Saturday, September 13, 2014

Track of the Week: Big Star "What's Going Ahn"

Whenever the weather changes my mind gets flung into the realms of memory, whether I want to or not.  This breezy, overcast day feels like the start of fall, and for some reason I was reminded of the fact that I was just starting college twenty years ago.  Like a lot of freshmen, it took a long time for me to find a niche, which eventually took the form of the college's debate team.  (I wasn't partying on the weekends in college, I was going hundreds of miles in a van to argue with other people while wearing a suit.)

I never really fit in back in my hometown, and had all kinds of crazy expectations that in college my days of loneliness would be over.  At least I was going to college near the center of a good-sized city, so on days that I had to myself early in my college career, I would walk downtown from campus and go to an amazing independent record store that alas no longer stands.  After years of living in an isolated town I finally had access to just about any album I could have wanted.  The first I bought there happened to be the Big Star CD that combined their first two albums: #1 Record and Radio City.  I bought it because I'd read interviews where two of my musical heroes, REM guitarist Peter Buck and Replacements front man Paul Westerberg had spoken so enthusiastically about Big Star's influence on them.

I was not disappointed, and began playing the album every day and even got my roommate hooked.  This is music that still resonates with me like little else, and seeing the recent documentary outlining the band's well-known difficulties brought me to tears.  I've listened to the music so many times that it's been divorced from the context when I first heard it except, for some reason, "What's Going Ahn."  It first appeared on their second album, and I've never really heard it cited as one of their most crucial tracks.  Nevertheless, it is a beautiful jewel of a song expressing a kind of world-weariness well beyond Alex Chilton's young years.  While it's about a lost love, the wistful tone seemed to speak to my feelings of loneliness at the time.

Luckily I found my tribe pretty quickly afterward.  For that reason, I hear the wistfulness in the song much differently nowadays.  One of those friends I met in those early college days stayed close to me, and we even roomed together when we both lived in Chicago.  He died almost two years ago, and this song is just one of many things that I seem to come across practically every day that reminds me of him.  As autumn's chill comes and the leaves fall, I am reminded of life's transitory nature, and that's what's always been going on.

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