The thing I miss most about being 20 is the possibility in every moment, the feeling that any little thing can change your life.
In late 2003, three songs became the catalyst for a whirlwind, or perhaps a tidal wave. My musical tastes shifted immensely and permanently, and less than a year after I first heard them, I fulfilled a longtime dream by writing for a music magazine in New York. It’s funny to think how close I came to never hearing them, how a year-and-a-half long series of events combined with a decision my parents made when I was in preschool to lead to those moments, that connection. But that’s a story for another time, perhaps.
An identity crisis of sorts had struck me in the beginning of my final year of college. My friends were almost all 21, I was still 20, so my weekends were spent mainly hoping time would somehow pass quicker for me.1 Reality was seeping in, and I was on the verge of conceding that things would never come together between a girl in Memphis, my intense friendship with whom a previous roommate had described as “Having all the bad of a relationship, but none of the good.”
Friday night, alone in a five-bedroom apartment, a TV heavy enough to bend the top of my Ikea dresser, with a 30-foot cable run from the living room. One moment, I was alone with my thoughts, and then, I saw Stars. And The New Pornographers. And Death Cab for Cutie. And the world was a different place.
Over the course of maybe three consecutive Fridays, I watched MTV2’s Subterranean, an indie-rock focused show that had replaced the long-beloved 120 Minutes. Those nights, it felt like being struck by lightning. My old favorites—Matchbox Twenty, Counting Crows, Dave Matthews Band, the Goo Goo Dolls, and so on—were washed away by the new. The New Pornographers’ “The Laws Have Changed” struck first, if I recall correctly, with Death Cab for Cutie’s “The New Year” and Stars’ “Elevator Love Letter” following, though I can’t say in what order.
Stars, in particular, seemed to come out of nowhere: A jangling guitar hook leading into the sugary sweet voice of Amy Millan, bemoaning her wealth and inability to connect with others. For a brief, shining moment, it felt like I had met my female counterpart, just on the other side of that TV screen.2 By the time Torquil Campbell’s voice kicked in on the second verse, revealing he was her true other, I was all in on this band.
A day or two later, I walked to the late, great Tower Records on the Ave3 and dug up a copy of the band’s just-released album, Heart. When I first laid eyes on it, I was worried, as the album art was different than what I’d seen online, but the back cover revealed the track list. This was the band.
For the next while, that album was never far from my stereo, never more than a day or two removed from my ears. Even when I wasn’t listening, it remained embedded in my mind, the chorus appearing out of nowhere any time I stayed up late at night (often) or took my building’s elevator (daily).
Inspired by my newfound love of bands that wouldn’t be played on VH1 (yet), I spent the next eight months branching out, step by step. I applied myself, and landed the job as Arts & Entertainment editor at the student newspaper. The following summer, with graduation weeks away, one day, I took a break from online job hunting to visit Spin.com. On a whim, I clicked the jobs page, and saw internships listed, one of which I wound up landing.
At the time, I thought it would be the beginning of a great career in music journalism. Instead, it turned out to be the end. But, at the very least, it was a fitting one: The sole unshared byline I got there was an interview I did with Torquil Campbell, one of Stars’ singers.
Amusingly enough, it’s now gone, one of the few things to ever be wiped off the face of the Internet. Searching my name on the Spin website turns up only a blank writer page. Ten years later, it’s as though it never happened at all.
Somewhere in my home, I have the cassette on which that interview was recorded, still in the RadioShack cassette player I bought so I could transcribe it at home. Somewhere in my email, I still have the final draft. Somewhere.
“Elevator Love Letter” hasn’t been my favorite Stars song in more than a decade; the lead single from their next album, “Your Ex-Lover is Dead” immediately surpassed it, even earning a note in my memoir-in-progress.
Boston does strange things to me. The last time I was here, I found myself compelled to repeatedly listen to Stars’ “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead,” a post-romantic duet which features violins that I’m certain are strung with my very own heartstrings. “And all of that time you thought I was sad/I was trying to remember your name,” Torq Campbell sings at the conclusion of the first verse of the song, a tale about running into an ex through coincidence, only so long has passed and both people have changed so much that they only barely recognize each other.
I feel that way constantly about everything, and I am only ten percent sure why.
While “Elevator Love Letter” isn’t my favorite Stars song, it will forever remain one of the most important songs of my life. I made a wish, and Stars helped make it come true.