It was a crisp and gray autumn day, where the brightest colors on the horizon came from yellow fallen leaves piled outside of the garage. At one point, the music pulsating from the garage got so loud a leaf pile actually tipped over and spewed across the driveway like a graffiti artist’s jeans. Inside the garage the buzz of distorted guitars, the crack of thrashed cymbals, and the smell of sweat overwhelmed the space.
It was Dark Matter’s weekly Tuesday rehearsal and Alex was not happy. “Last rehearsal we agreed that after the bridge we’re going double-time until the cut!” he berated his best friend, and the band’s drummer, Timmy. Timmy was short and round with flowing black, curly hair that well-advertised his Jewishness.
“We never fully agreed on that,” defended their lanky, pale bassist Morgan, “YOU brought that up when we were out this weekend and I told you then that T-Bone wasn’t listening.”
“When?” Questioned Timmy.
“Friday night. We were doing boilermakers at Johnny’s…I was trying to review some parts and you kept talking to that girl Kara,” explained Alex.
“Did anything actually come of that?” inquired Morgan.
“Man, I’m not sure…” Timmy looked around the room as if trying to recall the night through the foggy lens of alcohol, “Yea, no.” He paused and smiled. “For sure. I kissed––her sister.”
Two hours later the debabately productive rehearsal had come to a close, and after two more hours of tinkering with song ideas, editing charts, and dreaming of becoming the next big thing, Alex was ready to head into the house. “2011 is going to be our year,” Alex proclaimed to himself as if to manifest it into reality while buckling his guitar into its case.
As he locked the garage, a voice from the sidewalk called out,
“Hey! Are you Alexander Lake?”
Alex turned, surprised, and was greeted by a mail carrier he’d never seen before. The man had dark skin, soft features, and a wide smile further accentuated by a thick mustache.
“Yes?” Alex responded, inquisitively. “I’m Alex.”
“Terrific!” Now I don’t have to leave this on your doorstep.” The carrier said, seeming jubilant as he walked up to Alex, extending a small package to him.
“You’re working late,” Alex commented. He checked his phone. “It’s after eight.”
“Well, our work never ends,” the postman said, his smile only deepening.
Alex accepted the book-sized package.
“Do I need to sign?” he posited, in a slightly awkward attempt to fill the nippy night air.
“Not today!” the mail carrier exclaimed. “No, today we need nothing from you.”
His eyes were dark but glowed as he tied his satchel.
“Take care now,” concluded the man with a jaunty wave.
“Yeah, you too,” Alex responded, still perplexed by the encounter.
The night moved on. Alex was never quick to open mail, even with a parcel of such objective intrigue. He set the package on the kitchen table. He heated up leftovers. He chatted with his roommates. He had a whiskey, or two. He folded laundry. He went to sleep.
Days passed. One night while listening to his roommate Ryan complain about his HR job in exchange for a home-cooked meal––a tacit arrangement Alex was happy to accept as he was a terrible cook––Ryan noticed the abandoned package. Ryan was thin and tall with perfectly combed black hair and strong cheekbones.
“That package has been here for days,” he remarked between chopping olives, debating if the cute guy at work had noticed him, and finishing his glass of wine.
“Yeah, some mailman I’d never seen gave that to me, like super late,” replied Alex.
“You mean not Megan?” Ryan asked, name-checking their regular mail carrier whom they’d invited in one night during a particularly memorable party and ended up crashing on their couch.
“Yeah, it wasn’t Megan.”
“Weird,” responded Ryan, now abandoning his wine glass to fondle the mysterious brown package. “Well open it!” demanded Ryan.
“I’m getting hummus,” rebuffed Alex, “you open it.”
Needing no more convincing, Ryan reached into a drawer, retrieved a steak knife, and ruptured the perfectly wrapped brown packaging.
“You didn’t tell me you’d made a new album Alex! Where did this come from?”
