“I think we should break up.”
As those words crept out of my mouth, a cold sweat trickled down the back of my neck, even though it was 90 degrees and humid outside. Sitting on the kitchen floor of my friend, Dan’s apartment, I wanted it all to be over. I wanted to hang up the phone and curl up in a ball, or at least lounge in a recliner with my friends in the next room. But I had to be honest with her; I had to be up front about my feelings and do the right thing, even if it meant hurting her.
Each June, as the sidewalk bakes and the L.A. air becomes a cloud of gray smog (in Ohio, we called it haze). I pull out End of the Day, a jangly pop masterpiece that hardly anyone has heard of by a band named The Reivers. The album’s song, “Star Telegram” perfectly evokes my childhood summers in Ohio. Those days were spent trying to stay cool, parked in front of fans, running through sprinklers on our front lawn, or hiding down in the dank basement with a stack of Mad Magazines and the radio playing WGCL or ‘MMS.
However, it’s not the innocence of youth that initially comes to mind when I hear The Reivers; it’s the fumbling and awkwardness of trying to be an adult that I think of first. Amazing how an obscure album by an obscure band can have that lasting effect on a person.
The Reivers were a four-piece band from Austin, Texas. In their time they released four full length albums, beginning with 1985’s Translate Slowly, which some consider their finest recording, and ending with 1991’s Pop Beloved. In between, Don Dixon produced 1987’s Saturday, and then there is 1989’s End of the Day. The bulk of the band’s material for this album was written by guitarist/singer John Croslin. But he did not sing all of the tracks. Kim Longrace, the band’s other guitarist, split vocal duties with Croslin, the two of them often duetting on songs. Rounding out the group were Cindy Toth on bass and Garrett Williams on drums.
Dan and Steve introduced me to the band and this fine album when it was released in the summer of ’89. It seemed to be constantly playing in Dan’s car stereo or in his Akron apartment during that time. I was so taken by the music and the plaintiveness of the lyrics that I rushed out to My Generation (the best indie record store in our neck of the woods) to purchase the cassette soon thereafter. That tape became a prized possession when End of the Day went out of print during the mid 90’s. I would limit the number of times I would play it for fear that it would snag in the tape deck and the music would be lost forever. Thankfully, the album was reissued in 2002.
1989 was a peak year for our summer paint crew. We were stoked to have received significant raises and the chemistry between the core group of guys we worked with was excellent. These were the primo days of the paint speckled black boom box I carried around. Many a morning began with Croslin’s twangy voice and the up-tempo melancholy of “It’s About Time,” while we cracked open crusty cans of paint and tried to stay awake. The nights were filled with camaraderie and reflection (i.e. the hoisting of beers). I always picture Steve, immersed in thought, when I hear the “1,2,3,4” and acoustic guitar of “He Will Settle In,” the lines on his forehead and around his eyes seemingly getting deeper the farther away his mind took him. Strange to think that there was a time when all I seemed to worry about was getting up on time to ride my bike to work and whether the alcohol seeping out of my pores created a stench that offended my co-workers.
I was in a weird place at the top of that summer. I had finally cracked open my self-imposed love cocoon and become a little more confident, some may say cocky; I would say I bordered on being an ass. At the end of the school year I was in a long distance relationship with a girl I’d met while visiting Steve in North Carolina. She and I were excited and eager to make the relationship work; we were in love. Letters were sent, mix tapes were made, and at one point I received a package of Rocky and Bullwinkle comics. It was thrilling. Is it any wonder that my favorite song from End of Day quickly became “Almost Home?” It doesn’t get much better than a line like “When I’m almost with you, music tries to play.”
But it wasn’t meant to be.
Sometime around early June I began realizing that to make the relationship succeed would require the will of a monk, as I didn’t know when I would actually see my new love again. I didn’t have the will of a monk. When a weekend trip down to North Carolina fell apart, the logistics slapped me in the face and I knew that it was not going to work out. Having been through on long distance relationship that ended in heartbreak, second-guessing my feelings was an indication that I had to end things.
It would be hard, for her, because it would happen over the phone. Moreover, I feared the repercussions this breakup would have on my friendship with Steve. She was a good friend of his. I had impulsively dived headfirst into this relationship without checking for rocks below. Looking back, I’m surprised that I didn’t have more faith that our friendship could sustain my shortcomings.
On a warm night, June 1989, Steve and I drove to Dan’s Akron apartment to listen to the Indians game, hear some tunes, and drink some beers. At some point I excused myself to make a long distance call to North Carolina. She answered, bright and cheerful, full of hope and unsuspecting.
“I think we should break up.”
As those words crept out of my mouth, a cold sweat trickled down the back of my neck, even though it was 90 degrees and humid outside. Sitting on the kitchen floor, I wanted it all to be over. I wanted to hang up the phone and curl up in a ball, or at least lounge in a recliner with my friends in the next room. But I had to be honest with her; I had to be up front about my feelings and do the right thing, even if it meant hurting her.
On the other end of the phone, she sobbed and asked, “How can you do this to me?” I’m pretty sure she said that she never wanted to talk to me again. And then she hung up. The sound in her voice had been devastating. How was I capable of hurting someone like that?
Steve was upset. More than that, he was disappointed. I believe that his disappointment was more upsetting than the breakup or his anger. We spend our lives trying to please the ones we love and when we let them down, our hearts hurt almost as much as theirs do. Yet, there was also a sense of relief. There would be time to heal, to move on. We would have the summer to figure things out as we sat in the shade, sipping cool drinks and listening to the Reivers.