Track One: “2112” – Rush (20:38)
Track Two: “Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage” – Rush (10:26)
Track Three: “Tom Sawyer” – Rush (4:35)
Track Four: “YYZ” – Rush (4:26)
Track Five: “The Trees” – Rush (4:47)
Track Six: “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres” – Rush (18:15)
Track Seven: “Sexual Healing” – Marvin Gaye (4:05)
When I was a junior in high school, my then-boyfriend Pedro Salinas gave me a mix CD for the occasion of our two-month anniversary.
It’s hard to believe now, but when I received this gift, I was actually excited. I had seen High Fidelity; I knew how romantic a mix CD could be. As Salinas took those steps to his CD player, I anticipated a collection of tracks that would sway gracefully between hope and melancholy; excitement and introspection; passion and tenderness. What I didn’t anticipate were six songs in a row by the 1970s Canadian progressive rock trio Rush — and the swift and absolute corrosion of my girlish naiveté regarding love.
“Grim” is only one of the many words that might describe Salinas’s decision to begin his nightmarish compilation with “2112” (by Rush), the twenty-minute long “suite” from their 1976 album of the same unfortunate name. As we listened, Salinas enlightened me with the information that, while many people mistakenly believe the lyrics to “2112” were based on Ayn Rand’s 1937 novella Anthem, in fact Rush’s drummer and lyricist Neil Peart only noticed the thematic similarities between the two works after he finished writing the song. Which only raises the question: how the fuck does someone fucking possibly appropriate the singularly fucking lunatic ideology of Ayn Rand by accident? I had plenty of time to mull this question over as I sat through the song’s fourth guitar solo, but instead I stared at the cretinous expression of enjoyment on Salinas’s face and wondered how I could have made such the catastrophic mistake of letting this person exclusively wiggle his tongue in my mouth on a regular basis.
The second track on Salinas’s mix CD is “Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage” (by Rush). It is short in comparison to “2112”, clocking in at a mere ten-and-a-half minutes, but it is no less inaccessible for it. One would be hard-pressed, for example, to find a more alienating opening lyric than “In the constellation of Cygnus there lurks a mysterious, invisible force, the black hole of Cygnus X-1”. To be fair, I perhaps shouldn’t count it as a lyric, because these words are not sung, but spoken aloud over indeterminate space noises—in which case the first real lyric would be “invisible to telescopic eye”, which isn’t really any better. “Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage” tells the story of a space traveler who is unwittingly sucked into a black hole, much like I was unwittingly sucked into a poisonous relationship with a tasteless idiot sociopath. If there had to be a song that was “our song,” this would probably be it.
I must confess that as “Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage” faded out, I began to grow accustomed to the idea that I was being held hostage by a sixteen-year-old boy and three middle-aged Canadian musicians. And call it Stockholm Syndrome, but the overwhelming bleakness of the situation seemed to subside a little bit. The next two tracks, “Tom Sawyer” (by Rush) and “YYZ” (by Rush) were somewhat listenable compared to the first two. They originally appeared on Rush’s 1981 album Moving Pictures, which Salinas disdainfully told me was “way more mainstream” than their previous efforts (I took this to mean that it was better suited for consumption by regular humans). “Maybe the rest of the CD will be more like this,” I foolishly told myself, as I began to think that I might be able to leave Salinas’s mother’s basement that night with my will to live intact.
I should have known better. My slight reprieve from the afternoon’s musical human rights violation swiftly came to an end with “The Trees” (by, of course, Rush). “The Trees” is a song whose lyrics tell the story of anthropomorphic maple trees fighting anthropomorphic oak trees for equality of sunlight exposure; Salinas interprets it as a parable about racism. If his reading is accurate (and I honestly don’t know if I would prefer that it were or weren’t), then at least now I can finally begin compiling that “Bottom 5 Worst Allegories of The 1970s” list I’ve been trying to get around to doing for months, because I have found a clear and decisive winner.
Everybody has a psychological breaking point, and as “The Trees” came to a close, I discovered mine. When faced with enough relentless horror, outrage tends to eventually give in to exhausted amusement. You give up. You stop demanding “why” so much, ”why” you’ve been chosen to suffer such atrocities, ”why” you’re even celebrating a two-month dating anniversary in the first place, and instead, you feel morbid delight at the inexplicable cruelty of being. Your dignity, once an inalienable right, now seems like a filet mignon to a tourist dying alone of starvation in the Sahara desert; so unlikely that the very notion of its existence is laughable.
This was my state of mind when “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres” (by Rush) began playing. Salinas told me that it was the sequel to “Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage” (by Rush) and that it was nearly as long as “2112” (by Rush), and I started cackling. Delighted, Salinas asked me if I had liked the mix CD so far, and laughing even harder, I told him, yes, I loved it. I was breathless when he proposed to show me some videos of Neil Peart’s half-hour long drum solos. This nightmare was never, ever going to end—and how could it? Why would it?
I was laughing so hard and so long that I didn’t notice when, twenty minutes later, “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres” ended and “Sexual Healing” (by Marvin Gaye) began. I only recognized the song and artist change when Salinas began attempting romantic physical contact with me, which I found even more hilarious—his thought process apparently dictated that after being forced to listen to Canadian science fiction rock for the previous hour, I was going to be motivated by the dulcet tones of Marvin Gaye’s most famous song to give Salinas manual pleasure. Our utter incompatibility amazed me. We were so antithetical to the concept of true love that death did an elderly couple part every time we held hands.
Salinas and I stayed together for five more weeks until I broke up with him by text message.
Pedro Salinas is a comedian and writer living in Southern California. He has a Twitter and a Tumblr. Unsurprisingly, he is single.
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