I’ve never been the best at making friends, or keeping friends, or being one. I’m a rock solid ISTJ, heavy on the I, the S, the T, and the J—a fast pitch straight down the plate, where the pitch is doing things alone and finding it hard to emotionally connect, and the plate is my entire life.
An accurate if incomplete history:
My best friend in elementary school spoke mostly in South Park quotes and carried around a BB gun shaped like a magnum; we had absolutely nothing in common. My best friend in middle school had good snacks and a PlayStation, and his folks were rarely home; it was a relationship built more on negligent parenting than anything else. My best friend in high school was my idol for four years—this, it turns out, is not the same thing as friendship. By the time I went to college and figured out what exactly friendship did mean, I looked behind me and felt like a man without a past. To this day, my oldest non-familial relationship reaches back just a smidge over a decade.
I have some theories about why things have shaken out like this. I’m thoroughly amused by movies where two romantic leads meet and they each have a rascally best bud who sticks up for them and are always by their side or waiting for their call. The pattern in my life looks much more like this: my wife meets new, incredible people, then introduces me to them. When she hangs out, I hang out. Maybe. The friends I’ve met without her can attest to this: I’m not someone who reaches out, makes plans, checks in, wants to know the haps, etc. etc. My family can also attest to this. I’m too inside my own head all the time and too terrified of that moment when the conversation inevitably dies to be social. I’m too I, too T. Too S to spend time thinking about how others are thinking about me. Too J to let the chips fall where they may.
It’s not exactly a blue ribbon way to live.
I started thinking a lot about what friendship means to me once this project started winding down earlier this year. I came up with the idea for the RS 500 while walking to get some frozen yogurt in Richmond, Virginia, in the summer of 2014. I wanted a project to have an excuse to keep writing, since it had been a year since I graduated with my MFA and I hadn’t written a thing worth remembering. I thought it would be neat to write all 500 pieces myself, one a week. By the time I got back home with a half-melted yogurt, I’d realized that if I went that route the project was going to take ten years to complete. It sounded exhausting; I needed to relinquish control. I needed friends.
Over the course of the next five years, of course, something miraculous happened: my friends reached out to their friends, who reached out to their friends, who reached out to me. The project became a collective, and the collective became a gift. 134 voices yammering on about music, and memory, and narrative, and what it means to be a human being. I just now double-counted. It still makes no sense to me.
It’s generally good form in these things to address the album at hand, though I could offer you some masterpieces on the site that don’t bring up the music at all. I want to talk about the music though because I got lucky with this final record, and it fits. I want to talk about the Beatles, but I only want to talk about “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Is this too obvious? It’s one of my favorite Beatles stories, the making of this song, because the best memories of the Beatles are the ones where they’re just four friends fucking around making masterpieces. High school me and my teenage friends felt a lot like this, too, when we went down to someone’s basement and sampled movies and ODB verses to stitch into 808 beats that we could rap nonsense over. Being friends wasn’t just the conduit—it was the whole caboodle.
There’s such sweetness in Paul McCartney and his best friend John Lennon writing a song for their best friend Ringo Starr that opens softly with the line “What would you think if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?” The only thing sweeter comes next: “Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song, and I’ll try not to sing out of key.” No, I lied—the sweetest thing is when you realize that McCartney and Lennon specifically engineered a song for their famously self-conscious friend to sing where in the chorus he will say “I get by” and they’ll come in to harmonically support him on “with a little help from my friends.” A song by friends and for friends about being friends. Ringo was so insecure about his singing voice; they made sure he sounded spectacular.
I don’t think Ringo is the “best” Beatle, whatever that might mean, but on a lot of days he’s certainly my favorite. He always seemed to have had the littlest ego, seemed a little surprised that he was in this moment, with these lads, making these songs, etc. The internet has decided that Ringo is an ESFP, that he is in fact the fab four’s only extrovert. Sure! Who knows. The only commonality all of them have, it turns out, is the F—a bunch of feelers, the whole lot. I believe it; I think making art is hard to do when you’re a T. I also think locking four arty Fs in a room is bound for disaster eventually—too many things left unsaid for fear of hurt feelings, too many rootless ideas swimming around, too much silence masquerading as kindness. Ringo, I think, the big galooph, could have gone on making music with his friends forever. It wouldn’t have been great stuff—his solo records are…interesting—but at least it would have been together.
I’ve always felt a bit like the Ringo of my friends. Hanging back, a little apart, just happy to be there. Sometimes I’ll be with a group of people but won’t be paying any attention at all to the conversation they’re having, content with the simple fact of the shared space. This peaceful separateness, which others tend to read as disinterest or displeasure, has weirdly served me well as an Internet Editor Person. Honestly, I’m just happy to be here. The friendships that have come to pass thanks to this project have brought me so much, and the opportunities I’ve been given to meet such brilliant writers and thinkers face-to-face, to give them space to read their work out loud or tell new stories through music or meet each other (this is the most joyous)...everything, all of it, has changed my life.
One last thing: at my senior prom, near the end of the night, I stood on a chair on the outskirts of the dance floor and watched my classmates. They were vibrating, laughing, having the time of their lives. I didn’t even know most of them, but I stood there grinning until I started to tear up. It was the highlight of my night. It still warms my soul, just remembering. They were all so happy, right when everything was about to change. Maybe so happy because of it.
Surround me with smiling faces and I’m good. It’s the key. Community is the key. Let’s just keep making music forever, in the studio, in the basement, online, in our memories. I’m down for whatever, and I already love you all immensely.
Finally, simply, from a friend: thank you.