I was in my teens during the last trip from Florida I took to see my grandparents’ house in La Misión, Baja California, Mexico. They had retired to their second home after selling their big house and the condo. Gorgeous setting, a huge house with a proper courtyard where they would hold parties. The house itself was two houses, the main one being a split-level home with a basement and lots of rooms. The second (the Lower 40) was a guest house the size of a regular home, and us cousins would take over that house every time. Both houses had lots of alcoves for siestas and spaces to just enjoy the view. The entire property was on a cliff overlooking a river that went to the Pacific Ocean, which was about 1/2 a mile away. The view was amazing--hills in the background, this valley running below, and the ocean always roaring.
It was probably the third or fourth time I traveled from Tampa to Los Angeles by train with my mom. It was over the Christmas holidays and the whole family was there. The most amazing thing about this trip is that my father bought and brought me my Christmas gift. My dad had to fly out a little later because of work, and I'm not sure how he did it, but he managed to bring an unwrapped BB-rifle on his plane flight, through his connections, and across the border into another country without any questions or anything. He even had the BBs and sharpened pellets to shoot. I'm still in awe as to how he managed to do it, but both of my parents have always been awesome.
Anyway, as a family (that being all the cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.) we planned a shopping trip down to Ensenada. I remember being really keen on trying to find a leather biker jacket on this trip because all the cool musicians were wearing them—and when I say ‘cool’ I don’t mean Sid Vicious, Lemmy, and the Ramones, I meant like Wham!, Nena, and Adam Ant.
Back in these days Ensenada wasn’t the clean, sanitized cruise ship port that it is today. Neither was it the sin and cesspool of Tijuana. It was just a smaller, hardworking, friendly town complete with street vendors and some small touristy traps. The street food was awesome and not at all dodgy. There were lots of places to buy silver jewelry, Chicklets, serapes, and sandals made from cut up tires, but alas, no leather jacket. However, I did find a vendor on the street selling cassette tapes of contemporary artists. I suppose they were official, or at least ‘official copies’ of the official releases, it didn’t matter--$2 tapes of bands I usually paid $10 for was a steal. I bought two tapes. The first was a compilation of hits of the past few years, things like Baltimora’s ‘Tarzan Boy’, Queen’s ‘I Want To Break Free’, and other lesser-known-in-the-US Pop hits. The second choice was the follow up album to what was one of my favourite newer bands, and I figured the album couldn’t live up to the debut but it was worth at least $2. That album was called ‘Scoundrel Days’ and it was from the Norwegian band called a-ha.
(Courtesy of http://a-hadiscography.co.uk/a-ha/album1.htm#sd)
We drove back to the house. The trip up the coast gave me enough time to put on my headphones and catch some of my new purchase. With the ocean to our left I hit play and sat back to watch the scenery for the 50km ride. It also marked my first real affinity for Scandinavian music.
The album was mysterious, amazing, and grand. These were all hinted at with the 'Hunting High And Low' (another cross-country album for me--'Living A Boy's Adventure Tale' while riding across Wyoming will be with me forever), but this album had no limit. It's plaintive melodies echoed across the wide Mexican horizon like a restless wind. It was heart-breaking, beautiful, desperate, and alien in a foreign country. Maybe it was the grips of teenage-angst or perhaps just a nearly perfect album with some perfect songs, but it all worked. Even the album cover seemed to relate to my surroundings, repeat them, and make them feel even stranger.
My grandparents' house is actually behind the red building in the picture.
From then on, this was the only tape I played for the entire trip. On a previous visit I bonded much the same way in this stark and stunning landscape with The Alarm's 'Strength' album, but I had other diversions. Here, the cassette stayed on repeat. I would imagine that whoever owns that home now has 'The Swing Of Things', 'Manhattan Skyline', and 'The Soft Rains Of April' still reverberating in those walls. And all of this at Christmastime, which would be the last one with my grandmother (the last memory of her as I peered out the back of the van window and watching her waving goodbye to us). Really, it was the last one with our entire family. These songs rooted themselves deeply into what would be come that sense of finality. The soundtrack to a happy and yet melancholy time. Every beautiful and pained melody that Morten sang still resonates with all the joy and goodbyes of not realizing that a moment, a piece of who you are, is about to slip away. And though this album is still as important to me today, the seeds that were planted deep in myself didn't come to bloom until years later. Not that they were sad memories, but just that they make us who we are and never to forget where we've been. Those blooms were only of fondness and love. Words can do that more instantaneously when heard in song than when written on a page.
To quote the last lines of the 'Red Dwarf' novel, 'Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers': 'He made his way down the hill to his personal Shangri-La. There, in the middle of the street, a pink neon sign hung over a shimmering archway. There was his exit, just as he'd imagined it. On the other side was reality. It started to snow. Christmas Eve...he couldn't leave them on Christmas eve...
'But of course, in Bedford Falls it was always Christmas Eve.'