Have you visited the town you grew up in lately? Wandered the streets you once lived in, letting yourself get lost in an endless winding suburban labyrinth that at once seems so familiar but now, so foreign? And really, what’s more like a maze than suburbia? Interconnected crescents, lanes and cul-de-sacs punctuated by schools and the soft glow of convenience stores – those are the landmarks.
That’s where this song takes you. To a quiet, sleepy bedroom community outside the city, where the sounds of highways and streetcars and drunks are conspicuously absent. Where the trees are neatly spaced and the sky is bigger and you can actually see the stars. Where, after parents went to bed, you used to sit in a car in school parking lots with friends, or hang out on playgrounds, or take those first hand-holding strolls with teenage loves. Where there was always another night after tonight to hang around and wonder what to do, with no end in sight, with no urgency, or aim, or direction. A place where time barely seems to change things, and yet, nothing ever really stays the same as you remember it… like a dream. It’s almost as if you’re sleepwalking through it.
Modest Mouse recorded “Sleepwalking” in frontman Isaac Brock’s garage, and originally released it on their second ever EP, Interstate 8 in 1996. It’s a cover of Santo & Johnny’s 1959 instrumental track “Sleepwalk” with Modest Mouse’s original lyrics. And man, am I ever glad they added the lyrics, because they’re some of my favourites. They manage to overlay the ‘50s-slow-school-dance-wholesomeness with another, more modern story of teenage love. The very first line of this song might be the most memorable, and is an example of delightfully tricky lyricism and phrasing:
“I fell in love and I needed a roadmap…”
It seems like the end of the phrase – and of course! It’s easy to get lost in love. Makes sense.
But wait, they’re not done. It continues:
“I fell in love and I needed a roadmap…
To find out where you lived, so excited though.”
Ahhh, it’s about how young love is confusing, but also EXCITING! Remember those nerves the first time you went to that person’s house? Trying to find the right place, heart pounding, almost afraid of when you actually DO find it? THEN WHAT?!
And just like the suburbs are punctuated by physical landmarks, so is love punctuated by its own landmarks. The initial jolt. The giddiness! The anticipation! And then, maybe… uncertainty. Not knowing what to do next. Because teenage love (and all love, really) is its own maze. One where you feel everything and know nothing, where you have no gameplan. Where you make moves based on gut feelings instead of logic, like waiting outside “in the convenience store parking lot, hoping you’d drop by” because you’d like it if running into each other could just seem like a happy coincidence. (Who HASN’T tried to do something like this?!) And then, you connect again at a party – in another decidedly suburban image- when a “mutual friend’s parents left town for a week so we raided their liquor stash and walked down by the riverside.” You find your way, you get lost, you wander, you find another landmark.
You’re young, you’re feeling everything and nothing, your hormones at war with your apathy, lazily sleepwalking through the endlessly repeating two-story brick houses that come in two or three similar templates and it’s easy to forget that your life will eventually change. The memories you’re making may seem monotonous at the time, but just like when you wake up from a dream, looking back, there are things you remember.
Think of your old neighbourhood. When you go back to visit, do you even NEED directions anymore? Next time, try walking down your street at night, after the parents are in bed and the youth have quietly reclaimed the streets, and listen to this tune. And see if you don’t feel like you’re sleepwalking all over again.