[Read earlier tonight at Squeezed]
I’m nine years old and sleeping over at my friend George’s house. We’re playing Scrabble. George hestitates, then spells out B-I-T-C-H. Bitch. “Heh. It’s my only play.” I look at my tiles and smile. I play TITS. “Me too,” I say. “I just can’t play anything else!” This is plainly a lie. There are plenty of other words I could form. But I’m secretly pleased with this opportunity to talk dirty for a moment. Because, of course, I have an excuse: “I’m just trying to win. I’m just playing the game.”
Eight years later, I’m sleeping over at my friend Chris’s house, where we’ve just finished watching a bootleg video of Kids, the Larry Clark film about teenage sex. For the past year and a half, I’ve had a terrible crush on Chris and figure tonight’s finally the night to seduce him. When we’re bored with his rock collection, he agrees to play Truth or Dare. Eager to do his bidding, I choose Dare early on, and am forced to drink a whole glass of milk, which he knows I hate. Not quite what I had in mind. But soon enough, I’m asking him Truth: whether he’d ever considered making out with me. And then it’s 4 AM, and his dirty, sweet-smelling hair is in my face, and my right hand is down the front of his boxers.
There’s a fundamental attraction to games like Truth or Dare and Spin the Bottle. They’re borne out of sexual desire, and they even hold the potential to release sexual tension -- but because they’re games, with artificial structures and rules, they also leave an out for their participants. If we can say we’re only playing, then we don’t have to really mean it. We like to believe that these games breed intimacy, but it’s a detached form of intimacy, one in which we’re still in control.
* * *
At some point, Chris puts on Sonic Youth’s album, Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star. Until now, I’ve never realized just how sexy the song "Skink" is. Coming off the swirling squall of "Starfield Road," "Skink" opens with a tense, single-note guitar line, and Kim Gordon breathing simple directions: "Here. There." Part of it’s that the song gives me space: Kim growls a little, slinks around the reverb, but also waits for me to hold his shoulder, brush my lips against his. And yet her sing-song is so teasing, too. As she coos "I love" and shrieks "you," I get lost in the thought of some gauzy, cotton-candy-colored slip she’d step out of. "Kinda hazy," she sings, "kinda messy, too."
It’s a few years later before I discover music similarly girlish and unhurried, in the solo records of Tara Jane O’Neil. In a song like "Just Calling,' Tara’s soft, languorous voice spills over what David Cozen calls "slow rinse-cycle guitars": these sad, circular figures that never fail to mesmerize. Even listening to her alone, I understand few of her words -- they’re either too quiet or too obscure -- but I feel enclosed somehow, spun into a mood of lonely charm and slow heartbreak. David says it’s music for feeling crushed: I take this to mean both depressed and in love.
There are certain songs so stark and pretty that they pull us close to them, cheek to cheek in bed. But how much can we really touch, when they’re not even about us, anyway? Can we still feel connected, when all we do is use them, conveniently, when we’re "in the mood"? Do we still feel attached when she comes off the stage with her girlfriend, all drunk and distracted? And is art then nothing more than wandering around our own hearts?