If you are reading this, there is a good chance you are more than a casual fan of The Airborne Toxic Event. If you are more than a casual fan of The Airborne Toxic Event, there’s a good chance their music moves you for very personal reasons. I doubt fans become avid fans simply because they enjoy the beat. For a band to get under your skin and into your blood, you most likely find something within the music that speaks to you on a personal level.
So there lies my dilemma. I fell for Airborne the very first time I heard “Sometime Around Midnight” on a local college radio station. I remember sitting in my car, waiting to go into work, refusing to turn off the radio until it was over. Back home, later in the day, I was unable to find much information about the band with the odd name. I did discover that there was an album in the works but nothing was currently available. I programmed an alert in my computer to remind me to keep checking. I eventually hit gold, an album release! Upon its arrival, I played it continuously. I was hooked, I became an avid fan. So what grabbed me? The songs supporting “Midnight” also centered around heartbreak and failed relationships. That couldn’t be further from my life. My husband and I met at 18 and have been happily married for many, many years. My parents, my in-laws, siblings, friends are all happily married. I’m the rare person who has not been touched by divorce.
Then it occurred to me. I didn’t just listen to the songs on the album, I embellished them. I discovered that I had a rather unusual reason why this band wormed its way into my soul. I realized they sang stories, not songs and there was a very personal reason why this mattered to me. I found my connection!
Nine years ago, on a warm Sunday, I had an all-at-once moment, long before the song by that title was written. In one single moment, I became a different person. Before that moment, I was an avid reader. I ran an on-line book club and I devoured the New York Times best sellers list. I volunteered at the library and my house was overrun with books. My love of reading started at a young age, when I discovered that a poor girl from the Philly slums could experience the world through the written word. I didn’t just read books, I immersed myself in the story. Even as a child, I’d seek out complex character studies, well beyond age appropriate material. I was fascinated by differing opinions, how characters managed conflict and how they interacted with one another. Characters leaped off the pages and became friends or adversaries. They taught me what and what not to do in all kinds of situations. They taught me to be empathetic and to understand other points of view. Books took me around the world, to places I never dreamt I’d visit. They expanded my very limited reality. This love of reading remained a big part of who I became, long after I grew up and was lucky enough to have the resources to experience the world first hand.
This was me before July 5, 2005. At around noon on that day, I became someone else, the ‘after me.’ On that sunny Sunday, a group of us went for a bike ride as we do most weekends. I’m an avid road cyclist and I am at home in a saddle. But on this day, for no discernible reason, I went down, hitting the ground hard. I was unconscious and seizing (and, yes, I was wearing a helmet). Long story short, an ambulance was called and it took me to an empty parking lot where a helicopter could land and I was medivaced to a level 1 trauma unit. I hate drama so I’ll just say that I had a hospital stay, 3 surgeries & 7 months of physical and occupational therapy, along with neuropsycological rehab. Skin and bones healed but I was left with short term memory problems which persist to this day. The irony, although I don’t remember it, is friends flocked to the hospital bearing gifts of books, knowing I’d be laid up for a while and would have a lot of reading time. HA! Little did we know that reading would become a thing of my past. I would no longer have the ability to read for pleasure since I would be unable to keep track of characters and plot lines.
Months later, as I was working hard, learning how to manage my new brain, “Sometime Around Midnight” came on my car radio. This band with the funny name caught my attention. They entered my life, with a story, succinctly told in a few minutes and something within me stirred. I embraced the plot. I felt Mikel’s pain upon seeing his ex in that bar. He told me what she was wearing and I imagined what she looked like. Did she really taunt him from across the bar or did he just imagine it? Was it as awkward for her and it was for him? What did she feel? I imagined his friends calling him the next day, worried about him. Did he answer his phone? Did he contemplate calling her? Yes, I’ll bet he did! Did he let it ring through? Did she answer? With my embellishment, this four minute song became a novella.
Then the album arrived. “Innocence” was the next song to grab me. And so the story continued. Ah yes, that’s exactly how he felt when he woke up the next morning. I imagined him rattling around his apartment, replaying that night in the bar. Who was this girl who gutted this man? Missy, that’s who! So off I went again, imagining this wide-eyed young woman arriving in a strange city and meeting this man. I had no idea whether these stories were meant to be connected, that didn’t matter. I was telling my own story, filling in the blanks, creating my own novel. And the beauty is, if my memory fails me, I just had to press play and the story is once again alive!
This realization didn’t hit me immediately. It came to me slowly. But it has continued through four albums. It has renewed my ability to imagine a life different than mine, to broaden my understanding of people in situations very different than my own. All the things I used to get from books, I am now able to get through music. I appreciate that Mikel’s lyrics are deliberate and that they aren’t veiled in symbolism and ambiguity. He sets the stage for me and allows me to embellish the plotline and connect the dots. My story arc bounces from song to song, from album to album. In some small way, this band has served as a bridge between the before me and the after me.
This is probably not a reason why most avid fans have connected with their music, but it’s my story, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to reclaim a bit of my ‘before’ life.
Susan is a wife, mom, & an avid road cyclist. She teaches Spinning classes at four gyms in the Philly suburbs and she always has an ear out for new interesting music to use in her playlists. Rarely does something grab her attention like “Sometime Around Midnight” did when she first heard it on college radio, months before its official release. The obsession has been going strong ever since. She can often be found in The Airborne Toxic Event forum, where she operates under the name Pink.