Junior year of high school, my best friend at the time and then-boyfriend both gave me Recovering the Satellites as a Christmas gift, an album I had borrowed from another friend and apparently could not shut up about how surprised I was that I’d fallen so wildly in love with it, as doing so in the time right before burning CDs became widely accessible magic made for obvious presents. It’s easy for an album as moody as the Counting Crows’ sophomore effort that also overtly invokes December to feel like winter, but being gifted it twice, having an entire winter break to get to know it even better, and knowing it inside-out by the time the blocks-long early-morning trudge to the bus stop resumed and offered plenty of me-time with a CD that became an almost permanent fixture in my hard-working Discman of yore solidified its winter association in a very tangible way.
I’m having a really fabulous run of wintersongs as I make my way through the Cs, which is a weird and wonderful thing. I hate winter but love the music that sounds like it, and the entirety of Recovering the Satellites is pretty much the first time I realized that music can sound like times and places for any number of reasons. It, like Fairweather’s debut album, accompanied me on more than one family vacation I’d’ve liked to pass on to provide an emotional refuge, the benefits of which I had no idea how to describe until years later. “Catapult,” its opening track, sounds like a prelude to something familiar and homey, whether it’s the studio version or the live one recorded in the intimacy of VH1 Storytellers’ (RIP) Chelsea Studios.
It also sounds like such a varied confluence of a lot of people who were not only important but also formatively crucial to High School Me, and would be largely absent figures by senior year: It was the beginning of the last year my then-bestie, someone I’d been friends with since first grade, would be the closest thing either of us had to a sister, our bond on its way to coming almost completely unravelled across increasingly different directions by summer; my boyfriend at the time and I would only date (and be on speaking terms) for another couple months, though our friendship before that had laid the foundation for a lot of things I learned more about and developed an organic interest in; the friend who often lent me a remarkably scattershot smattering of CDs and I going from inseparable in our own right through the very beginning of senior year to not talking again until the summer after we graduated from our respective colleges, three exits away from each other.
Listening to this album now in a place similar to where I was when I first heard it more than 20 years ago, but helpfully being a little more aware of it this time around — 10 months of quarantine have hastened the inevitable with some friendships that were tenuous at best in less jarring circumstances and have revealed themselves to be downright unhealthy through the lens of extraordinary, true-colors-baring circumstances slouching across one hell of a year — is a little surreal, but a wonderful reminder that you don’t always have to outgrow the music you love. Part of me will always feel a little weird still listening to some bands and albums that came into my life when I was a completely different person in a totally different place in every sense of the word, but most of me feels like it’s solid evidence that music can do everything from grow with you to measure how far you’ve come to show you how much you’ve changed when you’re reunited after years apart.
Having that constant barometer in place to denote where you were the last time you crossed paths is, I think, one of the best benchmarks of personal growth and indicators of a rich inner landscape, and I’m not just saying that to justify how unabashedly I still love so much of the music at closer-to-40-than-I-want-to-be as I did when I was sizing up the other side of adulthood with something not unlike hope instead of watching it recede farther into the distance with something not unlike indifference. And it lends itself to some great conversations when everyone in your living room realizes they all secretly love this band in the kind of cinematic moment where a constellation of individual experiences collide together to keep the music relevant as it keeps pushing into your shared futures for another round.