Saturday, January 15, 2011

"Remember this Feeling that You're Feeling Right Now" :: A Tryst with the Music Tapes


            This story is a love song between me and the band The Music Tapes. 
Their album For Clouds and Tornadoes first crossed my path while I was working at the radio station WERS. It had been tagged as "the band with the guy from Neutral Milk Hotel," a group that I had become obsessed with at that point. I was well familiar with the singer and main songwriter, Jeff Mangum, as he is often treated like a mythical creature due to that band's history, which I won't get into here. I had never really heard anyone talk about the music of the banjo player, Julian Koster, and it didn't get much attention at the radio station. Eventually, I would realize that it was way better that way.
I did the review of For Clouds and Tornadoes and I could not stop listening to that album all year. It was full of big fluffy white carols and childhood euphoria to freebase as a wintery adventure into the imagination of Julian Koster. And it was a great place to be. 
I never could have imaged that the album would be a door for me into a vast universe loaded with adventure, wonder, a sense of community that I had never experienced before, and, of course, actual real deal magic.
Cue the opening credits music::
TRACK 1. “The Minister of Longitude” by The Music Tapes
from For Clouds and Tornadoes
“How in the world can you say the world is a sad place?”

Julian’s imagination came to life back in August of 2009 when he came to play a private show at my apartment in Jamaica Plain, part of Greater Boston. A friend of mine had initially given me the intel about the tour, because she hosted Julian at her apartment the previous year for a night of Christmas carols played on a singing saw.
I was more than intrigued to discover that the band had been doing these sorts of unconventional concerts for a while. Places like living rooms and basements were the venues, spaces that the band had to be invited to by fans. The show they put on for us was, however, a little different. It was part of their "Lullabies at Bedsides" tour. The idea was to go from house to house, kind of like Santa, and play for people all across the city just as they were going to sleep.
Initially, I had invited Julian to play at the Whitehaus, because the Jamaica Plain art collective would’ve suited The Music Tapes quite well. However, I received an email back from the "Minister of Lullabies" that read:
"This endeavor really is best suited as bedtime hour entertainment, and is not meant so much to be a traditional ‘show.’ You seem to have a lovely place where people go often to see shows. The only thing I wonder is, do you think something meant sincerely as a precursor to dreams would work in that setting?"
It was signed by “The Strangely Nonexistent Email Reading Polar Bear.” 
It seemed he wanted to play for small groups of pajama clad and sleepy spectators, even “bed-bound audiences of one,” as he said, were acceptable.
What ended up making the performance memorable was the people that it brought together. It was part of the magic of The Music Tapes: there were serendipities and coincidences everywhere, gathering around them in a lovely swirling mess, like clouds and tornadoes. 
It was what Stephanie and I would jokingly call a better version of one of those quirky indie romantic comedies with a hip soundtrack that were frequently targeted at our demographic at the time.

TRACK 2. “If You Rescue Me (Chanson des Chats)”
from The Science of Sleep Soundtrack
“Hello, you’re my very special kitten!”

The scene in The Science of Sleep when the two characters meet for the first time is when a piano falls down a flight of stairs. Meeting Stephanie was like that too: unexpected, funny, fast, and overall a good story. At a mutual friend’s party in Allston, I couldn’t help but notice this girl with long blonde hair beaming at me with her goofily enormous smile as soon as she entered the room and sat on the floor. She was wearing stripes, had a miniature pan flute around her neck and was using an old Pokémon themed Gameboy carrying-case as a purse.
Our first conversation was marked by us saying things like "Get out of my head!" and "Where did you come from?" We somehow discovered that we had the same favorite color that was a specific shade of blue and that were interested in a lot of the same things. She had just started reading Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera and I was in the middle of his One Hundred Years of Solitude. All topped off by our mutual obsession with Jeff Mangum's adorable time traveling crush on Anne Frank, the pseudo backstory for the album In The Aeroplane Over the Sea.
“If You Rescue Me” or “Song for Cats” is from the film The Science of Sleep. It’s the little diddy Gael Garcia Bernal plays to woo Charlotte Gainsbourg in a dream while he is wearing a bear costume. Later that night, we were talking about our favorite movies. When I told her mine was The Science of Sleep, she nearly fell off her apartment balcony where she had been sitting, because she was just about to say the same. I had to explain with this dumb joke that I used to like to make, which was that I was actually psychic, but only one second into the future. She responded that it was like the time machine from the movie that Gael builds for Charlotte which can move you only one second into the past or future.

