The first fifteen days I lived in New York, I had a room in a Bushwick apartment on Evergreen Avenue that overlooked the JMZ. I had just graduated college, spending the last six weeks masturbating and watching Mad Men in my childhood home. I had just accepted a job to fact-check Pitchfork album reviews for minimum wage. I had very little money saved. So when a friend offered to let me live in her sublet for free in exchange for helping her move, I said yes.
It was the end of June when I came to New York. The apartment did not have air conditioning. There was almost no furniture. My room had no natural light. My new roommate was a Wall Street quant, a quiet guy from the Midwest who was never there. Most of the time I walked around the apartment naked, eating beans from the can, occasionally going to the bar around the corner to drink wine alone.
These were all the usual parts of being in one’s early twenties, I thought at the time. You do this thing where you eat beans in the nude. Everyone respects you for this. This is a glamorous existence. Congratulations to the girl who is the winner of being 22.
A few days after I arrived in the apartment I went to a Fourth of July party out on Far Rockaway, to a house on the bay inhabited by a sinewy Argentinian punk kid named Tall Juan and a middle-aged divorcée, the father of a friend of a friend. Inside of the house there was a large painting of Snoop Dogg. The couches looked like they were from a garbage dumpster and the smell was overwhelming of marijuana. But it didn’t matter. It was so nice out. Also, when you are this age, this is kind of the usual way things smell.
Therefore I sat out in the backyard, ate some hot dogs, got drunk off of Bud Light Lime-A-Ritas and lay out on my back, looking at the pearlescent flotsam and jetsam. You could see JFK airport across the bay, hear the planes take off and land. But that became background noise after a few minutes. The main thing I was focused on was the music pouring out of the PA. Occasionally a band would play, but most of it was Brit pop coming out of someone's cell phone. At one point, the sound of an accordion. The accordions collapse into a synthesizer. The shake of a tambourine. The saccharine swirl of a British guy saying: you could have done anything you wanted/and all your friends and family think you’re lucky.
I asked someone what the song was called and they said: “Sophie, it is ‘This is the Day,’ by The The.” Ok, checkmate, genius, I thought in my head.
This song to me sounded like something you listened to when you are in love. At this time I had only done being in love with one time and it was with a European who worked at French BuzzFeed. This was during my “Shut up loser, I live in Paris,” era. We did things together like drink a whole bottle of wine at dinner then walk around Pigalle making out in front of stores where you could buy an item such as a sparkly dildo. Another activity was going to the movies and making out. A third was going to the beach and making out.
When I first moved to New York, that relationship was a year in the past. I was jonesing for love. Also, I had kind of revirginized because I was very busy eating beans in the nude alone. I decided that the next time I had a crush on someone that felt like it could become true love, I would be like “Hey, have you heard of this song ‘This is the Day,’ by The The?” A little thing about me is I am an incredibly calculated person, so when I decided I would do this I knew it would happen. I would play them this song that made it feel like someone was putting my heart in a meat grinder, thereby turning this most important muscle into a beautiful link of pulmonary chorizo. I would play them what felt to me like when the sky is so blue and the sun is so white and you put your hand above your eyes and it seems like the white puffy cumulonimbus up above are in conversation with one another. That is what this song feels like to me. In my head, when I hear this song, it is always summer and you are in maybe like an Eric Rohmer movie in a little dress featuring a dagger collar, dancing outside under some fairy lights on the coast of the lake they call Annecy.
Fortunately, this opportunity presented itself just six months later, when I started seeing a man who lived in this disgusting loft in Gowanus. He was kind of a loser but was also so perfect to me in a lot of ways. Here are some examples. One: he was always singing me a little song and then giving me a kiss on the cheek. Two: he would buy me a breakfast of bagels and lox, glass bottle of lemonade. Three: We were always doing stuff like running through the rain on the way home from a bar.
I decided to make him a playlist. Music, more so than books, is the main way I relate to people. I put the song on there for him, on a playlist inspired by an activity that had recently happened to us as a couple, which is that we got robbed at the punk house he lived in. The first time he listened to it, he told me, was on the way to a 24 hour Rite Aid in Flatbush. There was an issue with the condom (it ripped), and he decided he wanted to buy me some Plan B at four in the morning because he was romantic like that. I only remember him saying that when he heard the song he had a similar experience to mine.
The The’s “This is the Day,” isn’t the first song I’ve felt this way about, which is to say, a song I have wanted to compulsively send to people. There was the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Poor Song,” before it, Andrea True Connection’s sultry “More, More, More.” There were songs that followed. One summer I swore it would be eclipsed by DB’s “A Spy in the House of Love,” which makes me feel like Anais Nin in a pair of Ray Bans. Another summer it was Evelyn Champagne King’s “Love Come Down.” AR Kane’s “A Love From Outer Space.” Randomly I’d also put Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” because it reminds me of a very fortuitous and private experience involving a 2006 Prius, windows down, zooming through the upper Hudson Valley. Oh maaaggie I couldn’t have tried anymooore <3 etc. Also, like, the wall of sound on “Wah Wah,” by George Harrison? One time someone played me the Shoes song “Do I Get So Shy,” and I could swear the whole of the big blue rock that is Planet Earth felt like I was its owner, similar to the way one owns a dog called Pomeranian. My first boyfriend in New York played the song “Iron Lung,” by Black Marble, one of the first times we kissed. I recently got into the song “After the Earthquake,” by the band Alvvays, and to me the guitar solo sounds like someone shooting a harpoon at a star. And just a few months ago, a man who I met on email and sometimes had sex with turned me on to former Dream Syndicate member Kendra Smith’s record The Guild of Temporal Adventures. When he played “Stars Are In Your Eyes,” for me, he pointed a flashlight at a brick wall and asked if I could “solve the maze.” I am not explaining what that means.
But it all comes back to the The The (Say that three times fast. Ha ha ha. Ok I will: the the the). The The The!!!!! Because it is a perfect song to me. It is the song that plays in my head when I think about the first time I told someone I told someone I loved them and really meant it (this experience happened at the watering hole Blue and Gold, in the East Village. It was not to the European or the Gowanus man).
It has been a few years since I have sent someone this song, the last being the Blue and Gold guy, because love is not something you just experience all the time. It is really rare actually, according to smart people. I think three is pretty good odds considering that I lost my virginity the week before I turned 19 and I am now 27 and have been single for about a year. But I guess some people fall in love all the time. This is not one of my personality traits. My personality is that I am a risible individual as well as closed off. I also never cry and often tell people I am “not a hugger.” But a cool thing about music is that it can easily synthesize what it feels like to be in love or sad or physically affectionate, and this is enough for me right now. It is enough for me to experience a perfect song. To experience it like a perfect afternoon. Or to be more specific: a sliver of life when I first moved to New York, which, if I check my watch right now, was just over five years ago, to the day.