Chad VanGaalen – Rabid Bits of Time

Soft Airplane
Year :
Holopaw / Andrew Bird / Elliott Smith

I’m a packrat when it comes to music. The advent of subscription-based services like Spotify has only furthered my hoarding tendencies. I add entire albums of music from artists I’ve barely heard of, if at all, into my collection. Many of these go unlistened-to, but I collect them so that the game of music roulette known as shuffle might surprise me with a gem.

I was completely caught off-guard when “Rabid Bits of Time” emerged from my headphones a few weeks ago. A big fan of Andrew Bird, I realized that I must have added the complete soundtrack to the movie “Norman” to my collection (Bird contributes every other song on the soundtrack). Or, more accurately, I didn’t realize that there were songs by anyone else on the album.

It was an eerie moment. I had worked an unusually long day and was walking up to the commuter rail platform, feeling a bit defeated, when Chad VanGaalen’s wobbly voice emerged from underneath the screaming buzzsaw sounds in the track’s opening moments. Clocking in a modest three minutes, “Rabid Bits of Time” ends with the unmistakable sound of a train passing by a platform. It’s a cacophonic sound—layers of white noise and extremely loud—but also one that’s rhythmic and mechanical. It also happened to be what was happening in real life at that actual moment.

The whole experience amplified the song’s effect on me. I found myself listening on repeat, unable to shake the sparse lyrics. VanGaalen sings

You’ve been dead for years
but you never knew it
and the rabid bits of time
have been eating you.

It’s a song that’s open to interpretation but points in an obvious direction. Taken at face-value, the idea of being dead and yet unaware of that fact calls to mind ghosts. To the extent that we think of ghosts as clinging to the world, “Rabid Bits of Time” is a not a song lamenting death itself, but the experience of being unable to let go or move on.

As haunting as the song is, it’s a reminder for me that there’s great relief in letting go. This is not to say that we shouldn’t remember those who’ve lost their lives or that we ought to forget the past. But rather, to not let the “rabid bits of time” pull us out of the present— the place where we can live for ourselves, while we’re still able. We honor the dead not by dwelling in the past, but by treasuring the present.

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(@YahSureMan) is the Founder of The Daily Soundtrack and Bark Attack Media. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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