The power of a song

You know how sometimes you’re just going about your day in an oddly light-hearted way, and then something innocuous happens that puts you down in the dumps in a way you just can’t shake off?

So this morning I’m driving along to work and things are going fairly well. There have been no irritating slowdowns, and I was just about to turn into work when *that song* came on. It was No Doubt’s It’s My Life. Not the worst song in the world or the best, it was the kind of cover I often feel uneasy about because it’s so close to the Talk Talk original that it seems a bit pointless, a bit like Weezer’s Africa.

In a heartbeat I was taken back to the first time I heard that song. Let me take you on that little journey. Well ok, not so little, in fact this is probably the longest post on this site, but whatever.

The year was 2004, late June. 15 years ago although it feels like a lifetime. I lived in Hoboken NJ at the time. It was league pool night in the square mile (Hoboken is a small place) and my team was having a home match at The Quiet Woman. As I had walked into the bar that night it was obvious that most of the team were ill at ease greeting me. We were mostly a coworkers team, and 6 hours earlier I had gotten fired.

[Rewind noise]

Yes, fired. The saga had started about 3 weeks earlier on a Friday afternoon around 5. I loved those Fridays – me and a bunch of guys from the office would get together downstairs at Dorrian’s and get tipsy, then head over to a bar in Hoboken, typically Mulligan’s Pub. Beer would flow freely and it was generally a great start to the weekend.

I don’t know why I felt like I was in a hurry to get to the pub that day. I’ve replayed that day’s events over and over in my head a million times and there’s no reason besides my eagerness to get drunk with my work buddies like on any other Friday. I had been working on this piece of Javascript (I was a web developer at that place), something stupidly minor. When I checked the code into our SCCS the diff looked wrong, but I decided to ignore it.

Little did I know that this little screw-up would basically tear apart the life I had become accustomed to over the previous 5 years. Even now I feel enraged at myself for it. I don’t think I will ever forgive myself for that day.

What happened was that I had been working on an old, outdated version of the file, so when the new build was tested the UI was broken. I tried to fix it as soon as I was made aware, but the series of events I had set into motion ended up snowballing — for a highly embellished version of the story read this post on The Daily WTF which is loosely based on the story I myself submitted to Alex — and on that aforementioned Wednesday at noon my supervisor took me into a side office and informed me that I now had, er, unlimited vacation and no pay.

So, six hours later, we’re at The Quiet Woman having a drink. At that point I was still experiencing the other-worldliness and “lightness” you feel when the ground has completely disappeared from under your feet. It was the last league night for the season. We played our matches — I don’t have any recollection of them really — then we stuck around and had a few drinks while exploring the jukebox. We were losing two of our team members, man and wife — I so wish I could remember their names now but it’s been many years, and many rough years at that — because she was soon starting a new job in California.

That’s when that song came on. My brain, desperate to find something to occupy it instead of keeping on reminding me of how badly I had fucked myself over, just latched onto it, but I was drunk and 80s music had not yet made a big comeback so I couldn’t replace it. Only when I got home and looked it up on Google was I able to trace back the original, and the lady who was off to California IM’d me the name of the original artist within 5 minutes of that.

The next day I opted to walk around Manhattan. I spent part of the afternoon in Bryant Park, listening to the mp3 of the song over and over again, trying to read but making no progress. 4 weeks later I was moving back to Montreal because almost 2k USD/month in rent was just too much.

All this was going through my head this morning as I drove onto my current company’s lot and parked my car for the day. It instantly reminded me of how much I have fucked things up for myself, not just that one time, but so many times. It reawakened the bitterness and self-loathing I thought I had put aside. In Montreal I actually found a better employer, but it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t New York. And then the company was eventually spun off and lay off a bunch of people, myself included. But after that, well, that’ll be a story for another time.

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