This is not an exit

Stay what you are: the origins of a blog title

In Uncategorized on January 16, 2012 at 9:00 am

Music is an enormous part of my life. If you’ve seen me walking around Eugene or McMinnville — and I do this a lot — you’ll notice I usually have two white cords hanging from my ears. If we’re good friends, chances are I’ve made you a playlist or mix CD. In thinking of topics to maintain a steady stream of content for This Is Not An Exit, I’ve decided to post a music column every Monday aptly named — get ready — Music Monday. The title has everything you could possibly hope for: simplicity, alliteration and a Twitter hashtag. And what better way to kick off this new series than to tell you how I came to name this space?

Simply put, it’s the title of one of my favorite songs on one of my favorite albums by one of my favorite bands (“This Is Not An Exit,” Stay What You Are, Saves the Day.) But there’s a bit more to it than that. Those who know me would agree that I’m intensely nostalgic. This has been a characteristic of mine since I can remember. When I was about 12 or 13 one of my cousins pointed out that I would begin every other sentence with, “Remember the time?” Yeah. I was that kid (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

This quality has its perks, particularly when your highest aspiration is to be a storyteller or pop culture reporter. You relate to the emotions anyone can feel for the people, places and things in their lives because of your own attachments. I’m guilty of being easily enthused and I attach some kind of meaning to nearly every type of media I consume.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time reminds me of sunny, cloudless skies and 75-degree temperatures. The summer after the game was released I spent two weeks shut in my room playing it until I beat it 100 percent. After that, any time I would venture outside the music would ring through my head and I’d transform McMinnville into my very own Hyrule.

Any mention of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reminds me of this all-Turtle getup my mother bought me when I was 5: a lime-green shirt featuring all four turtles, a pair of black sweatpants with the logo plastered all over it and TMNT sneakers. Had you called me a baller then I wouldn’t have known what to make of it. I totally was, though.

Second from the right: Baller. Far right: Asshole who calls you out for being nostalgic.

Stay What You Are holds its own special place in my heart for more reasons than I would ever be able to put to words. So I’ll just stick with the most prominent two.

I can remember the day I downloaded and burned the entire album to a CD at my friend Clinton’s house. Back then Limewire was the hot shit, so I tracked down every song individually, cross-referenced the track listing on Saves the Day’s official website and meticulously built a playlist in RealPlayer. I recommend none of the software or methods in that sentence now (unless you want a bevy of viruses.) Once again, this was a summer affair and the weather outside was perfect. And I mean absolutely perfect. It was still light at 8 p.m. when I left Clinton’s and it was warm enough that you’d be comfortable in a t-shirt and jeans even after the sun went down.

Once I loaded the album into my Phillips CD player I set off toward the south. My destination: A white manufactured home on Alexandria Street where a good friend and a marathon campaign of Twisted Metal: Black awaited. On the journey there, I listened to the album all the way through for the first time ever. I was hooked by the end of “At Your Funeral” and absolutely in love by the time the last note of “Firefly” sounded. Once I made it to my pal Drew’s house and we fired up the PlayStation 2, I listened to the album no fewer than three times without pause — at half an hour total, it’s not as much as it seems.

It was then that I first had this thought: “Have I just listened to the perfect album?” Of course, there’s no such thing as a perfect song, much less a perfect compilation of them. But something about every one of Stay What You Are’s 11 tracks struck a chord that left me wanting more.

Have you ever embarrassed yourself so fully in front of a girl you dreaded seeing her the next day? “See You.” Do you ever feel like nobody ever takes you seriously or that your input or feelings are completely insignificant? “Freakish.” I’m sure every teenager who’s ever lived has wanted to shrug off all responsibility and just make a run for it. There’s a song for that, too: “All I’m Losing Is Me.”

That’s the full embodiment of the teenage experience right there.

