Friday night, after hopping between a couple of drinking engagements, I wound up at a grocery store. As I wandered through the aisles, looking for one last thing, I noticed an old, familiar song coming from the speakers overhead.
This happens to me a lot, far more than I’d like to admit. The evolution of my musical tastes came in fits and starts—at age 11, I was listening to singles from Weezer’s Blue Album and Radiohead’s The Bends on a beloved local radio station, by age 16, I was obsessed with Matchbox 20, and at 21, I was interning at a fairly hip music magazine with a hard drive full of Counting Crows albums. From there, I’d like to think my taste began to recover.
There’s a ten-year period of my life that I spent deeply enthralled to the kind of bland adult contemporary that tends to emanate from grocery store loudspeakers, and it has an uncanny habit of coming back to haunt me. In that store, that night, I realized I still knew every word to the one-hit wonder from 1999, and I remembered, to my shame, that I saw that band live. In 2003. In a performance being taped for a VH1 special.
When I first heard MGMT’s “Time to Pretend,” I was blown away by the psych-pop track, which seemed to nestle comfortably beside Of Montreal and the Flaming Lips in my brain. After doing a little research into the band, wondering where this sensation came from, I discovered I already knew. Their singer, Andrew VanWyngarden, was in my high school graduating class.
To be fair, there were north of 2,000 students at my school, and 436 seniors walked in my commencement. I can’t say whether I ever said a word to Andrew, and I can’t say whether he was ever even aware of my existence. There were only two reasons I was aware of him: 1) His band opened for my friends’ band several times, and 2) He was the Andrew Van_____ in my class who wasn’t dating the cheerleader I had a crush on1. We were ships in the night, in the 1600s, during a full moon.
MGMT has had its highs and lows, and I’ve had my share of jealously and schadenfreude. Whatever envy I had towards their Letterman appearance or partying with Bill Murray was more than negated when I watched my neighborhood’s music festival receive the band with overwhelming apathy a few years later, a set that earned me a new friend and a newfound appreciation for the overwhelming similarity between MGMT’s “Congratulations” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird.” All that, and plenty of laughs.
The thing about music is, it never truly goes away, for better or worse. Earlier this week, news broke that people bought more old records than new releases in 2015, and I was surprisingly unsurprised. Last weekend, five new LPs entered my collection, all originally released between 1995 and 2001, a golden era I was only marginally aware of at the time. The proliferation of digital sources, of perfect duplication, means that data never goes anywhere anymore, it only spreads exponentially.
There was a day, back in 2001, when I was forced to choose between Dave Matthews Band and Parliament Funkadelic at a music festival. For me, it wasn’t a choice, and I expressed exasperation at a classmate who chose George over Dave. I’ve regretted that for years, but there’s nothing I can do now.
Fortunately, I’m not making the same mistakes these days. And, as long as I maintain a poker face at grocery stores, my old musical sins can remain under the rug, where I swept them.