Chicago, 2016

In my mid-20s I was teaching high school English and going through a spiritual crisis. One wouldn’t have affected the other, except that one of the places I taught was a very insular religious girls’ school. Pop culture and secularism were supposed to be taboo topics. If it didn’t relate to literature, I wasn’t supposed to talk about it. The rest of their curriculum included biblical and spiritual classes, both more and less extreme than what I remembered from my own school days. I felt like a hypocrite with my secret heresy. I’d teach them Prufrock during the day and then go talk to my therapist about the existence of God.

Roses was on the radio that year, and it was the most beautiful song I’d ever heard.

When I listen to it, I’m nostalgic for chilled out evenings, slipping through and around the specific details that don’t belong to me but also magically do. The beat drop feels uniquely feminine, echoing ROZES’s deep vocals with a tidal wave that moves me to my core.

The Chainsmokers weren’t a national punchline yet. They’d made a name for themselves with their novelty song Selfie before everyone realised that they were actually very, very serious about their music. Also, they hadn’t insisted on doing their own vocals yet.

One day a student of mine used the phrase “never let me go” and I absently started singing “Say you’ll never let me go…” I stopped short. Whether or not they knew the song, mentioning it in class was a violation of the school’s code.

But then the rest of the students started singing along, really softly. The song hadn’t been out long enough for us to have the words down, so it went:

We can waste the night and a da-da

smoke a little weed on the couch and a da-da

hideaway!

I was caught between the elation of singing a beautiful song together and the guilt that we were singing about weed, no less. But I suddenly felt a fiercer connection to my students than I ever had before. We were all in the same boat, straddling the border between the religion preached to us as youths and the complex culture surrounding us.

That wasn’t the only school I taught at, but it was the one where I bonded the most with my students. I could see the struggles I was going through in their near future and I wished for them to find peace; to avoid them altogether.

Stereo Story #530

 

See also the Eric Roe story about George Harrison’s When We Was Fab, in which Eric writes:

We’d all been thoroughly schooled regarding the evils of MTV—sex, drugs, Satan worship, the works—so most of us just ignored the videos that played, while a few made a show of regurgitating the scorn that had been fed to us for so long. I was seventeen, and in between worlds. For awhile I’d been, as they say, “on fire” for Jesus.

Alisa Ungar-Sargon received her MFA in creative writing from Northwestern University. Her work has appeared in Lilith Magazine, TriQuarterly and JMWW, included in the Best Small Fictions anthology and nominated for a Puschart Prize.