David Obuchowski | Longreads | July 2019 | 35 minutes (6,336 words)
What makes a band your favorite band? Is it the quality of their songs? Is it their politics? Is it because they pioneered a certain sound? An emotional association? I don’t know. Any of those are valid reasons for crowning a band as your favorite.
For most of my life, starting in high school through my 30s, the Smiths were my favorite band. And to be sure, I still love the Smiths. But a few years ago, I came to a simple and somehow comforting realization: My favorite band is the Sundays.
They only put out three albums and a handful of B sides, but there isn’t a single Sundays song that I don’t at least really like, if not completely love. I can’t say that about any other band. There are Smiths songs that I cannot stand — “Golden Lights,” “Reel Around The Fountain,” to name two of many. Mudhoney, New Bomb Turks, I love them both, but those bands have albums I don’t even own. What business do I have calling a band my favorite when I don’t even have all their records?
The subject of favorite bands can be a thorny one. Who you call your favorite band says a lot about you. Are you a punk? A purist? A lover of the obscure? A hopeless romantic? Such labels would have concerned the younger me. As I’ve grown older, I’ve tried to have a more simple, truthful outlook on life. And so, if there’s a band that has never released a song that I haven’t at least really liked, if not utterly loved, they deserve to be called my favorite. That’s my rubric. It’s simple. It’s real. It’s the closest I can get to an objective answer to such a subjective question. Except, for all my talk of simplicity and honesty, that’s not quite the truth of it.
* * *
In late summer 2018, I made a trip to New York City, where I once lived for nearly a decade. I had a few meetings, but I took some time to see old friends. One of them was Katie, who used to be my editorial assistant when I wrote for a financial magazine.
When I asked Katie if she could help with a story I was writing, she agreed, intrigued.
“Well, I’m going to write about a band that is notoriously press-shy,” I explained. “And they haven’t had an album in more than 20 years. So they have even less of a reason to talk to a journalist. And they happen to be my favorite band.”
“Who?” she asked me, even more intrigued.
“The Sundays,” I told her.
Katie laughed. She had not expected that. For most of time she’s known me, I’ve played in heavy bands that are often classified as post-metal or post-hardcore, nothing like the airy, sometimes whimsical new wave pop the Sundays made.
Who you call your favorite band says a lot about you.
I explained how I wanted to write the definitive profile of the band, to tell their stories as individuals, to not only explore their experiences in the music industry, but also do them justice as real people with fears and joys and lives beyond music. Only trouble was, I couldn’t figure out how to contact them, and neither could any of my acquaintances in the music industry. The last time they had spoken to the press was in 2014, which was even more unusual because it wasn’t in Pitchfork or Rolling Stone, but in American Way, the American Airlines in-flight magazine. And although they indicated that they’d been working on new music, which caused various music-related publications to wonder if they were getting ready to release a new record, that was the last of the interviews. The feature was not the beginning of some new press or album cycle. It was just a single, anomalous blip, the last the public has heard from the Sundays for five years now.
In general, such a low profile would be a clear indication that a band places a high value on their privacy and does not want to be bothered. But for some journalists, in particular, this journalist, it’s a challenge, especially if the payoff is getting to communicate with my all-time favorite band.
Katie agreed to give me a hand.
* * *
I didn’t discover the Sundays on my own. Danna introduced me to them.
I met her, my first best friend, when I was 3 years old and she was 4. We went to preschool together. She lived about six houses down from me. We’ve been friends for so long, I quite literally can’t remember the first few years of our friendship. I just know that when I reached the age where I could form memories, I lived in a particular house in a particular neighborhood in New Jersey, and I had a mom, a dad, a brother, four grandparents, and a best friend.
She was the best friend I always tried to impress. Where I was shy and sensitive, Danna was brash, and as we entered middle school, she became a proud, outspoken nonconformist who would wear bright green tights and a different color Chuck Taylor on each foot. I would have loved to dress with the same punk-rock attitude, but I feared people would laugh. Plus, my parents would have killed for me leaving the house like that.
We both loved music, but we didn’t always agree about it. My punk was a bit too one-dimensional for her tastes. Shelleyan Orphan (who, of course, I love now) was far too flowery for me then. Juliana Hatfield (who I also love now) was too poppy. We certainly agreed on the Pixies. Then one day after school, when I was 11 and she was 12, she put on a tape. She wasn’t trying to introduce me to anything. She just put it on because it was new and she loved it.
