Gail and GlenBy Gail

I remember the first time I heard the “Born To Run” album by Bruce Springsteen.  It was 1985 and I had purchased the cassette tape one weekend when I was home from college.  “Born In The USA”  was going strong at the time and I had developed an interest in Bruce’s earlier work as a result of all the hype that surrounded it.  Of course I had heard “Born To Run” as a single before, but my knowledge of the album started and ended there.

As I rolled down the highway passing endless expanses of wheat fields on my way back to school on that Sunday afternoon, I simultaneously steered and unwrapped the cassette tape.  Throwing the wrapping and the cassette case onto the passenger seat, I inserted the tape into the cassette deck.  Soft harmonica music began to play.  It started out slow, almost dragging, and then picked up tempo.  Then the lyrics began… “The screen door slams.  Mary’s dress sways.  Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays.”

I don’t remember exactly how, but I ended up pulled over on the shoulder of the road just listening; not wanting to move or breathe or do anything that would distract from the music that I was hearing.   The melodies where achingly beautiful and the pictures that he painted with his words were as clear and as real to me as the road and the car and all the wheat waving in the breeze.  When he sang, “The dancers scrape the tears off of the street dressed down in rags.  Running through the darkness, some hurt bad,  some really dyin’.  At night sometimes it seemed you could hear the whole damned city crying.”  I could see the song unfold like a ballet in my ears and my heart and my head.  It was a profound moment and I realized that I was all in.  I pushed all of my chips into the center of the table and bet on Bruce.

The soundtrack to my life became his music.  I met my husband, married, and had children, and all the while Bruce sang.  When my boys were little, I would lay in bed feeling their warm bodies and holding their tiny hands and softly sing Thunder Road and Rock Away The Days as they fell asleep.  The Boss was woven into the fabric of my life… our lives.  And that’s how it went for 20 years.

And then one day while driving to work, I heard a song on the radio that caught my attention.  It started out with a slow, almost dragging violin and then the lyrics began… “And it starts sometime around midnight.”    All that day the song kept playing itself over and over in my head… “And it starts sometime around midnight.”  A few days later the radio station played the song again, but this time the dj mentioned the name of the band after it was done.  I remember calling my husband from work and saying that I was going to go out at lunch time and buy a CD by some band called “The Toxic Event.”

At lunch time I headed to the store.  There I proceeded to confuse the clerk by singing portions of the song that I had heard on the radio and giving him numerous possibilities for the name of the band/album that I was looking for.  Whatever I did, it worked, and I walked out of the store holding a CD by The Airborne Toxic Event in my hand.

Driving home from work that afternoon, I simultaneously steered and unwrapped the CD.  Throwing the wrapping and the jewel case onto the passenger seat, I inserted the disk into the CD player.  A piano began playing the same two notes over and over.  Then the guitars started, which were in turn almost immediately joined by the drums delivering a deliberate driving rhythm… thump thump thump thump.  Then more instruments started playing until there was a total of 7 distinct layers of music all going on at once.

Gail's sons with Noah Harmon of The Airborne Toxic Event

Gail’s sons with Noah Harmon of The Airborne Toxic Event

Then and only then did the vocals begin… “Standing at a bus stop.   Feeling your head pop.  Out in the night, the kind of night…”

I don’t remember exactly how, but for only the second time in my life I ended up pulled over on the shoulder of the road just listening; not wanting to move or breathe or do anything that would distract from the music that I was hearing.

When the CD was done I looked at the chips that I had anted up 20 years earlier when I had bet on The Boss and split them into two piles.  With that, The Airborne Toxic Event began to integrate itself into the fabric of my life… our lives.

And then one night I found myself laying in bed with my little boy, feeling his warm body and holding his tiny hand after having sung Missy and Innocence to him.  He was quiet for a moment and then he asked, “Mommy?  Do you like The Airborne Toxic Event as much as you like The Boss?”  This was a serious question and I didn’t want to answer it immediately, so I thought about it.

When I finally answered, I replied, “You know, I just might.”

As he drifted off, he spoke one last word that said it all … “Wow.”

f The Airborne Toxic EventGail lives in Seattle with her husband and two sons who aren’t quite so little anymore.  She still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up but remains hopeful that she’ll find it.  She thinks the world is desperately in need of peanut butter slices and wonders why no one has figured that out yet.  She loves her family, friends, flowers, and books.  She believes in the power of music.

  1. I clearly remember the moment Glen told me he liked TATE even better than U2. I said the same thing… WOW. You superfans don’t just listen to music, you absorb it, breathe it, live it…

    Also, PB slices… Wow. Revolutionary! If you could make it work, I’d buy it for sure!


  2. Susan says:

    One plus of being a 58 year old Philly girl is I got to see The Boss on his way up…in shore bars and school cafeterias. You are right, I had to wait a long time before experiencing such vivid musical storytelling again. For me, Airborne has surpassed all those old favorites. Thanks for the lovely blog post.


  3. […] All In: A fan explains how The Airborne Toxic Event took their place alongside Springsteen as her favorite artist. […]


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