I took a second photo walk today at a local park, and I opted to switch between color and monochrome for various shots. The sight of the above photo evoked a memory of a flea market I visited with my sister on a spring Saturday afternoon 38 years ago.
At the time we lived a block away from Main Street, and there were varied, sometimes bizarre retail outlets littered along the street. One was a shop that was a thinly-veiled front for drug paraphernalia like bongs and coke cutters. I walked inside once and the clerk behind the counter quickly pointed an “Adults Only” sign. I was inside long enough to notice they were selling bootleg Mickey Mouse figurines that held “F*ck Iran!” picket signs. Around the corner from the head shop was an oddball, one-off plaza that seemed remarkable at the time for its sturdiness. It was as if it took its Cold War origin seriously enough to try to one-up the Soviet love of concrete and right angles.
The plaza was also unusual for its U shape which made it hard to see what sort of businesses dwelt there without penetrating the perimeter. After my micro-eviction from the head shop, I was wary of treading where I might not belong. I asked my sister if she’d come along to see what was inside the plaza. Once we arrived, we saw that nothing was open on the weekends except a TV shop and a flea market.
The flea market had plenty of vendor and customers, but there was nothing for sale that interested me. I lost sight of my sister within a minute of walking inside, and I was filled with dreadful boredom that quickly converted to an unreality of sorts. I suddenly felt as if I’d accidentally time traveled to sometime around 1966, but I landed not in some pivotal moment of history but on a lackluster Saturday retail afternoon in paltry Podunk Junction where everybody had just discovered polyester clothing.
Until I found my sister, I wasn’t entirely convinced that I hadn’t stumbled into a different era. We emerged from the concrete plaza to find that the sunny day had turned overcast and windswept. The song “Eleanor Rigby” played in my mind the whole way home.
When we walked in the door at home, I was relieved to see my mom cooking tacos in the kitchen and to hear my brother watching He-Man in the living room. As I feel asleep that night, I rested secure in the sense that I really was living in the year 1983, and I was grateful that time travel is impossible. I mean, who is to say that we’d be able to control such travel. What if we landed in some retail purgatory?
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.