Two quickly strummed guitar chords rocked back and forth, as tight, peppy drums kept time. Then an impossibly beautiful voice sung effortlessly:
“People I know / Places I go / Make me feel tongue-tied…”
* * *
One of the reasons I wanted to profile the band was, for as long as I’ve loved the band, I haven’t known much about them. What I have known felt too neat, too one-dimensional. All that fans like me could really glean was that the Sundays’ chief songwriters, Harriet Wheeler and David Gavurin, met at the University of Bristol in the mid-1980s and started writing together, with neither having had any previous interest in playing in bands or doing anything serious in music. Once they started messing around with songs, making music seemed fun enough.
By late 1987 or 1988, the duo relocated to London where they invited drummer Patrick Hannan and bassist Paul Brindley into the fold. They christened themselves the Sundays (often styled the SUNDAYS) because, as Gavurin said in a 1990 interview with Boston College independent student newspaper The Heights, “We liked the sound and feel of it, and because it wasn’t a name that was bigger than the music.” The band recorded demos so they could land some gigs.
In August 1988 the band played its first show, opening for the Caretaker Race. Looking back on it in 1993, Wheeler told the Toronto Star that three reviewers were in attendance. “They were supposed to review the main band,” she said, “but instead they wrote about us.”
The feature was just a single, anomalous blip, the last the public has heard from the Sundays for five years now.
What ensued was a bidding war that the 2003 Rough Guide to Rock described as a “frenzy.” The band went with the legendary U.K. label Rough Trade, home to such bands as the Smiths, the Go-Betweens, and Aztec Camera.
That’s pretty much the story of the Sundays, according to scant sources. The story’s too simple. It’s also too unremarkable a story for such a remarkable band. It had never crossed my mind that this is the story they, as a band, probably wanted out there. Rather, it always seemed that such a tidy bio simply benefits the record labels and the PR companies who promote records. And now that the band was inactive, who was going to take the time to really dig in and discover the deeper story behind the Sundays? Me.
While other journalists have moved on, I still cherished and listened to the Sundays constantly. My devotion had produced a deep curiosity about them as individuals. Plus, I’d built a career telling people’s stories. As an automotive writer, these are often stories about people and their cars, but once I spend time with my subjects, I learn that the reason people drive or hoard or search for a particular car isn’t just that they’re cool, but that there’s a complicated, beautiful, or tragic story behind the car.
Stories like these require I spend time with people, so if writing the definitive profile meant that I had to spend time with the Sundays to get to know them, well, I considered that a nice perk of an oftentimes difficult job.
* * *
Katie contacted me shortly after I returned home to Colorado from New York. Of the four band members, she had located Hannan and Brindley. Hannan was on LinkedIn and works as a session drummer, and touring sound person. Brindley runs a company called Musically.
I added Hannan on LinkedIn and sent a direct message. He never responded. I also emailed the bass player at his Musically address.
However, I assumed finding Wheeler and Gavurin would prove to be more difficult.
* * *
Except for the Sundays’ hit cover of the Rolling Stones’ song “Wild Horses,” every single one of their songs that I can find is credited to Wheeler/Gavurin.
In addition to the entire the Sundays catalog, Wheeler and Gavurin have quite a lot bonding them. By the time they were crafting their first songs, they were already in love and living together. The first and only single, “Can’t Be Sure,” from their first album, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, was released in 1989 and the album was released shortly thereafter in January 1990. By 1995, between their second album, Blind, and third album, Static & Silence, the couple had their first child. After their third and final album to date, the couple had their second child.
Maybe it’s because of something I’ve read about them, or maybe it’s because I’m now married with two kids and this is the way I feel, but in my mind, I imagined that they retired to settle down, enjoy their marriage, raise their kids. I presumed that they wanted to live some kind of a normal life without management and publicists and labels pressuring them to tour; to avoid being accosted by intense fans begging them to sign merch, to give them a hug, to ask them to listen to their stories and gush about why their music is so sacred.
