Music: Abandoned Luncheonette

 

Consider the following terms:

  • algorithm
  • dichotomy
  • paradigm
  • ubiquitous

I don’t think I heard any one of these words prior to 1987 – and I didn’t learn the correct definition of any of them until long after that date. You see, unless the context absolutely demands the use of a “ten-dollar term” I prefer using less-ornamental language, which is why I think we did well enough with the alternate phrases like:

  • steps in solving a problem
  • contrast between two things
  • a model or pattern

…but I make an exception to the rule when using ubiquitous instead of “found everywhere”  as in “the music of Darryl Hall and John Oates was ubiquitous in the Seventies and Eighties!” because it was the absolute truth at the time that their work and faces were found everywhere. They were on the covers of magazines at newsstands. I couldn’t turn on a radio without hearing “She’s Gone” or “Sara Smile” and every time I walked into my sister’s apartment the duo’s slightly androgynous first album cover would be staring at me from the front of her record collection.

Where I didn’t expect to see Darryl Hall and John Oates was the apartment of my friend Oly a.k.a. John Olsen who had been my good friend since serving our respective bicycle penances in New England a few years earlier. Upon returning  to school in the fall of 19761 we had taken adjacent apartments where each day we’d meet to conduct a post-game analysis of our adventures at the university. During these academic post-mortems we’d listen to our respective collections, which in my case consisted of a 100+ volumes of progressive rock…while Oly’s collection comprised of exactly two albums:

  • Lowdown by Boz Skaggs
  • Abandoned Luncheonette by Hall and Oates.

I’m not sure how we ended up listening to the actual Abandoned Luncheonette song because the LP’s breakout Top 40 singles2 were located on the opposite side of the vinyl. When we finally did get to the eponymous tune it didn’t make a great first impression – I tend to think of vocals as little more than additional instruments which can make  lyric-driven songs3  a dicey thing with me, but from the first note it was obvious that Abandoned Luncheonette had an important message for me personally.

The song opens with a simple mix of bass & percussion creating a staccato “typewriter-ish” sound subliminally setting up the song as a story first and a musical composition second. These rhythmic measures could easily be incidental music to a street scene from a 1970’s TV series – a nice touch in that the words are as direct and descriptive as a panel in a comic book.

They sat in an abandoned luncheonette Sipping imaginary cola

drawing faces in the tabletop dust

His voice was rusty from years as a sergeant in “this man’s army”

They were old and crusty

“ So this is how addicts are made” I thought as listened to a song that started out as bubble-gum for my ears slowly transform into a powerful narrative that drew me right in. In perfect timing an adaptable melody, brilliant in its simplicity, starts contributing to the story, as when a Benny Goodman clarinet flourish instantly pegs the setting to the 1940s – a touch of nostalgia typical in mid-Seventies entertainment.

She was twenty when the diner was a baby

He was the dishwasher, busy in the back, his hands covered with Gravy

Hair black and wavy Brilliantine slick, a pot – cleaning dandy

He was young and randy


Unfortunately it’s at this particular point that the song almost lost me the first time I heard it. The music  goes into a rippling electric piano effect much like the “doodle-oodle-doodle-oodle” flashback sound in Scooby Doo. At first it seemed very contrived but after listening through the whole song a couple of times (and soaking up the entire message) the effect seemed more appropriate. The addition of a formal string backing to the chorus also rinses out a lot of the “ Scooby-Doo” as the symphonic effect reinforces the chorus as a chronal bridge between different eras in a person’s life.

Day to day, to day today Then they were old, their lives wasted away

Month to month, year to year They all run together

Time measured by the peeling of paint on the luncheonette wall

Here’s another ten-dollar word: Serendipity – or development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way”.  While Abandoned Luncheonette  was a song I stumbled onto by chance it contained an important  message tailor-made for me in late 1976. Between my own doubts4 and another’s dire predictions about “a marriage doomed to failure” my relationship with (take your pick)

  1. a) Alabama
  2. b) My Beautiful Saxon Princess
  3. c) Lori
  4. d) All of the above

…was almost over before it got started. As the last verse spooled-up the story with the couple in their later years I felt a warmth, a longing to have the outcome in the song to be my future as well – and I wanted Lori to be with me as well.

They sat together in the empty diner Filled with cracked china

Old news was blowing across the filthy floor And the sign on the door

sign on the door read “this way out”, that’s all it read

That’s all it said

 … and this last verse is where Lori and I are now. Our life is much like the empty diner in that we’re not in the future we envisioned in 1976. We lived from day to day – to yet another day that spun out to many, many more until we ended up here in 2018 (Today) and are of an age where our own existential door with the “This way Out” placard  is never far from my thoughts.

 Day to day,

 to day

Today

_______________________________________________________________________________­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

Notes

  1. Oly had been a spectator – nay – participant to my courtship of “Alabama” – which was the name I used for Lori in the beginning. When we hit a rough spot in our relationship Oly was the guy in which I confided “I’m going to ask Alabama to homecoming – and if she says ‘No’ I’m dropping her like a hot rock”. He’s also was the friend to whom I said, “She said yes – now what do I do?”
  2. “She’s Gone” was released in early 1974 and reached #70 on the Billboard Hot 100, and then hit  #7 when it was re-released during the summer of 1976 in the wake of the success of “Sara Smile”.
  3. That is “lyric-driven songs” NOT sung by Gordon Lightfoot or Harry Chapin
  4. See 1976: Beads

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