The 737 bus, Monash to Knox City, August 1998
Winter is thick and heavy around me as I board my bus home. Relentless rain streams down the windows, smudging what little colour remains in the fading light. The sky is pencil-lead grey, surely shaded by the hand of wintry Boreas himself.
I am soaked, saturated, sodden; a sad, soggy sight as I make my way to a seat. As we pull away from the bus bay, I can only just make out my umbrella in the bin by the kerb, its spokes sticking up like metal porcupine quills.
Winter is thick and heavy, and never-ending.
My bag is heavy too, and I let it drop to my feet as I sit; kick it under the seat in a symbolic expression of my feelings about its contents – text books, photocopies, assignment papers. My head is full of a foul cold, and my mind full of scrawled notes and due dates and reminders.
My heart, however, is full of only one thing: Jeff Buckley. My earbuds are in my ears before we’ve even turned out of the bus lane, the other end plugged into my Discman. I press play without checking what’s in it – because I know. There’s only one album in my life at the moment. Grace. I’ve spent every spare waking minute of the past few weeks devouring it.
Well. Devouring some of it, anyway. To be honest, I haven’t quite made it past Jeff’s cover of Hallelujah, track 6 on the album.
But while winter is thick and heavy and cold, the music is warm and so is this bus, and it’s lulling me to sleep as we make our way down the highway. As Jeff’s voice drifts off at the end of Hallelujah, I too have drifted off, so for once my fingers are not there ready to press the back button. Instead, seconds of silence follow as my head lolls against the cool window, breath fogging up the glass as I doze.
The deep and discordant opening notes of the next song gently nudge me awake, but I don’t fully yield. The higher organ line that follows creates a soothing cocoon of sound, and I’m still three- quarters asleep.
But I have a heart that beats in 6/8 time, and this song has a direct line to it. As soon as the drums kick in, I’m well and truly awake, alive, astounded, and wondering: What is this?
Then Jeff Buckley sings, and my heart cracks open as his voice, a mix of sweet pain and even sweeter honey, caresses me like a lover about to leave.
Again, I ask: What is this? Why have I not listened to it before?
By the song’s bridge, I’m holding my wounded, bloodied 6/8 heart out on a silver platter – to Jeff, to this bus driver, to Boreas, or Zeus, or whatever winter god has given me this moment.
My kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder? I want that line tattooed into my skin.
The song builds and builds and builds, and then … it ends. Not with a bang, but with an exquisite whimper. I’m exhausted and out of breath. I don’t even know where I am anymore. Have I missed my stop? I wouldn’t know.
I press the back button.
I listen, enraptured, as the organs drone and sing in turn, torment and pleasure in equal parts.
This time, the backing vocals. The way that one harmony line does a little unexpected run in the bridge? I feel that down my spine.
How many guitars are in there? I’m grounded by the strum of the acoustic, even as the electric carries me into the clouds.
The bass. That bassline, driving the whole song, like a heartbeat, like thunder.
Oh. That little vocal hitch.
I listen to it for the entire 40-minute trip home, hearing something new with each listen.
The song is thick and heavy with sound; with guitars, with organs, with building vocals and 6/8 swing – but with each listen I feel lighter. Each time it ends I sigh and feel inexplicably warmer. The rain is letting up. The sky is lightening. Boreas gently blows the clouds away.
Winter is thick, and heavy. But, with a sigh of relief and an exquisite whimper… it will end.
Stereo Story #502