the museum of americana

a literary review

Elegy for the Cassingle™ — Nonfiction by Amorak Huey

I, too, would like to dance with somebody, yes, somebody, somebody, anybody, somebody who loves me. Dance extravagantly, I mean. Dance a dance worth writing a song about. Dance like the final scene of a movie about lovers unbound by the realities of time and the human body. 

I tried once with a college girlfriend in Auburn, Alabama: we drove her Prelude to a quiet place, a park somewhere or a dead end, I don’t remember, there were so many cul-de-sacs between 18 and 22 as the late ‘80s fuzzed and warped into the ‘90s without a map, all misheard direction and downhill hairpin, wrong turns and unfamiliar neighborhoods. Our music kept us company. The cassette deck’s auto-reverse erased the distinction between side A and side B, between the original version and the dance remix, between chorus and guitar solo, between our lives in this moment and our lives for the rest of our lives.

We turned up the volume and tried to move our bodies together in the headlights with something resembling rhythm. One of Cinderella’s ballads, probably, or that “Angel Eyes” song she liked. It didn’t unfold as we’d imagined. She worried about the car battery dying and I was in a hurry to get her into bed, both of us actors fumbling our lines in a movie we wouldn’t want to watch.

Maybe it started to rain? 

I’m not making this up. My body remembers. The memory is slow-mo, fadeout, turn in circles, hold tight. The memory lasts longer than the moment, and that’s how time works. 

The cassette single was not, in fact, a bad way to package music, but we thought it was. It was the same size as a regular cassette but contained a third of the music, and the appearance of inefficiency is inefficiency. Our brain makes sense of the world by comparing what we see to what we’ve been taught to expect. When we look in the mirror, we see a version of ourselves we’ve invented, for better or worse, ’til death do us part, etc. When we fall in love, we fall in love with stories about being in love. When we dance, our bodies do a clumsy impression of how other, better dancers have danced.

I danced, too, at my senior prom, a couple songs’ worth of swaying together on the floor of a rented event space in a rented white tux with a pink lamé cummerbund. I remember only proximity: the flowery-fruit smell of her perfume, her sprayed hair, the theme song “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” which I knew wasn’t true even as it was happening. It’s a cheat to put the present perfect in parentheses. A way of glossing over the truth, which is that time is neither present nor perfect and our lives happen only in memory.

The night in Auburn came later, although prom girl was a prelude to the Prelude girl: we, too, worried in opposite directions. This seems to have been a trend for me. That song still opens an ache inside me, a memory of desire not for prom girl but for a girl from earlier that same year, who made out with me while watching Dirty Dancing and eventually dumped me because of Jesus.

The trademarked name — Cassingle — was a problem for the format; no music company wanted to credit some other label on every recording just because they’d won the race to the copyright office and locked in such a stupid name. But “cassette single” is too many words, “compact tape” too technical-sounding. What we call a thing matters. Girlfriend, lover, fiancé, wife. Past, present, future, each its own kind of nostalgia. Each a different ache. The body holding on, the body letting go. Something resembling rhythm. 

We danced at our wedding to “Only Fools Rush In,” which seems an odd choice given the benefit of hindsight (the only sight). That’s okay, we are doing just fine, you and I, our worries pretty much aligned: kids and laundry, carpool schedules, what’s on television and whose turn to scoop the cat pans. Sure, I’m the one in a hurry to get you to bed and you might be more likely to fuss over the alarm clocks, but we’re not acting, not usually. We enjoy each other’s music, and we certainly recognize a good deal when we’re living it. Four songs for two dollars, somebody who loves you — who wouldn’t want to dance?

 

 

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7175D277DEE043D5AB72E8019E920B21Amorak Huey’s fourth book of poems is Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy (Sundress Publications, 2021). Co-author with W. Todd Kaneko of the textbook Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury, 2018) and the chapbook Slash/Slash (Diode, 2021), Huey teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.

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