I realized yesterday that the only Mary Chapin Carpenter album that I haven’t imported in its entirety into iTunes is 1989’s State of the Heart. I had four songs imported – “Something of a Dreamer”, “Never Had It So Good”, “This Shirt” and “Quittin’ Time.” I’m not sure how this happened as I’ve imported lesser Chapin albums in their entirety (I’m thinking specifically of Time*Sex*Love). Thank goodness for Spotify. I didn’t even have to walk the 50 feet to the basement to get the CD to listen to it start-to-finish.
Who knows what the reason is? It’s certainly not because it sucks or because I don’t like it. In my estimation, it’s one of her classic albums, mostly because it was released just prior to her hitting the big-time with “Down at the Twist & Shout.” As one of the first four albums she released, it was one that I immersed myself in during the spring of 1994. I borrowed it from the Iowa City Public Library – a place where I discovered so many good albums probably more by virtue of the age I was than any magic imparted by the CD selection at the library. I think I had it out on perpetual loan, much like I did Streisand’s Stoney End album from the Ames Public Library in the fall of 1991.
By the time I heard this album, I had already purchased Shooting Straight In The Dark and Come On, Come On, probably to this day her best known albums as they contained all the huge hits that made her a staple of country radio in the early to mid-90s. You can hear the beginnings of that on this album. Songs like “Never Had It So Good” and “Quittin’ Time” are as good as any of the barn-burners on the other albums like “I Feel Lucky” and “Down at the Twist & Shout.” I had already started formulating the opinion that Chapin could sing the phone book and I would listen to it, but it was with State of the Heart that my position on that was solidified. Her ability to so effortlessly write songs that not only worked as country songs but managed to make me relate to them on a deeper level amazed me and continues to amaze me to this day, 20 years after I started listening to her music.
I remember sitting in the lounge in the Quad on the University of Iowa campus and listening to this album. I must have transferred it to a tape because I certainly didn’t have a CD Walkman at that point in time! But I remember pushing those big deep armchairs together and making what my roommate at the time always called “a bathtub.” It was where I went when I wanted to study and mostly be left alone – the arms and sides of the chairs were so big that even someone as tall as me could pretty much hide in there. But as I tried in vain to read about cardiac arrhythmias and the various classes of anti-arrythmics, I couldn’t help but be drawn into the music. By then I had kind of figured out that Chapin could do bittersweet like few others could and so I was always on the lookout for myself in the lyrics. As I’ve said more times than I can count on the pages of this blog, I always felt like she was singing my life at that time, only I wasn’t female. I think what I recognized in her lyrics and music wasn’t so much a gender-specific thing, but more accurately, it was the recognition of another introvert. I don’t know this for a fact, but just judging from interviews and her rather limited presence on social media, I can imagine that Chapin could give most introverts a run for their money on introverted-ness. I don’t think you can write the kinds of lyrics that she writes and not have the experience of feeling those feelings and knowing the place from which bittersweet springs.
Who can’t relate to a song like “Quittin’ Time”? You pretend and I pretend/That everything is fine/And though we should be at an end/It’s so hard admitting when it’s quittin’ time. It’s so easy to apply a lyric ilke that to romantic relationships, but I remember feeling like that back then, even though I did not have a girlfriend nor did I think I ever would have one, let alone the awesome wife and kid I have today. I think that, looking back on that time in my life – which I do a lot because I’m still, to this day, trying to fit it into the overall picture that my life is – I was too dramatic for my own good. I was caught up in my own drama and anxiety and depression and, if I want to be honest about it, wishing someone would notice. Now, I certainly didn’t make it easy – I was really good at putting up a brave front so it’s not surprising that stories like this surprise people. I think about that time period and I remember being so scared – so scared of being alone, so much so that I conformed to whatever was around me. I was an “approval addict” before it was cool and before it even had a name.
I think that in many respects, Mary Chapin Carpenter has taught me to be kinder to my introvert. No, I will never have tons of friends. That doesn’t mean I’m anti-social or don’t want to get to know people. It’s just that I really crave knowing a few people well. Those people that I do let in, I really want to be able to be myself with them. I didn’t listen to these lessons very well when I was a 21 year-old college student that was resigned to a life alone. If you think about it though, college is not really an ideal time for introverts. Most of them probably don’t even get that they’re introverts. Being put on a dorm floor with 50 other people that you’re supposed to socialize with? Terrifying. At the time, I berated myself constantly for not just being able to do what others did so effortlessly, not stopping for one second to think that maybe I was put together differently. I lived in constant fear of being exposed as a fraud, because even though I didn’t like it, I faked it many times with varying degrees of success. I’ve mostly stopped beating myself up for it, although it is true that old habits die hard. For me, it kind of goes back to respecting all the parts of yourself, even the parts that you’re not as fond of or cause you trouble. It’s not that I so much regret the way I was back then – it was pretty much inevitable and good luck changing it now! – but the memories are, as I have said many times in this post, extremely bittersweet.
The Quad is being slowly torn down, appropriately enough to make space for a brand new College of Pharmacy. I don’t even have any pictures of the old Quad Lounge and pretty soon, I won’t even be able to go and revisit that old haunt. Perhaps it’s for the best. I’m always amazed at music’s ability to transport me, Tardis-like, to different eras of my life. Really, who needs the Quad to still be there because I’m 100 miles away from it right now and listening to the music and writing about it makes me feel like I’m there right now. It’s not surprising that a song about Chapin’s shirt would remind me of studying in the Quad, even though two things couldn’t be more dissimilar.
These posts are hard to write sometimes but they’re also essential for me to write. It’s funny how they are mostly tied to Chapin albums. To those who have stuck with me to the end of this post, thank you.
Other Chapin posts:
- Charlie Browniest
- A place between up and down
- In the age of miracles
- The song goes on
- Grown up for grown ups
- Halcyon days
- MCC mix tapes
- This shirt