Already failing at my daily writing because life is keeping me busy.
This one pulled from the Archive – originally from May 13, 2002
The room where I sleep is just above my basement. Separating the two rooms is a louvered door and a small flight of steps. Half of the basement is finished off now, but the other half is still storage and partially taken up by a workbench that my brother used to use frequently. He would spend most of his time down there working on whatever and listening to the radio. Those of you that have read through previous entries here know that my brother was killed in a car accident when he was 18. Afterwards the unfinished part of the basement remained virtually untouched for a long time. The only reason to go down there was if there was a problem with the furnace – which rarely happened. Between the finished and unfinished sides there is a thin wall – so it was almost as if that side of the room did not exist.
Prior to my brother’s actual death he was in a coma for a week and friends and family spent most of their time at the hospital. One of his close friends had made a tape of Don Mclean’s American Pie on a loop. It was the favorite song of his clique and held special meaning to all of them. Hour after hour the song would play continuously – it was an effort to snap him out of the coma by surrounding him with familiar sounds.
I was probably 21 or 22 when I actually moved myself to the lower part of the house (I was 16 when he died). Now I am not a light sleeper by anyone’s definition but I would frequently wake up in the middle of the night and think I heard sounds coming from the basement. Being a “there’s a rational explanation for everything” kind of person I would chalk it up to the house settling and go back to sleep.
One summer night I was up particularly late and the dog was sleeping on the floor beside my desk chair. Suddenly her ears perked up and she ran over to the basement door and started sniffing. I stopped what I was doing and listened. What I heard made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Wafting up from the basement was music. But not just any music – it sounded like American Pie. “Ridiculous!”, I thought. I stood up and moved closer to the louvered door. It was definitely the familiar melody of American Pie and the dog heard it too. A little freaked out and not believing my ears, I turned on the radio, turned off the lights and went to bed.
Over the next several years I would hear that tune coming up from the basement on many occasions. Sometimes it would wake me out of a sound sleep, sometimes it would kind of break the silence as I was typing away at something on the computer late at night. Invariably though it would be American Pie. Often I would only hear it for a few minutes before it stopped – but there were times where the song would play almost in its entirety before going away.
This went on for eight years or so – and I never told a soul because I thought I was crazy.
Two summers back me and a friend decided to put central air conditioning in my house. It took us 2 or 3 nights, working on it after our regular jobs. On the third night we were doing the final work which involved putting a piece between the furnace and the duct work. We were joking around and making all kinds of noise when he stopped in his tracks and went white. “Do you hear that?”, he asked. I went silent to listen and there it was.
“And they were singing…bye, bye Miss American Pie…”
He was familiar with the relevance of the song – and that part of the basement. Neither of us moved. The song was louder here then when I heard it from upstairs. I started panning my head around to place the origin. My friend did the same. We were on opposite sides of the room and began to home in on it – each moving slowly and quietly towards what we heard as the source – my brother’s workbench.
We stopped about a foot from the bench. It was piled high with tools and boxes of parts – untouched since my brother’s death – and the song continued to play. We looked at each other, both pale and not sure what to make of the whole thing. Something caught the corner of my eye as I had turned – a red light. I grabbed the boxes and started moving them to the floor. There, behind everything, against the wall was a radio – more specifically an 8-track player, plugged into the wall. Sticking out of it’s side was an 8-track of American Pie. I reached forward and touched the tape and the music stopped. I touched it again and the music started up again. It was just barely inserted far enough into the player to actually start playing.
The explanation we settled on was that as the temperature changed the casing would expand and contract. As it expanded it would make contact and start playing, as it contracted it would disengage the mechanism and stop playing. Since 8-tracks are essentially on a loop – it could play forever as long as it had power and didn’t wear out. Why I never heard the other songs on the tape was most likely due to the familiarity of that song. Similar to the way you never noticed a particular car on the road until you or someone you know buys one. Normally nothing wakes me up from my sleep. Most likely the other songs would play but not register subconsciously and therefore, not wake me up.
On the one hand, I was relieved to have an explanation for the late night music. On the other hand, it had become oddly reassuring. I had felt it was his way of letting me know that there was something after death – even if it was just a musty basement workbench and American Pie.