Ghosts at the HFAC.
Updated: Dec 17, 2022
I didn’t think I had time for nostalgia. December is always the busiest month of our lives. But Joe wanted to see the Harris Fine Arts Center at Brigham Young University one last time before they tore the place down. It is a place that holds a whole lot of history for both of us. Joe, with the beginnings of his career as a sound engineer, and I as a musician. So much began there. So we went.
Joe and I didn’t ever spend time there together when we were students. We were extras in each others lives for many years. Randomly running into each other in various places till our faces and names eventually became familiar to each other. The Harris Fine Arts Center, or HFAC, was a place where our parallel lives crossed this one time.
As far as we can guess by doing various math and memory work, I think we met for the first time at a showcase for a songwriting class I was in. He was the designated sound guy at the Madsen Recital Hall. I walked to his table and handed him a cassette. “Is it cued up?” He asked.“It’s the first song on the tape,” I replied. “That’s not what I asked you,” he said. Later when it was my turn, there was what seemed like one thousand years of tape hiss before my song began. “Ah,” I thought to myself. “Now I see.” So romantic.
We parked in visitor parking and walked toward the building. Unlocked for a few more days so people could pay their respects. “I think it’s like 50 years old,” I told Joe. He said, “Wait. I’m 50 years old. Does that mean……” I laughed and said, “Well they don’t tear people down like they tear down buildings.” “Oh, but they do, all the time,” he joked. We walked in and immediately Joe made a beeline to doors I never would have imagined we should open. I was shocked some of them were unlocked. We opened the door to the DeJong Concert Hall and there was scaffolding and piles of stuff everywhere. I gasped. It had been the site of so many regal events. Joe led me through dark hallways and past doors I had never seen before. He tried every door. Even the ones with signs that threatened you within an inch of your life if you opened them. He shook one of those slightly loose and then the weird sound we heard caused him to reconsider. Ever since Joe and I started dating, he has opened my eyes to the industrial back alleys of whatever town, venue, or building we’ve been in. A perk of his wonderful, unusual profession.
We went downstairs where the piano majors used to practice for hours. I knew people who hid from the janitors at night when the building was being locked and then they’d practice all night. It made me glad I wasn’t a piano major. The demolition crew should probably do one last double check through those rooms before they start swinging the wrecking balls.
We tried getting into the Madsen to snap a photo of where we first met. It was locked. But we did go visit the classroom where I first learned to play the guitar. In my mind I could see Larry Green dazzling all of us with “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” at the front of the room after we had all spent the past 45 minutes monotonously strumming one chord. And that was what kept us working to learn the next chord.
We saw “the slab” bench where I often studied or had lunch. We went down the hall where the recording studio was, and most of my music theory classes. We visited the classroom where I had church, and it was the same room where I took the most horrible music history class of all time. Twice.
We peeked into the classroom where Jim Anglesly taught basic sound recording. I remembered the day he played us all a recording of Michael Jackson’s vocals isolated on the song, “The Way You Make Me Feel”, and you could hear MJ’s feet dancing. There was no internet back then so there was no other magical way I would have heard such a thing. It was cool.
We checked out the lobby where I had rehearsals with BYU Folk Music Ensemble. Always my favorite thing in the world when that could be a part of my day.
I peered into the bathroom where I cried on the floor after a boy broke my heart. I remembered the girl, a stranger to me, who grabbed some paper towels and wiped my tears for a few moments before she disappeared forever. I’ve always been grateful.
All these memories came back to me about the million little ways my heart got smashed, but also all the ways my dreams took flight, so much of it all in this building. We haunted the place like ghosts for a half hour or so.
Incidentally I believe in ghosts. If ever they were anywhere, I’m sure there are some in the HFAC. I think ghosts are spirits who linger because they can’t let go of something tying them to some emotional anchor on earth. I feel sad for the HFAC ghosts; that the place could be so hard for them to leave, when it had been so easy for me to walk out the doors and move on. Maybe when the building is gone, they’ll be free.
We walked out the doors, back into the sunlight. “Do you want to eat at the Courgareat?” Joe asked. “Nope,” I replied. We made our way to the car. I looked at him and grabbed onto his hand.
“Sometimes I think it’s sad, that we spent all that time kind of knowing each other in passing, but losing all those years we could have been together and happy; that it took so long for us to really find each other. But I think I’m actually glad you didn’t know me yet when I was the person I was in the HFAC. I still had a lot of growing up to do. We might have missed each other if you’d have tried to be with me then,” I said, “I think things turned out exactly as they should have.”
He said, “I was thinking the exact same thing.”