There we stand about to fly
Peeking down over land,
What was that moment for which we lived
Without a parachute about to dive?
It’s a warm, misty night in Wellesley, MA, July 1995. The campus has been hijacked by hundreds of geeky, freaky, smart, talented teenaged misfits from all over the globe. The girls all seem to be brilliant and beautiful and Jewish and from New Jersey. The boys all seem to be dorky and funny and from everywhere. I’m from about an hour north. My roommate, Sharfie, is from the DC area. My new best friends are from Wisconsin and California and North Carolina and Rhode Island, and by the end of the three-week session I will have a collection of awkwardly scrawled phone numbers and achingly sincere promises to write.
Found myself convincing
Blindly falling faster
Tonight, though, there’s some band playing. Yes, it’s an educational summer arts/sciences camp, known to those in the know as Explo (or, to the optimistic kid from Philly I sometimes eat breakfast with, “Sexplo,”) but that doesn’t mean we don’t know how to get down. Earlier this week, there was a neo-Luddite demonstration on the quad, where some counselors smashed televisions and toasters in a tongue-in-cheek act of rebellion. Someone’s always finger painting or jamming, poetry slamming, multicultural cramming into nooks and branches of trees where pilgrims hands meet pilgrims kiss. Also, there was Ultimate Frisbee.
Know the place I am leaving
And the rest is just gone
This band that’s playing tonight, they’ve just had to change their name. Like, last week. Their merchandise still has their old name – Gus – all over it. Their CDs and posters still have the name, so grab one while you can, kids, these guys are going places, those things will be worth something some day. There are Gus stickers all around campus from last week when they played, under their original name. I think they’re students at Tufts or something, friends of one of the counselors, and that’s how they got the gig here.
How much strength does it take
For Exploration for split decision
Or are you stronger to remain
I watch them set up, and they’ve got bongos. One of my friends asks if I want to go do something else, and we head off to do that for a while, and I haven’t the faintest idea what we did. Probably had something to do with an RPG, which I never really was into before, but thought I might give it a go this summer. I come back down to the Quad, in my tie dyed shirt and my pale, paint splattered denim shorts and my Tevas, my gimp lanyard nametag around my neck, and they’re playing “Down In It” by Nine Inch Nails. On acoustic guitars. With bongos.
I hang around, watching the band, watching the people move. The cute girl from North Carolina with the Daleks shirt is dancing and she seems happy. Incredibly happy. She was normally quite shy, and a little melancholy, but she’s having a really good time tonight. People are dancing like mad to this band, running to the merch table and scooping up posters and CDs. At the end of the night, I will somehow acquire their set list, scrawled on the back of a tour poster, with their original name on the front. One of the guys in the band will even sign it and draw a picture of Super Gerbil for me. Don’t ask.
Crept up on me
Ignored all my pleas
Begging to leave
Justice to name me fell out of the sky
Then they play the title track from their album. It’s called “Parachute.” It is the most beautiful, most perfect, most moving and amazing song I have ever heard ever in a thousand years (or, more accurately, fifteen.) It seems to swirl and ebb and flow and go on forever and ever and it’s amazing and I stand there, nodding my head awkwardly, and I see a friend of mine and we spin around in the New England mist until we fall down dizzy and we lie on the ground and look up at the stars and it’s magic. We can hardly breathe from the laughter and the exhilaration and it’s magic.
Ceasing to be
Without a reply
Gravity fails me
I didn’t buy the album that night. I’m not sure why. I wound up getting it after Christmas that year, at the Newbury Comics in Harvard Square (back when Newbury Comics was a very exciting and urban place to go, mind you), and the first song I listened to was, of course, “Parachute.” And then the rest of the album. And “Parachute” again. By this point, it was freezing cold and one of the snowiest winters I had seen and my room had two exposed walls and a busted heater. I was wrapped in a cocoon of blankets with my headphones while an electric Christmas candle burned white in the window, and I thought about my friends who I missed from the summer, and how quiet the outside was, and how I was going to see my friends from home at Julie’s New Years party the next night. It was melancholy and peaceful and heart-wrenchingly melodramatic, like all the best teenage musical experiences are.
And when I awoke
I knew what was real
Hope to convince you
With lies they all torture me
Nowadays, I listen to Parachute and I think about how Gus(ter)’s song writing really improved in the twelve years since its release. Back then, you could tell they were starry-eyed college boys trying to sound deep by talking about how nothing was everything to them, whereas nowadays their best songs strip away the sentimental and tell you that this time, you’re not homecoming king. “Parachute” itself, though, is one of those perfect songs. The way it sounds on the record, the way it sounds when performed live, sounds at once like a lullaby and a call to arms, a love song and a suicide anthem. It sounds like a slow, steady, trust fall into the arms of a lover or friend, stretched out over six minutes. It’s about taking risks and leaving home and life meaning nothing if you’re afraid to fall. It’s exactly the sort of thing I needed to hear when I was fifteen years old. It’s exactly the sort of thing I need to hear right now.
Open the door
Knew it was me
Parachute over me.