On Dramamine

I have nebulous “top-five” lists for a lot of cultural experiences and interests. (Bands = Phish, Wilco, Radiohead, Aqueous, 311, for instance — though Modest Mouse [pre-2001] and Yo La Tengo and Pearl Jam and Atmosphere make appearances now and then. These are things that matter to me greatly.)

One thing that I’m unequivocal about is my favorite song: “Dramamine” by Modest Mouse.

It’s a beautiful and somber tune. It’s catharsis. The song is driven by Eric Judy’s spellbinding bass line, the topsy-turvy effects of Isaac Brock’s early tone and the pitch-perfect percussion work of Jeremiah Green. This is the best thing they ever did. The lyrics are incredible.

I first heard this song in the kitchen of Rocky River Brewing Co. I was washing dishes. Bill put “Good News for People Who Love Bad News” on the stereo, and I was sort of singing along. This was probably 2005. He asked if I had listened to much Modest Mouse. I hadn’t.

So he puts on “This is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About,” which opens with this song and which had come out 10 years prior. The bass hooked me. I’d never heard anything like this.

A year or two later, at the bar, Matt would describe Phish’s Big Cypress concert as the manifestation of that place between being awake and being asleep. Years later, Waxbanks would use the word “hypnagogic” in a phish.net blog post. My point here is that it took a while for me to gather the context and terminology for what “Dramamine” represents to me: That dreamy otherplace where reality moves differently.

Every time I hear the song, I’m back at the Brewing Co. I’m 17. I’m on the closing shift, slinging dishes and pots and pans. Then I’m getting in my Geo Prizm, and I’m driving through the rain in the westside suburbs of Cleveland. I’m among friends and strangers. I’m smoking on Glenn’s porch. I’m at Jackson’s place, late-night and lit up. I’m thinking of her in that red dress. I’m fumbling around the neck of my Strat, trying to write music that changes me. I’m lost and happy.

I’m 27 now. It’s been 20 years since “This is a Long Drive…” came out, and 10 years since I encountered it at the restaurant that defined my late adolescence. I love this song deeply.

(There’s a cover performed by Kaela Carrieres that’s just perfect, too. And, for whatever it’s worth, I guess even those things that we consider good and wonderful can be refracted into even more wonderful things.)

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