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My Favorite Song Three Years Later

Three years ago, I started listening to a band called Together Pangea. Over those three years, Together Pangea has taken hold of my heart, mind, and ears. Their Killer Dreams EP (when people knew them only as Pangea) is eleven minutes and thirty-one seconds of pure bliss. The second song off of the EP, “Love and Alcohol,” instantly used to fill me with joy. Not only is this a song that I could listen to and feel rejuvenated because of its upbeat rhythm and melodies, but it’s also a song that I could play for my friends on an old guitar on a cool summer’s night. And so I continued to listen to “Love and Alcohol” to uplift my spirits and feel some momentary peace leading up to events that would uproot and change my life.

When I graduated HS in 2015, I was craving independence from my family. I moved out of my parents the day after graduation for a summer of odd jobs, cheap rent, and eighteen-year-old shenanigans. The house I lived in was called “The Treehouse,” a place where I consider to have had my first real-life experiences. Towards the end of that crazy summer, I met Rob. He started coming over more frequently and practically lived with us. I eventually had to leave for college, but I made sure to visit my friends whenever I came home, and Rob was always there. Even when he wasn’t staying at The Treehouse, I’d still go out of my way to see him. As years passed, gradually, we hung out less than I would’ve liked, and I found myself frequently spotting him at concerts and other social events. In May of 2020, I got the news that Rob had passed indirectly due to substance abuse.

Shortly after Rob’s passing, I lost all contact with one of my closest friends, Justin. I had no idea what was happening; there wasn’t any clear information to gain from other friends and family about Justin’s sudden disappearance from my life. I was forced to accept myself being in a state of limbo, not knowing what was happening to one of my best friends that I had known since my earliest days in Cleveland at the age of ten. After a month of no word, he finally texted me to meet in person. It was then that he told me he had been in rehab that past month due to his struggle with addiction and abuse of alcohol.

In the first verse of “Love and Alcohol,” you hear the line “and all the skeletons you hide.” That line now resonates with my experiences related to substance abuse. Justin gave me no indication that he was an alcoholic, and I would never have suspected otherwise. He was hiding his skeletons and hiding them well.

Come January 2021, Justin had relapsed a handful of times, went back to rehab, completed his session, and was now living in his apartment just ten minutes from me. On January 15th, Justin’s mother contacted me to wish me a happy new year and ask for a favor. She then proceeded to tell me that nobody had heard from Justin in four days, and she was worried. I left work early and went straight to his apartment. I stood in front of his door for over an hour, knocking and just trying to talk to him. I could hear him through the door, so I knew he was okay, but I also knew he had relapsed. There were times where I could even hear him pressed up against the door listening to me talk. I told him that people were worried and cared about him. Though I knew he was on the other side of the door, the more I spoke, the more it seemed like I was having a conversation with myself.

After nearly an hour and a half, I told Justin I was leaving and would be back the next day and urged him to call his mom. In the morning, I got a call from Justin, and we made a plan to see each other during the week. Again we found ourselves talking for hours about the disease plaguing him. During those four days of no contact with the outside world, Justin consumed over twenty bottles of wine along with other various forms of alcohol. He had been in a dark place, and according to him, my visit snapped him out of it. He was okay, seeing his sponsor again and back on track. January of this year was a callous one for me. Believe it or not, only two days before everything with Justin, a very close friend and mentor, passed away.

Gregg was a friend that I had gotten to know over the last two years at The Agora Theatre and Ballroom. As an overall jovial character, Gregg always had a smile on his face and was very quick with his words. Over those two years of knowing Gregg, we had gotten close in and out of work. When we all lost our jobs in the music industry back when the pandemic first hit, Gregg almost immediately hit me up, asking me if I needed work. Outside of our job at The Agora, Gregg was a painter by trade. I’ve been painting ever since Gregg offered me that position, hence why I refer to him as a mentor as well as a friend. However, working with Gregg had its issues. His avid drinking and use of cocaine greatly affected our work, causing him to show up to job sites buzzed, sometimes two hours late, or not at all. As much as I loved him to the core of my soul, I needed something stable. My professional relationship with Gregg came to a halt. However, my social and peer relationship with him continued as usual. For all the issues Gregg was dealing with, I never let it change my views on him or our friendship, even when it affected work. I still considered him a close friend of mine and would even call him for advice on solo painting gigs that I would acquire throughout the year.

About a week before his death, Gregg and I had a long conversation. He really had a way with words and led us to talk of our lives as “scholars and modern-day gentlemen.” We ended our call with a plan to get drinks at a bar in Cleveland Heights later the next week. Little did I know those plans would never come to fruition. On January 13th, 2021, I got the news of Gregg’s passing. I was heartbroken and in a state of shock. It was only a few hours after getting the word that it sank in. No more Gregg, no more beautiful houses that he painted, and no more quips and funny sayings. They took him in as a “possible overdose.”

After a year of ups and downs, I can say with no hesitation that my life has changed drastically, mainly because I have been given a different perspective on substance abuse. “Love and Alcohol” was a song that made me feel happy for no reason other than its upbeat vibe. After this past year, I now see it as a completely different piece. I listen to the lines “All the bad things about you, and all the bad things that I’ve done, all the needles in the bathroom, and when I taste you on my tongue, I still believe, I still believe, you’re all I’ll ever need…” I think about Rob, Justin, and Gregg and can’t even begin to imagine their struggle with addiction. When people find themselves in the wrong places, they turn to sustenance in the form of whatever is closest. In these three cases, sustenance was substance. The line, “you’re all I’ll ever need,” sticks with me while listening now. I say this because Justin recited more or less those words verbatim. He told me his struggle with addiction leaves him in a place where he isolates and only needs the substance to go on, even if he isn't happy with his choices.

As life goes on and we grow as individuals, our minds mold and adapt to the environment around them. As our minds mold and adapt, our perspectives change as mine did with one of my favorite songs. “Love and Alcohol” still makes me evoke emotions of happiness and nostalgia, but there are now added layers to the three minutes that take up that song. Unfortunately, as I learned, sometimes you never really know what someone is going through until it’s too late.

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