Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Walls (Circus)” came into my life at the right moment.
It’s an obscurity, tucked away on the soundtrack to “She’s the One” (below), a ’90s romantic comedy now known more for the inclusion of Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston and “Could switching to Geico?” pitchman, Mike McGlone.
I’d liked the song for years and, from time to time, it bubbled up from its dormancy on my record shelves and into regular rotation.
But this was different.
During this particular period, something was magnetically calling me to it on a daily basis. I had to listen to it I had to.
It was a tumultuous time in my personal life, battling through things personally and working to change into a better, different person.
I didn’t fully understand why I had to hear it. It was a compulsion, like a craving for a certain food that could not be sated.
A few months into this phase, as I played it in my apartment, I studied the lyrics, something I should’ve done much sooner.
I suddenly understood why.
“Some things are over / Some things go on / And part of me you carry / Part of me is gone . . . Even walls fall down.”
In the context of the film, it’s about the relationships of the central characters.
In my life, I realized I was a sort of split personality speaking to himself, the way Fiona Apple talks about her songs often being conversations with herself. The words of “Walls” were me talking to myself: The part of myself I wanted to grow and improve was moving on, but the parts I wasn’t so fond of were being left behind.
The realization didn’t diminish my playing of the song, but formed an unshakable time-and-place connection to it. Now I smile whenever I hear it.
I think “Walls” is an example of how songs mirror the expression that people come into a person’s life for a season, a reason or a lifetime. Songs or albums, such as “Walls,” can do the same.
For me, “Walls” was a friend I’d known for years, but played a role at a key moment, a friend for a reason.
Songs or albums that come into a person’s life for a season are maybe ones that we love passionately for a period and then later abandon.
I’m not exactly sure why I was so crazy about The Mars Volta, but I know that for a period in the mid ’00s, I was fascinated by De-Loused in the Comatorium, Frances the Mute and Amputechture. I was so bitterly disappointed by The Bedlam in Goliath (left) whose failures have more to do with a blown-out mix than the songs themselves that I’ve had a bitter taste in my mouth since.
They were the group that came into my life for a season, visiting for a while before I continued on my journey to other songs, other artists and other musical friendships.
The music that comes to us for a lifetime are timeless to us. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” comes to mind for me. I will never get tired of hearing that song.
Much like “Walls,” it’s personal meaning to me continues to change through time. The arrived with a resolved, defiant streak, a person who has turned away from The Man and decided to forge his own path. As a younger man, that appealed to my rebellious teenage angst. In times of change, it becomes celebratory and anthemic, a man who has made a radical adjustment to the course of his life, but has settled on it.
Thinking about music in these terms has me looking at what songs I’m listening to now and what those are saying about my current mental state.
Whether it’s a song that comes into my life for a reason like “Walls,” a season like The Mars Volta or the stay forever like “Proud Mary” (right), they all say something about who I am — sometimes in ways to which I am completely oblivious at the time.
They are all friends to me, just as the people I have known throughout my life have played different parts.