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I have a song crush. “The Day I Died” by Alex Winston is a campy, macabre pop wonder layered with tenderness and the occult. It’s the suspicion of winter climbing up your spine in the gold of fall afternoons that you have no time to enjoy but will save for Instagram. It’s a track for the sequel to The Exorcist that John Hughes never directed.
Winston’s official music video for the song is a pretty tame imagining of her own personal hell. Choppy like the eventual murder of her two friends, a couple of blondes who get the ax while on a distinctly American getaway at the cabin in the woods trope, and by the end Winston is so over it that she falls in love with the murderer.
“Give me an exorcism/ lord knows how bad I need one,” she croons in the opening verse, trapped between the feeling of anonymity and a total indifference to everything. Alex is Linda Blair all grown up, perm combed out and ready to find an eligible match.
Sony invented the portable Walkman cassette player right around the time Friday the 13th was released in theaters. So, at least a few single people in the 80’s – Lionel Richie winding back the tape in their pockets – pretended their walk to the office was a stumpy jog around Camp Crystal Lake at night, ski-masked Jason with the machete trailing behind somewhere. I love scary movies. Poltergeists, apocalypses, nightmares come to life, the undead, and in every genre I daydream all of the components needed to tell a loose story in whatever time I have that moment. The easiest protagonist to begin with is me, but I’m happy to say that, narcissism aside, I’ve imagined people who can’t possibly be me, beating the odds, experiencing loss, developing character and if we have to, always dying meaningfully but quietly on the floor, our final moments playing to the tune of a song I like. I kill off my imaginary boyfriends a lot, but usually I manage to bring them back.
There might be benefits to it, but I can’t tell you if I’ve gained much by not paying attention.
After I failed the same algebra class twice, I spent more than a year factoring numbers into oblivion, jealously ordering pairs, plotting bloody murder in the second quadrant and building repugnant equations inside a square root like I was sealing off a house that needed fumigation. I hated the course, the department, and the practice of whatever I was required to show proof I conceptually understood. Those fifty minutes every other weekday were only tolerable because I was deeply invested in some tried and true paranormal fantasies.
I got busy when I first heard Winston’s song. I had a flash of sudden, mass doubt over break, so this is rough stage direction for a music video starring me. Sometimes you just need to see yourself act out good choreography. Picture me as the innocuous, languid busboy at a 50’s themed diner, after hours. I’m wearing one of those soda jerk paper hats, a white apron and red laced pump roller skates like hooves that would delight Joyce Carol Oates. I’m staring at a tray of empty milkshake glasses. No cars left to serve in the parking lot. (We take drive-in orders this way but only on weekends). The store is near to close, one patron at the lunch counter, a conventionally attractive guy, early to mid twenties. His qualities, face, ethnicity et al are all up for negotiation but I usually model him after someone I’m pining after.
Our head chef is John Goodman, naturally. He saunters up to the dude at the counter, tells him there’s something odd about me. I’ve been reciting tweets by Cher aloud all night, just me and Cher mopping the same patch of checkerboard tiles.
I’m trying to cool art work since I have no New Art.Collecting this wk, to hit Ground Running When Paul Gets Home.
— Cher (@cher) November 21, 2015
Winston’s song begins. In slow motion, I glide across the floor on my roller skates as if suspended in air, emptily singing as I glide past booths down the aisles staring straight on.
Holding a mop like a staff, I pull up next to the nice man at the counter. I am devilishly charming and I finish the verse by his side. A moment later I serve him a plate of angel hair pasta.
Pleased, the man stares at his pasta, fork raised over the plate when the chorus interrupts his meal. The lighting softens. Confused, he turns back as fire erupts from the brick pizza oven. I back flip into the oven, standing in flames as I sing the chorus, arms wide. There are now demons in the restaurant, bobbing up and down to the music. Big, furry winged creatures just having a time. The man looks concerned. I finish the chorus, startling him. Two disembodied arms nearly pull him off his stool. His head cradled in his arms, he wakes gasping – it was only an angel hair pasta-induced dream – and he grabs the edge of the counter to break a fall onto the floor. His plate is empty, time lost, posters of Cher menacingly blasted on every wall.
He slams a wad of dollars on the counter and runs to the exit; doors are locked, naturally. Across the room, standing at the foot of a jukebox shaped throne, I kick over the mop bucket and dark water spills on the checkerboard floor, racing down the aisle and splashing his feet. In the water, the souls of the damned toss beach balls and cheerfully swim laps.
In between verses I pose on dinner tables turned alters with chalk pentagrams drawn on them, eating fries left on dirty plates.
The restaurant sways back and forth as glassware breaks – one of those retro cat cuckoo clocks stops ticking – and large crevices emitting steam and purple light open in the floor between us. Just then I appear by his side again. Wow. There is sexual tension. The doors open. His shoes are now roller skates. (Author’s note: this is so gay lol). We fly out of the restaurant together, down the parking lot as panicked teenagers abandon their cars and dates. The big neon sign stamped to the facade of the diner thunderously crashes to the ground, firing off rounds of electric blue bolts. The camera has panned back to me. I flash a nice smile. We roll into the emerging darkness, the night belongs to us.
Or, if you want to express your own illusion of grandeur in simpler terms, you can use an app. I scored a memorable date on Tindr this fall. We walked on trails to a pond, and past the thicket were drifting swans motionless on the water, heads tucked under their wings asleep. We were only still long enough to admire them. I thought about how little our modesty is worth, since we covered our hands when a young family passed us sitting on the bench. But nothing had dampened my fondness, nothing that even a vision of the rest of the year alone could spoil. We stayed for a while longer and headed back.