In that 1990 interview with The Heights, Gavurin noted that their album was on track to sell at least 500,000 copies, but that he was grateful that Rough Trade (and Geffen, who distributed the album in the U.S.) wasn’t pushing their music via mainstream media, which could have very well resulted in the band selling a million albums. “I have a real fear of what that kind of success does to the music,” he said. “Fame would be more of a hassle than anything else.” This was before their second album was even recorded, much less released; before they were parents. And yet, especially after I’d spent nearly half a year planning this story, I got the feeling this fear of fame wasn’t limited to its effects on the music.
* * *
I sent Brindley a fairly substantial email explaining that I wanted to interview him. The timing for writing this story was particularly good because the holiday vacation my family and I were taking would bring me to England and continental Europe. Consequently, I assured him that I would make any arrangements necessary to speak with him when I was over there, and that my aim was to go deeper into the Sundays than any typical profile. None of the familiar trite questions about where their name came from, who their songs are about, and who they would call their greatest influences. I assumed that Brindley and the other members would be intrigued by my questions, which I saw as refreshingly personal. I figured they would be glad to discuss the members’ experiences both inside and outside the band, including Brindley’s work as an entrepreneur.
Less than an hour later, Brindley wrote back. His was a friendly, gracious email, but he made it clear he would not consent to an interview. He did, however, offer to pass along a request to the elusive Wheeler and Gavurin.
I’d been so sure that reaching a member of the Sundays would be a near-impossible task, I was entirely flummoxed that here I was emailing with one of them during my first attempt.
Flummoxed is an understatement. I was shaking. From playful basslines like those in “Hideous Towns,” to powerful, groovy ones like those in “A Certain Someone,” to gorgeous, understated ones like those in “Blood On My Hands,” I have listened to this person’s music for almost 30 years. During that time, he had no idea who I was, an 11-year-old kid in New Jersey playing their first record. Twenty-nine years later, he still had no knowledge of the 40-year-old me who considered the Sundays his favorite band. But then, in those moments when we emailed, that changed. As a musician myself, I know the profundity and strangeness of that transaction.
What if I disappointed them? I knew what I thought of the Sundays, but what would the Sundays think of me?
All at once, I began doubting myself: I think he’s a brilliant bassist, but does he think the story idea is stupid? Does he think I’m strange? There’s an old saying: Never meet your heroes. The idea is that they’ll disappoint you. But for me, there was another risk: What if I disappointed them? I knew what I thought of the Sundays, but what would the Sundays think of me?
On top of all those questions, another realization: He said no. And I needed him to say yes.
I made another passionate appeal to please consider the interview, that I would not ask him to be a spokesperson for the band or for any other member, that I was simply interested in his own story, which would then factor into the larger story.
Once again, his friendly, firm reply landed quickly in my inbox, reiterating his position. I felt defeated. I’d struck out. Well, I’d struck out with him.
In his reply, he had once again reiterated his willingness to pass on a request to Wheeler and Gavurin. I wasn’t entirely sure I’d ever get the chance to make my pitch to the private Wheeler and Gavurin. But if I did, it would be my only shot, so I’d have to nail it.
I began typing, “OK, I perfectly understand, of course. Thanks for hearing me out.”
And then I addressed his offer. “I wonder, since you’ll be passing it along anyway, if you;d mind if I wrote a more specific request for them? If I have a rare shot of them reading something from me, I’d love the chance to try to craft my message as eloquently as possible.”
Brindley’s reply came back three minutes later, explaining that it was too late. He’d already sent them a note.
A very bad feeling came over me, and I immediately walked downstairs and told my wife, Sarah, “I think I just blew it with the Sundays.”
“What do you mean?” she asked. I caught her up on the day’s developments. “Maybe they’ll agree?” she said, though her inflection and her expression said everything: Indeed, I’d blown it.
That was August 9th.
* * *
I wrote Katie an email explaining what happened. I told her that now I was basically in a race against the clock, that it was only a matter of time until Brindley wrote me back saying Wheeler and Gavurin say thanks but no thanks.
In my mind, I desperately needed to get an email to them as soon as possible with a personal pitch, explaining that, Yes, I know Paul Brindley already passed my request along, but that was my request to him, not you, so here’s what I would have sent.
Katie said she’d keep looking.
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Aside from asking a few more music industry contacts, there was little I could do but wait and stew. Stew about my chances. Stew about how Brindley had potentially wrecked my chances of meeting Wheeler and Gavurin.
