And The Rest

On tour with my band last week, I read a preview of our show which quoted the Wickipedia definition of my name. Meaning, Kristin Hersh = “this”. It never occurred to me that I might even have a definition, but I understand that while this seems surreal to me, it’s not unusual. Lots of people’s names have definitions now. The problem for me was that, included in my Wickipedia definition, was the statement that I write songs about “marriage and motherhood”.

Immediately I worked myself into a feminist froth “How many male songwriters are married with children? Tons of ’em! But does anybody say their songs are about marriage and fatherhood? No! Their songs are about anything they want them to be about ’cause they’re people! Women aren’t allowed to be people, they’re just women!” etc. Billy played along, but I could tell he was only mildly infuriated, and probably only because I was talking so much.

“You can change your Wickipedia entry, you know,” he said. “Why don’t you just make it say what it you think it should say?”

Yeah, make it say what it should say, I thought. And I thought about it some more. And I kept thinking about it for the next few days. Tell them what my songs are REALLY about…right…

Of course, I have no idea what my songs are “really” about. They just are. Also, I suspect that some of them might be about marriage and motherhood, of all things, but not in the way you might think. Personal experience and pages out of one’s diary aside, songs are simply sound and images. They’re snapshots, in color, sweat included. What’s a snapshot of a whole marriage look like, anyway?

I flashed on one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. A million years ago, at a high school party. A real high school party with the 80’s equivalents of jocks and cheerleaders And The Rest. There was this…how do I put it? I suppose heartless and blunt high-school kids would call the Ugly Girl, I guess. But she was the Hot Girls’ class pet — like a gerbil or guinea pig that each popular girl would take turns taking home & caring for.

All hot girls know about the Nancy Drew phenomenon, that titian-haired Nancy was only titian-haired Nancy (Is “titian” even a color outside of Nancy’s hair?) because she stood between “pudgy” Bess and “boyish” George. In my high school, standing next to pudgy, boyish Cindy had real value. To be the kind of person who would show kindness to pudgy, boyish Cindy meant serious points on the human-kindness scale, too, so she was invited to every party. This meant the poor girl often seemed dazed and exhausted.

She was especially exhausted because, as ugly girls tend to do, she got seriously wasted at every opportunity. On this particular night, she was wasted on a disturbing and inventive mixture of sweet alcoholic things and by the time I made it to the party she was already violently ill. For some reason, she’d headed down to the basement and was sitting on the bottom step of the basement stairs, staring at her giant feet. A crowd of partiers had gathered around the basement door to stare and whisper. “Cindy’s really sick–someone’s gonna have to go down there and hold her hair.”

But no one moved. And I wasn’t popular enough to hold the hair of someone who served such a high-ranking function as the Hot Girls’ gerbil. So we all just watched as Cindy’s head hung lower and lower and people listed all the gooey things she’d had to drink. Then my old friend Steve pushed his way through.

Steve was a football player with nothing to prove except that jocks can be kind and intelligent. He was a boy of few words with a sweet smile and a wicked sense of humor and now he was bravely making his way down the basement stairs. Perfect, I thought. He’s popular enough to be allowed near the class pet and nice enough to say the right things and coax her back up the stairs where she can puke politely — into a toilet.

Steve sat down on the bottom step next to Cindy and said nothing. We all held our breath. He looked down at his giant feet, but still he said nothing. “What are they doing?” someone whispered. But before anyone could answer, Cindy let go. All four giant feet were covered with copious amounts of vomit which slowly spread out in front of them in a kind of beige lake. Neither of them moved.

“What are they doing?” the same person asked again.

“I don’t know,” I answered, but I guessed that they were fighting internal battles. Which turned out to be true, because the next moment, Steve lost it. He was in training — he had had no schnapps, no Bailey’s, no blackberry brandy and yet his stomach was no match for the beige lake. He heaved like a hero and the lake grew, spreading out into the darkness of the basement. Then he heaved again and then he just sat there, next to Cindy, in silence. Which is when I left the party.

Apparently, they sat like that for a long time, but no one I know remembers the end of the story. I love that we all just remember them sitting side by side, in the cool of the basement, the most underappreciated room in the house, together, puking. What a snapshot, in color — sweat included.

My poor husband, that this is my favorite image of marriage, but honestly, if I ever write a song as perfect as that moment, I just might deserve that Wickipedia entry.


Posted in: words on September 27, 2006