Hey there – the untimely passing of pro skateboarder Dylan Rieder hit me hard and I just about damn near wept later that day listening to his Jenkem playlist featured a few months ago. I kept the playlist rolling for a couple of days ensuring interruption free listening by keeping the continuous loop setting activated on my player. After awhile I started to loop particular songs on the playlist. Pitseleh by Elliott Smith was one of them. Elliott Smith I thought. Never heard of him.
Historically- the last two decades of alternative music make a lot more sense to me now. Death Cab for Cutie makes more sense to me. The National. Bright Eyes. The list grows and continues as I pick through my music collection.
Elliott Smith’s heyday was the 90s. Music was generally shared and discovered through mixtapes gifted by friends. It would be easy to miss someone as influential as Elliott. Still easy to do so now.
I think of the gifts that Dylan gave to skateboarding. His power, speed and style were undeniable. You felt good about life when you watched him skateboard. The fast and strong lines of kickflips over tall stair sets followed by Smith grinds on the tops of picnic tables. I also think about the music Dylan listened to and shared with people. Like a good friend saying, “You need to listen to this. You’ll thank me later.”
Broody songs by Elliott Smith flutter into my ears as I walk through the remaining days of my 43rd autumn. The spent leaves crunch under my feet. The air unseasonably warm and lush with decay. The days are darker, quicker. I feel quieter. Elliott Smith lulling in my background as I think about growing older and what I’ve gained and lost. One thing I still know. I am thankful for the people that still share and open their arms to the life around them. My family. My friends. Skateboarding by Dylan. Songs by Elliott.
Some days driving home is an absolute mind numbing horror. I grind through traffic setting I-90 ablaze with my hatred for the commute and everyone involved. I can’t push the car fast enough. The cattle in front of me can’t get out of my way fast enough. Thoughts of mounting 50 caliber machine guns onto my domestic blue Toyota Camry sedan ricochet in my mind. Delmar O’Donnell reprimanding me, “Oh, George… not the livestock.” Left lane is for the living. The right lane is for the dying. I am Imperator Furiosa. I am Max Rockatansky. WITNESS ME.
But lately – in the soft dusty blue of last light, I find myself thinking about the past. Growing up in Winona. The swirl of memories real and imagined. Flashes of fresh muddy spring air blowing over the Mississippi River as I would reel in fish that my Dad would catch for me high atop of the Wagon Bridge. Summer afternoons spent wasting the day away with my cousins at my Aunt Kathy’s pink house in town, waiting for our favorite MTV video to air. Typically we had SpaghettiOs for lunch. Other times we fried the sunfish we caught earlier in the morning from the lake. My job was to scale them. My brother cut the heads off and gutted them while my sister fried them for us. I can hear our child voices echo and the smoky smell of fried Bluegills in my aunt’s old house, now filled with college renters, hunched over mobile devices. Winters growing up were epic in scale and heavy with large amounts of snow. Images of our kitchen glowing orange in late winter light spending my time sledding before dinner, endlessly tromping up the hill in front of our house. Coming inside when my mom would get home and smelling goulash stewing while my dad would sing snippets of verse from old country legends – Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, and Charlie Pride to name of few.
These visions slide along with the peeling landscape before me as I dumbly pass through traffic on I-90. I’m less annoyed in this reverie than when I’m present, listening to music, and thinking about the mundane details of the day. I stop myself when my heart begins to ache. It’s a real feeling. I chide myself for being sentimental and nostalgic. A narcissistic exercise in futility. I keep telling myself that these are reflections from radiation emanating out of a nearby black hole. The Flat Earthers were right. That the matrix is simply playing out on a screen that we are watching. I quietly sing the chorus to Willie Nelson’s On the road again.
When I start to come down West Burn’s Valley and into Winona (all manner of mythical and woodland creatures following my car trumpeting my return to this beautiful river town, you tell me what is real) I decide that I don’t care about the reality of it. It doesn’t matter. These are memories of a good childhood, a past full of love. Things that we should never forget no matter how long the drive.
The drugs are exquisite and the experience is beautiful. I dreamt of having a polite discussion with someone shrouded in pink gauzy clouds while the steady beep of my heart rate being monitored sounded quietly in the background. I felt immense love for everything on waking.