of state, breaking up with tall girlfriends, sheesh what would the next song possibly make me do - quit a stable job and life and move to Hollywood to make movies??
I'm actually glad there's a video - I'll let the 'making of' do the talking.
It's true "Learning to Fly" by TP alone did not make me quit my job. But - yes here's another but..
But - I was in Fresno at a business training, I did arrive a day early through no fault of my own, and yes the day had already felt strange and pivotal so yes I did go to the local theater to watch the new Cameron Crowe movie by myself (which I never do), 2005's Elizabethtown.
It's like I knew it was coming. Elizabethtown is oft-debated for its quality, esp in relation to his past home runs like Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, and Say Anything but I liked it. It was a small story but the characters were memorable as was the depiction of the south, and of course it had great music. And it ended with an epic road trip and musical journey. It was like he thought, "how can I really mess with that Alden guy?"
And mess with me he sure did.
There's a scene in the movie - looking back now it's not as bad as I first thought, it's just that when I heard one of my all-time favorite songs, playing over a montage of images like Susan Sarandon getting eaten by a Volvo, the lead guy and girl going their separate ways, etc.. that I thought I would have saved that song for a different part of the movie.
I felt like Orlando looks.
It pissed me off so much that I realized I was the only one to blame. If I wanted to do better than Cameron well then I should go and do it. What was I doing selling advertising anyway, even if it was stable and financially rewarding. After all it was the driest dating period despite all that "stability" and decent paychecks.
I got home from that training and promptly bought screenwriting software before the day was done.
Regrets? No way.
Recognizing when to jump off the cliff and when to hang on to save a little more $ for a better parachute?
But still - it was a song that pushed me over the edge. An edge I was probably standing on for more than a few years.
So what're you listening to now?
Yeah I guess after those I should be careful what I listen to right? I've found some good new music lately, Brandi Carlisle, Avett Brothers, Wood Brothers, Good Old War, Danny Black, I guess those are mostly folkish but I've also been re-listening to some classics.
And just last week I heard a cover from a Neil Young song, a song so good it made me remember how good this song was, and is:
"And somewhere on a desert highway,
She rides a Harley Davidson
Her long blond hair flyin' in the wind
She's been runnin' half her life
The chrome and steel she rides
Collidin' with the very air she breathes
The air she breathes
Could this song be the next one? The next song to change my trajectory, to push me off into another journey, get me to move hundreds of miles for a girl, or stay put for one?
Let me listen to it again.
Hmm.. let me picture driving the convertible.
Let me think how it feels to have finished another movie and the other movies I'd still like to make and more adventures I'd still like to have.
A woman with blonde hair flowing in the wind?
Steel and chrome and runnin' towards collisions?