Alex closed the fridge, hummus in hand, and spun back around to Ryan who was smiling and holding up a shrink-wrapped CD: “Alexander Lake, Evolving Radar.”
“Alex-ander, how very chic of you!” Ryan needled him with a grin.
Ryan held his excitement, gesturing toward the CD with his free hand and waiting for its creator to acknowledge the spectacle. Alex had never seen this CD, had not recorded a new album recently, nor had he ever released any solo music in his life.
“That’s not mine,” he said calmly.
“Oh, really?” Ryan replied as he furrowed his brow in confusion. Ryan gazed at the CD cover; a photo of friends overlooking a landscape of rolling hills and green meadows. “Huh, I guess they sent it to the wrong Alexander Lake…what’s the return address?”
Alex picked up the shredded packaging, “No return address.”
Ryan reached for the knife and punctured the cellophane. He discarded it and opened the CD. On the inside cover was a photo of a long-haired, scruffy man, dressed in flannel staring back pensively with deep blue eyes. He looked older than Alex and much hairer, but there was without doubt a resemblance.
“Ha! This guy even looks like you,” Ryan joked as he held the CD up for Alex to see.
“I would never have hair like that!” Alex dismissed, as he fanned his fingers through his patented short, spiky hair. “This guy looks like a total poser.”
Ryan rolled his eyes, “Well let’s see what this “Alexander Lake” is all about!” Ryan darted over to the stereo and put on the album. A soft ambient pad rose like a sunrise, giving way to rootsy, fingerpicked acoustic guitars creating a seabed of swaying sound. Eventually, a gentle tenor voice cooned, “Even on the darkest days, the rain is setting the stage, for the brightest greens on friendly trees, just you wait.”
“This is trash,” Alex bristled.
“This is gorgeous,” Ryan responded, with water in his eyes.
As the roommates listened, the door opened and their third roommate Will arrived home from work.
“Honey I’m home!” Will announced jestingly, looking at his roommates sitting on the rug by the stereo. Will had a big frame, light brown skin, and freckles––his roommates lovingly called him BFG for “Big Friendly Giant.”
Will paused and listened to the music.
“When did you start singing like this, Alex?” Will asked with bemusement.
“I don’t sing like this!” Alex barked back defensively.
Alex primarily screamed his vocals in Dark Matter and when they recorded they always coated his vocals with distortion.
“In the shower you do,” accused Will as if holding up evidence in a trial.
“Someone sent a CD by another Alex Lake to us by accident, BFG,” Ryan informed Will, handing over the CD case.
“But you know what, Alex, you do kinda sound like this when you sing…normal.”
“Normal?” Alex clawed.
“Did you guys look at this?” Will questioned, with a tone turned serious.
“Yeah, we saw, cute hipster man in flannel…” responded Ryan.
“No. Did you look at the release date? It says Copyright 2021,” Will informed his roommates, pointing to the back stamp on the album. “Also, Alex, what’s your mom’s maiden name?”
“’Goodbye June’ is the title of track four.”
“Well, I’m sure that’s about the summer,” Alex concluded, grasping for reason.
“2021?! WTF.” Ryan questioned racing to refill his glass.
“Alex, sing this line, ‘Even on the darkest days, the rain is setting the stage…’ Not in your metal voice, just sing it straight,” encouraged Will.
“No,” dismissed Alex.
“Sing it!” demanded Ryan.
Awkwardly and with his eyes on the floor, Alex sang it.
Will looked at Ryan. Ryan looked at Will.
Almost in unison they declared, “Sounds like you!”
“Alright, what the fuck is going on here?” Alex fumed as his confusion turned to anger.
Ryan grabbed the CD case from Will’s hands.
“Oh my god! Here in the special thanks, ‘to my best friends Will and Ryan.’”
Startled, Ryan threw the CD on the floor as if a spider was crawling on it.
“Okay, what’s happening?” Ryan quaked as his bewilderment shifted to fear.