What would a reporter do? I had no idea. When I had conceived this story, I had done so as both a writer and a fan. I thought there was a professional and a personal stake, though I couldn’t yet recognize the way those roles overlapped and informed each other.
After being ignored by one band member, declined by another, and as my chances at speaking with Wheeler and Gavurin were dwindling, I was now realizing just how much of it was personal.
* * *
In truth, my affection for the band has to do with more than just liking the Sundays’ songs. It’s tied to something far more powerful: nostalgia.
Nostalgia is a mysterious thing. Scientists have tried to understand it for centuries. One of those scientists is Clay Routledge, a social psychologist and professor at North Dakota State University. Writing for Scientific American online, Routledge pointed out that “until the later part of the 20th century nostalgia was viewed either as a medical disease or a mental illness.”
Nostalgia carries an impressive strength. As Routledge observes, it’s the reason “old movie franchises are resurrected and rebooted, songs and albums that represent ‘the classics’ for any given generation are remastered and rereleased, and old video games are given a high definition facelift and resold.” Even social media platforms, he writes, “thrive, in part, because people long to return to their past by catching up with old friends.”
But why? Routledge thinks he knows. Contemporary studies conducted by researchers like him have found that “[w]hen nostalgia is induced in the lab, it puts people in a good mood,” he writes in Scientific American. He adds, “Nostalgia, compared to control conditions, increases self-esteem as well as perceptions of meaning in life.”
Meaning in life.
From photos to food, there are many things that make me nostalgic. But there’s nothing in the world that makes me as nostalgic as the Sundays’ music. It induces the positive flow of feelings that Routledge describes from his studies, and it gives me a sort of instant, vivid, exceptionally detailed recall. The way the carpet in my childhood bedroom felt on my feet; the Morrissey and Beastie Boys posters I tacked to my ceiling; the sweet smell that wafted from the plush-lined hardshell case that held my 1983 Squier Stratocaster, which was cream with a maple neck, white pickguard, and black pickups. This nostalgia makes me feel more connected to my past, which helps me feel more connected to myself. That might explain why I feel so connected to them now, but even when I was a kid, the Sundays seemed to bring a real sense of meaning to the things around me.
In truth, my affection for the band is tied to something far more powerful than the songs: nostalgia.
Like the lights Danna and I looked at in the New Jersey nighttime. I’d volunteer to walk my dog, and she would meet me. First, we’d go to the park and share a cigarette. Then we’d walk to the top of our street and look out above the treetops and the houses. There were lights. Maybe they were the tops of nearby office buildings. I don’t know. We always told ourselves it was New York City.
We sang the Sundays into the darkness and looked out on those lights that we called New York City. And maybe it was New York City. Or maybe, with the music of the Sundays on our tongues and in our ears, maybe it was all we needed to imagine bigger, better, and brighter places than where we were.
As kids, we weren’t looking back to a wonderful past, but imagining an exciting future — nostalgia in reverse.
* * *
A day passed without hearing from Brindley. And another, until a few weeks passed, and I finally came to accept that I was never going to hear anything.
“Well,” I naively thought, “I’ve been ignored, but not rejected.” I tried to see that as an opportunity.
So, on September 10th, I took nearly a full day to draft a new pitch email to the other band members. When I was done revising it, perfecting it, for possibly the seventh time, I sent it to Brindley, asking him to please pass it along to them. I’d spent the day experiencing a renewed hope that this would all work out. After all, he had been willing to pass along my first request, so why not the second?
That hope stayed with me a few moments after I clicked send, then the rush wore off. The hope was replaced with the unmistakable feeling of foolishness, that the band had put me in the “ignore” pile, after my first email. So why the hell did I think one more email was going to change anything? If I was going to change their mind and get to meet the Sundays, I’d need something far more personal than email.
* * *
And then, a breakthrough.
Katie emailed me with an update so big, she was shaken. I immediately sensed her unease. Turns out, she’d found Wheeler and Gavurin’s home address, or at least, she was fairly certain she had. She hadn’t found it through any underhanded methods. I am not going to be specific about how she did it, but it involved some very creative thinking. I looked over what she’d uncovered, and I agreed. It certainly did seem to be their address.
