The music of childhood can resonate for years. There are some songs from those years that can evoke just how I felt the first time I heard a particular song. Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat” is one of them.
I think I was watching a rainstorm from the picture window of our living room in suburban Indianapolis when I first heard that one. The photo above was taken right around the same time; Snoopy was my likely companion for this reverie, too. I recall that the song transported me to a wistful feeling that was novel at the time, like I was longing for the future as someone older might long for a time in the past. I sensed that rainy days were good for solitude so one could reflect on curious feelings and things, like what happened to the toy elephant in that made several appearances in the pictures of my sister taken before I was born? One of my earliest memories was breaking something, like the sound of its shattering awoke me into conscious memory. Had I broken that elephant?
The song itself seems to be just as lost in time as my feelings were on that day. I feel like there’s an underlying sense of the British trying to find their place in a postcolonial world. That has little relevance to a American in the Midwest, except that sometimes I do feel like I am living in an outpost of a bygone empire.
Today has been just as rainy as that afternoon when I watched the storm from the picture window of our living room in the late 70’s. I heard this song as I drove home from work today and knew that it was the right music for this day that was 40 years in the future from that afternoon.
Country music is like root beer. If you do not acquire a taste for it in your early days, it stands little chance of being loved. I rarely heard country music while I was growing up, so most of it sounds like maudlin static to me. I blamed Garth Brooks most of all for the great country infestation of pop radio. In the end, I think pop won that siege. When I hear country radio these days (almost never intentionally), it sounds like pop dressed in pedal steel, arpeggios and twang.
Pair Garth Brooks and KISS, and there’s a combo burrito of two brands of macho I can barely stand. I don’t want a dude in spandex wearing a top that looks like an underwire bra for his chest hair singing about licking anything. Even less do I want to see a man wearing a belt buckle big enough to cut him in two strut around on stage.
I’m not sure why I didn’t seek the nearest fallout shelter when they appeared on stage together twenty-two years ago. I figured that a song from a tribute album called Kiss My Ass might be worth a listen. Back then, I suspected that the pairing was so absurd it could work, and it did.
“Hard Luck Woman” suits Garth Brooks so well that it’s hard to believe that this song wasn’t written for a country singer in the first place.
I guess I shouldn’t blame for Garth Brooks for rise of country music into the mainstream. Along with bands like the Eagles and Lynyrd Skynyrd, KISS helped open the ears of America to songs about trucks, tractors and badadonka donk donks.
I think the latest creepy clown hysteria is tumbling down its peak. I was combing through my archives of parade photos and found the above image. The man’s costume accidentally shows the desired conclusion of such clown fevers: that the clown will be real enough to be captured, that he will face justice and that he will still be a clown after he washes off the creepy clown grease paint. All of these secondhand clown sightings betray this hope: he exists, but he is not one of us.
Speaking of grease paint, I think that KISS was ill-advised in their second incarnation without the make-up. I had this epiphany whilst listening to “Shout It Out Loud” at work last week. Their musical depth was about as stunning as their natural looks. I have a fuzzy memory that they unveiled their real faces in a press conference held on a Destroyer ship. Maybe this was the same Destroyer on which Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time” was filmed. This makes sense because Cher’s rear end and Gene Simmon’s face are equally fearsome sights.
Now I’m thinking of that “Send in the Clowns” song. It’s one of those songs I avoid hearing because it is so draining. “Someone Like You” by Adele is another song of this caliber. When I hear such songs, I think that the medieval folks who bled people to balance their humours were onto something. Some songs are just so oppressive that I imagine bleeding myself to relieve the emotional pressure.
When I was a kid, I’d look over magazines and the Sunday paper, noting the trappings of what I’d imagine would make a perfect adult life. The lighter side of me would dream of building a country estate based on model homes depicted in the real estate ads. I’d imagine driving home up a winding lane in a MG convertible, wearing some smart outfit from Penney’s in a mail-order only color, eager to set up the filet mignon for dinner. The part of me that secretly rooted for Darth Vader plotted what kind of vices I’d choose in later days, so I also dreamed of owning a penthouse where I’d smoke Benson and Hedges and sip Riunite while listening to a hoarde of albums from the Columbia Record and Tape Club.
I was able to forego the indulgence of nicotine and alcohol for several more years, but I fell prey to Columbia House as soon as I felt I could write my address as well as an adult would. When I was 12, I taped a penny to the order form, checked off the box that declared I was at least 18 years old and waited for my box of tunes. By the time I actually smoked a Benson and Hedges (which tasted like minty dust instead of something worthy of Remington Steele, by the way), I had signed up for the deal four times, at least once under an assumed name. I was able to pay for these tapes and CD’s first with allowance money and later with minimum wage pay until the recoil of this scheme would hit me: the forgotten selection of the month billed at full retail. A collection agency pursued my alias by the time I was 14.
