One night in 1994, I was being driven around in a large green car through the streets of Leitchfield by my cousin, Brandy. She was four years older than me, but she had introduced me to her high school gang (I was in eighth grade at this point), and would bring me along while they all went “cruisin’” through town. In my mind, she was the coolest, and for a kid who definitely hung out in the geek-squad section of the lunchroom, her invitations were a pass to the other side.
Aside from my parents, she was also the person who made the biggest musical influence on my early years. Maybe it was the thrill of those late nights with the older kids, but she was the one who made music seem dangerous. Before then, it had been sing-along choruses and great pop songs, but Brandy showed me the raw parts of music — the underbelly of rock ‘n’ roll. Even the famous songs that I had heard before — the way she talked made them completely new to me, and she had a lot of fun doing it. It was that night in 1994 when I heard Prince’s “Purple Rain” with new ears. No longer with just the appeal that a kid would have because of the colorful hook, but as the epic that it was. U2’s “Mysterious Ways” ceased being just a fun song to dance around to, but a 101 in seduction. And Foghat’s “Slow Ride” turned into a teenage anthem, as it blared out of the speakers while we rolled past the bowling alley.
Brandy also took me to one of my first major concerts. Outside of the local bands at the VFW, Leitchfield didn’t have much of a scene, so seeing live music was really only something we did with the TV on. A step-uncle had taken me to a Garth Brooks show in Evansville a few years prior, but having been young, I think I paid more attention to the stadium’s size than the actual performance. But then Farm Aid came to Louisville. It was 1995 and I was now a freshman and Brandy was a senior. As soon as the show was announced, her friends made an instant pact to do whatever was necessary to get tickets. She also insisted that I come along, too. I was really just getting my footing in the “alternative rock” scene, but the appeal of seeing Hootie and the Blowfish and the Dave Matthews Band seemed pretty great to me. Both were new bands, but, like any other famous musician at that time, they were also something that wasn’t real. They were songs on the radio, faces on MTV. I hadn’t yet realized their humanness. But, yeah, count me in. And count that as my first road trip without parental supervision.
On the way there, Brandy schooled me on the more legendary acts. She gave me the finer details of Willie Nelson, the still-budding history of Steve Earle and the awesomeness of Neil Young. I don’t know if I had even heard a Neil Young song at that point. Leitchfield was so separated from most popular culture, and I can’t imagine that any local radio station played him. But this was the era that he released Mirror Ball, and she kept hinting of the possibility that his backing band on that record, Pearl Jam, might even show up. “Who?”
I can also credit Brandy with my first contact high. She thought that part was hilarious. I was a good kid who didn’t smoke or drink — even though she always had a friend nearby with a flask who would offer — so when geeky little Kyle turned toward her to ask “How long has this Dave Matthews song been going on?” with my eyes bloodshot from the proximity alone, she went into a laughing fit that lasted the rest of the trip. I got teased about that one for a while.
Brandy always called me Lyle Mareeth, drawing out the y so it stretched. I smiled every time she said it. I loved her a lot. The way she treated me, took me under her wing and unknowingly pushed me in a direction that has carried me every day since, I’ll be forever grateful. Her passing on Monday morning has left a void in this world that can’t be filled, and I miss her already, but she’s in those songs. The best ones always are. •