Will walked over the stereo and played track four. A looping mandolin progression was accented by a haunting dobro. “Stillness in the morning, cluttered mind at night. I’d say that I’m still mourning but maybe I just miss your consoling eyes.”
“This isn’t a song about summer ending,” Alex resigned, clenching his jaw.
Will reclaimed the CD from Ryan and examined it like a crime scene investigator.
“Man this guy really does look like a decade older version of you.”
“Guys,” Will paused. “There’s no way––”
“No! Absolutely not!” avowed Alex as he forcefully turned off the stereo, ejected the CD, and snatched the case from Will.
Ryan tried to ease the mounting tension in the room, “BFG, A-Lake, let’s take a deep breath and slow down here.”
“Yeah, I for one, love this direction you go in,” Will quipped with a mischievous grin.
Alex was boiling and speechless. He pushed past Will, swung open the front door, and headed for his car. His roommates chased behind.
“Where are you going?!” shouted Ryan.
Alex did not respond, he got in his car and drove off. He didn’t know where he was going or what he was doing. He put on the CD and listened to it three times over while driving from Swalowski’s Orchards, to Sugarloaf Mountain, along the river, and through downtown. He hated the music. There were no drums on the entire album. There were no electric guitars. He found the soft, acoustic sounds flimsy and feeble. He found the understated, honest vocals repugnant.
Unconsciously, he found himself in his bandmates’ neighborhood. Timmy and Morgan were roommates. He parked outside their apartment and barged in unannounced. The boys were sitting in the dark playing Nintendo 64.
Alex turned on the light and shut off the TV.
“Dude what the fuck?” Timmy snarled, squinting from the sudden bright light.
“Yeah dude, what’s your damage? I was literally about to wreck house,” Morgan concurred.
“I need to play you something,” Alex stated, his voice thick with tension.
“Oooo is the new Deftones out?” Morgan asked, excited.
“No,” replied Alex.
Alex crossed the room to the beat-up boombox covered in band stickers: Nine Inch Nails, The Mars Volta, even a half-covered sticker of their first band Kenny’s Armpit, and played Evolving Radar. The bandmates sat in silence and listened.
Finally, out of the quiet Morgan offered, “this is cool.”
“You like this?!” Alex shouted.
“I love this.” Timmy said with the confidence needed to make such a loaded statement amongst a group of hard rock purists.
Alex was stunned and speechless.
“Man, we haven’t had the balls to tell you, but when we’re chillin’ at the pad, this is the kinda music we listen to.” Timmy got up and drifted toward a maroon cupboard Alex had never noticed, despite countless visits to his bandmates’ apartment. When opened, it revealed a stack of vinyl albums by James Taylor, Sufjan Stevens, Bob Dylan, and other balladeers.
Alex stood frozen.
“Who is this guy?” Morgan inquired as he took the CD case from Alex’s hand.
“Oh shit! He has your name. Lol.” Morgan opened the CD cover.
“Oh my god, he looks like the Bon Iver version of you!” he cackled.
Alex’s mind was swirling. He wasn’t sure if he was more disparaged by the music or the truth of his bandmate’s taste.
“Mo, you like this music too?” Alex prompted Morgan, hoping for a negative assurance.
“Well…” Morgan shrugged, unable to assuage his friend’s disappointment.
Now Timmy took his turn with the CD case, “Well, your doppelganger is doing pretty well for himself, he’s signed to Sub Pop Records. That’s badass.”
“Sub Pop is sick,” confirmed Morgan, stumbling for anything to ease the moment.
“This is totally fucked,” responded Alex as he seized the CD case from Timmy and ejected the album from the boombox.
“You guys are crazy,” Alex squeaked, looking at his bandmates as if he was seeing them for the first time.
“I’m outta here.”
As Alex headed for the door, Morgan pursued.
