One of the first songs I can ever remember truly loving is ‘I Am Superman’ by R.E.M.
I discovered it the summer of my freshman year of high school when I became a lifeguard at a swim club. I worked with a bunch of people who I did not go to high school with. I couldn’t drive yet, but a few of my new work friends could. We’d spend long nights out, sneaking into the swim club after hours and just generally being teenagers.
One guard, we’ll call her Sarah for this story, was the sweetest, cutest girl I ever met. She really paid attention to me when we spoke. I was a strange, awkward kid, but I felt comfortable and accepted with her. (I am a strange adult) My conversations with Sarah turned into my first real crush. (I am a late bloomer as well) Problem was, I could never express my feelings for her. Doing that was too revealing and dangerous. Instead I was her constant confidant at the pool. I might have pulled her pig tails and put bubble gum in her hair as well. Well, not that, but you get what I mean.
That summer, as luck would have it, she also really started dating. At first it was a friend and co-worker, then an older soccer player at her high school. At the same time, I stumbled across R.E.M.’s Life Rich Pageant album. On it, the “hidden track” was ‘I Am Superman.’ For a couple of summers during those high school years the song kind of became my mantra whenever I was around Sarah. I knew we belonged together. We got along so well that lyrics such as “I am, I am Superman . . . Trust me when I say I know the pathway to your heart” seemed written specifically for us.
I used to have the entire song, not really that long or complex, memorized. I’ve forgotten bits and pieces of it over the years. Sarah and I never became an item. One day she said something, the summer of our senior years I think, that suggested she grew frustrated with me because I never took action. And as silly as it sounds, there is still a bit of sting there. It’s a reminder of one of my greatest character defects, an inability to just leap into action.
Other songs never really took on as much meaning throughout my youth.
I now have an embarrassing song that I use to inspire me while I run. Again, it falls back onto the superhero motif. Whenever I’m lagging and looking for a quick pick-me-up on a long run I will listen to John Williams’ Superman Theme from the 1979 Superman the Movie soundtrack. I always fear someone will hear the song blaring from my ear buds as I run. It too probably says something about my innate and often frustrating desire to rise above my normal status and be someone spectacular.
After that, as far as a third song goes? I wouldn’t necessarily say a song as much as an artist. Whenever I’m truly down, which I sometimes get with my mildly depressive personality, I like to listen to the Eels. The Eels is actually one man, Mark Oliver Everett. Mark is an eclectic musician who has experienced a stunning amount of loss and tragedy. I can’t speak for him as a creator, but I think his losses inform his music that goes from morose, to upbeat, to sad, to realistic. Not all of it, but some of it strikes a hopeful, or at least ironic, tone in its approach.
Right now, one of my favorite songs of his, is “Hey, Man (Now You Are Really Living).” It’s an upbeat song about heart breaks, excesses, failures and small successes, you know, the general hallmarks of the living, as the title suggests.
Some might recognize the Eels for one song in the 1990s, ‘Novocaine for the Soul,’ but honestly Everett’s work is so much more and he’s done some pretty incredible work since then.
I actually didn’t rediscover the Eels until a few years ago as I sat in a car with another coworker who was having a shitty day. She’d bought the latest double album released by the Eels at the time. We bitched about work and listened to some songs for a few minutes before heading off to lunch. I’ve been hooked ever since.