I had a hard time deciding which band I'd choose for today's "________ and Me". I have so many that I love and when I think about them I sputter off like an over excited or over romantic idealist. I've waxed poetic about Morrison and found love and existentialism with Radiohead, but I must keep reminding myself to save the best for last (a method I've used since I was a kid in the lunchroom and people looked at me funny for scraping the cheese off of my pizza and only AFTER eating the crust, devouring the marinara laden cheesy goodness). Anyway, this Friday I've decided to love on the Shins.
I'd like to say I was different from about 89% of the population and discovered the Shins in an independent record store, but like nearly everybody else I was turned on to them by somebody who promised "it'll change your life." That person was Natalie Portman. I sat in my room on my 17th birthday and watched Garden State and ate copious amounts of Chicken McNuggets, while my parents worried if I was delving more into my fluctuating bouts of depression ("are you sure THAT'S what you want to do for your birthday?"). But I wasn't upset or depressed in that moment. Quite the contrary in fact, it was comforting. I was watching a movie that expressed so much of what was going on in my head and when Natalie plugged Zach Braff into her world with her headphones, when "New Slang" became an audible revelation, I was hooked.
The next week after I got paid from my minimum of minimum wage job of slinging grinders and iced fruit beverages at Eegee's, I got out of school and decided that I needed to buy the album. I took the city bus downtown and found that album in that independent record store.
Punk lifers manned the cashier and looked at me like I was the greenest, most precious little girl in the shop, with my short mousy brown bob and my lack of tattoos and life experience. I fingered through local punk LP's, the alternative and blues sections and after about a half hour or so I found what I was looking for.
I had my friend Samantha (see Pixies and Me), who came along with me, help me choose between "Chutes To Narrow" and "Oh, Inverted World". And being girls who spent their free time scrawling poetry in composition books we based our decision on the only thing that meant anything to the hearts of day dreaming girls- lyrical content. To this day I think the Shins lyrics read like poetry and it's what sets them apart from any of the other bands in my c.d. case.
Like the Pixies my moment came in the back of the city bus (I hold a soft spot in my heart for public transportation, but that is another post entirely). I watched the city morph into familiar neighborhoods and once my stop came (all too soon in my opinion) I spent the remainder of my day listening.
That weekend my family went up to Phoenix to visit more family. A dear friend had passed and we all came together to remember and celebrate a life that brought us so much laughter and memories. It was a peculiar trip. Remembering a life, celebrating a new one (my cousin had semi-recently given birth), relishing in family from out of town, sharing secrets and inside I felt a shift as I watched all of the adults in my life and some of my peers. I couldn't explain it and but I knew inside that something was changing. Everybody around me was in a new stage of life and there I sat, senior in high school, nothing new but the thoughts in her head. I decided that this would be the last of my carelessness. I was growing up and I was okay with that, I was ready to change from the youngest girl in the family to my own woman.
That week when I got back I lost my virginity. I started making my own decisions of what I'd be dong with my free time, with my high school career, with my friends.
The Shins were there for those months of changing. That album marked a sort of spiritual puberty where I decided to make so many of my own decisions and deal with the consequences.
Those lyrics that I sought out based on just what I read changed into feeling. I understood them so much more. I went back to Toxic Ranch to buy "Oh, Inverted World" and this time the clerks didn't look at me with smirking eyes. I was cultivating my own life experiences, without prompting from friends or parents or Natalie Portman.
"one wound up punch of intuition
lays flat my whole take on us.
you're the girl on the wing of a barnstormer
the tidal rabbit who came of age before her time."
The Shins were a gateway drug for my mind. They changed the way I looked for music, the way I listened to it. My writing started to change. I wrote more and more poetry and it was actually good (I was given pamphlets to colleges that were concentrated in poetry and writing by a local published poet who told me to "follow this through"). And later on as I went through heartbreak, they caught my fall.
"I find a fatal flaw
In the logic of love
And go out of my head
You love a sinking stone
That will never elope
So get used to the lonesome, girl
You must atone some
Don't leave me no phone number there"
But they caught it in a different way. Instead of feeling too sorry for myself, playing the victim, the more I listened to them the more I realized that this is just life, filled with heartbreak and growing pains, revelations and the mundane. The best you can do is carry on and maybe, just maybe you can turn it into art, a song, a poem, a melody.
"lucked out and found my favorite records
lying in wait at the birmingham mall.
the songs that I heard,
the occasional book
were the only fun I ever took.
and I got on with making myself.
the trick is just making yourself."
Yes, perhaps the trick is just making yourself. I'll always love the Shins for showing me that.
But this one is for you Ms. Portman. You were right.