I congratulated and thanked her for her very good and hard work. But gratitude didn’t seem to be what she was after. She said that she felt a little like a stalker. I did my best to allay her anxieties. She was simply doing what was required for me to successfully complete a well-sourced article. If we couldn’t track down sources one way, well, we’d have to do it another way.
I had a twinge of recognition that in trying to convince her of that, I was also trying to convince myself.
Katie asked me what I was going to do with it.
“I’m going to show up on their doorstep,” I told her, delighted that I no longer had to rely on Brindley as my go-between.
Only months later did I realize that, with their home address, I could have sent them a letter. But even if the idea had occurred to me at the time, I’d have immediately dismissed it, rationalizing that they could have ignored the letter just as easily as they ignored my email.
* * *
“You’re just going to knock on their door?” Sarah asked me, incredulous, after I explained Katie’s big breakthrough.
“Yeah,” I said. “Why not?”
Initially, the idea struck her as crazy for just how brazen it was. Of course, she’s a very shy person. So the idea that I’d just march up to the front door of these two members of my favorite band was just unthinkable.
The idea that I’d just march up to the front door of these two members of my favorite band was just unthinkable.
As she thought about it more, other concerns came to mind.
“What if they say no?” she asked.
I shrugged. “So they say no. I’d respect that.”
Showing up on their doorstep, I explained, would only be a last resort. If they emailed me before our trip to say they were not interested in being interviewed, I’d thank them for responding, and that would be the end of it. But if they didn’t get back with me?
“So you just show up, tell them you want to write about them, and ask them to spend the day with you?”
“Or an hour. Or ten minutes. I’ll take anything.”
“Aren’t you nervous?”
“I don’t know,” I said. Even if I was, I was more excited. Maybe I’d get my story after all. But far more importantly, I was going to finally meet the Sundays.
* * *
The weeks went on, and our trip to Europe drew nearer. Occasionally, Sarah would ask if I’d heard from the Sundays, and when I said I hadn’t, she’d ask me again about my plan.
“Go to their house. Knock on the door. Explain that I flew all the way from the States. Beg them for a few minutes,” I would say. Then sometimes, I would tease her that I’d have her and the kids wait across the street to show Wheeler and Gavurin that I was a totally harmless family-oriented guy. I was just like them.
Of course, part of me knew I wasn’t teasing. If Sarah all of a sudden shed her shyness and agreed to come along, maybe I’d have been more than willing to have them stand there. Character witnesses. Proof that I’m not some parasitic member of the press or paparazzi.
It’s easy to label the paparazzi as parasitic. What’s more difficult is to indict fandom or adoration. My bands have played countless shows and made tons of tours. And even though my bands never reached the Sundays’ level of success, I’ve had fans drive across state lines and practically follow us around the country. Fans have cornered me at the merch table, where I’ve had to listen to endless stories about their relationships, guitars, bands, families, et cetera. As a musician, I’ve felt indebted to people who have paid for tickets, bought merch and records. And yet, at some point, those really amazing fans can turn into problematic fans.
In the back of my mind, self-doubt began to bloom. Was I acting like an ambitious journalist, or a problematic and entitled fan?
Ambitious journalist, of course. Entitled fans don’t care that you’re standing there at the merch table unable to get a drink, grab something to eat, or to call your family back home. They don’t care that you maybe want some time to yourself. Entitled fans don’t care about the feelings of the very people they adore.
But I very much cared what the Sundays thought, because I completely believed that when I finally had a chance to meet them, I’d be able to give them something special: my storytelling abilities, and understanding and appreciation of their work that most people simply didn’t have. Especially now, when it was so far in the past.
* * *
Speaking of the past.
Before we made our transatlantic journey, I had another trip to make for an entirely different story. This one was to Tampa/St. Petersburg region of Florida, where Danna and her husband now live. There had been a few years in the mid-2000s when Danna and I both lived in Brooklyn, and we hung out a lot. But she moved, then I moved, then she moved again, and so did I. These days I’m in Colorado and she’s in Florida, and as you can imagine, we don’t see each other much. In fact, before last year, I hadn’t seen Danna in close to 10 years.
Danna and her husband and I met for dinner. Her husband isn’t big on drinking, so with him as our designated driver, Danna and I indulged. We stayed out late, telling stories about the old days, catching up on the new days, and ribbing each other endlessly as if we were siblings.
