I’ve made it a habit to fall asleep on the backseats of taxis, usually in the early hours of the morning, and usually after a party. This isn’t necessarily indicative of how drunk I get (I’ve never really been one to black out after serious benders), but more a reflection of how absurdly late the nightlife in Buenos Aires goes until. Porteños tend to get together at somebody’s home for dinner and drinks (they call it la previa) and won’t usually go out until 1:30 or 2:00 a.m. Walk into a bar or nightclub at the otherwise-global-standard of 10pm-midnight and you’ll find the place will be all but dead. Consequently, Buenos Aires nights tend to go on ’til 7 or 8 a.m., which most people here may be already used to, but after nearly 7 years in this city I’m still acclimating. Don’t know that I’ll ever get fully used to it, especially considering the next day is either wasted in mending crushing hangovers or just sleeping. I fall asleep on the backseats of taxis not because I’m sloppy black-out drunk, but because I’m so damn tired.
This morning’s backseat nap wasn’t from being out late partying, but rather from being up late working and then waking up at 4 a.m. to work some more. I had a meeting to get to with a client located in the Philippines which threatened to be canceled due to poor weather conditions (a typhoon in that part of the world that has seriously affected 270,000 people). The client sent an email indicating that, if weather conditions did not improve, the meeting would have to be rescheduled– stand by for further updates. I foolishly took this email as a definite cancellation, and thought I’d stay up late catching up on other things. When another email followed a few hours later indicating that things had taken a turn for the better and the meeting was still on, I only had about 4 hours left before I had to be up and running.
When the time came, I made my way out to the cold street and groggily hailed a cab. I stumbled onto the back seat, half-shouted, half-mumbled my office address and strapped my headphones on to nod off. My iPod shuffled to the Red House Painters song “Have You Forgotten”. If there was ever a list of songs that I considered especially significant in my adult life (and I should probably put together such a list), “Have You Forgotten” would be near the top. It’s a song that’s been with me through a lot, good times and bad. It’s a song I’ve shared with a few people who are not in my life anymore. It’s a song that gets me thinking about life and love, how far I’ve come and how much I still have to go.
In its original version, this song is track 1 of “Songs for a Blue Guitar”, a wonderful album by Red House Painters which features songwriter Mark Kozelek exploring new depths of acoustic-guitar morosity. A largely quiet album with measured blasts of distortion that always feel tempered and solemn, never quite fully surrendering to abrasive loudness (yet coming close to it with a cover of Paul McCartney’s “Silly Love Songs”, of all things) . “Have You Forgotten” is a beautiful and understated way to open the album; a sweetly plucked lullaby about memory, with scattered imagery of childhood remembrances, featuring a few lines that skirt banality by the sheer weight of Kozelek’s warm vocal delivery. This version features what’s perhaps my favorite-sounding acoustic guitar in the entirety of my music collection. Stark, yet vibrant, with Kozelek’s odd tunings ringing out with the right amount of reverence.
The version of the song that cradled me to a peaceful taxicab slumber this morning wasn’t the album cut, but instead this lush and hypnotic electric version. Decidedly more plaintive and ponderous than its album counterpart, the addition of a plodding rhythm section sounded unnecessary at first, but its wonders reveal themselves with repeated listens: the bassline punctuates the melodic turns beautifully, and the song’s slurred slow-trudge pace heightens the droning quality of the open tuning, which was only hinted at in the album version. Also, the guitar arrangement in this version is masterful, with layers upon layers of guitar arpeggios that fill out the harmonic spectrum atop a bed of lazy acoustic guitar, playing what sounds like a slowed-down version of the original arrangement. Kozelek’s delivery, quiet and confidential in the original version, sounds more tuneful and mournful; and when the electric guitars swell with the chorus, with harmonized distortion tracks playing a beautiful counter-melody, the vocals also rise to the occasion, with harmonizing backing vocals singing the song’s refrain. This arrangement is hazier, more melodic, richer. More like a dream.
I listened to it three times, on repeat, in the back of that taxi, drifting in and out of sleep. And when I was dropped off at my office building and I made my way up to my office to prepare for that early-morning meeting, I thought about how I felt more refreshed from that 15-minute nap than I had from any full night of sleep I’d ever had. Perhaps it had something to do with this tune. Not sure. Anyway, that nap turned out to be the high point of my day, as the meeting was canceled last-minute and everything else proceeded to go horribly wrong for the remainder of the work day, but I can’t really blame Mark Kozelek for that.