Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1988
Gorham, New York, 16 June, 1990

In the 1980s I was a huge fan of the Australian band, The Church. The first time I listened to my brother Paul’s copy of their Blurred Crusade album, I was hooked. Their jangly guitar sound, lyrical brilliance, and the outstanding production on that LP fuelled my desire to get other work from them. I soon picked up Skins and Hearts, Séance, Remote Luxury and Heyday. I couldn’t get enough.

At the time, I was going to college and living in my hometown of Saint Paul, Minnesota, and had a sweet stereo set-up in my room, including a Technics SL D2 turntable, Phillips receiver and Sanyo cassette deck. Music was my thing. I was lucky enough to get tickets and see The Church at First Avenue in Minneapolis for their Heyday tour. The show was nothing short of phenomenal.

After college I got a job at a mapping firm, but was laid off after 10 months due to staffing cutbacks. Six months later I moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for another mapping job. My brother Rob was a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. He and I were close, so we kept in touch by writing letters back and forth. At one point he told three of his female floor members that I was new to Milwaukee and didn’t know many people, so they should include a letter to me along with one of his.

When I got the letters from the three girls, I replied to all of them. Only one, Donna, wrote back. She seemed pretty cool so I kept writing her and over time we became pen pals. We talked about everything from school, to families, to our musical tastes. I sent her a couple of The Church’s tapes and mentioned that they were my favourite band. She said she’d really liked the tapes and had become a fan herself.

During our correspondence in 1988, the Church’s Starfish LP came out. We both fell in love with it immediately, especially the song, Under The Milky Way. It was released prior to the album and was starting to get a little Top 40 airplay and finally bringing the band a bit of critical acclaim.  The whole album was outstanding, but this song captivated me. The arrangement and lyrics stood on their own merit, but when they added in the bagpipe section near the end of the song, well, it was perfection.

Of course we talked back and forth about the album for the first few weeks after it came out. We sparred back and forth, she a fan of Marty’s songs, me preferring Kilbey. She liked Spark, I preferred Hotel Womb. Differences aside, we were in agreement that Under The Milky Way was a great song, and our favourite on the album.

After a year and a half of corresponding, Donna called me one night and asked if I would mind if she came out to visit me. I felt like I knew her as well as many of my face-to-face friends, so I said, absolutely!

She flew out for a weekend visit in late March 1988. From the airport I took her to dinner where we talked about our families, our jobs and everything else that 20-somethings talk of. After dinner, we went to an animated movie at the cool Oriental Theater on Milwaukee’s hip East Side. It was a romantic evening and I’d had a great time. I was hoping she was feeling the same.

As we were driving home in my 1983 Ford Escort, what should come on the FM but Under The Milky Way? We both looked at each other and knew it was more than a coincidence. We were on a first date, on our way to falling deeply in love, and it was unsaid but we both knew that this song was “our song”. Little did we know, but our fates were sealed that night. After a little bit of long distance dating, Donna and I were married on 16 June 1990. Today we will celebrate 30 years together. We are as in love now as we have ever been.

Fast forward. Over the last five years we’ve seen The Church three different times, including their Blurred Crusade tour, and their 30th anniversary of Starfish tour. At each of these shows, every time they played Under The Milky Way, we always look at one another with a knowing smile and our love is reinforced.

Neither of us would have guessed that our coming together 30 years ago was caused by something mystical under the Milky Way that night.

But it was.

Stereo Story # 515


See also Smokie Dawson’s delightful love story about Under The Milky Way.

Jim has three non-fiction books, Cretin Boy, Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir and The Portland House: A '70s Memoir. Jim also has five poetry collections, Thoughts from a Line at the DMV, Genetically Speaking, Reciting from Memory, Written Life, and On a Road. His non-fiction stories have been published in Main Street Rag, The Sun, Story News, and others. His poetry has been featured in Rosebud Magazine, Portage Magazine, Blue Heron Review, and many others. Jim was the 2018-2019 poet laureate for the Village of Wales, Wisconsin.