There’s a running joke that Michael Bailey (of Views From the Longbox fame) and I have going about us having “the same childhood”–being close in age and having grown up being able to watch a lot of the same TV channels, he and I have a lot of shared experiences when it comes to entertainment from the 1980s and 1990s. What makes this coincidence possibly more weird than funny, however, is that we both have the same mutant power. Both Mike and I have the ability to remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we first saw a particular movie, heard a certain song, read a certain comic book, or encountered a number of other pieces of popular culture. I can take it one step further and tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing when my mutant power manifested itself. It was the day after Thanksgiving in 1994 and I was in my friend Vanessa’s kitchen. My girlfriend was breaking up with me over the phone and in the background of our conversation was Candlebox’s “Far Behind.”
Written as a tribute to Andrew Wood, the late singer of the seminal Seattle band Mother Love Bone, “Far Behind” is arguably the most well-known song off of Candlebox’s 1993 self-titled album. It was released on January 25, 1994 and peaked at #18 on the Billboard Hot 100, although it’s important to note that it was on the charts for most of the year and by the end of November 1994 was still in the top 40, having dropped to #35. But chart position for rock in 1994 wasn’t terribly important to those of us who were living on a steady diet of any band that we thought was quality in the wake of the coming of Nirvana and Pearl Jam during my freshman and sophomore years of high school, and since Candlebox sounded similar to Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains, I heard songs like “You” (their first single) and “Far Behind” and picked up the album.
I honestly had no idea that this was a tribute song. In fact, I had no idea who Andrew Wood was back in 1994 and my only experience with Mother Love Bone was the song “Chole Dancer/Crown of Thorns,” which was on the Singles soundtrack. I figured it was a typical-for-the-era breakup song/torch song, and to be honest, the events surrounding the day after Thanksgiving 1994 definitely contributed to that, especially since I took that moment very hard and it would take the better part of a year for she and I to get around to being friends without “We had once gone out and you broke up with me and I’m still pissed” being the elephant in the room. And that had more than anything to do with my immaturity–even though we only went out for a couple of weeks, she was the first girl I’d ever really dated and therefore this was my first real breakup. So “Far Behind” became its theme song and every time I heard it, I’d picture myself hanging out with Vanessa, who was home on break from college, calling up the girlfriend, and hearing her awkwardly ramble her way through a breakup that ended with “Well, I think we should just be friends.” It got to the point where it was like I was following some sort of masochistic ritual, and when I signed her yearbook that June I drove home the point by quoting the opening lines: “Well maybe I didn’t mean to treat you bad, but I did it anyway.” Because, you know, I was a senior in high school but when it came to girls I sometimes felt like I was still in junior high.
Despite all that, she and I are still friends and in a weird sort of way, this is a belated thank-you note to her because most importantly, that breakup was where memories of certain events or people in my life really began to be associated with something in popular culture and I began to think along the lines of “I remember when I first saw/heard this.” I hadn’t listened to “Far Behind” in nearly twenty years before watching the video on YouTube–a video I had, by the way, never seen before because I didn’t have cable in high school, and one that is so very Nineties (seriously, the empty pool, the color scheme, the guy walking around aimlessly, the outfits … this isn’t a music video, it’s an artifact in a Nineties museum)–and that’s not because of my memories but more because of my changing tastes in music (unlike Live’s Throwing Copper which I refused to listen to for years because of a girl and now refuse to listen to because Live simply sucks). Hearing it now, I can still see the wood paneling in Vanessa’s house and remember our conversations about David Letterman before picking up her phone and having that conversation and having my stomach drop, a moment that at the time was painful but eventually became almost bittersweet because of its normalcy and innocence.