The crisp cold of a St. Louis winter. The thin feeling of my khaki pants against the car seat. The white of half a foot of snow. And a short harmony breathed over the last folksy strums of an acoustic guitar. Whether or not I experienced any of these things at the same time, I remember them as a single moment of shimmering beauty in the middle of my otherwise frustrating freshman year of high school.
And at the very least, I’m sure the song was real. I’m certain because my carpool played it a few times a week in the surrounding months. Problem is, I can’t find it for the life of me.
I asked the person who I’m pretty sure owned the CD in question, and he doesn’t remember it.
I’ve Googled “So cling ye on and on” and “if the love of God is all we need, then why must we cling?” which I swear were lyrics to the song, but they turn up nothing.
I sung the song to Midomi, a search engine where you can find songs by humming or whistling them into your computer’s mic. At this point, I was pessimistic about finding it. I’ve never had a knack for pitch, and my memory of the melody was bound to be distorted. Sure enough, Midomi produced results from Syd Barrett, Adele and P!nk, but nothing even close to what I was looking for.
I should have asked for the song’s name back in high school when I first heard it, but I didn’t.
You see, at the time I was frequently arguing with my carpool about what music we should listen to. They mostly chose the local alternative station. I found the station’s endless screaming and carrying on about drugs and violence off-putting. I said wanted to listen to classic rock, which was the closest I’d come to admitting that I really just wanted a continuous stream of Moody Blues music.
Being a freshman in high school, I took this disagreement rather seriously. I was unequivocally the victim of their bad tastes in music. Asking about “So Cling Ye” would imply that they’d made a good musical choice, which was something that I could not concede.
But whether I admitted it or not, that song really clicked with me. And in my memory, that moment happened on a snowy February morning as we were pulling out of our cul-de-sac. The lead singer’s voice had a ghostly beauty, and the backup complimented her well. It was one of a dozen moments that year when I forgot to feel alienated by my classmates.
I know, the whole story’s too neat. There were thousands of small moments in that carpool. I enjoyed some of them, and I loathed some of them. Many of the good moments retroactively coalesced around this sweet but melancholy folk ballad about wanting desperately to keep what you see as your own but you actually have no claim to. And like the moments, the song has grown wispy and impossible to pin down with time. All that’s left is a vague feeling of contentment and a few misremembered bars.
In this ongoing series, Conor Fellin celebrates the moments that changed his understanding of music. Read Part 1 or view all the posts.