TRACK 3. “Spieltier” by Emperor X
from The Blythe Archives, Volume II
“I’ll make sure you’re fed.”

Stephanie used to get hunger headaches and I would joke, “Do you not know when to feed yourself?” She really liked to eat honey mustard chicken fingers from this wings joint in Brookline. Whenever I hear the line from this song, I think of that and of sitting cross-legged with her on her bedroom floor while eating wings out of a styrofoam container.
Emperor X was a band I got into through Zoey. If I didn’t know her, I wouldn’t have met Stephanie. I met Zoey at a show for the local band Spitzer Space Telescope, which is a wonderful fantasy themed folk minstrel type project (and also fronted a Boston University classmate of Zoey's). We worked together on some music writing projects and she also helped me with an event for a short film I had made. I had tried to set up a few screenings around Boston in order to raise money for recouping expenses and to enter it into film festivals. The entire soundtrack for the film was either segments I had composed or local music by friends.

TRACK 4. “Skinny Fists” by Christians & Lions
from More Songs for the Dreamsleepers & The Very Awake
“I told her once, ‘there’s a great line in this song I heard, but I can’t tell you unless something really big happens to us.’”

“Skinny Fists” was another bit of local music on the soundtrack (as was Spitzer Space Telescope and Greg Mullen coming up next). As a dabbler in music promotion, Zoey graciously offered to host a screening and help plan other concerts featuring bands from the film. We raised one hundred percent more funds at Zoey’s apartment than I did at any other event. Stephanie had gone to that screening and later would tell me that she really liked the film. However, she had been too shy to talk to me. I couldn't believe that I didn’t even see her there, but it was probably because I was so stressed about trying to fix the malfunctioning projector and oddly shaped sheet that we were pretending was a screen.
It was actually the second time we were at Zoey's apartment that Stephanie and I met. It was Zoey's going away to Germany party a month or so later that I jumped to sit on the couch at the same time as Stephanie. Later, while the rest of the gang was outside lighting off firecrackers on the sidewalk, we had our first kiss in the poorly lit lobby of the grungy Allston apartment building.

TRACK 5. “Ten Thousand Years” by Greg Mullen
from The Hungry Ocean
“It feels good to be understood.”

           Stephanie and I did the thing where we determined that I was the boy version of her and vice versa and we inevitably ended up doing a mix CD swap. She actually beat me to the mixtape game, and I had never received a mix first from a girl. The track list was a ransom note she had made out of letters cut from magazines and she deemed the CD “The Dreams of Animals.” The name came from some anonymous quote she also pasted on the back that read, “It’s really an interesting idea to enter someone else’s dreams. I would love to go into an animal’s dream-like a lion’s or a cat’s.” 
All of the songs in this mix that form the structure for this story come from the CDs that we made for each other.
 The album The Hungry Ocean by Greg Mullen came out right around the same time that Stephanie and I were hanging out. And this line, “It feels good to be understood,” really stuck with me, because that's what it felt like discovering all the things I had in common with Stephanie and just talking to her in general. Out of all the coincidences in this story, the one that I'm most happy about is that I met Stephanie in time for The Music Tapes to come crooning and lullabying through our lives.
The night of the "Lullabies at Bedsides," Stephanie came over early to help make a gift basket of peanut butter sugar cookies to give to Julian Koster. We shaped a couple of dinosaur ones by hand that strangely looked like genitalia when viewed from the wrong angle. We even put some milk into an old timey milkman jar. The cookies went into a wicker basket with an unnecessarily tall handle that I randomly found in my place, along with some money in an envelope as donations to the band, because they hadn't even asked for a penny.
The Minister of Lullabies had specified that pajamas were strongly encouraged. Yet another fun coincidence happened when Stephanie bumped into a stuffed animal I had hanging from the draw string of my ceiling light. It was Max from the children's book Where the Wild Things Are and she laughed, pulling out her PJ T-shirt, which was also Where the Wild Things Are themed. 
It was a really hot night, so I cut a pair of pajama bottoms into shorts. While we were waiting for the band to arrive, Stephanie and our pajama clad friends drew Julian’s cloud people, lyrics, and other cartoons all over my white t-shirt with markers. I tried to keep the crowd down as per the band's request, so there weren't many of us there, sitting on my bed and on my carpet and waiting. The way that it felt fleeting, like there were only a few witnesses to what was going to happen, worked really well to build the ambiance even before they got there. Everything felt like it was glowing.
TRACK 6. “Two-Headed Boy” by Neutral Milk Hotel
from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
"Two-headed boy with pulleys and weights, creating a radio played just for two in the parlor with the moon across her face. And through the music he sweetly displays silver speakers that sparkle all day made for his lover who's floating and choking with her hands across her face."

