As I trudge around the neighborhood listening to the music that plays for me and me alone, I miss the times when music was much more a shared experience. I listened to it with friends, sitting around a dorm room or driving around in a car. Sometimes we argued about the album selection or grumbled because someone always had to hear his music, but music was something you listened to with other people.

I was really reminded of that this morning when “(Nothing but) Flowers” from the Talking Heads album Naked came on.

I was living in studio apartment in Washington when the band released that album in 1988. It was the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day and my brother and my friend Bill had come down to visit. We made the pilgrimage to the big Tower Records store down by George Washington University, where I bought a copy of Naked. On vinyl. At the time I was fighting a strenuous rear-guard action against CDs, which I felt were overpriced and overhyped. (I was right on both counts.) I did not have a CD player.

Anyway, the three of us were pretty big Talking Heads fans, so we headed back to my apartment to play the album. My brother and I had also bought a bottle of mescal. We removed the worm, cut it in half and shared it. Yum! Mescal turned out to be a good choice of liquor to accompany an album filled with influences from warm-weather countries. I was especially taken by “(Nothing But) Flowers,” with its chiming tropical guitars and lyrics about chocolate chip cookies and 7-11s. It sounded great then, so upbeat and happy and funny, and it still does now. Every time I hear it I flash back to that studio apartment, listening and laughing with Charlie and Bill without a care in the world, just excited to have a new Talking Heads album and a whole weekend of fun and music stretching out ahead.

When the song ended this morning the silence let me hear the quiet hiss of the sleet that had begun falling shortly after I started walking. Then the Outlaws started up and obliterated all outside sound with the country rock of “There Goes Another Love Song.”

You can’t get much more of a communal musical experience than you get with a really good rock concert, and one of the best live shows I ever saw was when the Outlaws played the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine, with Molly Hatchet opening. (The civic center’s handy list of past events tells me the show was on December 9, 1979.) I was a sophomore in a college about 30 miles from Portland at the time so I bought a ticket and decided to hitchhike down to the show with a fun-loving freshman named Webb. We filled a goatskin with screwdrivers to sustain us and we hit the road, thumbs outstretched, with plenty of time to spare in case finding a ride proved difficult.

Before we knew it a carload of attractive young women stopped and offered us a ride. They were also going to see the Outlaws that night. Crammed into the backseat with a couple of them, Webb and I exchanged wide-eyed looks of blissful amazement. To our great disappointment, though, the experience did not turn into something fit for Penthouse Forum. The girls simply dropped us off in Portland and waved goodbye. We had hours to go until showtime, with no money and nothing to do. The screwdrivers were starting to slow us down, too. So we stopped by a hotel just up the street from the civic center, crawled under a table in a deserted banquet room, and crashed.

We still had time to kill when we woke up, so we were sitting in the hotel lobby trying to figure out a game plan when a guy in a chauffeur’s livery came through the door and approached the desk. “I’m going to be picking up the Molly Hatchet band around 5:00,” we heard him tell the desk clerk. “Can you tell me how to get to the Cumberland County Civic Center?”

“Sure. Just pull out of the driveway, turn right, and go about 50 yards. It’s just down the street.”

The driver chuckled. “Right. Where is it really?”

“I’m not kidding,” the clerk replied. “It’s just down the street. You can see it out that window.”

The driver looked pained. “You telling me I drove all the way from Cape Cod to drive a band 50 yards down the street?”

“I guess so,” the clerk said.

Webb and I looked at each other. Molly Hatchet were someplace in the hotel, and surely partying their brains out. I wasn’t a big Hatchet fan, to be perfectly honest, but this sounded like the perfect opportunity to party with some real rock and rollers. “We should find them,” I said. Webb agreed.

We figured all we had to do was check out the hotel floors one by one until the sounds of smashing furniture, blasting music, and high-pitched Rebel yells guided us to the right room. No doubt the band would be glad to have us join the party. They’d offer us bottles of Jack Daniels to guzzle, and we’d flirt with the groupies, hot Southern girls with names like Daisy and Loubelle who would be wearing tube tops, tight cutoff shorts, and cowboy boots . Maybe Webb and I would help hoist the TV set onto the windowsill so a band member could send it plummeting four stories to the ground. Come showtime we’d stagger, hooting and hollering, down to the lobby with the band. “Y’all come with us!” they’d bellow. “We’re making you honorary Hatchets!” We’d all cram into the limo, the driver still fuming in the front seat. “Get us to the Civic Center,” I’d order, “and make it snappy!” We’d all howl with laughter.

Well, we tried, but every floor of the hotel was as hushed as a church, with nary a Rebel yell to be heard anywhere. Maybe the band had consumed too many screwdrivers. It happens.

Anyway, we eventually made our way to the civic center. The place was packed and buzzing with excitement. As a cartoon character would say years later, it also smelled like Otto’s jacket. Some people were tossing Frisbees around the big hall, and a few people had even brought beach balls that bounced and soared from section to section. Webb and I pushed our way slowly through the people standing on the floor until we were right up near the stage. At one point I was so tightly mashed in by the crowd that only the toes of one foot touched the ground. But it was a big, happy mass and we were all having a great time together. Eventually we even ran into the girls who had picked us up—and once again, nothing happened.

The passage of time has dimmed the details, but I know Molly Hatchet—no doubt refreshed by their quiet afternoon at the hotel—played an energetic set that included “Gator Country,” “Flirtin’ with Disaster,” and “Dreams I’ll Never See.” Then the Outlaws, with their triple lead-guitar attack, came onstage and blew the roof off the joint. I’m sure they played “There Goes Another Love Song” and “Hurry Sundown” and closed with an epic version of “Green Grass and High Tides” with all the amps turned up to 11. I’m equally sure that at some point thousands of people in the crowd held flaming Bic lighters up high over their heads and howled with delight.

Thinking about all this as I walked put me in a pretty good mood despite the grim gray weather, and then “Roadrunner” by the Modern Lovers started playing and my mood improved even more. I may have even done a joyful skip like the one Charlie Brown does after he decides he’s going to decorate his little tree all by himself. I don’t have any specific “Roadrunner” related memories; It’s just a great song. It’s also about how music ties us together, even if you’re driving around alone with just the radio to keep you company.

 It helps me from being alone late at night
It helps me from being lonely late at night
I don’t feel so bad now in the car
Don’t feel so alone, got the radio on
Like the roadrunner
That’s right.

Turns out that you’re never alone when you have the right music playing.

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