- A Few Songs as One
Pipe-knock—Theodore Roethke, “The Lost Son”
Already you imagine your turntables in their coffin across the basement apartment’s buffed concrete floors through the large living room and past the archway leading into the kitchen nook. From there a smaller arch leads to the lone bathroom and bedroom. The landlord says, You’ll love the walk-in closet, and as you step toward it, you immediately notice the old lock on the outside of the closet door. You say nothing, but cannot recall ever seeing a lock like it on a closet. What would you lock inside? When your hand touches the knob, you suddenly think of a child. It comes so quickly to your mind it startles you, and even as you dismiss it, you stand there silently looking into the deep, narrow closet for so long the moment grows awkward. The light fixture in there can’t keep a bulb, she says cutting through the silence. She’s an old building. Built before electricity. First floor’s just law offices, so you have to be quiet during the day. $300 a month. You shut the closet door, lock it for no reason, then pivot on your heels to look at her. It’s perfect. [End Page 93]
When footsteps fall from the apartment’s ceiling, you know the lawyer must be preparing for a trial in the morning. Putting down Poem of the Deep Song you can picture him pacing back and forth above you, papers in hand. You have been reading for so long today, the words now rattle around in your head without order or meaning, and because you can no longer think in words, you rise and count out $1.25 in loose change. You feel the itch of new house records you have ignored all day leaning against your record crates.
Across the street, on the courthouse lawn, a bailiff lowers the flag as night begins to fold the day into itself. The liquor store’s neon sign flashes from the corner. When you return with your quart of Coke, you stand on the sidewalk glancing through the darkness of the first-floor law offices. The lawyer’s vanished. Inside you start the turntable’s platters, turn on the mixer and speakers before lowering the lights. You like practicing in the glow of the electronics, sharpening your eyes for the club’s dark, and anyway another light bulb went out again. Every set begins with silence, then the sharp static of needle meeting groove, and finally the four-on-the-floor deep bass drum. One, two, three, four, you count in your head. Two, two, three, four. The words vibrating in your mind still, then disappear. Headphones on and eyes closed, you cue up the second song, finger pressed against the vinyl, roll its first bass drum over and over again in time with song one, waiting for its measure to complete itself and begin another. Here’s the high hat. Here’s the bass line. Here’s where you let go of song two and begin the mix, begin the difficult task of keeping them together in time.
If you had not stopped on your walk back from your office in the English department to see the lawyer’s office empty and dark (but you did) the footsteps echoing off your ceiling would not surprise you now. Truthfully Derrida had spent the better part of the day chewing his way through your mind. Truthfully if you had not replaced the living-room light bulb again earlier in the week, the electrical flash of filament pop would not have startled you so, but here [End Page 94] you are again on the sidewalk scanning the first floor darkness for something you can hear but cannot see. Your breath visible under the street lights. The sky’s a tangle of cottonwoods stirring in the Wyoming wind, and through the limbs the stars look like shattered light-bulb glass catching light on the gray-dark concrete floor. Inside the old building the stillness hangs heavy, and you notice, in the hallway’s lantern recess...