It’s junior high and I’m on a bus. 1994.
Around me are baggy t-shirts with the words “Nirvana,” “Smashing Pumpkins,” and “Primus.” Inside the shirts are 14-year-old boys with long hair parted in the middle.
The radio is playing. I understand this station plays “alternative” music—a term the radio station repeats aggressively. The most popular songs are apparently allowed only one word in their titles: “Loser,” “Today,” “Cannonball,” “Dreams,” “Closer.”
But I am not listening to those songs.
Under headphones connected to a blindingly yellow cassette Walkman that claims it can be played underwater, I am listening to a song titled “The Dazzling Cylinder That Crashed in Tunguska, Siberia,” which will soon be followed by another song called “The Harp of the Ancient People with Songs of Venus and Space Children.” The songs are from a 1979 electronic album called The Bermuda Triangle by a musician who simply goes by the name “Tomita.”
Against a personal soundtrack of Tomita’s swirling analog synthesizers, I can see the acne-enclosed lips of the 14-year-old boys forming words against the light of the bus windows. I can’t tell if they’re making fun of me right now, though they usually do. The isolation of the music allows me plausible deniability.
Suddenly, my peace is shattered. “The Dazzling Cylinder That Crashed in Tunguska, Siberia” lets out a brutal, sphincter-clenching metallic shriek that defies audio physics and all laws of good mastering and compression. It’s a rare combination of terrifying and cheesy; a car bomb as filtered through the sound chip of an Atari 2600.
I see the muted, acne-enclosed lips form into the shape of a loud laugh: the Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and Primus shirts are doubled over. I remove my headphones, and from them comes another metallic synthesized explosion. It is so loud that it can be heard outside my headphones and halfway across the bus. More laughter ensues.
I shrink in my seat. To be miles underwater sounds pretty good right now. And theoretically my Walkman would still work.
Header illustration: Kalen Knowles