“Why are you so worked up about some folk singer with your name? Who cares! Dark Matter’s not competing with this shit, let’s just keep raging,” Morgan threw up the devil’s horns rock gesture as a sort of peace offering. “You don’t understand,” Alex said mournfully, shaking his head as he slammed the car door shut.
For the first time since hearing the album, Alex drove with purpose, ending up 30 minutes south at his mother’s house. He walked in the backdoor, through the kitchen, and found his mom reading by lamplight on the couch with her legs outstretched on the ottoman.
“Hey honey,” she smiled, putting down her book, “you’re here late. Do you need food?”
Alex walked directly to the cabinet containing his family’s surround sound speaker system and put on Evolving Radar.
After a moment, Alex’s mom verified, “Alex, this is beautiful. Is this your music?” “I don’t know,” Alex said confused, hurt, and with his eyes welling up. Unable to hold in the gravity of this statement, Alex puked out, “I think this is me from…the future.”
“Oh yeah?” his mom asked lovingly.
“Where did you get it?”
“A post guy brought it to me,” responded Alex.
“Okay,” confirmed his mom.
Alex handed the CD case to his mom, unable to hold the physical representation of this disturbing discovery any longer. Alex’s mother opened the CD.
“Mmmm I think that is you. He has your eyes. Nice hair, honey!”
Alex erupted into tears and collapsed in his mother’s arms.
“Why are you upset, baby? You’ve been given a gift. Can’t you hear this beautiful music you’re going to make?”
“I hate this music!” Alex cried out between tears.
“You hate it now,” his mom comforted.
“But what about my band?? Dark Matter is going to make it. I love playing with my bandmates! I love being part of something.”
“Maybe you’re still in a band?”
“I don’t even mention T and Mo in the thanks!” he erupted.
“That doesn’t mean they won’t still be your friends.”
Alex brushed away the tears from his eyes, took three deep breaths to slow his heartbeat, and sat up straight next to his mother. He hugged the floral pillow next to him for something to hold onto.
“Mom,” Alex whispered, “ track four is about me missing you…after you’ve died.”
“Well, everyone dies honey.”
“But you’re going to die by 2021!” Alex confessed, as his eyes once again brimmed with tears.
“Well, I’m not dead yet,” consoled his mother, rubbing his back.
“I don’t want to lose you,” Alex whimpered.
“I’m right here.”
Alex’s mom walked to the stereo and played “Goodbye June.” Now she started to cry. “Alex, this is the most beautiful piece of music I have ever heard. I am so proud of you.”
She sat down next to her son, put her arm over his shoulder, and examined the CD case. “Honey, you’re going to get signed to a record label! And you look so handsome! And track seven is named “Chicago.” Maybe you move there! This makes me so happy.” Alex’s mother kissed his forehead.
They sat together and listened to the music as Alex’s mother rocked her 23-year-old son like he was a child again.
Alex slept on his mom’s couch that night with his keys and phone on the ottoman. In the morning she made them eggs and coffee and told Alex about what she wanted to do for Thanksgiving. As he got up to leave, she walked to the stereo, collected the CD, gave it to him, hugged her son, and whispered in his ear, “I love you so much.”
Alex drove home in silence. His sense of identity was shattered. His understanding of reality was in tatters. He didn’t want to go home, he didn’t want to go to work; he was lost. As he snaked alongside the river matching its swirling course, he put on “Goodbye June.” He listened to the music, he looked out at the cooing river, he felt the breeze break on his outstretched palm.
He drove to the ridge and parked by the lookout. He pulled out the CD, walked to the edge of the cliff, arm cocked back as if to throw it into the abyss. But something occurred to him as his eyes explored the expansive vista of rolling hills, fields, and farms. He looked at the CD cover. He looked at the view in front of him. There it was. He was standing where the album cover photo was taken. He returned to the car and started the engine. He put on the album. He listened and listened and over time an unexpected feeling arose from his churning body: pride.