Basement Songs: Peter Gabriel, “Excuse Me”
On Sunday mornings, I’d drag my ass out of bed and wander over to the cafeteria to replenish my fluids and put some food in my stomach. After that, maybe I’d take in the Browns game or listen to music on the headphones. This was the routine in spring semester, 1989 — even though the spring was a far-off, distant thought as winter dragged its feet on its way out. My favorite Sundays during my freshman year of college were the ones in which my friend Dan and I would venture into downtown Bowling Green to idle away the remains of the weekend. It wasn’t a long walk, but the inclement weather of northwest Ohio made these trips seem like they lasted for hours. Dressed sloppily in sweatpants or jeans so grungy they practically did the walking for us, hair askew and crammed under a baseball cap, and bundled in our down coats, we’d trek off campus.
Dan and I shared similar tastes in music and movies. At the time, he was one of the few Peter Gabriel fans I knew (real fans, anyway — beyond So and his few other hit songs). Dan introduced me to Gabriel’s first self-titled solo album (referred to as “Car”). From the rain-covered windshield on the cover to the cryptic lyrics to the brooding music, everything about the Car album captured the essence of those overcast days walking into town with the wind blowing, a wind so biting it cut through the many layers of clothes you wore. At times, it hurt to move. I will never miss the Bowling Green wind. Thanks to Dan I became enthralled with songs like “Modern Love” and “Humdrum.” Dan was particularly fond of the deep cut “Excuse Me,” which when I hear it now only reminds me of him and our Sunday walks.
North Main Street is the main drag of downtown Bowling Green, a long street of storefronts that were, at the time, made up of independent mom-and-pop shops. In the late ‘80s, you could still find a used bookstore or a locally run drugstore. On our way into town Dan and I would talk about anything under the sun: the cute girls in band, the movies we liked or hated, our classes, and the prospect of rooming together next fall. Going into the city wasn’t so much a shopping trip — it was more the building of a friendship.
We frequented a place called Young’s Newsstand, which carried the latest comic books. Although he rarely bought anything, Dan would wait patiently while I went back and forth deciding what to spend my money on. When we finally left Young’s, we’d head in the other direction and go to Finders, the record store in Bowling Green. Finders was the place where you could get just about anything on CD or cassette. It’s true they had a limited vinyl selection (LPs were being phased out), but if they didn’t have what you wanted, there were two of those thick, thousand-page catalogs that listed every single 45 or LP still in print. Our close friend, Bob, was one of the trusted employees at Finders. The expression on Bob’s face was generally a beguiling combination of appreciation and “what the hell are you idiots up to?” Needless to say, our visits to the record store were not to spend money but to socialize and, on the really biting days, warm up before trudging back to campus.
Throughout the rest of our college stay, Dan and I were roommates. As our group of friends expanded, we suddenly knew people with wheels; walking was no longer a requirement. A shame, because there were times I longed for those days of just the two of us strolling together, trying to figure things out as the pages of life unfolded in front of us. Gradually academic and social commitments began to eat up our time, and the great adventures I thought we’d have together never materialized. There weren’t countless road trips or endless nights partying or a parade of women coming through our rooms; the wild stories I’d always heard about in college never happened. Quite the contrary, the two of us got serious girlfriends, immersed ourselves in our studies, and moved further away from those two naÃ¯ve freshmen and closer to adulthood. But, oh, if he’d asked I would’ve dropped everything for one more walk, one more talk, and one more meaningless journey into town.
After a period of not really communicating, Dan reached out last year and renewed our friendship. I’m so glad he did, because now I feel as close to him as I did back during our freshman year. Funny how time and perspective can do that to you. In college I placed an unfair burden on my friends, especially Dan. I imagined the new people I met in college would somehow supplant the friends I had growing up. They didn’t… they couldn’t do that. It took me a long time to understand that each friendship is unique; each one has its own purpose. Thank God Dan and the others didn’t hold my ignorance against me.
Someday, when we’re old men, I hope that the two of us can return to Bowling Green, the place where we met and our friendship began. We may walk slower and the damn wind will probably blow over our wrinkled old bodies; we may not even have a reason to walk through downtown, especially one that likely won’t resemble the one we knew. But the weather and the city landscape won’t matter; they never did in the first place.