It came blaring on his old radio across the room, too loud, and too…fast…somehow.
He remembered it well, this tune from his childhood.
Early adolescence more like.
He’d had the hots for this redhead girl when he was in middle school before he knew what it was to have the hots for someone.
He knew he liked her, though.
The way she smiled, how she laughed at his jokes and touched his arm that one time.
Even though he wasn’t like a cool kid or anything, they always ended up talking at the end of science-elect class (one of his faves with Mr. Mastey – a big hulk of a dude that someone said had played college ball for Colorado State but was funny and knew how to talk to kids to make them understand).
Anyway, he and Elle, his first crush he guessed would always talk about different stuff at the end this class, after they’d taken a quiz or did the assigned experiment and there was five minutes left with nothing else to do.
Elle was one of the smart kids, like he was he supposed.
He liked that about her too.
But anyway, it was before you could really date, and all going out meant was saying you were ‘going out’ and sometimes holding hands in the hall or after school.
But he never went out with Elle. It just never happened. She moved away a couple years later and that was that.
But he could remember, just like yesterday what it had been like. To long for her. To pine for her (he remembered learning the definition of pining at about this age and thought that it was the perfect word for what he felt).
Late nights or long weekends, away from school and wondering what she was doing, if she ever thought of him, if she even liked him at all, and all the time wanting so much to tell her what was going on in his head.
So much pre-teenage bullshit, he knew now, but it was the most important thing in the world to him then.
And there was the song, of course.
He didn’t remember when he’d first heard it, but somehow it had become the soundtrack to his angst. It was perfect in its melody and its mournful feel of wanting to tell the one you loved (or thought you could love) what they meant to you and what you would do to be with them.
He’d gotten a cassette of it (yes, it had been that long ago, pre-CD, pre-MP3, pre-digital, pre-streaming) after having previously recording it off the radio, the DJ kinda ruining it by talking over the beginning riff to talk about the weather.
And he would listen to it. Rewind and listen again.
Sometimes he’d actually cry.
He could remember, even as a graying middle-aged man he could remember, how lonely he’d felt, and how he thought if he suffered enough somehow Elle would hear this song and call him up and then he’d not be lonely anymore.
But that was movie shit. Wishful thinking that doesn’t cut it in real life.
Over the years, he’d heard the song a time or two, always thinking back to that time, to Elle.
But over the years, something seemed to go wrong.
With his hearing maybe, or with his memory.
Of the song.
There was a part in the middle when the lead singer does a little vocal freestyling along with the guitar. He’d always liked that part and would try to sing along in his offkey way.
But somewhere along the line that part had been changed. The guitar was still there, but no vocals.
And the singer had always talked about his girl he loved as “Babe”, and all he heard now was “Baby” (and at one point even “Sexy Baby”).
He thought maybe they’d redone the song for some reason, the band wanting to find a younger fanbase maybe.
But a couple of the band members had already passed away, and he didn’t even see mention of them touring in the last decade.
He decided to get a library card so that he could use their internet connection, even though he hated the internet.
It was too intrusive. There was too much coming at you at once. He preferred books, looking things up your own damn self.
But, the great thing about the Internet was supposed to be that you could get answers to anything:
“What were the original lyrics to ‘<redacted>’?
Google: This is what I found. A bunch of garbage articles about the band members, and nothing but a passing mention of the song.
Were the lyrics to ‘<redated>’ ever changed from babe to baby?
Google: Did you mean Should I change my baby formula to New Gerber Good Start with DHA?
No, Google, that’s not at all what I mean! he screamed in his head. Fucking computers.
He became obsessed for a time, with figuring out what had happened and when the song had been altered.
He broke down and bought a digital copy from iTunes and played it over and over, hundreds of times, all the while he would jot down on his little black curled up note book any changes he thought had occurred.
Because it wasn’t just the lyrics, no.
It was the music, the tone, the rhythm. They had all changed.
It was too fast for one thing. Much too fast. And the instruments were blaring, mixing, joined together into a mishmosh of noise in some parts that made it sound horribly overproduced.
It wasn’t the simple sad love song that he remembered anymore.
It was, well, Vulgar.
He tried telling his friends and the few remaining family members that lived in town about it. Tried to get them to listen.
“I dunno, Gary. Man, it sounds like it always has to me,” an old High School buddy said to him. He saw a worried/concerned look in his eyes, so he dropped it after awhile. Didn’t want to scare people off.
But I’m right, he said to himself.
He started going to garage sales, hoping to find a cassette or CD or even a vinyl, of the record. But out in the sticks where he lived, the chances weren’t good. Just a bunch of clothes and toys and shit that should have been tossed year ago is what he found.
Finally, he overcame his reluctance to use the Internet’s help, and ordered a copy he found from overseas, and another from eBay.
Our memories are not our own, they belong to the cloud now (it used to be ‘they belong to us both dontcha know’ – what the hell happened to this song?!?)
He’d wake up in the middle of the night, reverberations of the melody he’d known still echoing in his ears.
When the eBay CD came in, he was so nervous opening it that the package almost slipped out of his sweaty hands. He had to put it down on the kitchen table and force himself to breathe, before using some scissors to cut it out of the box.
“What the fuck is this?” he said out loud, exasperated.
<Redacted> by Katy Perry! the CD exclaimed. A cover version by the shittiest of all the shitty pop stars.
He couldn’t believe it. He opened the CD case just to confirm it. Maybe they sent the CD in the wrong case. But the glittery logo with a silvery picture of the half-naked pop princess (complete with the hole in the CD positioned just about where her right nipple would be) confirmed his horror.
He bent the CD in two, and it shattered in his hands. He tried contacting the eBay seller, but they insisted that was what he had ordered and Sorry, no Returns Accepted.
Sons of Whores.
Weeks went by, but the CD he’d ordered from the UK never arrived.
Unfortunately, due to a labor strike affecting the United Kingdom’s postal service, your item appears to have been lost or destroyed. Our apologies for this blah, blah, blah… went the letter he did finally receive.
It seemed that the universe did not want him to know the truth.
It wanted him to accept the song as it was now.
Maybe the new version was right.
Maybe his memories were not his own.
Maybe they did belonged to the cloud now.
So even if it had become a different song, it didn’t matter.
So the only thing he held onto were the memories of his first crush. That day out at the park when she touched his arm and almost, almost held his hand.
The way she smiled that lit up her face (and raised the blood in his face it made him so happy).
And the way the sun had shown through her hair, that perfect shade of blonde.