I’m a casual music fan, and by the time I heard the finest song possible, I’d only purchased a couple CDs, most of them by The Wallflowers. I wasn’t used to the quick devotion that my pot-smoky friends seemed to feel pretty regularly toward guitar solos, but I couldn’t forget about that long-song, and I begged my mom to take me to the mall so I could own its wonderful sound.
The song was Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” The exalted chorus. The tripped-out horns. The backup vocals, and G-majors, and Blakean lyrics. I loved it. I was still waiting to figure out my favorite book, movie, painting, and pal—I still think I’ll find those someday, in a stimulating fantasia of discovery, maybe in Budapest or Seattle, maybe when I have a different haircut—but I knew that moment that I’d found my favorite song.
(Because of my interest in the tune, the music-sharing sight Pandora tells me I’m probably a fan of extensive vamping. Yes. Extensive vamping was, and is, the main feature of my musical and linguistic taste. I love a crescendo, but I’ll try to keep this short.)
At the music store, the only copy of the album they had in stock was gold-plated, the collector’s edition. It was 32 dollars. I was 16 and mostly cashless. Those protracted riffs and synthesizer solos were about to be my one and only asset. I held that copy of Wish You Were Here in my hands for ten minutes, wondering what I should do. This album is ten burgers, six movies, five packs of Limited Edition Star Trek Hologram Cards (I was such a crazy diamond). That gold disc was becoming my new currency and I balked. But the song is 26 minutes long, I thought. That’s, like, only a buck-twenty per. And it comes with all these other songs, too. Bonus! Plus, if I don’t purchase, this will’ve been a wasted trip, for me and my mom. I decided I needed to think of her well-being, her sense of worth. So I got the album. It was mine.
Buyer’s remorse hit half-way through the first play on the ride home (our Dodge Caravan may have been the wrong setting). The thing was good, I guess, but SOYCD just wouldn’t stop. And now that I’d invested, I felt pressure to worship it even more. I’d asked “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” to the prom before realizing that she was only a little beautiful, that her bangs had a bad attitude, that she talked about herself too much, that she was 26 minutes long. I couldn’t handle that kind of commitment.
Over the years, I tried to get my money’s worth by showing the gold-plating to Pink Floyd diehards who might’ve been impressed; I poured over liner notes to deepen my own fanhood; I even amassed a large Floyd collection to try to bury the 32-dollar faux pas with a dozen bargains. Alas, I listened to the thing twice. My mistake haunted me. And I still couldn’t tell blue skies from pain.
I told this story to my good pal Zach, a seasoned music accumulator, and he teased me. I’d made a classic blunder, my judgment deafened by the rapture of a first listen. But the saxophone at the end was just so cool, I said. He patted me on the back, with reassurances that I’d been hasty but not in an un-okay way. I felt a little defensive and said, “Well, it wasn’t the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.” I was trying to defend a moderately dumb decision by claiming I’d committed worse sins of idiocy. We ate some home fries. I thought. Would I really rather be considered a major moron generally than a slight, Pink Floyd-buying moron specifically? You think that’s dumb? I was saying. You should see some of the other stuff I’ve gotten myself into. Which stuff I’m not going to tell you about. Boy howdy, you don’t even know!
I’d taken the same pose the classically-unimpressed person strikes when encountering Mexican food: “This is okay, but it’s not like the bounty I had in Tenōchtitlan. Compared to that, these chimichangas are chimiwrongas. And you call that Carne Guisada? I mean, if you do, I feel sorry for you.”
We know that guy. So you’ve had some good Mexican food, Dustin, but don’t diminish the present by insisting you’ve had a more authentic experience than I could ever hope to approach. And I’d been that guy, I’d been Dustin, only with stupidity instead of salsa. I’m afraid you can’t even comprehend, and that’s sad, the exquisite heights of my secret ignorance. There is so much more to me than you could ever know. Pass the Guac.
And Zach could have said, “Shine on. Tell me the depth of your dense.” He could have called me on my upside-down bragginess. Could have said, “Come on, you boychild, you winner, you loser. You’ve never been—so stop trying to fake it—better, worse, crazier, more fascinating, or dumber than you are right now.” I would have deserved it.
I ate some more home fries and paid our check. It cost a quarter-album.