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Songs that Shape Us

In his award-winning essay, "She's Gone," Fred Setterberg (M.A., '03) explores the impact music has had on his life ever since he picked up the saxophone at age 13. "Music whispered secrets about the shape and structure of the world," Setterberg writes. "It lit all roads and reflected upon every aspect of the future worth considering."

"She's Gone," excerpted below, was judged best essay in the 2004 Faulkner Society's William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. The essay will appear in its entirety in The Southern Review in January.

For Christmas, my parents had presented me with an AM transistor radio, a handheld portable the size of a pack of Camels, and I took it to bed each night, my ear fastened to its minute speaker for the mighty signal of KEWB broadcasting "all the hits, all the time." As the records spun, I thought about her.

In 1961, they were spinning "Stand by Me" by Ben E. King, "Quarter to Three" by Gary U.S. Bonds, and "The Wanderer" by Del Shannon. When I heard "Daddy's Home" by Shep and the Limelighters, a tremulous ballad of swooping two-part harmony cut in rapid three-quarters time, I could sense, although not actually imagine, my dream girl's small bony shoulders stepping into the clutch of my own broomstick boy's arms and we'd baby-step back and forth on the dance floor, the world fading to mottled twilight.

Her name was Pamela Ashbury. In these reveries, I never conjured up anything so substantial as a picture in mind. Yearning still required several more years of incubation before it could mature to the level of palpable fantasy. What I simply felt was ferocious longing. When KEWB's 6-to-midnight disc jockey spun another round of "Runaround Sue" by Dion and the Belmonts, I also glimpsed love's inconstancy, and I knew that there would always be a world of hurt and worry tied up with the pursuit of girls.

Of course, nothing ever happened between us. I am talking about childish yearnings set in early motion by age-old biology. We all have these memories.

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