I hadn't received an e-mail or a phone call or anything from the band that day. They had only told me that they were coming somewhere between eight and eleven that night. A friend and I switched off playing some freshly written original songs. We also had a sing-a-long to "Two-Headed Boy." I had always been a sucker for the lyrics in that song, which I saw as strangely sexualized but very sweet radio constructing nothings.

TRACK 7. “Smells Like Content” by The Books
from Lost and Safe
“The quiet becomes suddenly verbose.”

The Books was a band that I strongly associated with Stephanie, because of her fervent love for them. The group's music is similar to The Music Tapes’ album, First Imaginary Symphony for Nomad, which toys with audio collage and song, sound effects and instrumentals. The voice recording at the end of “Smells Like Content” is a boy saying, “Expectation leads to disappointment. If you don’t expect something big, huge and exciting…” He then trails off, exemplifying what he was trying to say better than words would’ve.
When eleven o'clock rolled around, I was starting to feel a bit foolish, like I had lured everyone to my bedroom in their pajamas for a nonexistent concert. However, the buzzer rang and I called down asking who it was. The exasperated voice mumbled consonants for a second before saying, "Uh, lullabies?"

TRACK  8. “Thirteen,” Elliott Smith covering Big Star
from New Moon
“Won’t you let me walk you home from school?”

“Thirteen” was another song we had a sing-a-long to while waiting for The Music Tapes to arrive. Stephanie and I always joked that our actual ages were anywhere from eight to thirteen. During this show we got to indulge, because the wonders that started filling up my room when the band got there released everyone’s inner child.
The tableau was quite Christmassy, including rows of plastic gingerbread men and women, a giant snowman and a few plastic sheep - all of which had lights in them. Playing alongside Julian and helping to decorate the room was his musician buddy Ian. The chairs they brought in became resting places for the singing saws, bows, banjo, guitar, bell lyre, pump organ and other instruments. 
Atop an old fashioned trunk was the third animatronic musician, made out of a watering can. When activated, its arms would move to simulate playing the block of wood in front of it that had been carved into a piano. Julian had also brought his brown and white shaggy dog Rudolph, who didn’t play anything, but just watched the performance quite attentively.
My room was already well suited to their aesthetic. I had Christmas lights dangling from behind a tapestry on the ceiling. The wall behind my bed was a chalk board and on it we had drawn a multi colored forest as a backdrop. I even put their record For Clouds and Tornadoes on my record player, to make it look like we had just been listening to it, because I'm an idiot. The bedroom was kind of small, but the guys managed to squeeze in all of their props, gadgets and fusion instruments in a circle around the bed.
When they tried to start the show, something went wrong. It seemed that the robo-minstrel that was the watering can buddy had stopped working. Julian spent some time with grease all over his hands, trying to fix it. While he did, he told us some stories. His family was Russian and as Ian lifted up my LP of For Clouds and Tornadoes, Julian told us that the group of musicians on the cover was an orchestra of his ancestors. He also told us an anecdote about a trick he and his cousins would play on his grandfather when they were little. They would ask him to say a specific phrase and he would respond in a thick Russian accent, "Why do you always ask me to say this? It means nothing." Then finally relenting, his grandfather would unwittingly quote Rocky and Bullwinkle saying, "We must catch moose and squirrel!"
Julian couldn't cure the laryngitis of their robot friend, so they were forced to improvise. When we asked Julian what the show he intended to put on was like, he told us that there's really no way he could explain it. I caught a glimpse of a cassette playing inside the robot, so I think it would've been like some kind of audio collage, a combination of song and story like their album First Imaginary Symphony for Nomad. Although that was unfortunate to miss, we kind of got a personalized performance.

