Basement Songs: Indigo Girls, “Galileo”

Written by Basement Songs, Music

Scott Malchus has gone back downstairs for another week of Basement Songs — and this week, the Indigo Girls’ “Galileo” is on the stereo.

basementsongs

album-rites-of-passage1My bags sat on the floor waiting to be unpacked while I looked around my bedroom — the same bedroom where I’d grown up, the same bedroom I’d escaped when I went off to Bowling Green, and the same bedroom I would now live in as a college graduate trying to save up money to move out west. Nothing had changed in that room for 15years; the wallpaper that my mother had put up herself still hung on the walls, the newspaper clippings and magazine pictures tacked to the corkboard were still there, and the clown portrait that hovered over the bunk beds my brother and I had shared still looked on, unable to manage a smile. As the smell of fresh cut grass filled the air and a breeze came in through the window, I felt lost. Four years spent in pursuit of a dream seemed to have stalled while I waited out the summer. To top things off, a bad hair dye attempt had left my hair orange.

Change was in the air, though. 1992 was an election year, and the youthful governor Clinton from Arkansas had tapped into the mindset of twentysomethings like me, inspiring us all to believe that our voices really could affect the outcome in November and help shape the country for years to come. In the music world, where trends were still being made and program directors had some freedom to play the music they believed in, alternative radio stations began popping up all over, like little buds bursting through the earth. Underground would soon become the mainstream. Exactly what “alternative” meant was up in the air, giving stations the freedom to play anything that didn’t fit the mold of top 40, country or classic rock radio. In Cleveland it was WENZ, whose playlists were a collage of grunge, modern rock, folk, some electronica and several of the great ’80s college bands finally getting their due. The Replacements, Midnight Oil, early Gabriel, Pearl Jam. It was a healthy mix. One group I was pleased to receive wider exposure was the Indigo Girls, who had just released their fourth album, Rites of Passage.

Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, the Indigo Girls, held a special place in my college experience. The summer of ’89 was spent lounging on school rooftops or scaffoldings (when I should have been working) listening to their landmark self-titled major-label debut, while the best fight I ever got into with my ex-girlfriend led to a night of heavy drinking with my cousin Dave and a Sunday morning hangover accompanied by the Indigo Girls’ 1990 release, Nomads, Indians, Saints. Their newest song getting consistent airplay was “Galileo.” It contained this remarkable passage:

Then you had to bring up reincarnation over a couple of beers the other night
Now I’m serving time for mistakes made by another in another lifetime
How long till my soul gets it right
Can any human being ever reach that kind of light?
I call on the resting soul of Galileo king of night vision king

The lyrics took me back to the many late-night conversations I had with Steve or Matt trying to figure out our place in the world. Hearing the perfect harmonies of the Indigo Girls gave me hope that things would soon change.

But first, I needed a job.

I scheduled an interview with a local temp agency at the insistence of my mother. One of her friends’ sons had been quite successful in the temp world while he pursued his music career. It was worth a try. Dressed in my best — my only — khakis and a faded dress shirt, I sat through an interview that was stifling and very corporate. It felt like the last thing I wanted to be doing with a film degree. The morning of the interview I came home, collar unbuttoned, sleeves rolled up, and slouched in a kitchen chair worried about my prospects. A sudden urge compelled me to ring up my friend, Sally, one of my few high school pals still living in the area. I owed her a call and now seemed like as good a time as any.

“You’re lucky you caught me,” she stated in her usual exuberant manner. “I was on my way out the door to housesit for a friend all summer.”

If I hadn’t called her at that moment, I would have missed her all summer. Fate, perhaps? Sally was working for a nonprofit organization called Cornucopia, Inc. that taught mentally and physically handicapped adults basic job skills, like arriving to work on time and proper etiquette, in a natural food store setting. The non- profit ran two food stores in Lakewood, a city 20 minutes east of where I lived, one a natural foods grocery store called the Nature’s Bin, the other a storefront fruit and vegetable place called the Bin.

“You should come work with me!” she exclaimed.

Soon thereafter Sally set up an interview, and I was hired to work at the Nature’s Bin in their grocery department, as well as being a job trainer to their clients. I didn’t know it, but my life was about to change. This was an inspiring start to the summer; I would be doing something good as I worked. I wouldn’t start working at the Nature’s Bin for four months, though, as I received a phone call the night before my first day. Instead, I was suddenly switched to working at the smaller Bin store, opening the store every day, six days a week.

Each morning I rose at 6:00 AM to be to work by 6:45. My manager was Barb, a large, friendly woman who shuffled through the store and manned the register. John, Sally’s boyfriend (and eventual husband) worked with me regularly and was great to talk to about baseball. There was also Cathy, a spirited young woman had some outrageous stories to share each day. Stacey, John’s brother-in-law, was the produce manager for both stores and stopped by daily. His gruff, tough love demeanor made me laugh because he was a hell of a nice guy. A true friend. I set up crates and created fruit displays for foot traffic on the local sidewalk. I organized the cooler and kept the fruit and vegetable bins fully stocked and rotated. Best of all, I met some remarkable people who were learning how to become citizens in the community. These were our clients. The atmosphere and the work I did at the Bin felt useful — worthwhile.

As I said, my life changed at that small store, most importantly my first Wednesday on the job. That day, one of the part-time employees came in for her regular Wednesday shift, a beautiful, curly-haired woman with enormous blue eyes and a smile to die for. Some people believe that soulmates are two souls split apart, searching for each other over lifetimes, sometimes reincarnated until they find each other. If that is true, then my soul finally got it right and found its other half the moment the words were uttered,

“Scott, this is Julie.”