These are the emotions and sensations I attached to each of these songs when I first heard them. Over the years, I’ve played this record in countless orders and with speakers and headphones at various volumes, each under different circumstances that garnered new discoveries about the music and myself. Once that first pirated copy had worn out, I bought the official pressing at a local music store. When that disc was stolen, I bought another. I will not hesitate to purchase another copy of Stay What You Are should something happen to the one I own and I’ve probably paid around $45 for these songs over the years. Worth every penny. There’s no doubt in my mind that if I had downloaded any other album by any other artist on that summer night that I may not be as attached to these 11 songs as I am. Glad I came across it when I did.

Surely you must have something in your life that came along at just the right moment. Maybe it was when you were in the perfect mood to need it or appreciate it, whether it’s a song, film, other art work. Maybe you met somebody at the right time and formed a friendship for the ages. Stay What You Are came at a time when I was figuring out who I was, what I wanted to be and where I wanted to end up. Not long after that walk I decided for sure that I wanted to be a newsman. That album became the soundtrack for every triumph, heartbreak, beach trip, bonfire, midnight walk, early morning run and commute I had from 2003-2005. Well, not all of them, but certainly the important ones.

That’s what the album means to me, so why name my blog after the tenth track in particular? Here’s a YouTube embed of the song. Go ahead and fire it up if you’re so inclined and give it a listen (Sorry I couldn’t find a way to present it with audio only, but there weren’t any album streams I could latch onto.)

The song’s absolutely amazing and the lyrics hit me on a ton of levels. But I’ll break down what I most often think of when I hear this song. To me it’s about giving in to your fears. It’s about not knowing what’s ahead of you, looking to the sky for guidance and letting a newfound excitement for the future wash away your worries. It’s about taking a breath, diving head-first into the deep end and knowing that, in time, everything will sort itself out.

The last few verses, where Chris Conley sings about being an actor in your own play, walking across the stage, hearing applause and giving the audience an enormous, shit-eating grin, always get an enormous rise out of me. Hearing it live, for one, is indescribable (let’s go to a show sometime so you can see for yourself.) And the reason those words, that image and the music that ties them together bear so much weight for me is that it’s a moment I’ve always held dear. For the first two years these songs were in my life, graduation was an ever-looming end to most of what I knew and loved. Much of what I’d worked for in the 16 years prior would culminate in that moment. Back then I had a pretty literal interpretation of that scene.

The day came and went. And, yes, I felt all of those emotions and more. I celebrated achievements with childhood friends and family, enjoyed the hell out of every remaining minute I had with them and readied myself for the next great adventure. But what followed wasn’t the picturesque future I had laid out in my head. Some things went horribly wrong. Others went surprisingly well. And throughout every experience, good and bad, I couldn’t help but think of that scene. Once this ordeal, this project, this adventure or this trial was over, how would I look back on it? The voice that answered those questions sounded an awful lot like Chris Conley:

“As that curtain falls just know you did it all the best that you knew how. Hear the crowd cheer you on. And don’t forget to smile and show your teeth. Because you know you lived it well.”

That’s what’s driven me for the last eight — nearly nine — years. I’d love to reflect on any part of my life and think, “I really did that up right. I did the best I could.” Even if the end result isn’t the one I wished for, I don’t ever want to look back on anything and be able to say that I didn’t give it 100 percent. My only regrets are the instances in which this was true. And there’s no better way to do this than to be surrounded by the people who mean most to you. Whenever I hit rough water, it helps to remember everyone who’s helped and believed in me thus far. When it comes down to it, I have a pretty amazing array of people I can lean on. There really is no greater feeling.

Finally, and most literally, the title of my blog reflects how I feel about my path in life. No matter what I do, where I go or who I end up working with or for, the spirit and intent will remain the same. I’m a journalist. I’m a perpetual student. Last, but not least, I’m a storyteller. I may go off on tangents, take time off or delve in other pursuits from time to time. But to quote one of my favorite fictional characters of all time, “There ain’t no gettin’ offa this train we’re on!” And this blog is no exception to that mentality. Every road I take will lead back to the same path.

This is not an exit.

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