(Dig back far enough in the archives and you’ll find a similar post to this one. Music was a favorite topic when I first started blogging, but those first posts were pretty skimpy, so from time to time I will be re-visiting songs rather than re-running them.)
Consider the following:
What do they have in common? All of them were moderate-to-low powered AM radio stations playing a mix of current and “recent oldie” pop music when I listened to them in the late Sixties and early Seventies. In addition they all staffed their non-prime-time hours with brand-new talent still learning the trade so on-air gaffes were not uncommon…but of the four it was KRSK (Rexburg ID) that had the worst problem with gaps of silence between songs.
The hiss, pop, and sometimes music on my old clock radio had been good company while I studied the afternoon away, but it was the clock that had my attention as I closed my art history book and sat up on my bed. It was 7:00 PM – time to get changed for a visiting artist lecture, but as I stood up there was an extended moment of dead air on the radio, then out of that silence came an unmistakable bass-backed-by-organ introduction followed up by the first crystal clear line of lyrics in Todd Rundgren’s mid-range tenor voice.
Hello, it’s me I’ve thought about us for a long, long time
Maybe I think too much but something’s wrong
There’s something here that doesn’t last too long
Maybe I shouldn’t think of you as mine
It was the first time I heard the song and I was captivated, standing in that exact spot until music was over. Unlike many songs where I consider vocals to be little more than another instrument, lyrics had an almost physical impact on me and I became very curious about the song. I subsequently found out that Rundgren had first recorded Hello It’s Me in 1972, but it didn’t start charting until the fall of 1973, a point in time that was also shaping up as one of the best and worst years of my life. During the previous spring I went through what can described as a (take your pick) Road to Damascus/Alma the Younger conversion that put me on track for the best semester of my collegiate career, making the Dean’s list and achieving a number of important personal goals…to include the upcoming reunion in six weeks with My Best Friend when everything in my life would be perfect.
Seeing you Or seeing anything as much as I do you
I take for granted that you’re always there
I take for granted that you just don’t care
Sometimes I can’t help seeing all the way through
I was struck by how beautiful the melody was but unsettled by the bittersweet tone of the lyrics in the same way that the beauty of a majestic anvil-topped thunderhead lit by a sunset could often hide a vicious storm… like the emotional thunderstorm that had swept through earlier that week.
The letter read: “I miss you so much, but I get afraid that all this waiting will come to nothing. It’s a big step to try and start over again when things are going so well here in Fairbanks. We’ve got a whole new group of Young Single Adults including a G.I. from Eielson who is really nice. He kind of reminds me of you.”
I was in the process of learning two important facts about life:
1) Life changes. There are times when I’d love to settle in, break the cosmic channel selector and just keep Life the way is. I wouldn’t have complained one bit if my sophomore year of high school would have gone for eighteen months instead of nine. (That actually happens. It’s called “flunking”). At a later time, our little family of four house-sat for my parents in Sterling from 1987-89 and it was such a pleasant interlude that I wished we’d never left…but eventually you have to move on, sometimes to happier situations but just as often to sadder conditions.
2) Personal history and temporal landmarks don’t always mesh with the timetable the rest of society uses. An old friend and mentor called his own unique periods of time “boxes” and felt that the boxes could be dictated by age, events or experience – and that our boxes don’t always line up with other people’s boxes. For example the textbook teenage “box” for a young man is assumed to run from 13 to 19 but all things considered, my teen-age years went from age fifteen to age twenty, and I didn’t know it but Hello It’s Me was marking the end of that box for me, no matter how I kicked, clawed and dragged my figurative feet.
Rundgren hit a resonant chord, his melancholy resignation very similar to the way I had also been “seeing all the way through” for the entire semester starting in August when I boarded the 727 in Fairbanks and the thought flashed across my mind that she won’t be there at the other end. I’d briskly pushed that premonition aside, preferring life on a Cairo houseboat (living in de Nile), and continuing to brush off doubts brought on by letters with sentiments similar to the one quoted above.
At some level I knew that Rundgren’s haunting lyrics were preparing me for a big change in my life, and while I dreaded the prospect of a relation-ectomy without anesthesia, I knew that if and when a break came I had to be able to walk away and leave my Best Friend with a clean slate.
It’s important to me
That you know you are free
‘Cause I never want to make you change for me
“ Hey everybody in the Tidewater area – this is Wally West and that was Todd Rundgren and Hello It’s Me from 1973 followed by England Dan & John Ford Coley singing another Rundgren tune Love is the Answer – and the time is (bing-bong) five minutes past the big hour of five o’clock!”
If the admin clerk had actually been on time with my orders I would have cleared post and been out of town before hearing that announcement – and those songs, and even then the significance didn’t hit me until we were half-way across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel. Todd Rundgren’s work had been the signpost directing me through that first transition from teenager to young adult, and now his creative voice (albeit second-hand) was guiding me through yet another transition from the student/cadet/young father phase to (GASP) adulthood.
I drove along the elevated causeway, the sunlight glinting on the wavetops at each side. Lori and Conrad were both asleep and I was alone with my thoughts. On one level the connection with the abrupt end to my first engagement made Rundgren’s “greatest hit” very difficult to listen to, but at another level the song was very dear to me. When that early heartbreak happened I momentarily thought of flying back home and making a violent scene, but the simple lyrics had had a calming effect and I saved the price of airfare to Fairbanks as I walked away in my best grown-up fashion, leaving my (former) Best Friend with a clean unencumbered slate to build a future on.
Think of me
You know that I’d be with you if I could
I’ll come around to see you once in a while
Or if I ever need a reason to smile
And spend the night if you think I should
…and as I glanced over at my Beautiful Saxon Princess and my infant son realized given the way things had worked out I’d ended up with more than just one “reason to smile” .