I ran across the band Jackpot when I started a subscription to eMusic. This was when there was unlimited downloads, so I naturally downloaded there entire catalog. It was a long time before I would listen to much of it. They’re of an acquired taste. But one by one I started appreciating individual songs.
There reaches a tipping point with musicians where once you listen to enough of their material, you start noticing patterns. Not just in subject matter, but in little intangibles in the tone and descriptions and what a song takes care to mention and leave out. And sometimes you have a singular moment when you’re somewhere doing something and you hear the song and you realize that one moment is what their catalog is about.
There’s a country musician that I happened to hear once while driving on a rural road near the Delosa/Muskogea border. There was a dead skunk on the road, a couple cows munching and looking as bored as cows always looks. The terrain was hilly and there were some crossroads in the distance with every road in sight being only two lanes. I stopped at an intersection, looked around, and said to myself, “This is Jim Skerritt’s Universe.”
A similar moment occurred with Jackpot. I was living in Greenwood Hall on the Southern Tech University campus. Dharla was in a different dorm. We met at a table where smokers tended to congregate. She liked that I was tall and (nominally) Christian and had deep blue eyes. That she was attractive with a smile that could light up the room drew me to her, of course, but she sealed the deal when she said that she knew all of the words to Barenaked Ladies’s “The Last Thing On My Mind” and sang it for me.
From there she would come over the my dorm and we would watch things together. We saw the entirety of Neon Genesis Evangelion over the course of a week. There were these moments that in retrospect were entirely “come-hither” looks on her part met with utter cluelessness on mine.
Maybe it was out of frustration that she decided that she would teach me to dance. Slow dance. Finding music to dance to was always a challenge since college students don’t often cop to having tood slow-dance music. But we got by mostly by listening to music with the appropriate tempo if not the appropriate sentiment.
My MP3 collection was not very large at that point and Jackpot was one of the few artists where I had their complete catalog. So I listened to them a lot. She liked them. So one day when we were tired of dancing to Bare Naked Ladies, we played Jackpot.
It was when the song “Spaceout” came on that it all synthesized and I felt like I had entered Jackpot’s Universe. She was trying to teach me to lead and I was bumbling around on my feet. She would lay he head onto my chest and she found herself searching for a moment that wasn’t really there. Meanwhile, I was thinking that I could give her what she wanted if I would just stop thinking. If I could take command of the situation and be the person that I knew I was capable of being.
She looked at me in a way that was begging me to kiss her. And for once I could see it at the time. But something stopped me. And the moment was gone and the opportunity lost.
Spaceout is a song about two people bring alone together. Sort of in the way that “I’m alone. You’re alone. Let’s be alone together.” and yet not being able to connect and so, even after trying to communicate, ending up together but alone. Alone together in a slightly different context.
But it was more than just the subject matter of that particular song. Jackpot’s Universe is a place where people of potential end up blowing it. Wishing you could be what other people wanted you to be, but falling short and instead just internally slumping, smoking pot, and loafing around. Notably, Dharla and I smoked weed together. While listening to Jackpot. In between her attempts to teach me how to dance.
At the end of the song, it makes a reference to going up to a rooftop and “spacing out”. One time we got the bright idea of holding our dancing sessions on top of Grayson Hall. It was easy enough to sneak up there. I burned the more danceable Jackpot material onto a single CD and we went up there and danced. We tried to recapture the previous moment that I had strictly blown, but we didn’t.
She stopped coming around shortly after that. It suited me fine because I had moved on to someone else for a new start where I hadn’t missed so many little opportunities and one big one. Sometimes relationships are up-or-out and that was one of them. Dharla and I were not done by a long shot. Relationships, near-relationships, and dry patches would come and go before we somehow reconnected somewhere down the line. The next time around it became like that paradox about making up half the distance over and over again and never quite connecting because each movement becomes smaller as half of the whole because half of what it was. Closer and closer, but no connection.
These days when I listen to Jackpot - with the exception of “Spaceout” - I think of the Super Nintendo Legend of Zelda game. That’s another story altogether.