There was one particular crush that found me dancing on the perimeter, walking the outmost edge, hovering close enough to feel their gravitational pull of charismatic vulnerability, but far enough away to maintain the illusion of safety – of autonomy, of not being sucked into the swirl of their emotional vortex. There were plenty of others to do that. It was 1978 and I was in college in San Francisco. I watched them and their entourage sweep through the dining hall at dinner every night. By some strange coincidence they often ended up two tables over from where I sat with my friends. It must have been then that I honed my uncanny knack for eavesdropping while appearing fully present to those in my company.
Their name was Vic and they were as beautifully androgynous as a Renaissance angel. They had a mass of loose brown curls that fell around their neck – the natural kind, the kind beauticians promise but can never quite deliver. They had hands that moved through the air as they talked like Buddhist prayer flags. I knew that they played piano with those hands, knew they wrote songs and dreamed of becoming famous someday. I knew, mostly from eavesdropping, that they fell in and out of love almost weekly. That they were fickle and Tuesday’s passion was Friday’s drama and by Sunday it was someone else. I knew their friends fed off the drama, like emotional junkies using their wild energy to get a fix. Two tables over I was probably getting a contact high myself. They fascinated and scared me at the same time. And so I stayed as far away as possible without completely breaking free of the pull.
One night, in the dark of Winter, I was alone in the stairwell with my guitar. I loved playing in there with the sound echoing up and down several stories – like singing in the shower without getting wet. I was dreaming of Vic. The lilt of my voice and roll of the guitar strings bounced around me. My eyes were closed and I strummed and played with different word combinations to a chord progression I liked, it sounded haunting and lulled me into a mystical place where the words began forming themselves…
I stopped and wrote down the words, excited by the process – a refrain followed, no words – just na na na – I wanted words but they wouldn’t come so I moved on to the next verse…I was very excited now, deep into the process…
I played the two verses and refrain over and over like a musical mantra – I began to let go of needing words for the refrain, the na na na’s were enough. One more verse emerged… I sang it over and over until I knew it by heart. I started it for about the 30th time – filled with the ecstasy of creation – when I realized someone was singing harmony on the refrain – it was Vic – it was Vic without their entourage – alone – in the stairwell with me – it was probably 4am. It seemed so surreal I wasn’t even startled – somehow we were outside of reality. We kept singing.
Eventually sunlight snuck in from the outside. We looked at each other still half-entranced. They suddenly looked tired and worn. More tired and worn than one should be at age 19. And they looked sad. The music had stopped. They leaned over and kissed me on the forehead.
“It wouldn’t work,” they said. “It wouldn’t last. It never does.” And they were gone. I sat alone for a while before packing up and going back to my dorm room to sleep through my morning classes.
We never talked about it. Years later whenever I sing the song – the na na song – I can still feel the echo of that night, and rest into the wisdom of knowing some relationships really are better left in the world of dreams.
Blessings on this week of conflated time - may the rushing end of one year into the next give you time to remember and honor your life’s vast web of relationships. And Vic, wherever/whenever you are, thanks for the song.
listen to “The Na Na Song” on YouTube
“The Na Na Song” is on my “On The Alluvial Fan” CD found at CD Baby, on iTunes and on Amazon.