This scheme did not portend a life of crime. I did an online search on this topic and discovered that this scam was so widespread that the company factored such losses into its business model.
I will close this post with a few links to some articles on Columbia House:
My husband collects vintage bicycles, and he had a nap dream this afternoon in which he had acquired a Journey-themed bike. All of the bike needed restoration except for the head badge and its screws. He said that the head badge was roughly as large as a beer can, and he was puzzled at determining how he’d reattach such a large badge to the bike, especially since he dropped one of the screws from this pocket while trying to fix a two story high tar paper roof. I asked him if the badge included the scarab beetle featured on many Journey album covers, and he replied that it had little detail but the band name Journey in large red letters.
I recall a dream I had almost twenty-five years ago that featured the Journey scarab beetle. It was one of those instant sort of dreams that seems to flicker to life as soon as your eyes close. I saw the scarab beetle’s progression through history, that it was merely borrowed by Journey as Gru had hired the Minions. Unlike the Minions, the scarab beetle lent itself to just one cause, the glory of Journey. As the dream progressed, the scarab beetle revealed all of its guises in a silent montage saturated with color beyond the spectrum visible in waking life. He concluded by revealing the next Journey album cover, which was not to be released due to friction within the band.
A couple years later, I heard a DJ introduce a Steve Perry solo single with the disclaimer that Neal Schon would not be indicted because he played no role in the song’s creation or recording.
I leave you with what I believe is Journey’s finest song. I imagine that the album cover shows the scarab beetle’s awakening from a dream of this song, before it was written in our reality.
Back in the year 2000, my interest in learning to backmask audio collided with “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats, and this was the result. With this recording, I began the most important journey of my life. There was a man who heard this and decided to fly 2,000 miles to meet me because he wanted to see the woman who created this recording. That man became my daughter’s father.
It all started with a silly impulse to backmask, a $7 microphone and a collection of free or cheap audio utilities. That is how I became a mother.
I think it is possible that the human mind has a finite capacity for trivia and that this mind of mine approached its data limit long ago. My memory is so littered with things I recall seeing on early MTV or hearing on Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 that I am challenged in trying to commit more recent pop culture to memory. Perhaps this issue reflects a subconscious vote on quality rather than a deficit in my memory. If given the choice between learning the current Billboard charts and remembering that Prince helped write “Stand Back” by Stevie Nicks, I would choose Prince and Stevie every time.
Now that I am well into my 40’s, I worry that some of songs that rotated through my list of favorites over the years could be lost to the advance of time. What if I am one of the last people left that loved a particular song? I often think that the story of each of our lives is a dying language and that each of us should preserve that language by passing on our stories. The soundtrack of each life is a dying language of sorts, too.
One song that I loved and could be lost to time is “When the Heart Rules the Mind” by GTR. I can remember being thirteen years old and watching Alan Hunter introduce the world premiere of the video. Mom was watching with me and suggested that we record the video on VHS, despite that we hadn’t heard the song before. Since there was no such thing as video on demand in households back in the mid-80’s, my mom, my sister and I were in the habit of keeping a tape queued in the VCR to capture good music videos. It was like creating a 6 hour long mix tape of song videos and concert specials. My mom took the time to catalog all of these mega mixes, which ranks among one of the many reasons I believe that God smiled upon me by choosing my mom for me. “When the Heart Rules the Mind” was the first song on one of those VHS tapes, and she and I watched that clip many times, individually and together.
While the original video is full of mullets, Miami Vice style suits in tasteful British colors and somewhat ill-advised choreography, some aspects of the music itself stand the test of time, especially Steve Howe’s guitar solos. I recall that this band was a cross between a super group and a side project, since they supplemented the marquee guitarists (Hackett and Howe) with seasoned session players. The band name GTR seems to imply that they were not a super group, for it seems that the band names of super groups are usually a collection of surnames, like Emerson Lake and Palmer, or an Americana-themed name, such as Damn Yankees or Traveling Wilburys.
Short of buying airtime to broadcast this song, I have done my part to buy it some more time in our collective pop culture consciousness. While this song may sound a bit contrived and a touch cheesy, I haven’t heard anything on Top 40 radio in decades that is on par with this tune. Back in 1986, this song reached 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. Nowadays thirteen year olds would not hear anything of this quality unless they dared to venture from the mainstream, and I’d guess that journey would likely lead to oldies rather than current songs.