Swordfish’s Rodia is 23 minutes and 24 seconds of secondhand loneliness. Your grief—yes, yours—can be another’s someone, another’s someone’s car. Another thinking of another more than this other thinks of them. The memory of the smell of this someone’s clothes.
I want there to be a story I can tell around the story of this album, but there’s not. There was no Moment at which Things Changed, no other with whom I once listened. Just me, alone, wanting there to be a story to tell. Looping an album; replaying the same eight tracks. Three months of peripatetic stasis. Following the same path. Arriving at the same end. Then beginning again.
Here’s the thing, though: I don’t think this is a problem. Or at least not for you. It isn’t difficult to imagine longing. Evolutionarily, instinctually, we cling.
Here are the first three lines of Rodia’s first song, “Favorite Clothes.” On the runs I was going on last fall, I’d hear them at least two, most often three, once five times. Here, then, they are:
Blow out the candles and turn on the lights I don't think that we can synthesize Until you're as empty as I feel on the inside
They’re not the song’s strongest lyrics, and “Favorite Clothes” isn’t the best song on Rodia. (That honor, in my opinion, belongs to “Wash.” Listen to it, please, if not the album in its entirety. Please. [Please.]) Owing to the nature of a loop, though, they’re the three lines I heard more than any other last fall, and they set the tone for the album to come. Because Rodia is an album about blowing out candles. And emptiness. Attempting to synthesize with another, to share your darkness with them, to accept theirs, and failing. And then turning on the lights. And leaving them on. Then, without another word, leaving the room, and forcing yourself not to go back.
Chest aching, heart about to burst, I ran. I ran because I was working twelve-hour days at a job for which the best I can now say is that it afforded me a home to exist in alone. There was nothing else for me, no one else for me that fall, so I ran. Woodsmoke in my nostrils, dying leaves crushed underfoot. Asphalt paths abandoned in the evenings, thin lines that narrowed into nothing. Four, five miles, at first. Soon, more.
Have you ever listened to an album until you no longer could hear it? Until it was simply there, coded into the folds of your brain? Laundered, pressed. Worn. For a season, I was Swordfish. Every member. All at once. Longing is ubiquitous. Loneliness is one of a precious many things we as humans share. I sang again and again eight songs about another’s once-significant other. I wore a shirt an ex had bought me on a vacation she’d taken with her family to Napa. I wore merch from another band that boasted on its front a dog wandering alone along a chain link fence. 23 minutes, 24 seconds. Again. Wash, wear, repeat. From “Wash,” Rodia’s midpoint: And I'm holding on cause it's all that I've got. From “Owen,” its closer: You start to write down your chorus / And the words you choose, they don't seem to rhyme. And between these: muted chords, mournful horns. Sounds I, in my isolation, shamelessly aped, echoed into the night. I drummed upon my chest, hummed to no one. I screamed.
And after three months of this flight from nowhere to nowhere, the conclusion I came to was this: love was not worth it. Love was grief and exhaustion and a worse emptiness than I then possessed. Better not to try. (Yes, for those who won’t look them up: until 2017, when producing music became for them too much, Swordfish was an emo band. One as good as they came.)
But then: a year passed. Near enough. And the world just about ended, and just about everyone then in my life left, and different people showed up.
No Moment, no. But Things at last have begun to Change.
So here are another four lines, the final ones of “Favorite Clothes,” and the four I think of, now, when I think of this song:
And every time I digress I put myself in a place And if I stay there too long I can't remember your face The colors, the contours, the flush of your cheeks The way that I slept and the grinding of teeth
And then the rest of it. Seven more songs that revisit and reinterpret the themes contained within these four lines. Grief, yes—I knew this. But also its aftermath, I’ve since come to realize. Mostly its aftermath. To overcome, to move on, first we must dwell. Music, more than any other art form—more than writing, even—allows us to do just this. To inhabit another’s loss, and to learn.
Longing is awful, yes. It is also heartbreakingly, beautifully defiant. Every relationship but one will end in pain. And even that one, if you’re lucky enough to find it. Even that one will end in a pain worse than any before. And still we seek.
Rodia, for the record, for all its pain, ends with soaring horns, joyous grief.
Hence my return to my looping. Almost a year has passed since last fall, and the evenings are again growing cool, and I am still alone. I’m going on longer runs, again: four, five miles, for now. Soon, once more, more. And again my chest aches. But this time I am trying to tilt my face to the night, breathe. And then put on “Favorite Clothes” again: Blow out the candles. Turn on the lights.
Colin Lubner writes (in English) and teaches (math) in southern New Jersey. His work has either appeared or will appear, temporally speaking. Recent pieces can be found through his Twitter: @no1canimagine0. He is keeping on keeping on.
perhappened mag 2020 best of the net nominee for exhaust.