TRACK 9. “Majesty” by The Music Tapes
from For Clouds and Tornadoes
“The majesty of life and fear and trust.”

The show began and somewhere in their set they gloriously played the bouncing joyous "Majesty." Julian had his eyes closed and was jumping around in circles as much as he could with the space he had. They also played several lulling singing saw solos like "Kolyada" from the same record. I wish I could remember the name of the song where Julian played the banjo with a bow, because it was beautiful. They also did plenty of tunes that I had never heard before. Stephanie was cradling my little blue Where the Wild Things Are stuffed monster in her hands and giving me that grin of hers that I could always psychically translate as, "I can't believe this is happening right now."
Halfway through the set, Julian stopped to ask us if we wanted to try something special, but that we had to be blindfolded for and could potentially put us in physical danger. I'm pretty sure we all unanimously and simultaneously agreed with, "Of course we do." Normally, if someone you've never met before, wanted to come to your bedroom in the middle of the night, blindfold you and do something that could hurt you, you might be a bit cautious. However, it was unspoken between us all that a mind that helped score In The Aeroplane Over the Sea could do us no harm. It was the kind of absolute trust you have when you're a child, before you know that it’s possible for people to take advantage of you.
We were all blindfolded and of course I was trying to make sure mine was loose enough so I could peak from underneath. They told us that we had to make a space between us on the middle of the bed. So we did, without knowing why. They took their places and we heard something that may have been the click of a tape player.

TRACK 10. “A Warning” by The Music Tapes
from First Imaginary Symphony for Nomad
"All those who continue to listen from this point onwards are doing so at the risk of their very lives!"

What followed was a slightly altered version of the cautionary vocal recording, “A Warning!"  A man spoke of a famous knife throwing magician with us on the bed as his assistants. He began his act with the sound of knives being scraped against one another, which we heard very distinctly in the room. "Our sincere hopes that you will conclude this record still in full possession of your life." There was a rush of real air whooshing past our faces and then the boi-oi-oing of a knife against the wall behind us. "This sound recording will conclude leaving you, the listener, in mortal danger!" Luckily, we all survived.
After the mysterious magician vanished and with our blindfolds still on, Julian told us a tale in a soothing hypnotist’s voice that his father used to tell him before he went to sleep, so he wouldn’t need a night light. It personified the dark, telling of how it was very lonely because everyone was afraid of it. When, in actuality there was nothing to be afraid of and the dark was your friend that would always be there for you, to wrap you up all night long so you’d never have to feel alone.
The strange thing about Julian telling this story was that Stephanie and I had some run-ins with her quite real and quite adorable fear of the dark. The night I discovered this was right after we had yet again another strange coincidence. I've mentioned this now a few times before, but it's hard to really hammer home how strange it was that it kept happening. I don't remember what the coincidence was, but she got freaked out about it and ran to hide in her closet (as a kind of joke). I shut the louvered closet doors on her to be very, very funny, and she nearly had a panic attack. I don’t think Julian’s story cured her, but when we went to sleep that night, we didn’t need the closet light.
After the show, The Music Tapes packed up their gear and wonders into their red 80’s style van, which was hard not to see as Santa's sleigh, and they were whisked off into the night, to some house party in Allston.

TRACK 11. “Theme from Piñata” by Bright Eyes
from Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
“I wish I had a parachute, because I’m falling bad for you.”

At some point, Stephanie and I talked about the art of mix CDs and the subtle subtext that people can include in them. When it came to her mix, she curiously said she wasn’t sure if there was something in there. Which made it easy for me, because I didn’t have to explain whether or not there was one to mine. By the end of the first night with The Music Tapes, I had forgotten not to expect something big, huge and exciting.


The next night Julian had planned to play a mysterious game called “St. Nikoli’s Wonder Wishing Game of Candles.” All we knew about it was that we had to meet the band at a specific field in Cambridge, which neither of us had ever visited. And we had to bring candles. 
For Stephanie and I, the adventure began with a bike ride.

