I knew about this song for ages before I actually listened to it. Ever since I started reading and writing about music in a serious way, the name would keep popping up. It always seemed like it’d be right up my street—I’d been raised on Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, and discovered The Ramones and The Clash right around the time I was graduating from high school. I liked The Jayhawks, Los Lobos, and The Old ‘97s—bands who wore their hearts on their flannel sleeves. But somehow I didn’t get around to it right away.
Then I met Dan, my senior year of college. Dan was in a band—The Harmonica Lewinskies. People talk about first impressions; with him, I don’t remember having one. I didn’t know him, and then he was my friend. Suddenly, I was part of a scene, hanging out at sweaty venues in Lower Manhattan, dancing to music that was exuberant and raw and good-natured. Even after I left the city, I kept in touch.
Here’s where this song comes in. I was reading some article that mentioned it, and I thought to myself, “This is silly; I should just listen to it already.” Those chiming first bars kicked in, and I took off on the galloping drums and chugging bass as if I were on horseback. “Heard about your band/ in some local page…” Instantly, I thought of Dan and the Lewinskies. I thought of all of us, young and charging headlong toward the unknown horizon. I closed my eyes at the bridge, letting that high note fill my head.
“Pretty girl keep growin’ up/ playing makeup, wearing guitar/ growing old in the bar/ you grow old in the bar.” At the time, the spring of 2014, I was living in D.C., and it was becoming clear to me that I needed to get back to New York. I was turning 23, and I knew if I didn’t make the reckless decision then, I’d never make it. In June, just after I got back, Dan took me for drinks. He asked me if I listened to The Replacements, and I admitted I hadn’t delved very deeply. “But ‘Left of the Dial’ is a great song,” I said. His blue eyes lit up, and we clinked glasses.
Over the rest of that summer, and into the fall, I went to as many Harmonica Lewinskies shows as I could. Winter came, and things weren’t going well for me, so I sort of faded from the community. On the occasion that I did make it out to see them, though, I had a good time, and they were always glad to see me.
Fast-forward to April of 2016, just a few weeks before my 25th birthday. It was a Thursday night, and I was packing for my cousin’s wedding. Around 9 p.m., I took a break to browse the internet. I was idly scrolling through Facebook when I saw a post saying that Dan had died. At first, I thought it must be some kind of prank. But then I got a message from one of our mutual friends, and the world shifted.
Somehow, I managed to get myself to the airport the next morning and fly down to Atlanta. I’d told my parents, but I didn’t want the bridal couple knowing. It was their day—a day of life renewing itself. So I put on a silk dress and a smile, and sat in the soft, humid afternoon, watching as they took their vows. And then I thought of this song, with its mention of “sweet Georgia breezes.” I thought of how he’d looked at me in the bar. I tried to hold it together.
I flew back to the cold, rainy city. I went to Dan’s funeral, and hugged and kissed and sobbed with his bandmates and all of our friends, even people I’d been too shy to speak to in the past. I tried not to think of the ten thousand conversations I’ll never have with him, or all the times I should have stuck around after shows. I listened to this song at work, trying not to cry out loud.
Even in the short time I knew Dan, we shared a great deal—this song was only the beginning. I keep thinking of the first time he kissed me on the lips: just a peck, like a deluxe “hello.” He gave me the gift of seeing myself reflected in someone’s eyes as something beautiful. He might not walk the earth anymore, but I can find him in the realm of music, with this song’s rowdy romanticism as my guide. “And if I don’t see you there/ well I’ll know why/ but I’ll try to find you/ left of the dial…”
With all my love,
The Replacements: Left of the Dial
The Harmonica Lewinskies: Good Man He Come