I don’t have a lot of musical triggers, at least not many specific groups or albums that I associate strongly with a specific time, or place, or person.
Jesus Jones is one of them. Specifically the album “Doubt”.
The song “International Bright Young Thing” came on my car iPod the other day, and instantly I transported back to my senior year of college. And to Brian.
Brian was a guy in my major who was on a similar course trajectory to me. By senior year our small class (only 13 in my specific major) had diversified into their own particular areas of concentration. Brian and I found ourselves in the same advanced elective courses.
And soon we became friends.
We were of slightly different backgrounds… I could tell he was from wealthy stock although he did his best to hide it. He was in Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity (a jock house) although by senior year he was leaning more toward nerd than jock. And although on the surface he fit in with the fraternity, he was way more ecclectic of an individual than one would ever think.
All of which I found out during our time together.
We would be in our department’s computer lab, working on experiements or doing homework together almost nightly. He would bring the music for the portable stereo there. This is when I was introduced to Jesus Jones.
And later to Bob Mould’s “Black Sheets of Rain”.
Brian was just… cool. He got on well with all our professors, and with everyone in our major. He was friendly and gregarious, and had a great smile. Everyone liked Brian. And I was so fiercely proud that Brian actually chose to befriend me.
Me. The awkward, nerdy, still not grown into his own skin yet, guy. He didn’t ever seem to mind my awkwardness, never made fun of me for being a band geek. In fact, I think he liked the change from his fraternity brothers.
As our friendship grew, we started hanging out together outside of class, too. I found myself at the Pike house more and more frequently. They always had a keg on tap, and the beer was free-flowing and “free”.
I remember, or half-remember, several games of quarters with he and his brothers that left me incapacitated well into the next day.
Brian also was into the art scene, theater and jazz. We’d take an afternoon off and hit the Art Institute when students got in free. Or we’d go to Second City.
On more than one occasion he took me into Chicago to the “Kingston Mines” Blues club, where we would hear whomever was playing/singing that night. We were often the “token white boys” in the club.
This is when I tried cigarettes for the first time, too. Because Brian would “only smoke when he was in a bar”. Marlboro Reds. Hard pack.
I’d always hated cigarettes and smoking… but Brian was so cool, it made me want to smoke. You know, just to keep up. Perhaps to bond more closely.
On one of these occasions, we ended up back in his room at the Pike fraternity house. We drank the keg beer and sat on his bed listening to music (it was “Black Sheets of Rain”) and shooting the shit. Looking back, I’m not sure what we were talking about, but I remember it being deep and personal.
Like things about our fathers, or high school, or our future, or why we were subjecting ourselves to completing a major that our hearts weren’t in. We were sitting shoulder to shoulder, backs against the wall.
Eventually the conversation stopped and it was just us, shoulders touching, listening to Bob. I remember I could feel him breathing right there next to me.
We eventually looked at each other. I can feel the look to this very day. It was one of those gazes where a souls-worth of information is communicated in a glance. Where a second lasts an eternity… and yet is still too short.
Even though I was still not “out” and still was struggling to be straight, I knew that Brian saw my truth. He saw that I was gay and lonely and desperately fighting the feelings for him that were welling up inside.
And I saw that he was accepting and kind and straight and cool… and a good friend.
The night ended with me stumbling home… drunk, alone and significantly heartbroken.
Our senior year ended with each of us becoming engulfed by our individual thesis projects and spending less and less time together. The last time I saw Brian was the night of our Engineering School graduation.
We exchanged a congratulatory hug and best wishes for the future, some “what’s next” talk, etc. Shit like that. It was the small talk of two people avoiding saying the word goodbye and with it acknowledging the end of a lifechapter.
As our respective families pulled us in separate directions to celebrate, we never did say it. “See you around” was the lie we chose instead.
To this day, I do not own any Bob Mould, and certainly not “Black Sheets of Rain”. And even though I honestly don’t think I could name or hum a single track off that album… I really don’t care to.
But I do own Jesus Jones. The group and their sound have always had a soft spot in my heart. And I honestly love the whole “Doubt” CD; I have it uploaded on an iPod or two, just so it’s always handy.
It was, after all, the first disc I purchased after graduating from college.