98. Song No. 1,226: “Bobcaygeon” by The Tragically Hip
Phantom Power, 1999
There are some songs that are just too pure and devastatingly gorgeous for this world, and “Bobcaygeon” is their king.
I always liked this song enough but didn’t really appreciate it until this project. I don’t even remember what finally grabbed me: I just recall suddenly needing to play it over and over (…and over and over and over…), finding some new part to crawl inside and curl up in for a little while every time across a shamelessly obsessive number of repeats. Which is a neat reversal, since winter-sounding songs tend to burrow into my heart and latch onto a moment instead of being inexplicably poignant havens inviting me inside.
When my husband and I started dating, we were both at our first “real” jobs: He had a year on me, I was still learning how to balance my work life, my personal life and my romantic life, as a hungry, freshly graduated 20something is wont to want. The part of that equation that involved the guy I’d had a crush on since my junior year almost instantly looked a lot like spending every night but deadline day bounding back and forth between his place and mine.
The nights we didn’t spend together often included falling asleep watching movies, waking up all intertwined at 2 or 3 in the morning, and driving back to my converted garage of a living space in the dead and darkness of a frosty winter night (this was before the world went batshit for zombie culture but the gaping blackness in my rearview mirror where the road lights were out sparked all kinds of mental games about driving in the apocalypse, because shifting between worlds at that hour does weird things to a person with an unruly imagination and in the heady early stages of falling in love with Your Person). I hate winter but I loved that solitude and those drives, even if they dragged me farther from the only place I wanted to be and back to the real world, mile by mile along a witching-hour quieted interstate whose chaos I’d traverse in the cold daylight of polar-opposite rush hour a few hours later.
There was some strange, coming-of-age beauty in balancing the beginning of my career with a nascent romance that somehow felt solid and grown-up from the beginning but also fiery enough that saying “I love you” on our first date didn’t seem like things were moving too quickly at all (getting an apartment together three months to the day later clinched that certainty). Having a job in my field and wanting to excel and prove myself helped enough with compartmentalizing my personality throughout the day, but random texts, emails, scents, phrases, coincidences, songs, whatever were enough to make me break out in giddy schoolgirl grins when I was desperately trying to pass myself off as a capable journalist. But I lived for those oases of assurance that the end of the day meant blissful hours with someone who simultaneously made my heart skip a beat like a lovesick teenager and provided the stability and safety of an adult relationship.
“Bobcaygeon” feels like the eventual progression of a relationship’s early days settling into something sturdy and mature and extravagantly unlikely in the hotbox of still-young love, fiercely protected against the frosts of a Northeastern winter. But it’s that weird, unavoidable collision of worlds where steadying yourself for that poignant, delicious ache of knowing you left your heart behind every time you say goodbye has you squeezing as much life as you can into those never-enough moments together and, eventually, low-key resenting the reality of what you need to do springing up around the ecstatic escapism of everything you’d prefer to be directing all your time and energy toward. It’s hard enough to disentangle yourself from someone who feels like home, and having to extract yourself from a cocoon of warmth and love and safety to spend another day at work is an imbalance of magic and color; having to navigate the urgency of a new romance with the same urgency of keeping the heat on all winter is one of those awful truths of adulthood that are easier to swallow the sooner you do it, and it sucks way less when you can find meaning in the interminable hours separating you from the place where your heart belongs.