At the end of the night, as they drove me to my hotel, they let me plug my phone in to play some music.
“OK, check this out,” I said, and without showing them what I was queuing up, I put on the Sundays. I started with “Skin & Bones,” the first track on Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.
Danna quite literally gasped, as if maybe someone had run in front of the car. It was that strong of a reaction. And then she sighed. “Ahhhhh, the Sundays. I haven’t heard this in so long.”
“Amazing, right?” I said.
“Gimme your phone,” she demanded. “I need to hear this song.” She advanced the track.
Two bright chords swaying back and forth. The eager beat, locking in the time. “People I know, places I go,” Wheeler sang in a studio in England in 1989, and also right there in a car in Florida in 2018.
Danna sat back in the passenger seat and bathed in the music. “God, I love this song.”
In the back seat, I sat back, too. “Yeah. It’s incredible.”
When the song ended, I put on a couple others, then leaned forward. “I’m going to meet them,” I said.
“Shut up,” Danna said.
“Yep. I pitched a story about them, and I got the green light. I’m going to meet them.” I wasn’t trying to stretch the truth. But the stretching happened in the kind of effortless, organic way it does when you’re a teenage boy perpetually trying to impress anyone, everyone, but especially your older, much cooler best friend.
It’s easy to label the paparazzi as parasitic. What’s more difficult is to indict fandom or adoration.
Danna was thrilled. I couldn’t keep it up with her questions. “Well, they haven’t actually agreed yet,” I admitted. “But they haven’t said no, either. And I’ve emailed with their bass player a couple times. They just haven’t gotten back to me, and, well.” I paused, chuckling uncomfortably. “I think I found their home address.”
“Their address?” Danna sounded a little worried.
“Yeah. So if I don’t hear back from them, I’ll just show up. You know, introduce myself.”
Danna covered her face. “Oh my god.”
The song “Summertime” came on, where Wheeler sings, “Have I read too much fiction, or is this how it happens?”
“See?” I told her. “It’s like a story. She gets it.”
“Oh man,” Danna said, still shaking her head. “Oh man.”
* * *
Less than two weeks before our flight, Sarah and I settled in for our weekly Friday date night. We’ve been doing it for years now, and it’s the highlight of the week. We put the kids to bed, then instead of watching TV or a movie, we put on records, make some cocktails, and just listen to music and talk.
Before we had kids, when we ate Top Ramen and slept on a Futon in a minuscule studio apartment on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, we’d have a ritual on Sundays: hold hands and walk through Green-Wood Cemetery, talking about how we were going to make our dreams come true. Now, a decade later, we still struggle a bit financially, but we live thousands of miles away from the Fort Hamilton Parkway subway station, thousands of miles from those elegant but eldritch mausoleums and ornately carved Green-Wood gravestones.
But, really, we’re still doing the same thing.
A shelf above the record player holds about seven or eight records. We pick the records we want to listen to and line them up there. On this particular night, and on most date nights, my cherished vinyl copy of the Sundays’ first album stood among them.
A few drinks in, we’d gone through four or five records, and I put on the Sundays.
“Any word from that guy?” Sarah said, referring to their bass player.
“Nope,” I answered.
“And you’re still thinking you’ll just show up at their house?”
“Yep,” I said, confident, and a little bit mischievous. I gave her my million-dollar smile.
She rolled her eyes playfully, then got a little serious. “Are you sure? I mean, really, what if they are seriously mad at you?”
I dropped the playful act, too. “Well, think about it,” I told her, a little defensive. “I’ve tried getting in touch with them. They haven’t written me back. If I don’t do this, I’m definitely, 100 percent not going to interview them. If I knock on their door, there’s a chance.”
“So they give you 10 minutes. What can you ask them in 10 minutes?”
“I have no idea,” I admitted. As much time as I’d spent imagining them opening the door with friendly faces, I’d spent exactly zero time trying to figure out what the hell I’d ever ask them in such a short time.
“What if they hate you?” she asked me bluntly. “What if they’re so mad about you showing up, they literally hate you.”
I looked at the cover of the album up on the shelf: spiraling fossils of shells or something. I’d never thought too much about the cover. It’s a nice cover. But I’d never really wondered how or why they selected that image for it. But sometime in 1989, they did. Then, in 2018, 30 years later, I was staring into it, getting lost.
