O Positive - Overflow
Listening to a record you associate with a specific time in your life can feel like looking at a photo with a double exposure. In one exposure, you see yourself as you were and the hole the music filled in your life. You also see yourself as you are now. Hearing the music anew helps you understand it – and yourself – in a different way.
In the first exposure, I am thirteen. I tumble into my room, stepping on the heels of my sneakers carefully so as not to tear the pompoms off my anklets. A red tape-tag curls around my thumb, and I strum it as I kick my sneakers under the bed.
I catapult myself onto the mattress and rip the tape-tag from the envelope in one fluid motion. A cassette case is the first thing to fall from the envelope, shiny in a cellophane wrapper with a big sticker that says “Featuring the hit single ‘Back of My Mind’”. A pair of black stickers with a rainbow-colored O Positive logo flutters next from the envelope. I could feel a thick, rigid rectangle jammed at the opening, and I reached in and smoothed out a press kit with the palm of my hand.
Grabbing my walkman from the nightstand, I peel the cellophane down from the hole punched in the upper right-hand corner of the case, careful to preserve the sticker. Before I pop my tape in the deck, I remove the J-card from the cassette case. A collage of creepy marionettes and gelatin-print mundanities leers out at me from under florescent light. I unfold the J-card out to the next panel to find a photo of the band, taken somewhere on the harbor in the early evening. They stand shrouded in shadows at the end of a pier, lit at a low angle redolent of ghost stories. There’s Dave Herlihy on the far left, saluting the camera and scowling in proud defiance from behind granny glasses. Alan Pettiti, the lead guitarist, stands at the center of the group, stepping forward from the shadows. The low-angle lighting gives him a heavy-lidded look, like a gumshoe in a black-and-white movie. Drummer Alex Lob eyes the camera warily, as though he’s trying to divine the f-stop through the camera lens. Band factotum Dave Martin leans in like a closed parentheses, barely containing a smirk.
I fold the sticker into the J-card and slip the tape into the deck, clicking the Play button with my thumb. In the seconds before the music starts, I grab the folder and take out the photocopied press kit. My initial instinct is to lie on my stomach with my head in my hands, perusing the clippings as I listen to the album.
Within about five seconds, I rolled onto my side in a fetal clump. The press kit hits the floor in a confusion of photostated, stapled-together pages.
The song’s insistent rhythm draws me in. The steady drumbeat and bassline that establish the song tugged at me, and the discordant piano punctuation suggests an ominous mood. Ten seconds in and a choppy guitar line cascades over the rhythm track, sometimes racing the tempo and sometimes falling behind it. The inconsistent cadence of this solo sounds like Morse code, or like a helicopter circling overhead.
The vocal kicks in about twenty seconds into the song. In his honeyed burr, Herlihy intones a pair of couplets that deepen the song’s suburban noir mood:
A happy house is camouflaged in town
It took me more than two nights to get it down
All the wonders are going up for sale
They get high, and cannot stand to fail
Our street was lined with perfect little houses painted blue or brown or white or yellow, piped with primary-colored drainage pipes and decorated with matching flowerpots. The kids who resided within them lived among stable nuclear families. Either their parents were still married, or their mothers had the good sense not to re-marry loutish men. My mom wasn’t so lucky, as the neighborhood was all too aware.
Look closely through the loop and you’ll see an irreverent curl playing on my upper lip. The band’s lyrics – with their literary allusions – flattered my intelligence. This verse made me think of the opening lines of some Russian novel I read about in a how-to-write-fiction book I borrowed from the library. When did my safe-in-suburbia classmates’ favorite bands do that?
If you shift your gaze to the second exposure, though, you’ll see a suburban woman in early middle age, stopped short on a streetcorner. A veil of steam emanates from her mouth, obscuring her facial expression. 21 years later, I hear the verse with a poignancy to which I was too close to recognize when I first heard the song.