The first time I heard one of my favorite songs, it snuck up on me. I was slumped in the front seat of my car, haphazardly killing time before my shift started.
I was halfway through Tame Impala’s Currents when a bizarre track started. It was purely instrumental, approximately 55 seconds, and it sufficiently confused me. I even considered skipping the track all together. It was incessantly tense and reminded me of a more psychedelic “Flight of the Bumblebee.”
The ambient drone of “Gossip” was almost unbearable but, in that first listening, I couldn’t have known that it was simply a prelude to something great.
The opening notes of “The Less I Know The Better” followed abruptly on the heels of “Gossip” and thoroughly rocked me to my core. A playful bassline hit me and propelled the beginning of the song. The sound thudded loudly through my car speakers, making my rearview mirror bounce in sync. Eventually, the track swelled to include a plaintive falsetto that sang of unrequited love for an unnamed girl. The lyrics were at once silly and serious, but they produced a nostalgia for the self-importance of high school romances. It was funky, full of longing and the embodiment of everything I wanted in a song.
I was smitten.
I immediately replayed it a second time. And a third time. And then once again, with “Gossip” preceding, finding that I liked both tracks better as a pair. And then I was late to work. But I still couldn’t get the song out of my head. Throughout my shift I carried a restless energy in my chest — my fingers nervously tapped out the drumbeat and my mind continually recited lyrics that I didn’t yet know by heart.
I called him as soon as I got off work — he was my go-to music consultant. I love trading tracks with most of my friends, but he was different. I hadn’t met someone who shared my taste in music this closely and I had his preferences boiled down to a science. We had some differences in our musical repertoire (he was a big Blondie fan for some reason), but I knew he would love this song.
And I was right.
We huddled together to watch the music video on my phone, but I was really watching him. Through his eyes, I got to rediscover the joy of listening to the song for the first time. “The Less I Know The Better” became our secret, but not so secret, anthem.
Every late night car ride to In-N-Out became an impromptu karaoke session. Every crowded party was punctuated by a least one rousing appearance of that iconic hook. Our friends grew to love the song as well, which is a good thing, considering how often we played it. But there was always an unspoken understanding that this was our song. We would lock eyes during those beginning notes and say without saying anything, “This one’s for you.”
At this point I should articulate that I never wanted our friendship to develop into anything more. The song’s thesis may hinge upon unrequited love, but my intention was not to project the lyrics onto him. There was just an undeniable pleasure in loving a song and having someone else appreciate it just as much as you.
So, he was a friend — but one intrinsically linked with one of my favorite songs.
This made it all the more difficult when our friendship came to an end.
It happened suddenly, without warning, and without a goodbye. It happened in a bar I had never been to before. He had been drinking, but in my mind alcohol isn’t a sufficient excuse. He said something horrible to me, a word that friends never use to each other. A word that painfully shattered my opinion of him.
I left him stranded at the bar that night. On the ride home, my other friends spoke in hushed tones around me, but my ears were still ringing from what he said.
I haven’t heard his voice since that night, but I still listen to “The Less I Know The Better.”
If my life were a movie, a significant portion would be a happy montage with “The Less I Know The Better” playing on an incessant loop. It’s representative of a time period that was significantly more carefree. It was before I transferred to UC Berkeley so my classes weren’t as difficult to stay on top of. In community college, I had a great group of friends that I saw almost every day. Hearing “The Less I Know The Better” makes me nostalgic for a time period that only happened two years ago. I still feel pleasure in hearing the song that I love. But mostly, it serves as a bittersweet reminder of the friend I lost.
I was always struck by one particular line: the unnamed girl’s half-hearted promise in the second verse, “It’s not now or never / Wait 10 years we’ll be together.” To me that always seemed a sadistic promise. Ten years? What kind of monster keep someone waiting for a decade?
Now I ironically find myself in the position of embodying the exact sentiment I used to detest. I don’t know if the friendship I had with him can ever be repaired, in one year or even ten. However, I know that I have become more protective of the songs I share. I have a forced awareness of how people and music can be forever tied together.
I still think of him each time I hear that bassline fire up. I subvert the yearning for love implicit in the song’s lyrics and instead replace it with my own desire for a different outcome — one that didn’t play out in such a violent end. Maybe our whole friendship rested on my fundamental misunderstanding of who he was. Perhaps I overestimated the depth of our relationship in the first place, and we were just two people who liked the same songs.
It’s a disconcerting thought. I can never go back to that first breathless moment of listening to “The Less I Know The Better.” He took that from me. But now, in a way I never predicted, I find I can truly appreciate the title of the song.
“Cutting Room Floor” columns are one-off, arts-oriented pieces written by Daily Cal staff members.
Contact Sarah Alford at [email protected].