“I’d look at that record differently,” I whispered.
“Every time their music comes on, you’ll think, I met these guys once, and now they hate me,” she said.
It was such a simple but purely correct statement, and it was absolutely brutal. What made it worse wasn’t just that there was a chance they’d hate me. It was a certainty. It’s how I would feel if some stranger just showed up at my door uninvited all because he liked my band. It’s one thing for your favorite band in the world to have no idea who you are. It’s an entirely different thing for them to despise you.
“Truthfully, I’m not even sure I’d be able to listen to them again,” I said. “That’s all I’d be able to think: The Sundays hate me.”
The record kept playing.
Sarah reached over and put her hand on me knee. “Trust me, I think they could have at least written you back.”
“I just wanted the chance to explain how much they mean. I thought maybe I could tell their story better than anyone else had.” I was still clinging to my original objective to tell the definitive story of the Sundays. And yet, I wouldn’t be fine with ten minutes of their time, as if I could ever conduct a meaningful interview over the course of 600 seconds. The recognition began setting in, that meeting them had nothing to do with an essay, and everything to do with meeting my heroes. It was selfish. I didn’t want to be that kind of fan.
The recognition began setting in, that meeting them had nothing to do with an essay, and everything to do with meeting my heroes.
We sipped our drinks as the record ended, and we put another one on, I can’t remember which.
The following Monday, nearly four months after I’d first emailed Brindley, I came down from my office in the middle of the day. I poured myself a cup of coffee as Sarah worked on an illustration. “I emailed Paul Brindley again,” I told her.
“Who’s Paul Brindley?” she asked.
Amazing. The name meant nothing to her. She’s my soulmate, yet I could put the Sundays on, and there was a decent chance she’d just assume it was the Cranberries.
“Bass player of the Sundays,” I said. “I told him I was making this one last request, that I would stop bothering them. I asked him to please pass it along to David and Harriet, and if I didn’t hear anything back, they wouldn’t hear from me again. I said if they said no, I’d totally respect it.”
Sarah said, “So, you’re not going to show up on their doorstep?”
It took four months to accept what I should have known all along: The Sundays are fine just as they are. They don’t want to be bothered.
* * *
I packed my recording device even though I knew, like the swimsuits we’d all packed in case we wound up somewhere with a pool, it was just one more thing to lug around for no good reason. When we headed out to the airport early that afternoon, I hadn’t heard from Brindley, hadn’t heard from Wheeler or Gavurin. But just in case I did, I wanted to be prepared. There was no need.
Our vacation days flew by, and just like that, the trip was over and we headed home.
I sat in the cramped seat on the discount airliner and listened to the Sundays.
I kept looking across the aisle to where Sarah and our kids sat in a row of three.
My daughter was sound asleep, her head in Sarah’s lap. My son slept, too, leaning against his mother like she was a pillow. Sarah’s eyes fluttered as she drifted in and out of a restless nap. Me, I should have been sleeping, too, but I kept getting lost in a pleasant tangle of memories. Some about my own childhood, some about the past few weeks.
I’d loved the Sundays’ music so much, I’d felt entitled to the people who made it. Even if it’s driven by the purest appreciation, fandom entitles you to nothing, not to know the musicians, to meet them, to tell their stories. I was entitled to nothing more than the music they’d released and that I paid for: the record that is on my wall, the albums playing in my headphones, the cassettes and CDs boxed up with old yearbooks and photographs that have been with me across two and a half decades and a half dozen moves across a half dozen states. Those are mine, to take with me across more years and more state lines, to listen to with old friends and with the love of my life, or simply with my own thoughts, my memories of the past, and my hopes for the future.
Looking at my family, I realized that this was the first time I’d listened to the Sundays in nearly half a year without any worry about whether I’d meet them. I was relieved I hadn’t, relieved I hadn’t intruded on their privacy or found them to be personally off-putting, glad they didn’t hate me, grateful that their music can continue to be the soundtrack to a story that never ends.
David Obuchowski is an essayist and fiction writer whose work has appeared in Jalopnik, The Awl, Deadspin, and others. He’s the writer, producer, and host of the podcast TEMPEST, and a musician whose bands include Publicist UK, Goes Cube, Distant Correspondent, and Memory Bias.
Copy editor: Jacob Z. Gross