I got my hands on She’s the Queen before Silver, so to me the Lounge version is the definitive version of this song. The Silver version has always seemed to me to be a demo of them playing the song before they learned how it should be played. As I write of my fondness of this song, it is mostly for the Lounge version.
One of the distinctive things about the Lounge version is the voices in the background. It sounded like a room where I would belong; a place where people talked about ideas, laughed and enjoyed life. It is a place I desperately wanted to find; a place that was anything but the rural Kentucky wilderness I was living in as a teenager.
In my high school days, I always carried a Walkman and a case of at least 15 cassettes. At the time I thought it was just for my love of music, but now I realize it was a form of self-care. SF59 was a perfect band to play on the Walkman and drown out a harsh and abrasive world. My love of “Monterey” was formed on evening drives in my Mom’s minivan when she chose to play Focus on the Family on the radio. I don’t know if it was on overt attempt to steer me away from the gay and all my independent thinking or if it was just coincidence since it came on at 6 PM when we were always out running errands. I would put on my headphones, sink into that plush Captain’s chair on the passenger side, turn up the volume enough to drown out James Dobson and long for this place where I would belong as I felt the vibration of the tires rumbling over the pavement.
I feel like JM was in a similar place when writing the lyrics for “Monterey”. We can tell that he is around someone who is at least perceived to be better than him. He as at a loss of words around this person. But then a change happens. He says that he’s turning off here to a place that he knows, a place this better person doesn’t know. JM often uses driving as a metaphor in his lyrics. It is usually indicative of him taking a different path or asserting his autonomy or will. That is certainly the case here as we see him moving away from this better person to go to his own place.
I identified with this so much (and still do). In my teenage years, I was beset upon by better people on all sides. I didn’t fit in with the praise and worship, evangelical kids because of my propensity to challenge the church and ask difficult questions. I was too mellow for the metalheads. I was even too weird for the alternateens and non-conformists who, oddly, had very specific criteria for how one should be non-conformist. Professing any love of Christ was the kiss of death with this group and marked you as the enemy. There were no shades of grey allowed.
And so I went about my days, drowning out the better people by playing SF59 and finding worlds within the layers of sound. I always hoped that I would find this place that I both knew and didn’t know. Twenty-five years later, I still have not found that external place where I belong. But I belong in the worlds within and I am mostly at peace with that.
It never occurred to me what this song meant to me, at least in a conscious way, until I started writing this today. It makes me wonder why I am coming back to it at this point in my life. Am I trying to drown out the world? Possibly. There is much going on in the world now that I would prefer to be oblivious to. Is it equal parts love of music and self-care? Probably. I still need it now as much as I ever did.
Maybe I just need to remember how to get back to the place I know.