Almost exactly a year ago, I was feeling rotten. I was about to graduate from Ohio University, and with that significant moment in my life, I was leaving behind people I loved, a town I loved, goals and challenges I loved, and a lifestyle… yeah, I loved. I was sappy, miserable, and listening to a lot of music that I thought was helping me through my situation, but was probably actually making it worse.
That music can be summed up very easily. The only thing I listened to for a month straight was Sun Kil Moon’s Ghosts of the Great Highway.
I listened to that album on repeat, walking to the last classes of my undergrad career. I looped it on long rides through the trees of the bike path, which had become one of my most treasured places in Athens. I played Sun Kil Moon as I lay in bed, when I woke up in the morning, while I wrote sad, regretful letters that I never delivered, while I cried big, splotchy tears. They smeared the paper.
There were great, happy moments in that last month, many of them building up to the huge come-downs that typically took place Sunday night, in my bed, when it kept dawning on me – this was all ending. Everyone else seemed excited for something new. But I’ve never been good with change, and the future scared me more than anything. I didn’t know if I could find people like I found in Athens and achieve things like I did in college. It’s horribly pessimistic thinking, I acknowledge, but I was so unsure.
I clung to Mark Kozelek’s guitar, and his songs about boxers, which had no relevance whatsoever to what I was experiencing. It was a blanket for me; it was the words I needed to hear when real words couldn’t coax me. I was at the end of an era, and this was the album that marked it.
I requested to review the new Sun Kil Moon album months ago, and received my digital copy yesterday. I put it on today, and when I hear this familiar voice and the sweet plucking of those nylon strings, I just kinda froze. The truth is, I haven’t had the courage to play Sun Kil Moon since I left Athens, for fear of what kind of emotions it would dredge up.
I struggled terribly in my first few months home from school. I missed everything and everyone with such a vengeance. I blasted Japandroids because I was angry, and I wanted to be young, and I was living in the goddamn suburbs. With my parents. And I wasn’t really finding what I hoped to find out there in the big, real world. As I adjusted, I grew to appreciate the things I have today. I found a steady job, and you know what? Everything is ok. Just ok. And sometimes, well maybe half the times, I actually remember that life is good.
Today I return to Athens for the weekend, to visit some of my closest friends before they also graduate. Each time I go back to visit, the place seems stranger, more foreign - a wobblier memory of four years of my life. This is the last time that Ohio University will feel remotely familiar to me.
So I find it funny that today, of all days, I subconsciously, or maybe consciously, began to listen to Sun Kil Moon’s Admiral Fell Promises. It feels so right, and it feels like home. Emotions are rushing back, and the memories of the past flood my mind. But the newness of the album also reminds me that we can hold onto the past, and still embrace the future. Ghosts of the Great Highway may have been a crucial album that came into my life at a crucial time, but one year later, I have Admiral Fell Promises. I haven’t lost anything, but look what I’ve gained.
Photo credit: Robert Caplin from 45701.