TRACK 12. “Cave Kids” by Girlfriends
from Cave Kids b/w Eat Around the Bad Parts 7”
“We underachieve and live below our means, woahohohohohoh. We can’t get to sleep, because we’ve got oversized dreams, woahohohohohoh. The cave kids of Boston.”

Girlfriends is led by the same Boston wordsmith from Christians & Lions. However, the band is a bubble gum garage trio that had just started up that year. If anybody was, Stephanie and I were the cave kids of Boston. Chasing each other around on our bikes, riding down hills in shopping carts, crashing playgrounds to climb jungle gyms and have jumping contests off of swings. Then we’d come home and be insomniacs together, tracing constellations on each other’s arm and shoulder freckles with magic markers.
That night, I cycled up from Jamaica Plain to Allston to meet her and then we both ventured on to Cambridge. All we had was an address and backpacks with a few candles in them. We found the meeting point and eventually were joined by Julian and Ian, a couple of kids from out of state and about five or six others from The Music Tapes’ Allston performance the night before.
We wandered our way over to the grassy field. At one end of the large space, there was a marble bust spitting water into a pool and on the other, there was a someone sleeping off at the edge of the woods. Julian set up a chair for his saw and everyone got out their candles. As we were walking over, hand in hand, Stephanie stopped and said, “I can’t believe this is really happening right now.” I don’t know why, but I always distinctly remember that detail. Right on cue, we saw a little white rabbit appear at the edge of the field, staring everyone down. Julian made everyone stop to look at it, and it felt like time stopped too.

TRACK 13. “Woodcat” by Tunng
from Comments of the Inner Chorus
“We all had a lovely time.”

Animals were a constant motif, particularly cats. Stephanie swore that she was going to end up a crazy cat lady with a house full of fleabags. “Woodcat” opens up with a story about a girl who turns into a cat and a boy who wishes to be turned into a hare. Tunng was a band that she had gotten me into that was similar to The Books.
It was obvious that Julian felt a strong connection to animals, the way he had us all staring and mesmerized by that rabbit for a good five minutes. His dog Rudolph was very sick, had trouble breathing and had coughed a lot the night before. Every time, Julian cradled her and rubbed her throat until she was better.
When the rabbit finally ran off and we had all the rules of the game explained to us, we discovered that it was essentially freeze tag with candles. However, there were a few special bonus parts to it. The first part was writing wishes down on little scraps of paper. While Julian was playing the saw, we all stood in a circle and passed the folded wishes around in alternating directions so they were good and shuffled. Then, we were instructed to put them into our shoes.
The next part was the game. The ten or so of us were wandering around the field, trying to capture an antique gas lantern, while keeping our candles lit. All the while, Julian was playing the singing saw. Our team lost both times, and the same thing happened between Stephanie and me each time. We were on defense and we were very very good at blowing out the attacker’s candles. Our duo was quite formidable, until Stephanie’s flame would go out, usually from her moving too fast. I would try to relight her, but I could never make it in time and would lose my flame as well.

TRACK 14. “Bluish,” an Animal Collective cover by Sondre Lerche
from an internet only release
“When you claw me like a cat, I’m beaming.”

