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We all have a “summer album”, a collection that takes us back to sunscreen and long drives and laughter every time we hear it, wherever we hear it. I have many summer albums. Each year, there seems to be one that just roots itself into my brain and stays in heavy rotation from the moment school gets out until Labor Day Weekend. Sometimes, they’re also connected to those marvelous beauties we call summer loves. These are not meant to last, really. They should be like fireworks, dazzling, sparkling, spreading out over everything, then gone in the breeze but seared in your head.
In 1987, I met Andrew. Well, I formally met Andrew. We went to the same schools all our lives, and he was just a year ahead of me in school. Andrew was the youngest of eight children, and he commanded your attention as only the youngest of eight could—vibrantly, loudly, a whirlwind running through your life. We met at a moment where I needed something to sweep the past away, and he did. “Come on, let’s go,” he’d say, and off we went. Canoing, hiking the Audubon sanctuary, serving dinner to homeless people at the Pine Street Inn, where he was a volunteer. Sometimes, he’d fight with his parents and walk to my house, and he’d smoke a joint on the way. Although my parents knew, they didn’t judge, and we’d sit on my porch for hours and talk and talk and talk. We watched movies on the couch. He promised to buy my sister a nursery school when she grew up. And we listened to dozens of albums. But the one we always came back to was his favorite album, Tea For the Tillerman, by Cat Stevens.
It is entirely possible that Andrew sang “On the Road to Find Out” to me the night we met. He certainly sang it enough. I do know that he felt the need to handcuff me to his couch the first time I heard the album straight through. We went back to this album time and time again, first because he refused to believe I’d never heard it before, and later because it made us all so happy. People often say they listened to an album everyday, but we did. We listened to this album, or parts of this album every.single.day. It defined our friendship, our path in the world. It organized our memories into three minute sound bites and a jangling guitar. And it wasn’t just the two of us in this adventure; we had a gaggle of people always hanging around talking, going for rides in the car for ice cream or mozzarella sticks. We were like our own little society, with its own rules and cultural touchstones. I swear, Andrew likened himself to Valentine Michael Smith sometimes, and I swear, sometimes, we believed it, too. The purple Pied Piper of Norwood. Everyone who knew him loved him. And loving him meant loving Cat Stevens with him.
In 2003, I lost Andrew. He committed suicide in his San Francisco apartment. My friend reminded me of my premonition, and I collapsed at the thought that I had been right all those years ago, and he was gone. Really, really gone. Since 2003, there has been one fewer star in the sky, and it has only been just recently that I could listen to Cat Steven’s again without crying. But, it’s June again, and it wouldn’t be the same without these songs.
Courtney is listening to the robins' song, saying not to worry