NOTE - this post was originally written as an article for The Point. The Point is undoubtedly the finest pop-culture newspaper available in Northeast Kansas (actually, I'd say it's the best paper in the region period concerning art, music, and beer, ie, stuff that matters). If you live in Lawrence or Topeka, you can pick up a free copy of The Point at pretty much any cool place of business. I highly recommend it. I've read every issue cover to cover, and you know how lazy I am. You will be entertained. Also, it's free. That said, on to the article (and yes, that's the proper term, cause this shit was published in the newspaper, yo.)
Everybody knows my favorite song. It’s been the same for over a hundred years now. My second-favorite song, however, used to change often. Now it doesn’t.
I’d always hated Deathcab for Cutie (spoiler alert - my second-favorite song is by Death Cab for Cutie). I hated their bah-bah song, I hated their glasses, I hated their overall indie-ness, it just didn’t fit into my ethos.
In early 2006, I had just quit my job and was reveling in my well-deserved retirement. Only three weeks removed from the foul world of slinging phones, my sleeping schedule had moved on to a full state-of-nature existence. I went to the bar, then stayed up all night playing video games, then drunken dialed people on their way to work before I went to sleep at 8 a.m. I woke up at 6 p.m. and went to Taco Bell to pick up my one real meal of the day, then ate my food while watching that afternoon’s Tivoed episodes of Saved By the Bell and Dawson’s Creek, followed by The Daily Show and Colbert, then the bar again, then video games again. It was fantastic.
This couldn’t last forever, of course. On one chilly Friday night (excellent detail for Chicago in January, really makes you feel like you’re there) my buddy Daniel called me up from Kansas. He was bored, it was 2 a.m. or so, and he decided he wanted to come up to Chicago for the weekend. His goal - to make it to Chicago in time to watch the Kansas-Kentucky basketball game, which was being nationally televised 9 hours hence. This worked perfectly for me, as I was in the final throes of my battle with Zelda III: A Link to the Past, and I knew that I would have to stay up later than the usual 8 a.m. to finish the game.
The operation ran like clockwork. I beat Zelda, then the liquor store across the street opened, then Daniel arrived, and finally KU tipped off, all within a 20 minute window. We watched the game (the Miles falling-down assist - Michael Lee buzzer three pointer game, as it would turn out), and napped.
Yet, it was clear from my staying up extra late - until 1 pm, and Daniel’s inevitable desire to not play Super-NES-era video games all night, that I would soon have to actually be awake during some daylight hours. The next day, he even wanted to go downtown (the nerve, forcing me to leave my block during the winter). He was interested in buying the then-new iPod video, which could not be done in Lawrence at that time as Lawrence didn’t have an electronics store decent enough to sell iPods (there’s a Best Buy there now, woohoo).
Returning to my apartment, new iPod in hand, Daniel logically wanted to put songs on it. Fortunately, since he was on a 9-hour each way road trip, he had every CD that mattered to him at the time in his truck. I reaped the benefits of this, as he uploaded them all to my computer in order to sync them onto his new device. This included the then-new Death Cab For Cutie CD, “Plans”. I was mortally opposed to his befouling my music library with such indie drek, but he argued that I could erase the CD after he downloaded it to the iPod. This seemed reasonable to me, although I was far to lazy to actually search for the offending tracks in order to delete them.
Daniel left, and because his visit required me to be awake at obscene hours like 4 p.m., I fell back into being awake for upwards of three daylight hours per day. I decided to use this newfound early-to-rise vigor to travel. I booked a flight to Florida to see my dad the following week, and while there, I bought (well, bought isn’t the right word, nor is frequent flyer miles, but it’s closer to the latter than the former. Yes, it was legal. Yes, it was shady. I won’t elaborate anymore than that) a business-class flight to Europe immediately thereafter.
Two days after leaving Florida, I flew to Copenhagen. This was supposed to be a quick layover but ended up being a day trip due to a Scandinavian Airlines strike. Worked for me. Free hotel, free dinner, free breakfast, free taxi, and free booze in Copenhagen made for an unexpected good time in a country I’d never been to. I got a quick KLM flight to Amsterdam, my original destination, to meet my buddy Cree, who was touring Europe at the time. Slinging phones sucks. Unemployment wins.
Amsterdam is a fine place to begin a European adventure, particularly one that involves renting a car, and especially one in which I had no intention of driving. See, there are certain products available for purchase in Amsterdam that are not available in other places. Of course, I speak of tulips. We (and by me, I mean Cree, as I was far too concerned with tulips and other local foliage matters to actually drive) drove through Holland, Belgium, and Germany. After a week on the road, we arrived in Munich, where Cree was taking German classes, and I was on my own.
I caught the train to Vienna. I went to my hostel bar the first night, and went to bed after the bar closed at midnight due to my long train ride and a particularly raucous night at the Haufbrau Haus in Munich the night before. I got up early the following morning and headed to Schonbrunn, the Hapsburg’s summer palace on the outskirts of Vienna.
It was cold, bitingly so, with snow on the ground. February in Vienna, nothing like it. Schonbrunn boasted its share of tourists given the weather conditions, but I presume the Hapsburgs hung out there in July for a reason. Rocking my own pod, I walked up a lonely hill along a snow-dusted path to a grotto that had been well-loved by Marie-Theresse (or some other Hapsburg, my Central European history is pretty weak) and took a look around. There were no other people within sight. I still had plenty of tulips in my pocket, and realized this would be a perfect time to tiptoe through them.
In a reasonably altered state, I began my way down the snowy path. My pod was playing the usual fare when it chose the predictable Death Cab for Cutie song, the one from the record that I intended to delete but never did. It hit, oh man did it hit. I listened to it three times in a row while walking across the snowy palace grounds. I caught the subway for downtown Vienna to hit up some coffee shops, museums, and a schnitzel place.
By the time I returned to the hostel that night, I’d listened to the song no less than 14 times. When I returned to the hostel bar, I met these two amazingly beautiful Chilean girls who had hooked up their MP3 player to the bar’s PA system. Guess what song they were playing? Sometimes, life just makes too much sense.
I didn’t get around to listening to the rest of the record until my train to Prague the following day, and it seemed these Deathcabs were no one hit wonder. “Plans” is a great record. Given my feeling about the band beforehand, it killed me to say so, but it seems that my first impression of Deathcab was (gulp) wrong. I love that album from beginning to end (other than some a couple obvious filler songs in the middle) but 3 years later, the song that still sticks with me is the first that I’d heard - “Soul Meets Body” - my second favorite song.