I found this cover of “Bluish” by chance after randomly hearing the song being played in the streets, well after the night of the candle game. The original song comes from Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion, Stephanie's favorite album from them. I had had trouble getting into the album up to that point, because I was going through a deep folk appreciation phase. My favorite of their albums at the time was the freak folk Sung Tongs. I always worried about being too into sad music and having a kind of subconscious disdain for happier music, which made me worry about being an outcast because of it. I remember being afraid (like an idiot) that our preferences for Animal Collective albums was a sign of a foreboding difference between Stephanie and me.
One night we were show hopping and wandering around Harvard Square, and we stopped in for a beer at the diner/bar/venue Charlie’s Kitchen. Afterwards on the street, there was this guy standing there singing and playing guitar with his case open for change. Instantly both of us recognized something in the tune he was playing and watched the familiarity bloom across one another’s faces. The guy was playing the loop heavy, digital bliss of “Bluish” from Merriweather on an acoustic guitar. I remember clearly how she took my hand in that moment. 
It was really hard not to feel like the moment was full of meaning. It was already strange for someone to be playing specifically that song out in public. But it was a song in a style that I had trouble getting into and it was translated into the style that I understood better and delivered right to me on the street to calm my fears about someone I cared about. It was only later that I realized that there might have been a reason why I was feeling like something was off about our relationship in that moment. And I think it could even be traced back to the night of the candle game.
The rules for the game were that once our lights had been blown out, we had to remain frozen in place until the game was won. Then, when the lantern had been captured and brought back into the other team's endzone, everybody had to freeze where they were. This is where it gets wild and complicated to explain, but bear with me.
From the positions everyone was frozen in, Julian plotted out our "constellation." He had an old star map that he spread out on the grass and lit a tiny tea light in relatively the same places as the remaining lit candles on the field at the end of the game. We were then supposed to huddle over the map and stare at the lights, shouting out suggestions of the form of the constellation that we saw by connecting the candles.
Once we had found a resembling animal or object or whatever, we would all stand in a circle and the person who had captured the lantern to win the game would spin around in the center. That person would then walk backwards and whoever they bumped into would have to pull out the wish from their shoe (which if you remember from earlier, were the wishes that had been put there at the beginning of the game). Someone else from the circle would then volunteer to read it out loud, and we were supposed to see how it related to the constellation we found. 
After a couple of games, Julian remarked on the strangeness of the coincidences with our constellations and wishes, saying that there was something special about our group, which of course went right to my head.
We stared at the first constellation for a while, not quite sure how the game worked, and mumbling things what we thought it maybe looked like. Julian stared down with a hand on his chin, like a soothsaying wizard. Then Stephanie said that it looked like a turtle. Julian agreed and his reasoning, without explanation, was because, “a turtle always has his home on his back.” 
Then the person who got the lantern to win the game spun around and walked backward to stop in front of a girl. She pulled the wish out of her shoe and gave it to another guy randomly to read. He immediately said: “Woah.” The wish was “I wish I could feel at home wherever I go.” It was exactly what Julian had said about the turtle.

TRACK 15. “To Build a Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra
from Ma Fleur
“This is a place where I feel at home.”

We were lying in bed, just reaching the end of her mix CD, and she said to me, "I've always wished I had a good moment to associate with this song.” She had a thing about that concept of home. Her family life was a bit tragic, but she talked about it with remarkable ease and even made jokes about it.
It was also how we first started talking about another one of these indie film classics that were everywhere at the time: Garden State. There’s a moment, after they jumped into the pool in their underwear, when the main character is trying to define home as a group of people that miss the same imaginary place.
Knowing what I did about her and her family, I thought of her when that constellation appeared. Especially since she was the one who had seen the turtle. 
The second constellation was just as strange. Julian stared at the map for a good while and finally proclaimed, “There’s no constellation here." We were puzzled and he continued, "This is weird. This has never happened before in all my years of playing this game.” So when the wish was opened up, it of course matched the constellation by not having any words on it at all, and all that was written on the paper was a scribble.

TRACK 16. “Tambourine-N-Thyme” by Nana Grizol
from Love it! Love it!
“So tell me not to fall in love with you. Frankly, my friend I think that’s the sweetest thing you do.”

Another time, Stephanie and I were lying in bed and just musing late into the night about relationships and our pasts. I was thinking about this line from "Tambourine-N-Thyme" and how it had been used on me before and how it’s the worst kind of reverse psychology. And the evil temptation crossed my mind that maybe I could use this line on Stephanie. And it was exactly then that she came out with, “Don’t fall in love with me, kay?” 
I had to confess to her how I was literally just thinking of telling her the same thing. We talked about how telling someone not to fall in love with you just makes them fall in love with you. At that point it became a contest to see who would fall first, which quickly escalated to a pinky swear. But the fact remained that she said it first. And this was how I learned that there's a reason why someone will say that to you.
When it came to the third candle game, we wanted to avoid what happened the last time, when we didn't have enough candles to find a constellation. So we all collectively decided that before the game ended, we would light up everyone's candles to try to make a more interesting constellation. It was something that Julian said he had never seen before in the history of the game.
Staring at the constellation we were overwhelmed by the various shapes that could exist with so many candles. I said that I thought I saw a wizard hat and Julian exclaimed excitedly, “Like Merlin!” There was a circle below the wizard hat that he said was like the Knights of the Round Table during King Arthur’s time, a subject he was thrilled to bring up. 
So we spun the lantern again and when Julian asked if someone wanted to read it, I felt a wave within me telling me to not even think, but to volunteer. And oddly enough, I got my own wish. It was something like, “I wish that my own art could create this same kind of magical moment to share with the people I care about.” Julian immediately matched the magic to Merlin, and the people and sharing with the Round Table, and the "art" with King Art-hur.

