I got horrible news a few weeks ago, during the presidential debate. No, not that Obama had been replaced with a pod person, although I can see how you’d think that. Rather, an old friend, Jim, got in touch with me–the first time in 20 years–to tell me his cousin, Drew, had kidney cancer, and was in pretty bad shape. He wanted me and my sister to know. For a few summers in the early 90s we spent nearly every entertaining moment with Jim and Drew, and while I hadn’t heard from them in years, I was thoroughly upset.
Jim told me Drew’d love to get letters from Samantha and I, and I told him I’d write to him. And then the week happened, and I suddenly realized it was the next Friday, and I knew that after work I’d have to sit down and write to Drew.
Only I opened Facebook Saturday morning to find I was too late. The cancer they’d discovered four weeks earlier had finished its work, and Drew with it. He was 38, and newly married, and he was gone just like that.
We wrote to each other my senior year of high school. He was a freshman at PSU, so I kind of had a college boyfriend, even if it was of the no-touching long-distance kind. We talked on the phone a lot. He was magnificently hilarious, incredibly intelligent, and could be petulant and moody in the way that 18-year-old guys are–especially 18-year-old guys who are still shedding the last vestiges of high school dorkiness. But lord, was he funny.
At the time I was deep into my Broadway musical phase, and after an especially spirited discussion about How Broadway Sucks, I sent him a mix tape of my favorite show tunes. He was unimpressed, although he did like “One Night in Bangkok” and thought “Master of the House” would be well-performed by Muppets, a comparison I still hang onto this day. Accompanying the rest of his blistering rhetoric on the awfulness of West Side Story, Hair, and Les Miserables, though, came his own mix tape, compiled from years of poaching his older brother’s music collection, and, I suspect, a few John Hughes movies.
He called it “Unfathomably Good Music,” and I was blown away by it. I listened to it ALL the time, and made my sister a copy. It introduced me to the music of many bands of which I’d only heard, and several that were previously unknown to me. It traveled with me to college, to New York, to San Francisco, and back to Pittsburgh again. It lost its cover en route, but the tape is still listenable and intact.
So when I found out about Drew, I ran downstairs, into the last remaining box of cassette tapes, and unearthed “Unfathomably Good Music.” The tape lost its cover over the years, so I had to listen to it again to pull together the full playlist. As a result, I’m kind of a teary mess at the moment. But here you go, folks: the playlist of the first mix tape I ever received from a boy.
- Ceremony by New Order
- Into the Mystic by Van Morrison
- Pictures of You by The Cure
- Never Let Me Down Again by Depeche Mode
- So in Love by OMD
- Motion of Love by Gene Loves Jezabel
- Just Like Heaven by The Cure
- Satellite by Echo and the Bunnymen
- Chorus by Erasure
- Put the Message in the Box by World Party
- Learning to Fly by Tom Petty
- No Woman, No Cry by Bob Marley
- Lips Like Sugar by Echo and the Bunnymen
- Dead Man’s Party by Oingo Boingo
- Bizarre Love Triangle by New Order
- Love Will Tear Us Apart Again by Joy Division
- Every Day Is Like Sunday by Morrissey
- This Is How It Feels by Inspiral Carpets
- One More Time by The Cure
- See a Little Light by Bob Mould
- The Perfect Girl by The Cure
I know what you’re thinking, San Francisco friends, and you’re wrong. I submit to you track 1 of Side B, “No Woman, No Cry,” aka, the anthem of freshmen who want to get laid by girls. Drew wasn’t gay. He just had really, really fabulous taste in music, in all senses of the word, and it’s because of this mix tape that I knew how to turn on The Cure when I really wanted to get my cry on. It’s because of Drew that I entered college with any kind of musical street cred.
Listening to these songs again, I felt nostalgic and sad, of course. I saw myself sitting on the floor of my bedroom, crying to “One More Time” after I’d called it quits with him. But the song that really killed me–the one that had me sobbing hardest–was this one. It’s the exact opposite of sad. It’s joy and beauty and heavenly boys spinning madly in a mirror-balled dance floor, and harmonizing with choirs of synthesizers. It’s life and fun and the exact opposite of cancer.
Drew started a blog to write about his experience with illness, and called it http://drewgoesthereandbackagain.wordpress.com. He only had time to write two entries, but he never thought for a minute he wouldn’t come back again. I thought he would’ve, too, or I wouldn’t have taken so much time to sit my ass down and send him a letter.
So fuck you, cancer. This is what I think of you. Take your bad cells and your short notice and stuff it in the back dumpster at The End-Up, because your kind is not welcome here. These boys are here to harmonize your ass back to hell.