Music Literature Film Index About

A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan

Alfred A. Knopf, June 8, 2010

“I’ve seen the future, baby
It is murder”

-from the Leonard Cohen song, “The Future

Today can be a day like so many others—routine, peaceful, short, shitty, you name it. It can be a day that changes everything or nothing, a day you remember for the rest of your life, or, more likely, a template of the vast majority that evaporate quickly without any kind of stamp to make it remotely memorable at all.

Today can be a day you open the first page of a novel that will take you on a journey into forever.

Snapshot of a typical occurrence along a metropolitan street. Every ten minutes—give or take—busses drive up and down routes, picking up new passengers, dropping off others. The duration of the wait at the stop does not register much under blue skies and summer sun but is conversely brutal and infinite as below zero wind chills cut through the bone in seconds flat. Once aboard, invisible strangers are stuffed awkwardly together for the term of a ride that can also be either a hiccup or as long as a transatlantic flight. There is an accident in another lane and all traffic has stalled to a gaper’s block standstill. We will not mention how long, claustrophobic, or terrifying the experience can be when trapped on Lake Shore Drive in a blizzard for the ages.

Inside, the interconnectivity of the masses, while obvious in concept, goes largely unnoticed. Smartphones command attention serving up texts, emails, games, ebooks, and more. MP3s travel through earbuds, delivering the latest and greatest or even sounds from way back when, back to the days when friendships and love and music meant nothing short of everything. It can hardly be surprising that although some of these riders will cross paths again, chances are they will not even know they have brushed against these same hairy arms or warm bodies before. They certainly will not consider that a few of the passengers on this very bus will be dead within the year’s end although if they knew a name, they could google an obituary easy enough.

Reminds me of when I was first getting into the Grateful Dead, admittedly very late to the party. I became rapidly obsessed with the singing and keyboard playing of Brent Mydland. I remember embarking upon an Internet search to collect any and all details only to find out that I was too late. How shocking it was to go from such great excitement to then finding out in seconds flat that he was already gone, dead at the tender age of 37.

As the years pass, we are tossed against the vicious current of time. The strong shall survive, better for the struggle. Others float by in the tow of neutrality. The weak are pulled under. Not that anyone fits into any one category for long. In the ebb and flow, we find ourselves dipping in, out, up, and under, on top one day, slipping to the bottom the next. Change is nothing if not quick.

Advancements in technology reek of nostalgia faster than a sun falling off the horizon, but not before forever altering our connection to one another and to the very concept of time itself. Dinner tables that once hosted family hour now serve as temporary housing for electronic gadgetry that tweet alone in the night. Nights once reserved for lovers click click away in the pulsing glow of LCD monitors. A song plays on a device transmitted wirelessly to speakers through invisible airwaves that sneak through the embrace of two teenagers-turned-middle-aged-spouses. Their newborn is off to the DMV to take his driver’s test. He does not know that he will be left paralyzed in a car crash just three short years later or that the crash will be an infuriating inconvenience for anyone caught in the resulting jam. The same traffic will cause one man to pause, for no other reason than dictated by the mere chance and coincidence that he left work early. He will decide to dial a number on his cell phone. On the other end, his daughter will decide to answer. The pills in the bottle on her hand will shake one last time before she hangs up in tears, running to the bathroom to flush away her stupidity. She will live to see 93 and hold her great-granddaughter, her namesake, in her arms and she will pray.

May our children’s children remember us fondly as they browse the archives and as they gaze into things that we used to call photographs, may they see in our eyes the tiniest glimmer of the lives that were once so very full of love, heartache, triumph, and authenticity, once upon a time.