TRACK 17. “Dinosaurs” by Christmas Island
from Blackout Summer
“Dinosaurs, I’m really bummed out that I missed it. Dinosaurs, I really wish we coexisted.”

  This was a song from Stephanie’s mix CD, and we both related to the message of wishing to hang out with extinct reptilian monsters. 
Before Stephanie had met me, she had booked a trip to go to California to visit her best friend for a week. The night before she left, she gave me an orange brontosaurus silly band (the trendy toy of the moment) and she also gave herself a yellow dinosaur one. She told me not to fall in love with anyone while she was away. 
Early the next morning, she left and I stayed in her bedroom to catch a little more much needed sleep. When I woke up, I made a little drawing of a brontosaurus with a speech bubble saying something stupid like, “you’re dinosauriffic!” I left it on her night stand.
The trip was something that we both already knew was coming, even after the candle game when we were standing in a circle on the grass and I had just randomly read my own wish. Everyone knows that you can't tell people your wishes, but immediately afterward I had to let the group know that it was mine. It was strange because not only were the wishes randomly distributed amongst everyone’s shoes, but someone had to volunteer to read it, making it even less probable that someone would read their own. Julian assured me that the magic of the game made my wish impervious to bad luck.
Then, the first guy admitted that he just happened to read his own wish as well. We tried to get the person who wrote the scribble to come forward, but whoever it was didn’t say a word. Julian deduced that the scribble must’ve had some kind of Rorschach significance for the person who wrote it and that we shouldn't push them. Afterwards everyone else took out the wishes from their shoes and burned them, which Julian informed us was good luck. It was something that his grandparents had always done.

TRACK 18. “Which Will” by Nick Drake
from Pink Moon
“Which do you dance for? Which makes you shine? Which will you choose now?”

I gave Stephanie a mix CD just before she left for California. I called it, “Remember this Feeling that You’re Feeling Right Now” and drew a candle on the cover. This line came from something Julian said while he was playing his lullabies at bedsides in my bedroom. While we were still blindfolded, he told us a sort of meditation story that was supposed to help us fall asleep. At the end he repeated that line over and over again.
On the back of the track listing for the mix, I had drawn a quick three panel comic. Stephanie was really into Pokémon, so I had made a battle where the trainer sent out: “Stephanie-guin-fox.” It was a Pokémon version of Stephanie I had created that fused her favorite animals, a penguin and a fox. The main attack was “honey mustard wing attack,” flinging her favorite fried snack to save a starving Pokémon by the last panel.
"Remember this feeling that you’re feeling right now.  
Remember this feeling that you’re feeling right now.  
Remember this feeling that you’re feeling right now. "
After the third candle game, when Stephanie pulled out the wish from her shoe, by chance she had gotten her own. I tried to get her to tell me what it was, using the ruse that “the magic of the game” would protect her wish, but she wouldn’t budge. She lit it on fire and looked at the burnt spot in the ground for a long while as everyone in the circle was talking. Thinking back on it now, I think I know what she had wished for. 

TRACK 19. “Overnight” by Yes, But Slowly
from In the Company of Others
“And if it seems like I’m scared, it’s because I have never been this close to something that I’ve wanted so bad.”

“Overnight” is a song by a solo musician from Boston. He played alongside Christians & Lions at one of their first shows I saw. I had always really liked this song in particular, but had never been able to share it with someone that had appreciated it the way I did. Stephanie told me that she loved it so much that she put it on a friend’s mix CD.
It turned out that the person Stephanie went to visit in California wasn’t just a friend. It was a boy that she had been stuck on for a very long time, named Guy. She told me that every time she thought she was over him and with someone else, he would come back into her life just to mess with her.
I know now that the "friend" who she made a mix CD for to put "Overnight" on it was the same person she went to California to see. It crushed me to think of her putting her own intention for someone else behind the line, "if it seems like I’m scared, it’s because I have never been this close to something that I’ve wanted so bad."

