I used to listen to “All My Friends” by LCD Soundsystem and dream about when I would feel nostalgic for it. If you have never listened to LCD, “All My Friends” is its magnum opus, a bullet train of a song that’s undeniably one of the best of its generation. Over an unstoppable, unchanging piano rhythm and the slowly increasing crescendo of drums, synth and guitar, James Murphy — the unofficial spokesman of the lost, aging New York hipster — meditates on growing old while still trying to live the fast life.
“You spend the first five years trying to get with the plan / And the next five years trying to be with your friends again,” he sings. “We’re running out of the drugs,” he continues. “and the conversation’s winding away.” Then there’s the line that received crazed cheers at their supposed farewell show back in 2011: “To tell the truth / This could be the last time.” And the repeating refrain to close out the song — “If I could see all my friends tonight…” — before the music seems to disappear into a puff of smoke.
My senior year of high school was, of course, filled with goodbyes — but not really. I went off to a school that’s a 30 minute drive from where I grew up, if traffic is bad. I came here with over a dozen classmates I knew well. I still see several regularly, and I keep in touch with plenty more. I’m kind of proud of the fact that I have only really “lost” a small handful of friends, and even these disconnections felt more-or-less natural.
“All My Friends” was a fantastic song, one that grabbed me and didn’t let go for seven-and-a-half minutes, but it never conjured up any specific memories. It was never mainstream enough to be a song I danced to with people. It never soundtracked a celebratory occasion. It mainly just stayed in my pocket on my “Top 25 Most Played” iPod playlist.
Through college, I always seemed to make a special point of listening to it at the end of the summer, usually when I realized I was driving around Livonia for the last time in a while. It turned into a ceremonial thing — I’d turn it up loud and try to inhabit the lyrics, even though I was usually just making a mundane trip to a grocery store or library. Each time, I felt like the song would touch some part of me that needed to connect, but even though I enjoyed the goofy devotion of the whole practice, I don’t know if I can say that it ever quite moved me.
The line Murphy sings that always sticks out to me when I listen is the classic: “I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision / For another five years of life.” It’s tailor-made for a high school yearbook quote, and I always, every time I listen, think about whether it’s true.
2016 was the first year I started noticing the ages of celebrities who died. I subtracted my age from theirs and wondered what fraction of my life had already been lived — and whether I could comprehend the amount of time I theoretically had left. More pressingly, I checked to see if they were younger than my parents, and if they were, I searched for mitigating factors and tried to find relief in the revelations that these famous people smoked cigarettes or lived otherwise unhealthy lifestyles.
I have made a lot of stupid decisions in my life, only some of which turned out to be good stories later. There are hospital trips that could have been avoided; there’s that time I slammed a door on a friend and almost broke her mirror; the multiple times I spilled wine on carpets.
What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think I actually identify with “All My Friends.” Murphy sings like an everyman, and his arrangement is visionary, so it’s the kind of song any lover of music can appreciate. There’s a certain anticipation, though, that I have whenever I queue it up — I’m looking forward to powerful emotions. I’m ready to feel something that never quite hits.
But now, I’m ready for actual goodbyes. The friends I never really left in high school are getting jobs out of state. I just finished up my time at the first job I ever loved. I’ll leave for the summer without the certainty of returning to see the same people again.
I’ll finally be able to say “To tell the truth / This could be the last time and mean it,” and I can’t help feeling like at some point soon I’m going to listen to LCD Soundsystem and actually, legitimately start crying. I’ll start getting nostalgic and suddenly I won’t be able to stop.