When I was fifteen, I met a boy at a party I hosted for a girlfriend turning sixteen. The boy was playing the dutiful role of wingman to his buddy trying to hook up with the birthday girl. We chatted throughout the night about music among other things. As we escorted them the two miles to his house in the moonlight after the party, he told of one of his favorite bands, The Smiths. I’d only heard them through my older sister’s closed bedroom door from the vinyl records she never shared. But my interest was piqued with the possibility of a new musical taste and in the boy who suggested it.
In an innocent crush sort of way, I followed him to his art class and made conversations while he tried to work on projects. (Even though it seems super creepy when I’m writing it now, it was very innocent at the time.) I masqueraded my affection by chumming up next to a favorite girlfriend and seemed overly interested in her stenciled flower project. At night, I listened to the mixed tape he made of Strangeways, Here We Come and The Queen Is Dead. It only took one listen for me to fall madly in love with the happy ditty of “Frankly, Mr. Shankly.” I replayed it a hundred times until the words were recorded to memory to prove my duty to being a true Smiths fan and not a poser.
With high school a distant memory, the other morning the song came across my iPod. I’ve listened to it hundreds of more times over the years. It was my battle cry while I suffered through a job I hated a few years ago. I belted out the opening line “Frankly Mr. Shankly, this position I’ve held, it pays my way and it corrodes my soul” to comfort myself that I wasn’t the only who’d done it. I giggled at the thought of telling my boss he was a “flatulent pain in the arse” and even harder at the fact I had no idea what that meant twenty years ago.
I thought about how the song was completely different as an adult than the catchy tune I took it for in high school. The words resonate differently now that I understand what it feels like to work a job for a paycheck versus being at the starting line waiting for someone to fire the gun to go. Regardless of the interpretation, the song always brings back the memory of balancing on an art stool waiting for the boy to share a few words. I remember he was quiet, shy, and completely uninterested in my affection.
The song does exactly what art is supposed to do. It evokes an emotion; an ever-changing, evolving, heart-stopping emotion. Different stages in life will have different interpretations, but the true test of a great piece of art is if it’s something you want to return. Do you give it the chance to be reviewed with your different frame of mind to see if it holds up to your memory? Or do you not give it a second thought after done the first time? Or are you afraid to challenge your deep regard because it meant that much to you?
The boy moved away a couple months after that party and we didn’t have the type of friendship which required the obligatory “KIT.” (Keep In Touch) His memory came in passing when “A Rush and A Push” plays and I wondered what became of him. With Facebook, I was able to see a glimpse after he accepted my friend request. In the same way of time changing a perception of art, people are not the memory. But even though he doesn’t know it, he will always be the boy I crushed on when I was fifteen who helped me fall in love with The Smiths.