TRACK 20. “Meet Me in Montauk” by Circa Survive
from Juturna
“I’ve been wandering around, making up movies in my mind.”

Coming from a similar musical upbringing, Stephanie and I had strong musical connection. In high school, both her and I had been fans of Circa Survive as well as bands like Brand New and Bright Eyes. This song is largely inspired by Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind, which was director and writer Michel Gondry’s film before The Science of Sleep. It’s about literally erasing a past lover from your memory.
Ironically, this film and Garden State happened to be the anthems for Stephanie’s relationship with Guy. Apparently, he used the line from the airport ending of Garden State, telling her that he was putting an ‘ellipsis’ on their relationship. When she went to California to go see him, she put a period on her relationship with me.
As we sat there in the grass after burning our wishes, everyone talked about random stuff, still kind of dumbstruck at how the game of candles had turned out. One of the girls showed us a tattoo she had on her back of the Neutral Milk Hotel airplane record player. It was the pen and ink sketch from the insert for In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Julian told us he was planning another unique tour that would be like a carnival complete even with rides. He also explained how he was trying to make a story he had written into a movie, called Second Imaginary Symphony for Cloudmaking. It’s about a boy named Nigh that discovers a cloud-making factory. Due to the creative obstinacy of the studio thinking that the story wouldn’t sell, the project was sadly dead at that time. Since we were talking about movies and I happened to have a copy of my short film because I was making DVDs earlier that day, I asked Julian if he wanted one. He promised to watch it once he wasn’t living in a van.
Stephanie and I left that night on our bicycles. As we rode by the group around Julian’s van, I shouted “Hullo good souls!” which was how Julian began every one of his e-mails.

TRACK 21. “Two-Headed Boy, Part II” by Neutral Milk Hotel
from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
“Two-Headed Boy, she is all you could need. She will feed you tomatoes and radio wires and retire to sheets safe and clean.”

I had always thought the tomato and radio wires line from “Two-Headed Boy, Part II” was a tragic and brilliant way to call back the motif of the radio from the first part (also earlier in this mix). It’s a mellow song, but the brilliance of that album as well as the music of The Music Tapes, is that indecisive emotion wavering between somber and sweet, depressing and hopeful. That was just the kind of acceptance that In the Aeroplane over the Sea leaves you with. The last line on the album is, “Don’t hate her when she gets up to leave.”
We hung out a few times when Stephanie got back. We went to the amazing bizarro-music fest put on by The Whitehaus Family Record, called Weirdstock. Afterwards, I went through a few weeks of nagging doubt and agonizing worrisome indigestion when I knew that I was being ignored and avoided. Eventually, I got the truth out of her about the way she felt about Guy, the way she had always felt, and that was really all I ever got to know. I had been accepted into a program to teach English in Spain for a year and I had been very undecided about it for a number of reasons. After all that happened, it seemed like it had been decided for me. I left a month later.
Of all the things I could’ve done differently and all the things I wish I'd said, now it just seems like it would’ve been nice to tell her that we had a good story. It really felt like a movie and, as a film student, I’d always dreamed of my life feeling like a movie -- especially a cliché indie flick. Even if it didn't have a happy ending and afterward it sucked, and it sucked for a while, I still hoped Stephanie got her wish.

TRACK 22. “After Hours” by The Velvet Underground
from The Velvet Underground
“If you close the door, the night could last forever.”

“After Hours” inspired the first track in this mix, which was the song that appeared in the film, The Science of Sleep. Those two songs were how I bookended the mix CD I gave to her and it always seemed like a few good notes to leave things on
The Music Tapes came storming through our lives for two nights, and it was a crazy way to fall for someone. But you can’t be sad when the show ends and the band packs up and drives away, because no matter how unbelievable and fun it was, some things just have to end sometime. If it never happens to me again, if those crazy bedroom lullabies never wind their way back to my door, I'm really glad that at least I now know that something like that is possible. No matter how many people I try to tell about it, it still feels like a secret thing that only those involved will ever really understand. I set out to write this story to document the most unique concert experience I had ever had in my life. And I think that the story with Stephanie helped to capture what it felt like to experience it. To borrow another line from Bright Eyes, that’s where I’ll keep it so it won’t bother me.