Fountains of Wayne, “Hackensack”


120px-fow-welcome_interstate_managers.jpg I used to know you when we were young
You were in all my dreams
We sat together in period one
Fridays at 8:15…




I spend a lot of time waiting. It’s probably the thing I do the most. I wait for inspiration to strike. I wait for people to write. I wait for days to pass along, so I can go back to where I belong. The refrain of this song “But I will wait for you / As long as I need to / And if you ever get back to Hackensack / I’ll be here for you” is fixated on the removal of that unforgettable someone. When you spend as much time waiting as I do, you can’t help but wonder just where everyone has gone to. All those people that, once upon a time, kept your days and nights full and longing-free. It’s hard, and confusing, to lose touch with so many that I love and care for. And worst of all – it makes you boring. Even to yourself.

You see, in the past six years, I have moved across the ocean a total of five times. It’s hard to maintain friendships when you’re not present, and it’s even harder to maintain close friendships when you’re never there for anything. My friends on both sides of the Atlantic lead busy lives, and so it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Which isn’t an attempt to blame anyone, or to extract unwarranted sympathy. It just is what it is. Which I suppose is why this song seems to so perfectly encapsulate the feelings that I have about my own situation. The first verse (partially-seen above) recalls the days of brightness and promise that existed when things (and people) were young. But by the time we reach the second verse, we get a different sort of juxtaposition:

I used to work in a record store
But now I work for my dad
Scraping the paint off of hardwood floors
The hours are pretty bad
Sometimes I wonder where you are
Probably in L.A.
That seems to be where everybody else ends up these days

There’s a resignation about the change of employment, but a restlessness about the whereabouts of that special someone. That feeling of having missed the boat is something that everyone in grad school can relate to at some point. “There goes the world, and I’m just sitting here,” we might say to ourselves. Which, of course, leads back to that chorus. There’s a certain romanticism to that pledge of willingness to wait, but it’s also a touch pathetic. (1) That desire for people to return is often linked with a desire to have the world spin backwards (2). The hope that you’ll get a sort of metaphysical mulligan. Naturally, this isn’t going to happen, but it doesn’t stop us from hoping.

And then there’s the problem of my own weirdness… I’ve long known that I don’t make friends the way everyone else does. Growing up, I had an exceptionally weak and fractured family structure, and I moved to replace that structure through a sort of clan-ish attachment to my friends. I like to jump right in to the middle, and pretend that I’ve known my new friends for ages. I’m pretty open about things from the start, and I am legendarily impatient with the “getting to know you” phase. I like to think that it’s because I’m willing to trust my instincts about people. (3) Now, most people are happy not hearing from each other for days and weeks. I, sadly, am more needy than that. I worry that out-of-sight really does mean out-of-mind. (4) And so, I guess I can be a bit pesky. A touch clingy. I work on it. (I do.) But it can be difficult when you’re used to attrition, you know? Which, I guess, is something that I’d really like to learn to overcome.

Is this a quarterlife thing? Sometimes, I really do worry that these concerns are largely irrelevant in the context of graver social issues. My feeling more secure in my relationships isn’t really going to stop hunger, cure cancer, or finally get Britney Spears off the television. (5) Is this the sort of song that only appeals to people who are in situations like mine? Is the sensation that your life is losing focus – lacking context – a function of grad school, or of watching everyone get married and have kids? Is there really a window where you have to get these things done, or else risk being lost? These are all debatable questions, but they’re hardly simple to answer.

Which, I guess, takes me back to the song. Despite its pathos, I find an almost zen-like beauty in the desire to simply wait for that special someone to return. A faith that things could turn around, almost to the point of delusion, is, in a strange way, almost beautiful. Maybe I look at it that way because I’m a natural pessimist, and I find it remarkable that people can have such optimism. (6) And it is an up-tempo arrangement, sung in such a way that we sense that the speaker knows just how much of a long shot this whole deal is. There’s a sense that the person has found a way to make things work, despite setbacks, and is simply willing to take life as it comes. In a way, I think that’s the best we can aspire to.

