My First Job
by Matt Matthiesen
I swore I’d never return but as these things sometimes go, I eventually found my way back. I thought I was gone for good but something about the place pulled me back.
I moved my family to the town in which I grew up.
After unpacking and settling in, I spent some time driving past the homes and the haunts where I used to hang out. In the middle of town, there once stood an Asian restaurant where I was employed as a dishwasher. It was my very first job. Not much to add to that. It’s not like I was a volunteer at a hospital or an animal shelter making the world a happier place for sick people and puppies. I scraped chow mein and rice off of plates with my fingers and chucked the dishes into a stainless steel washer and then ran the clean dishes over to the cooks to be used over and over throughout the evening. It was a great exercise in humility and character building. It was so busy on weekend nights that I never even had time to go to the bathroom let alone fraternize with anyone in the kitchen so I kept to myself lost in my thoughts and the nights flew by, full bladder notwithstanding.
There was one Saturday evening, however, where there was an unusual break in the action. Things had slowed down considerably after a stretch of hours where the pace before had been frantic. So myself, a friend of mine who was a cook and another cook-who happened to be the brother of the owner of the restaurant-went outside to get some fresh air. We sat down on the cool concrete steps with the heat from the kitchen blasting our backs. I had never spoke much to the owner’s brother even though I worked with him every night. He was a nice enough guy and easy to work with. He was fair to the kitchen staff and set a great example to all of us by busting his ass every weekend no matter what the demands. He also took a lot of crap from his jerk of a brother.
The conversation we had that night on the back steps of the restaurant has stuck with me ever since. The owner’s brother said something that evening that was one of the most honest and straightforward things I’ve ever heard someone say about music.
The owner’s brother knew that I was a musician, so to engage in some small talk he asked me what my favorite band was. Being a musician geek I went on and on about Rush as I suppose most gangly and dorky guitar players in the Midwest did at the time. He agreed that Rush was a great band to be sure and he liked their music well enough. He paused and then said his favorite band was Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. He continued, “I don’t know,” sounding like he was working his way towards an apology. “His songs really mean something to me.” Now, just reading that comment doesn’t do it justice. I wish I could convey the sincerity and conviction in which he made that simple statement. He sounded like he was a once lost soul giving his testimony about Jesus. We didn’t say much of anything after he spoke. There wasn’t much to say. When someone lays it out in the open like that you don’t ruin it by opening your pie hole to offer your two cents on the matter. You give that person respect for being honest-dare I say vulnerable-and you let them own the moment. (At least some of the messages handed down by my dad I trusted and followed.)
When I returned to my role as dishmaster that evening, I thought about what he said and the sincerity in which he said it. I replayed a Bob Seger song over and over in my head and I believe I gained an insight that evening into the fact that though there may be music I might not necessarily like, that doesn’t mean that same music can’t be meaningful to someone else. In the great play list of God’s great concert who was I to say what was worth listening to or not.
Seger’s song "Night Moves" was the song that played over and over in my mind that Saturday night long ago. I had never really listened closely to the song before though I had heard it dozens of times on the radio. The lyrics are plain in a Robert Frost sort of way and the music is nothing more than simple open position chords but therein perhaps was the understatement and simplicity that elicited the emotional connection and gave the song its appeal. I began to see how someone could relate to the song on a deeper level.
I was a little too tall
Could've used a few pounds
Tight pants points hardly renown
She was a black-haired beauty with big dark eyes
And points all her own sitting way up high
Way up firm and high
I suppose there are those that think these lyrics to be crass and sexist, that is if the ‘she’ that is mentioned is the subject's girlfriend. To quote David St Hubbins of Spinal Tap, “What’s wrong with being sexy?” To which I answer, nothing. Women are one of God’s greatest creations and any song celebrating their physical beauty is okay by me. They deserve to be praised. I’ve heard less flattering and tactless lyrics that have been lauded by those supposedly in the know and whatever the meaning of ‘points’ is, it’s more respectable and clever than anything Dave Matthews or Sting could ever hope to write. And lest we forget, it is rock and roll; it’s supposed to be earthy and sensual. Besides, had Springsteen written these lyrics there’d be book-long treatises on it.
Maybe Seger was referring to a girlfriend and a car in the song. That would introduce a whole new level. It becomes an ode to a great slice of Americana: anonymous, skinny kid who is in love with his girl in love and his car. Happens all over the country all of the time.
Of course, I didn’t think of all these things while I was washing dishes those many years ago but as I wrote about earlier on, the conversation was something that reverberated with me so much that I still refer to it and ponder its meaning. Even now as I write about the song, I discover new aspects about it that I previously missed.
My favorite part of the song is the bridge. Seger says the song had been done for the most part except for the bridge. It took him years to come up with a bridge section and then it just happened. It fell out of his head. The song slows down at the bridge and it’s just Seger’s voice and an acoustic guitar.
I awoke last night to the sound of thunder
How far off I sat and wondered
Started humming a song from 1962
Ain't it funny how the night moves
When you just don't seem to have as much to lose
Strange how the night moves
With autumn closing in
Great, natural images that suggest we mortals are bound by time and the decisions we make and all the while nature appears to be indifferent and distant.
I may be making a bit of leap and I may get a few sighs from some English grads for doing this but consider Frost’s poem "The Road Not Taken":
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The comparison might be a bit of a stretch. So be it. My point in bringing it up is to show that both of the protagonists are reflecting on a choice they’ve made. They are not quite sure if the natural world had played a role in it or not but they comment on its existence and they realize they are nonetheless active participants in the grand plan. Being Catholic and a remedial student of Augustine, the element of free will in each selection appeals to my sense of romance as well.
The cook I spoke to that evening had what I remembered to be a yellow and black Dodge Duster that he had been working on. It was a sweet ride that he would screech out of the parking lot to our applause each late night as the kitchen closed and we dispersed to catch the tail end of parties and late night rendezvous with girlfriends.
I moved my family back to the town where I grew up. I see old faces and we catch up. I take my family to restaurants and we eat-all seven of us-and I get distracted reminiscing on nights long past when I sat at the very same table with my parents and my sisters, with old flames and friends. And I cruise around the lake at night and the moonlight shines across the calm, dark water.
I’m grateful for all those songs from my past. They mean so much more to me now when I hear them. The older I get the more emotionally satisfying they become.