I first learned of David Gray and online dating in the same breath. It was early in the morning, pitch black before school, and I was poking through the paper over cereal. I only read the front, Metro, and Outlook sections at the time, and in one of these was an article discussing the first forays into big, heavily-marketed online dating sites. The article described two people, one in Seattle and the other somewhere else, exchanging tentative messages and eventually the David Gray album White Ladder. The people were busy, the article said. In their early thirties, caught up in their jobs, with no time to meet people and tired of being dragged out to meet acquaintances the friend of a friend thought they might have some remote thing in common with. They were wary of this new technology but after the first couple meet-ups–perhaps the other person was in Portland? somewhere where visiting was feasible, if not an every-other-day occurrence–they seemed to be on board.
The article went on to speculate on what this might mean for the future of dating in 1999, but I had less interest in that than in the people they discussed, the way they were described and the exchange that appeared to bring them together. They seemed like people it wouldn’t be terrible if I came to resemble. Busy, dedicated, a little lonely but capable of exiting that state if enough effort was made. “David Gray, huh?” I thought. I bought the album. I loved Babylon. I made everyone switching radio stations stop when it came on. This is adult music, I thought. This is how adults approach love. He’s thinking about someone he loves and not hurting himself or anyone else over it–you will recall, then as now, that the music pedaled to teenagers tended to promote a more visceral reaction to as-yet-unrealized love interests–he’s just watching the colors of streetlights change, and kicking through leaves, and turning around on a stairway and lighting up like a christmas tree at an unexpected encounter with the object of his affection.
Can I just skip to that part? I remember thinking. The social landscape around me was heaving with the predictable nosebleed highs and death valley lows of adolescent relationships. I wanted no part of it. Couldn’t I skip to the part where we already have confidence in ourselves and the respect of those we want to respect us–to where there is already a sense of self-worth, a certain degree of security and faith–to where it isn’t always a panicky rush of grades, driver’s licenses, silly pantomimes like proms and pictures–to where the only thing on the table was what was between the two people in question? Because everything else had already been dealt with?
I can’t stress how definitive this song was for me. This guy could notice and comment on the color of a sunset without getting maudlin about it–who my age could do that? Would do that? He could return home lonely without doing anything drastic–without turning it into anger at everyone who wasn’t sleeping with him, or stultifying self-loathing that was a giant red flag to anyone with half her wits about her? And then that sudden encounter, full of simple joy. God, how I wanted to skip being a teenager. It was a language I didn’t want to learn.
Anyway, I’m having an impromptu 90s music day, so. Here you go. David Gray’s Babylon**:
** To clarify, yes, I realize that “let go of your heart / let go of your head / and feel it now,” isn’t exactly donning some grand mantle of adult restraint. But that’s not what I wanted. I was all for the letting go of this that and the other–but doing that as someone who already felt the world was a place they could navigate seemed so much different, capable of so much greater depth, than doing that as someone who didn’t know which end was up, who lacked the ability or experience to make their own major decisions in life. If you’d already managed to find what you wanted to do and who you wanted to be, I thought, wouldn’t you then be so much better at giving yourself to someone else? Because you knew what it was you were giving?
Edit: I missed his yell. Here is the radio version where he does it: