A Data Learn the Language

Band: The Mercury Program
Album: A Data Learn the Language
Best song: “Fragile or Possibly Extinct” is the most robust.
Worst song: “Gently Turned on Your Head” isn’t strong.

I do this every year and I’m not completely sure why I do it, but I do. It’s something of a tortuous exercise and no one really cares that I do it, but I do it nonetheless. Alex Taft was a great friend of mine and one who was taken away far too soon. It’s been five years since Taft passed away in a Colorado car crash. It’s been a tough five years, largely because the passage of time makes him seem less important. He is not.

I had a dream last night about Taft, which I do not find to be a coincidence. Since his death, I have had dreams pretty consistently about him.

Taft had just finished graduate school when he died, so the world did not get to see him in full adult bloom. While other friends of ours have gotten married, had children, become very important lawyers, etc., he is suspended in time, in a way. Some of us have gotten fatter or grayer or sadder or happier, but Taft is perpetually 27, perpetually on the cusp of something wonderful. And he’s also gone.

And it’s that final point that remains the subject of my dreams. I don’t tend to remember dreams as vividly as many claim to, but these dreams almost always involve a conversation about him being “really dead.” This conversation almost always has a conspiratorial edge, which is a bizarre way for my brain to operate and I almost always wake up with the weirdest false sense of hope. As though Taft is hiding away in the woods or is on some sort of Visonquest or something and we’ve just lost track of him.

After each dream, that’s the hardest part.

It was around five years ago that I attended a memorial service for Taft, completely botched the eulogy I’d prepared and failed in my one final duty to him. There’s no real excuse other than grief and that’s probably why my brain punishes me with these dreams. The feeling of “is he still alive?” is completely dissonant with the feeling I felt that day, looking at the box in which his remains were held. My friend was a fully grown human and now he is in a tiny box. Ashes to ashes, I guess.

It’s not that I second-guess anything his family decided; cremation is a perfectly reasonable thing to to do a person’s body. It’s just the notion of a person not being a person anymore. It’s, ultimately, the correct thing to do. I don’t love the Christian notion of embalming and doing up a body to look like it was when it was alive; it seems to imply that the person is somehow there in something other than memory. Cremation supercharges the idea of bringing the body back to its origins.

But, it’s certainly final. There’s no bringing him back, there’s no hope of having him in anything but memory. Optimism is a real pain when it falls through.

Taft and I bonded quite a bit over music. We met through the high school radio station and connected quite a bit through it. He introduced me to a lot of jazz and I introduced him to post-rock.

We used to argue a bit about the Mercury Program, in fact. When A Data Learn the Language was released, Taft was taken by it. I felt the record wasn’t too far from “regular” rock music, only without vocals. Taft didn’t argue too much, but did say that the structures were more complex than whatever we’d call “regular” rock music. Talking about the definition of post-rock was just as boring to everyone then as it is now. But it was a conversation we loved to have.

Among the other great Taft/Ross conversations: What we’d do if we won the lottery, baseball, doing stupid impressions of Harry Caray, talking about Taft’s old terrible roommates, baseball, Temptation Island (a favorite in our place in college), Led Zeppelin, Taft’s foreign exchange in Spain and baseball.

Every year, I’m less close with my high school friends. It’s a function of time and of aging, but it saddens me nonetheless. Even five years ago, I wasn’t as close to Taft as I was the year before. I was in grad school, he was in grad school, things were changing. I remember having great conversations about him on the phone; he was one of the only people I could go an hour with in that medium.

I’ve got a million memories of Taft for years before that. I remember, at 18, hearing a recording of one of his first radio shows (we were 15 when he recorded it) and laughing at how young everyone sounded. I remember his arranging of our 2005 trip to Cooperstown and all of us having the greatest fucking time there. Or their trip to DC, also arranged by Taft. He arranged for he and I to attend our beloved friend Kara’s wedding in 2007, the year before he died, because he knew I would’ve skipped it without him.

He was a supremely gentle soul and someone who truly cared about the people he loved. He was funny as hell and interesting and someone who I envied. I’m truly lucky to have known him.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

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