Birthdays have always depressed me. Even as a young child I couldn’t understand celebrating being one year closer to my inevitable demise. Cake. Candles. Balloons. Children strung out on cheap Neapolitan ice cream carved out of soggy cardboard boxes and served on limp paper plates. Those parties always ended in tears.
The passage of time becomes more and more depressing the older I get. My lists of regrets fill volumes of notebooks piled in my closet next to the box of scratched CDs and shoebox full of useless mementoes from decades I can barely recall. My last birthday was spent in an airport. I ate French fries at the bar and watched strangers move past on the concourse dragging the most important pieces of themselves around in plastic carry-on luggage. Then I got on a plane, slept for five hours and woke up in Detroit. I barely talked to anyone and it was perfect.
Chuck’s song “Happy Birthday” from his new album “Frankenstein Songs for the Grocery Store” reminds me of travelling alone in airports. The period of time after security lines are cleared and we’re swept into the slipstreams of bodies searching for departure gates at the ends of long conveyer belts in clean wide corridors. Caught within our own stories. In the narratives we form about our lives and reflect upon while sitting in rows of uncomfortable chairs isolated within the transition of humanity surrounding us. Coming or going becomes irrelevant. We exist in two realities like the cat in Schrödinger’s box and neither is either true or false. Our plans, our dreams, our loves are trapped in the limbo of purgatory and loop in our minds like forgotten luggage on the baggage carrousel.
“Happy Birthday” is insight into the sad monologue going in the head of the guy nursing a pint of flat overpriced draft at an airport bar. The guy who sits alone on a stool and stares at the wall while he absentmindedly peels apart the delaminating cardboard layers of his damp beer coaster. His unspoken plans rise within him as broken images strung together over his internal soundtrack. A repeating sad piano progression that haunts him like the face of the girl who touched his heart tenderly for a moment and then turned away. The girl who left him suspended in dense layers of unresolved emotions. This turmoil and sadness dulls the light of the sun like the walls of tinted glass lining the concourse behind him. He hangs stateless in the crescendo of a Wilhem Scream and is buried beneath the weight of his regret.