“Nothing is as good as you remember it being. We digest, compile, and collate our memories to be more agreeable to us. We leave out the bad parts.”
Julien and I spent the summer huddled over my kitchen table emailing bookers, calculating mileage, drinking too much coffee. We begged for shows in Athens, Tallahassee, Birmingham, any city with a recognizable name. We called friends of friends of cousins to see if they had couches. When September came, the four of us quit our jobs and started driving.
Our mini-van had a blown-out, tinny stereo, but Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest somehow always sounded pristine. It was also the only album we all truly loved as a group. Even then, we knew such a thing was a rare luxury.
9. Fountain Stairs
Before we arrived in Baltimore, a 40-something man from the internet emailed us to say that he loved our record and wanted us to crash at his apartment in Federal Hill. We were hesitant at first, but when we met him after our set he all but demanded we take his keys. “I’ll be staying at my wife’s place,” he said without a further explanation.
We invited some new friends over and took in the skyline from his kitchen. He had several dozen bottles of wine, not one of which I could pronounce. We sat on designer furniture we’d never afford, flipping through the thousands of records in his collection and drinking tall boys of Natural Bohemian. It was surreal, yet it felt inevitable, like we were being rewarded for following our intuition.
In Memphis, we played a commune on the edge of the city. We set up in the kitchen, which eventually filled to capacity with hippies, anarchists, unfiltered cigarette smoke, and southern September sweat. I don’t know if there was a more excited audience the whole tour: they passed us beers in between songs and danced along with every note. An hour after our set, the booker handed us our cut from the donation jar. We’d made about seven dollars, half of which was in coins. “Wish I could offer you more,” he said, “but the last time I charged at the door someone called me a capitalist.”
5. Memory Boy
We played lunchtime on the quad of a university in Harrisonburg, Virginia and after hours in the back room of a restaurant in Lafayette, Indiana. In Gainesville, there was a cat named Kid A; in St. Petersburg, a rash of Phish fans. We camped in a state park in Missouri and behind a Waffle House in South Carolina. A friend in Asheville gave us a key to a vacant house, so we slept on the bare floor and stayed away from the windows, worried that the neighbors would confuse us for squatters. “Well, they’d be right,” Julien said.
“Helicopter” was the first song I’d heard from Halcyon Digest. Before we’d left for tour, someone at a party said it sounded like being stoned on a June afternoon, and I mentioned that I’d heard it was about human trafficking. That was what initially struck me about the song: that it makes misery sound absolutely joyous.
The conversation stopped there. It’s probably because I ruined the song for her, though that hadn’t been my intention. Or maybe it’s because it was August by then, a particularly humid one at that, and all she’d wanted was someone to tell her that she’d been right to believe everything had been better a few months earlier.
We were all terrified of going broke. Julien and I tracked money-in and paid everyone five bucks a day to keep us all at ease. It barely worked. I bought a loaf of bread, a red onion, and a bottle of Italian dressing to make sandwiches for the week. By day three the stench was so embedded in my tongue that multiple daily brushings couldn’t eradicate it. Julien splurged and bought a carton of cigarettes in North Carolina, thinking that foregoing a few days’ lunches would save him money in the long run. By Alabama he was out of cigarettes and eight pounds lighter.
In Rock Island, we played live in-the-studio for a popular website. The editor sat with us in the lounge and drank green tea from a Diana Ross mug. “How’s tour?” he asked.
“It’s the greatest,” one of us said. It might have been me. It sounded like the right answer.
In Madison, two guys told us they’d driven eight hours from Fargo for the show. I squinted. “Why?”
2. Don’t Cry
I’d be overwhelmed with pangs of anxiety before every show. I’d feel it in my muscles as it descended, like someone was placing a vest filled with pounds of cinder over my shoulders. Even if we were playing a nearly empty room, I couldn’t help myself. I’d take in deep breaths, have a few drinks, and try to lay down, but sometimes it’d get so bad that my breathing would go short and my hands would shake. There are live recordings of some of these shows on the internet that I spent years avoiding. I don’t know that it’s audible to anyone else, but even now I can hear the hesitation. I can hear myself locking up, terrified that I’ll fall out of time.
In Carbondale, we played for two people: the booker and the sound engineer. We still played the same set we always did, but I don’t know why. We could’ve played anything. We could’ve played nothing. It wouldn’t have mattered.
After the show we stood around in the parking lot rolling cigarettes with a band from Brooklyn we’d met a few weeks earlier. They talked about the twelve hour drive they’d done the night before like it was a tour of duty. They were all in their thirties, and seemed to relish the opportunity to explain things to us, four dumb kids who were only a few years over the drinking age. “Don’t get a job back home,” the singer said. “That’ll only convince you to stick around.”
7. Basement Scene
The most important song on Halcyon Digest might be “Basement Scene.” There are better songs, but I don’t think “important” has anything to do with taste.
It sounds like the Shirelles covering Slint, or maybe the other way around. It’s haunting and beautiful and sarcastic and nostalgic all at once. It’s about the absurd celebrity of an underground scene, about the arrogance and stupidity of youth, and yet it’s strangely warm. It seems to say: wasn’t it nice to think things were this simple?
6. Desire Lines
We broke up outside a house in Blacksburg. We didn’t say it out loud, but it was understood by the three of us, drunk on the lawn and wanting to cry but terrified of admitting it. The fourth was already gone, wandering to another party in search of something better. Julien tried to convince me that’d we’d straighten things out, that this kind of thing had happened just the other night and the week before that, and hadn’t we gotten through those times? He offered me another beer and told me it’d all make sense in the morning.
The ride home was silent, aside from practical talk about directions and rest stops. I put on Halcyon Digest and stared at the passing mile markers on the highway, wondering if I was finally ready to find an actual job, finally prepared to settle into something.
11. He Would Have Laughed
Bradford Cox wrote Halcyon Digest as a collection of short dispatches about how the past gets romanticized. “We write and rewrite and edit our memories to be a digest version of what we want to remember,” he said. “That’s kind of sad.”
I’ve read countless articles about how the internet never forgets, that it’s written in ink, yet searches for proof of my memories from that tour have gone missing. At the time there were videos, and pictures, and show reviews, and other crowdsourced relics, but now almost all of them have disappeared. If anyone cared enough to ask me about that month, I’d have nothing to show for it. Maybe that’s fitting: we weren’t very important then, so I guess it only makes sense that we don’t really exist now.
Halcyon Digest celebrates its ten year anniversary this year, which means my memories of that time are nearly as old. And as vivid as they may be to me now, I know that someday they’ll also disappear. Until then, I’m happy to tell these stories, even if they’re romantic, even if they’re nostalgic, even if they’re wrong.