The Mythology of Driver's License
When Olivia Rodrigo got her driver’s license, I got a BlueBikes subscription. He didn’t teach me how to ride a bike, but he taught me how to love riding my bike through Boston. He taught me to love riding a bike because he never went for a bike ride with me. Every time me and my rented wheels wound through crowds on Boylston Street, I imagined this ride could be “the one.” I think one of the only reasons I enjoyed biking at first was because I always imagined us biking together. I never had to ride alone. I could bend reality to fit what I wanted. My fantasy could continue as long as I continued to rent bikes.
This is not the first time people have speculated about the meaning of a song in masses. For forty-five years, listeners everywhere waited for Carly Simon to drop a name off her lips. Who was “You’re So Vain” about? At an auction in 2003, a man paid $50,000 for that name. Then, for free in 2015, in an interview for People magazine, she revealed the second verse of the song is about actor Warren Beatty, leaving the rest of the song to be speculated about for many more years. Part of me wonders if I would’ve ever remembered this song had my mom not trickled this fun fact into my ear as a child.
He showed me this song called “Smoke.” I wondered if he meant it for me or if it was just a casual recommendation. I listened to the song as if it were for me. Honestly, I didn’t really need it to be for me.
Five years after Carly Simon’s famous reveal, the entire internet is analyzing “drivers license” by Olivia Rodrigo, meticulously searching for a trail of clues to Joshua Bassett. Everyone – including myself – is wrapped up in the mythology of this song. The two co stars of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series had some sort of romantic relationship, and then something happened, concluding with an end to Rodrigo and Bassett’s relationship and Bassett getting with Sabrina Carpenter. In between the definite beginning and end is the speculated middle. Were the original songs they posted to social media about each other? When Bassett stares at her, unflinchingly and adoring, during interviews, was that an indication of something more? The one thing fans of the mystery know for sure is that, in a video on her Instagram story, Rodrigo said that Bassett taught her how to drive in an In-N-Out parking lot. When I shuffle through all the evidence in my mind, that is the one thing that sticks with me.
We only biked for exactly one second together. I was on a bike ride late at night along the Esplanade. Then for a split second, we passed each other. Red hair, blue jacket; brown hair, black hoodie. Our wheels spinning in unison as they passed. “Tatum?” I hear his familiar voice call out. I immediately turned around and smiled, a reflex. He was with someone else. The person I thought he hadn’t been with this whole time. I was polite as he introduced us, and then promptly biked away, heartbroken. Instead of Rodrigo’s suburbs, I biked in the heart of the city, seeing every memory pass by me, the meaning branded with the burn of loss forever.
Rodrigo has kept her lips sealed, understandably. The whole world banded together for just a moment over the meaning of a single song. It makes me feel less heartbroken.
I texted him asking for his thoughts on “drivers license.” He doesn’t like it that much, saying that people have communicated this message more creatively than her. I understand, but I’m puzzled. He understands the meaning of the song, writes it in a way I’ve never heard anyone articulate, typing, “she does a good job of telling the story of what it feels like to fall out of love with someone but still live in the place you fell in love with them in.” He grasps this song better than I have after hundreds of listens, and when we continue to talk about it, he helps me understand why I love this song. Why I want him to love this song. I hope that one day he listens to it, if only for me, and hears my voice in the echoes and the quiet spaces. Once the bridge drops off and the listener is left with Rodrigo’s voice singing, “You said forever now I drive alone past your street” – in between those last two phrases – he maybe hears my voice lost among the mix, lost in the place where I realized I liked him.
Joshua Bassett released “Lie Lie Lie” a few days later with an accompanying video. The song shows no indication of a relationship with Rodrigo and nor does the video until the very end. He sits on the lip of the window of a moving car and then, with a grace reserved for someone who knows he will be remembered, he tips his lean body back against the side of the car. An echo of Rodrigo’s video in which she lays on the trunk of a car, her head dangling over the rear bumper with her long, brown hair whipping around her face in the wind. I think they knew all along. But does it matter?
The other night, I read my roommate and my friend a poem about him. They ask no questions. In the middle of the movie we’re watching, I turn to my roommate and ask him, “Do you want to know who it’s about?” I expect an enthusiastic response, waiting for his curiosity to ultimately make him cave. “If you want to, then sure,” he replies casually, “It doesn’t matter to me. Is it someone I know?” I nod and say nothing, realizing I don’t actually want to tell him. “You don’t have to tell me. It doesn’t matter that much to me,” he says, and that’s the end of it.
Maybe the meaning is in the not telling. Maybe we’re never meant to know what happened between them. We’re granted our own ability to fill in the gaps the way we want to, leaving us with an ability to be enchanted by “drivers license” for as long as we want to be. I like the idea that I get to create my own meaning. I like that not all music has to be understood. It’s what keeps me listening. I still have my BlueBikes subscription, and I don’t search for anything in every ride anymore. I just let my wheels spin and my music play through the city I love most, revelling in the not knowing.
read more about Tatum here