When you’re young and have no real connection with the world outside your door because you’ve been purposefully and tactically kept in isolation from it, you will scratch and claw and take every opportunity you get to experience the rare treat of popular culture. For some reason I have never been able to understand, my parents took very little interest in extended family; whereas families were rich in the experience of cousins and grandparents and aunt and uncles, I was very lucky to get the crumbs of some semblance of siblingness. Even though these good people were blood relations, they were foreigners, through no fault of my own.
On a rare trip to visit my great aunt in the big city of Irving, I found myself suddenly getting along with a cousin my age. We only saw her once every few years, and though we were weeks apart in age, we didn’t exactly get along; we usually thought the other too weird for words. She lived in big cities, yet had a taste for the rural life; I was a weird little autistic redneck, a country bumpkin with no people skills who hated living in the country and everything that went with it. Of course we were not going to get along! But here we were, both 15 years old, and having a decent conversation without fighting, eye rolling, or annoyance. It was…weird. We talked about music, movies, school, and art. When the visit was done, I was sad, because everything had gone so well. I actually had something resembling a family connection. Furthermore, we exchanged addresses. Infrequently, over the next year and a half, we would write each other; I would send her short stories and mixtapes, and she would send me VHS tapes of 120 Minutes.
I ate up and savored every one of those videocassettes. I fell in love with a lot of bands I still love you dearly today. One video in particular really struck me, though. It was for a band I had never heard of called 10,000 Maniacs, even though there was no actual band in the video. Instead, it was a very attractive young woman who was having a fun time spending the day with an elderly woman—presumably a grandmother. I thought the lead singer was cute––even if she did look like an older version of my cousin––and although the video was quite sentimental, I enjoyed the song. It was a video I would rewind and watch, and even though no radio station played music like this, I solved that problem by recording this song on cassette, until I was able to obtain the single on vinyl a few months later.
Even though I fell in love with “Trouble Me,” I never cared much for the flipside, “The Lion’s Share.” It was a nice enough song, it felt a little too preachy, a little too earnest for my taste. Listening to it again, it isn’t a bad number, even though it wasn’t one of their stronger efforts.
Even still, I would order Blind Man’s Zoo, the album that the song came from, as a part of an eight tapes for a penny deal from Columbia House, and truth be told, I didn’t care much for it, either. A girl I met later that year told me that the album to get was In My Tribe, which she said was a much better record—and she was right. I was equally impressed with their follow-up, Our Time In Eden, and was genuinely sad when Natalie Merchant left the band.
As for my cousin, I have neither seen her nor heard from her in nearly 30 years. There was no falling out; we simply were not a close family unit, and though we wrote to each other for a little while, other teenage interests took precedent, the last time speaking to her being shortly before I graduated from high school. But that is the nature of life; people float in and out of your world, even people you should be close to, with no intended malice or forethought. I think very fondly of those days, and this song always makes me smile, a nice brief jolt of a happy memory of innocent times.