That Dog’s Retreat from the Sun is a Gift to the Awkward

Before blogs, music websites and Tumblr, LiveJournal was the place where angsty teenagers gathered to pirate music, post bad poetry and connect with others who felt the same. That time – 2003, to be exact – was when I joined a community called “redletterday,” named after the 1997 Get Up Kids EP of the same name, that was dedicated to lyrics that users related to or just wanted to share in an effort to be internet cool. Words were often posted without attribution, but I’d fall in love with them just the same. But then a set of lyrics appeared: “by definition/a crush must hurt/and they do/just like the one I have on you.” That’s the story of how I discovered “Long Island” by that dog.

I couldn’t believe that a band could so eloquently articulate the feelings I couldn’t. It spoke to my fifteen-year-old heart – while many of my friends were diving into relationships for the first time, often with boys I too had a crush on, I was crying to NSYNC songs. I wish I was kidding. Unable to open up, I was left alone to brood over them on Friday nights with only my tenor saxophone and my bass clarinet and a dial-up connection. For my entire sophomore year of high school, I played the song over and over. It didn’t occur to me at the time that they might have more music.

Eventually, I discovered Retreat From The Sun, the album “Long Island” is from. It sounded different than anything I’d been listening to until that point. Until then, my Napster queue was full of New Found Glory, The Movielife or any number of Drive-Thru Records bands. What set them apart is that they were girls. Sure, I could relate to sappy Something Corporate piano jams, but it wasn’t my voice. Anna Waronker and the Haden sisters had a way with words that spoke to me in a way I understood – and that bands made of boys never could.

Album opener “Annie” was familiar to a high schooler – “can we take your car/‘cause I don’t have one,” even if the rest of the song felt so alien. I didn’t know what a breakup felt like, but I knew wanting someone to take me out. In “Being With You,” Waronker sings of emptiness and pining over someone’s continued rejection. Whenever I would silently long for a classmate (without any ounce of action to pursue them) it really did feel like a cold rejection – how did this band know? “I sit with emptiness waiting for your call/an open phone line, but I still hit your walls” seems pretty pedestrian now, but at the time, it felt like I was the only girl in the world willing a phone to ring.

Despite a song like “Hawthorne” being pretty short of a revelation, lyrics like “Driving/Looking for your parents house/Striving/To find a piece of you/And I saw a punk rock show/In a car garage/And I saw you” felt like something I could have poured into a composition book on the way to a VFW hall show. Even more” adult” tracks “Minneapolis” filled me with longing. I wanted to sit around at the bar and date the touring musician! I wanted to go to the Low show! (And I definitely still wanted that car.) The title track talks about “younger people happy,” and I just wanted to jump through the computer to tell Anna that not all younger people were, that those people must be imposters.

Of course, by the time I found that dog., they’d already broken up, and it was years before I dove any deeper into their catalog. But Retreat From the Sun was the first time that I was able to get a glimpse of what my future might be like. A time where boys reciprocated my feelings, stories about my time spent in bars, the one night stands I had, what it was like to have a hangover and what a breakup feels like. Not all of those things are good, and they weren’t to go through, but for that girl stuck at home on a Friday night, the promise of those experiences were everything. For a while it was just enough to scrawl that lyric from “Long Island” in all of my notebooks. But what it really taught me is that I had a voice, that girls could make rock music, and made me think that maybe I had a musical future beyond the nerdy woodwinds. For that, I’m grateful and I’ll never forget it.