So, it’s 9 p.m. on a Sunday.
I’m a little less than sleepy, a little more than tired: that dreamlike state of an evening without adrenaline or stress, where everything is soft around the edges.
I’m driving home from Columbus, Ohio with some teammates, and all the regular restaurants — Panera, Noodles and Company — are closed. So we stop in a Jimmy John’s.
And this song is playing. I’ve never heard it before, and the experience is nothing short of magical. Psychedelic, almost, what with my exhaustion and hunger, the smells of baking bread and fresh cucumber, and the loud, vibrant music devouring my every bead of focus.
The backbone of the song is its sporadic beat. It starts with an instant rhythm, and then the listener is thrown into a whirlwind of melody and music — loud yet carrying a muted quality, as if the drummer is right next to you, every beat crisp and purposeful, but the singer is performing in another room.
The song creates the sensation that it describes in the lyrics: the feeling of inescapable repetition. A song, a relationship, a life that is always more of the same. You begin to recognize the patterns of lyrics in the song as you would recognize the habits that you fall into unconsciously. Like a relationship that is — really — never moving forward, this song is simultaneously cyclical and unexpected. You think it’s over, or about to change. The song pauses. And then the beat again, and that chorus, you’re going backwards, got my hopes up/ oh no not again.
And I’m sitting at one of those high tables, waiting for my sandwich (#6, the veggie, no mayo or cheese, with bean sprouts), enraptured by this song. My phone sits abandoned back in the parked car, so I try desperately to remember some of the lyrics to look up later. I don’t talk to my teammates. I don’t think. I just stare at the red linoleum counter and listen, lost in the music.
“It feels like we only go backwards, baby/ every part of me says “go ahead”/ I got my hopes up again, oh no, not again/ feels like we only go backwards, darling”
The song ends. We eat and head back to the car. Despite my efforts, I don’t remember any of the lyrics from before. So that’s it? Will I never hear that song again? I wonder.
We’re in the car, about to leave, everyone all buckled up. “Wait,” I say, and pull one of my teammates with me; we go back into the Jimmy Johns.
I ask the guy at the register, the tall one with a man bun, what song was playing when we first came in. He smiles, tells us to wait a second while he goes back to his phone to check. He comes back.
“It could’ve been a couple of ones,” he tells us, “but I think it was: ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,’ by Tame Impala.”