Sunday, September 21, 2008


I think I probably started included Michelle Shocked's "Anchorage" on every mix tape I made for anybody shortly after I first moved to Halifax. It's a very "Amelia song," as my dear friend and ex-boyfriend Sean would say. He really would say this, rolling his eyes, because by the time I met him, this song's inclusion on the countless mix tapes I made for other people was already a cliche. But aside from that, it is an "Amelia song" because I am sentimental like that about old friends, and I am also in love with faraway, cold places like Alaska. Or at least with the idea of them.

In Sean's basement apartment on Woodbine avenue, we began a tradition of playing DJ for one another, drinking Lakers or cheap red wine, sharing our favourites with one another and eventually compiling them on mixes for our friends, usually yet unknown to one party, and as we, at this beginning stage of our relationship, were fairly unknown to one another too, we learned about each other through the way we related to our friends and how and why we would make the selections that were made.

There are a few old friends that I think about when I listen to "Anchorage," mostly people who have both settled into family life, and who are also far removed from being involved in any kind of artistic or musical community the way that I am. It's a lifestyle difference that is clearly articulated here in the way this song contrasts Anchorage, Alaska with New York City. I feel a real fondness for these old friends, but I also feel the miles in between us and like it's impossible to ever recover what we had in high school or in our first few years of "adulthood."

Last year, my old friends Kim and Anne, with whom I was reunited through facebook (of course) concocted a crazy scheme, wherein Anne and I would, over the Christmas holidays, make the five hour drive from southern Ontario to visit Kim in Sudbury where she now owns a home with her police officer partner and her children, and where the three of us - a lifetime ago it often seems - attended university immediately following high school. I hadn't seen either of them in close to a decade, but our facebook correspondences were excited and optimistic, and I guess I am generally of the opinion that people don't really change that much, and that the often inexplicable reasons we all have for liking who we like are usually enduring.

Kim and I never had any illusions about the unlikeliness of our friendship. We both really hated living in residence, and we hid in our tiny shared dorm room together, but that confined space and the people who surrounded us were all that really seemed to bind us. She dragged me out to Ralph's Sports Bar where I was forced to put up with godawful dance music and the succession of bland, jockey guys who took a shine to her. I dragged her to the Townehouse Tavern where she was forced to listen to punk bands and drink disgusting northern draught in a smokey room full of weirdos. Anne, who lived a few floors below us, was kind of in the middle. Which is not to say that she was easy. On the contrary, Anne is one of the most sensitive people I have ever met, and I bet she sucked up all kinds of things and situations she probably didn't want to be a part of. Looking back, I don't know how I wasn't constantly and openly amazed by how much alike we were in our temperaments.

The last time I saw Anne, prior to our reunion this past December, I was visiting my friend Andrea - also a friend from Sudbury, who I had met my second year there - in their mutual home town of Guelph, Ontario. It was weird, because I was definitely there to see (and I stayed with) Andrea, but I made a point of meeting up with Anne one evening. When I'd visited Guelph in the past it had been to see Anne. This time there was an awkward tension between us. I really felt that we had "grown apart" and it made me feel sad and uncomfortable. If I honestly analyze these kinds of situations I know that it is probably more about me than about the other person. There was an over-riding sense of shame. I could see that Anne was happily back in school, in a serious relationship (with the man she would eventually marry), and was acting, well, like the adult that she was. Me: I still felt and acted like a kid. I was a university drop-out, still getting wasted all the time, living rent-free at my mom's, working at Chapters, and making plans to travel across Canada. I was openly self-righteous, insisting that I was being authentically myself. But I was lazy and selfish and aimless and incredibly worried about how apparent all of that might be to other people.

And because aside from being nearly, finally, finished an undergraduate degree, I didn't actually feel that my life or lifestyle had changed all that much in the interim, I was nervous about our 2007 reunion.

It was good. I think Anne and I approached one another with an appropriate amount of reserve, but we talked about quite a lot of weighty stuff during the ten hours total that we spent in her car together. I won't get into details, because a lot of it was pretty personal. There was reminiscing of course, and at the same time it was like we were taking stock of and comparing the people we were to the people we are. I was really impressed with Anne's self-awareness, and it was absolutely heartening to see how comfortable she eventually became - or, at least, so it seemed - with herself.

Kim was exactly as I'd remembered her and completely easy to be with. But I don't see any of myself in her.

I think one of the best things about "Anchorage" is Leroy. He's exactly the kind of guy you want your dear friend to end up with.

I think Anne and I were really glad to see one another, and glad to get back to our own lives, and that we will be glad to see one another again.

Anchorage - Michelle Shocked
I took time out to write to my old friend
I walked across that burning bridge
Mailed my letter off to Dallas
But her reply came from Anchorage, Alaska
She said:"Hey girl, it's about time you wrote
It's been over two years you know, my old friend
Take me back to the days of the foreign telegrams
And the all-night rock and rollin'...
We was wild then
Hey Shell, you know it's kind of funny
Texas always seemed so big
But you know you're in the largest state in the union
When you're anchored down in Anchorage
Hey Girl, I think the last time I saw you
Was on me and Leroy's wedding day
What was the name of that love song they played?
I forgot how it goes
I don't recall how it goes
Anchored down in Anchorage
Leroy got a better job so we moved
Kevin lost a tooth now he's started school
I got a brand new eight month old baby girl
I sound like a housewife
I think I'm a housewife
Hey Girl, what's it like to be in New York?
New York City - imagine that!
Tell me, what's it like to be a skateboard punk rocker?
Leroy says "Send a picture"
Leroy says "Hello"
Leroy says "Oh, keep on rocking, girl"
"yeah, keep on rocking"
Hey Shell, you know it's kind of funny
Texas always seemed so big
But you know you're in the largest state in the union
When you're anchored down in Anchorage
Oh, Anchorage
Anchored down in Anchorage
Oh, Anchorage

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