Closing Time and Relativity

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Almost three months ago, last time I posted anything here, I talked about writing about music. And when I published that, I was thinking specifically of the playlist I shared in that post. The idea was to do one post for each song in it, talkking about what the song represents to me, how it makes me feel, and so on.

At first, I even had planned the sequence of songs I was going to talk about. First one would be Closing Time, by Semisonic, which was the one song that made me think of everything I wrote in that post.

But when I sat down to write the post’s text, soon it became clear that I wouldn’t be able to make a reasonable text about each song. Not that I would run out of stuff to talk about, but I’m just not able to talk about some of the things that go through my head when I listen to that playlist. Not that I don’t know what they are, I just can’t put them to words.

It’s like Inside Out, when Joy and Bing Bong are in teh train going through some regions that are purposefully left out of shot: inductive reasoning, dejà vu, language processing, dejà vu, critical thinking, dejà vu

Another issue: although I know a little about music (emphasis on little), I’m not even remotely close to being able to talk about the lyrical aspects of those tracks. “Oh, this scale evokes the author’s feeling about this and that”… and so on and so fort and what have you. I can’ t talk about scales, counterpoints, triplets and whatever. On top of that, these songs are not necessarily artistic masterpieces. Closing Time, for instance, is a simple song. It has six simple chords and even I can reproduce them.

But the merit of these songs is not being “artistically significant”. Then mean something to me, and that’s it.

Significance and teenage years

Closing Time, for instance, is from 1998. I was in third grade of High School (which would be Senior year I think), and it was a crucial time. Absolutely sure of everything in the whole world (which teenager isn’t?), I knew exactly what I wanted and I was utterly insufferable.

Despite having some redeeming qualities, overall I was just a pain in the ass.

Ironically, at the same time I both wanted what I wanted and I didn’t. It’s a complicated matter, but now I got started so let’s get it over with.

Since mid-1997 I was in love with Physics. I mean, before that I already liked it a lot, but they had this “Knowledge Fair” (which was nothing more than a Science Fair but for some reason school staff thought that not all knowledge is Science) and the School decided that each class would present one project.

20 teenagers. One project. Obviously this would not work.

Even more so when one of these 20 is an annoying know-it-all like me who, defeated in the vote to select the theme, decided to say “screw it” and do it alone anyway.. My grades were very good so the teachers were OK with it.

The rest of my class did a very interesting project on Biology. Blood Types and Immune factors, pretty cool stuff (well, today I think that, back then I hated the stuff). They even managed to get some testing kits and were sampling blood from visitors to test them right then and there. I have no idea of who actually did the work, but that was over twenty years ago so who cares.

I, on the other hand, decided to do a Physics project. And I chose (obviously) the most annoying Physics teacher to advise me. Nothing against Ricardo himself, to be honest, he was an okay guy. But at the same time he was… peculiar, and of the Physics teachers the was the “least liked” by “everyone”.

And then that guy introduced me to (the brazilian translation of) “Subtle is the Lord”, by Abraham Pais.

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Ahhhh this book.

That book changed my life. I devoured it in the blink of an eye, and then again and again. Although I like reading, very rarely I read a book more than once. Anyway, back to the story…

It’s a “scientific biography” of Albert Einstein. Although it covers his private life, if focuses a lot more on the scientific aspects of his work, talking about the evolution of the concepts that would eventually become both of the Theories of Relativity – Special and Generalized. Abraham Pais was a personal friend of his, and therefore he brought a lot of details about how Einstein hiimself gradually got from a curiosity about how a compass works to his attempts at creating a Grand Unified Theory (AKA a “Theory of Everything”).

And that stuck with me.

Obviously I didn’t understand thing of the mathematical aspects of the book. Tensor calculus was waaay ahead of me back then. But the conceptual part was something else. I understood – albeit superficially – the spirit of Relativity, concepts on which it’s based and its consequences.

Of course I didn’t have the required “litany” to “really” understand some things. The Principle of Equivalente itself is something that I really grasped a few years ago. But for a High School project what I had was more than enough.

And so I got to work, constructing a project explaining the “cool” things of the theory. A few posters about red shift, the way GPS works, and a model of how a massive body deforms spacetime around it. It was a wooden box with a hole in one of the faces, and a party balloon (a really big one, which people in Brazil fill with candy, kind of like a piñata). In the center (where the hole was) I put a small yellow ball, that I pulled from the back through the rubber and tied to the back of the box. Sadly, there are no surviving pictures of that work.

Anyway, I did all that by mysef. Well, more or less by myself. My dad gave me a hand with building the box. Dad was an awesome dude.

Work done, came the day for the “Knowledge Fair”. Each class in the School had their booth.

And I had mine.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if the project was really that good. A lot of it was really hard to understand, and even today I sometimes find myself thinking about the jackass that annoyed the hell out of me because of the way I talked about GPS satellites.

But my work got picked as the best in the Fair, and I even gave an interview for a local TV station. To this day, I keep probably have somewhere a VHS tape that my mom recorded, with me talking out of my ass and even inventing new words. What a shame.

But I have no problem shaming myself, so it’s ok.

To conclude this huge tangent, this involvement with Physics defined me for a time. That’s how I chose the career I wanted, and what my objectives in life were. But I’m going to leave that for another post, some other day.

Anyway, about the song…

Closing Time is part of a set of songs that came out right around that time, and it played all the time in the radio. So it’s natural that when I listen to those songs my mind gravitates around what I lived back then. I’ll never be able to list all of them here, and if I’m going to make an incomplete list I’d rather not make a list at all (at least in this case).

As I (think I have) mentioned in the last post, nostalgia takes a large place in my life. Not because “back then” were better (although let’s agree that there’s very little that can be worse than living through a pandemic with a genocide as president), but because my memories are pretty good, and those songs evoke those memories. Time has this weird power to put pink-tinted glasses in our eyes and making us remember just the good stuff.

And Closing Time has some verses that hit deep, and they make me think about things that are peculiar to that time. Like this:

Closing time
Time for you to go out to the places you will be from

According to Dan Wilson (who wrote the song), it was written while his daughter was born, so the whole thing is a metaphor to a child coming out of the uterus (and that’s clear in a few verses that he calls “adult talk”). But this particular verse ressonates in a very different way – at least with me.

It talks of the future and of how when we’re teenagers and still don’t know where we are going or what we’re going to do with our lives. We’re going to “places we will be from”. It talks not only of the future, but of the future’s future.

Right now you’re going to do that thing, live in that place, live that way. Some day you will move on and all of this that you are still going to live will be in the past. And when someone asks, “where are you from?”, you’re going to say “I’m from such and such”. And that place will be this thing that’s in your future.

Thinking about it, it’s a song about moving on. It’s about comprehending that nothing in life is permanent, not even the things that have not come to pass. Letting go of the past and thinking of what’s yet to come, creating new stories to tell.

Given the nostalgia that songs like this make me feel, the irony is not lost in me.

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