Have a listen.

  1. As a Pumpkin once sang: “It meant the world to hold a bruisèd faith, but now it’s just a matter of grace.” [Back]
  2. Never a Superman around when you need him. [Back]
  3. Unfortunately, to most, this can come across as misanthropy as my instincts tell me that most people are creeps. Um, sorry, everybody. [Back]
  4. Except, I guess, with you. I just assume that I’m out-of-mind to start. ;-p [Back]
  5. As an aside, don’t you think it’s telling that “pop stars” never really succumb to their wretched lifestyles? Britney, no doubt, will one day go on to be a guest judge on some sort of talent show. (Hi, Paula.) Respectable musicians, sadly, almost always die as a consequence of their excesses (This, actually, is why I’m still on the fence about Amy Winehouse). [Back]
  6. Even now, my cynical self suggests that hope is the only thing left once all else has failed. Thanks, Pandora. [Back]

9 thoughts on “Fountains of Wayne, “Hackensack”

  1. I love your writing. I hate reading and yet I read it in its entirety. Great explanation of the song it really helped me to understand the feeling behind the music. I mean the song is self explanatory and very strait to the point so its not like you can say that you don’t know what its about but the way you explained it made my heart ach a bit. I think everyone has someone they desperately miss and yearn to see again. So the first time I heard the song the sentiment was lost on me thus I went in search of what the big deal was and where was Hackensack? Still don’t know about Hackensack but my heart does indeed echo your sentiments.

    • Hackensack is in what would be considered northern New Jersey. It is appealing to individuals due to it’s easy access to Manhattan…Most especially convenient to residents that work in NYC, NJ Transit Or Amtrak train services provide favorable, freqent trips and from the city. I hope that helped you and your curiosity get an understanding of the area!!! 😉

  2. Yes – please write more. This post brought tears to my eyes. I agree there is beauty in this kind of waiting. I don’t think it is optimism, but resignation that the object of the waiting has a hold that will never be released.
    Also, I don’t think these kinds of concerns are irrelevant. They get us through things like hunger and cancer if we’re lucky. They are after all what make us human.

  3. Thank you both so much for your kind words! I’m sorry that the site has been in mothballs for so long. I’m hoping to begin a comeback quite soon, as I’ve really missed being here and interacting with all you lovely people. 🙂

    I’m really glad to see that I’ve hit a nerve here, and that I’m not the only one that gets so much out of what might otherwise seem a silly pop song. I wish I could understand why, when I listen to it, I feel a little bit lonely, and, yet, I’m very happy to feel that lonely. Still, I’m glad I’m not the only one!

  4. no, Jon, you are absolutely not alone. if you pay any mind to the lyrics of this song (near impossible, i’d say), a feeling of melancholy is the result. perhaps it strikes each of us slightly differently yet that melancholic feeling is present regardless.
    anyway, great writing (both you and fountains of wayne) is my reward for what might otherwise have been a silly and fruitless search for more meaning behind this song. i’m late to the party but do hope others chime in as time rolls along…

    p.s. Brittany, if you haven’t already discovered it, hackensack’s in new jersey. while it is only across the hudson river from nyc, it is also far enough away to be considered suburbs. this song reinforces that thought, doesn’t it?

  5. correction: i meant to write that it’s near impossible to ignore the lyrics of the song, and the vocal was recorded and mixed so clearly.

  6. I was listening to this song just now, which became an instant favourite when I first heard Fountains of Wayne. I had to search the net to find if anyone else was as moved by this song as I was, and I found this site. As you say, there’s such a pathos in the verses, perhaps pathetic, but touching, like the innocence of a first crush with an out-of-my-league dream girl…

    But it goes beyond just romance, and makes one yearn for all the things that have been lost from when one was young; a sense that anything was possible, the idea that life would work out perfectly, or that things would always remain perfect.

    The melody is beautiful, and the lyrics just accentuate the beauty. A wonderful song.

Leave a Reply