How often have you let multiple hours pass by submerged in the Internet? One more successful search and you might uncover something revelatory, something that amazes or transforms, something that unlocks a new meaning in your life, something that shines a new light on the unknowable. All of those, “I always wondered…” thoughts now seem answerable. Verifiable. There is a promise that is unfulfilled, and this boundless Internet expanse might just deliver, if you can only get that search term just right.
A few years ago, I dove deep into the Internet one afternoon on a mission. I had the house to myself; the family was away. I started thinking about what happened to the person who made me this tape. It was about 1996 when I received it. I wondered about his family. I never met them but I studied for a sociology exam with him once at their house. He told me about how they never lock their doors and I wondered if almost twenty years later they had the same habit.
I’ll call this person Shane. I went to college with him. And even though I thought that every sociology class should be packed with fellow punk rock-influenced kids learning how to subvert the system along with me, there was only one kid like that, and he was it. He was quiet and kind, despite a loud appearance punctuated by a hairdo that looked like a troll doll’s, black framed glasses, and a thick silver ring in his nose. He was in a band which I avoided going to see because they had a terrible name and I was pretty sure they sounded terrible and I just didn’t want to have to think about what to say to him about it. And ostensibly, we had an academic-only relationship, so it didn’t matter if I supported his band anyway. We studied together. We sometimes palled around campus together. He talked about his girlfriend. I talked about my boyfriend. And that was it.
In high school and early college, I listened mostly to what are considered by some to be the duds in The Replacements catalog- Don’t Tell a Soul and All Shook Down. That must have been what inspired him to make sure I had a copy of Pleased To Meet Me. The Rolling Stones debut album was his favorite album of all time, which opened my Clash-obsessed mind, because, you know, “No Elvis, Beatles, or The Rolling Stones.” And he often told me about his love of rockabilly, about which I knew nothing.
By the time I received this tape from him, I was probably brewing at least a mild crush. I remember talking to him on the telephone while sitting on my parents’ bed one summer afternoon. I was marooned back home between college semesters with nothing much happening but work in a plastics factory. He was considering driving to visit me. He had found out that a local store sold drugs out of the back room. He really thought I should give that Rolling Stones record a try.
I thought about how to warn my parents about Shane’s appearance before his visit. I listened to this tape and daydreamed about how much fun I would have showing him around where I grew up and talking about music. But he never showed up. And we didn’t talk much after that either. We weren’t in any classes together anymore. I didn’t see him around campus much. Our paths just didn’t cross. I bought that first Rolling Stones album a few years later after graduating from college. He was right; it was good.
That afternoon a few years ago, the minutes melted away as I tried every possible search engine combination to find out where he was now. It felt like a puzzle to put together. No one is so absent from the Internet that you can’t find some trace of them, I thought. I was not making much headway. I found some old webpages for that band he was in. Nothing remotely current. I had expended over an hour before I remembered that his older brother had been an athlete in that suburban neighborhood with the unlocked doors. Searching for his brother’s name along with his name is how I found him. He had died of a drug overdose shortly after his brother’s wedding. His girlfriend recounted the night of his passing in a blog post in which she clearly just needed to get. it. all. out. All the gory details were laid bare.
I wished I could tell his family and his girlfriend how sorry I was, but I was a small blip in the story of Shane’s life. Without the Internet, I would have never known what happened to him. I should have never known what happened to him. To reach out to them now just would not make sense.
In the last few years, I have bought rockabilly records now and then, always with a silent salute to Shane. The Internet may seem like a place of permanence, where obscure decades-old factoids are retrievable, but it lacks the endurance of our perfectly imperfect moments together. The music that we love and the way we feel about the people with whom we share it transcend temporal boundaries. Even when we can’t be with friends anymore, the songs they shared with us will still ignite our hearts. Permanence defines those feelings, which sure as hell can’t be googled. I am grateful to have a few artifacts to help me keep the tune alive.
And so, this one’s for Shane—one of my favorite songs on the tape he made me, performed by someone who also left this earth too early, Eddie Cochran- C’mon Everybody. Cheers, man, wherever you are.
Sarah Grady is a statistician in the Washington, DC area. She makes this website in her spare time. Twitter: @1976_sarah