The first CD I ever owned was The Presidents of the United States of America by The Presidents of the United States of America. I got it as a present in my Easter basket. My second CD was Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too by the New Radicals. It’s possible that name won’t ring a bell. They were the band who white-rapped about fashion shoots with Beck and Hanson, Courtney Love, and Marilyn Manson.
I used to listen to that album, non-stop, on my tan and silver portable Philips Magnavox CD player. I thought Gregg Alexander was cool because he was from Michigan and wore a bucket hat. I bought my own bucket hat and tried to emulate him, unsuccessfully, because I was awkward and twelve years old. I stopped at spelling my own name with two G’s, though. I might’ve had no idea how ridiculous I looked in a bucket hat, but somehow I knew, even then, that spelling Greg with two G’s was fucking absurd.
None of that is the point, though.
There’s a song on the album, “Someday We’ll Know.” Until tonight I always thought it was a cover. I think because Mandy Moore and a few others covered it years later. But nope — it was written by Gregg Alexander.
That’s not the point, either.
The point is that this song, by means of the odd and complex wiring of our human brains, evokes the same memory every time.
I’m thirteen years old and in the backseat of my grandparent’s green minivan in Traverse City, Michigan. I’m listening to “Someday We’ll Know” and the few other songs I like on that album, over and over again.
My Grandpa Don is driving at his standard leisurely pace. Normally my Grandma Pat would scold him for going so slow, but we were on vacation. She relaxes in the front seat. Her head sometimes wobbles, ever so slightly, from side to side. I wonder if it’s her shy soul wanting to dance, or if she has some sort of ailment. I catch her doing it even after the radio goes static.
The road winds up the Old Mission Peninsula. Curves give way to views of East or West Bay. We pass cherry orchards and steep, sandy banks spilling into the road. By the time we get to the lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula it feels like we’re at the end of the world.
The lighthouse is there because the water is deceivingly shallow for quite a long way. Rocks pop up above the surface for a mile out. There’s a jetty with pockets of vegetation.
It’s mystical but not in a way that’s confusing. It’s accessible and comfortable. That is, of course, my modern day analysis of the setting.
Thirteen year old Greg is sitting in the sand listening to the New Radicals while his sister and grandparents collect rocks along the beach. His angsty teenage soul finds a moment of contentment in this perfect place. He’s thankful for his CD player and Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois. Otherwise he’d be listening to static on the small portable radio that’s shaped like a Tropicana orange. The antenna is disguised as a red and white straw.
We don’t stay long.