Music: Songs for Beginners

 

After the astounding success of Déjà Vu the four members of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young each embarked on solo albums, occasionally crossing  back and forth between projects when their particular talents were needed. Songs for Beginners was Graham Nash’s own individual venture and while I really liked the album I was a little surprised at the bittersweet overtones in most of the compositions. It wasn’t until years later I learned the melancholia stemmed his recent break-up with noted folk singer Joni Mitchell.

…and when it came out in the summer of 1971 that bittersweet album briefly became a very appropriate soundtrack to an event in my life.

1971

Katy Christiansen was a Professional Girl – not “professional” as in working in an office or (ahem)street corner, but a Professional Girl as defined by columnist Cynthia Heimel: the girl that all the other girls hate because she is perfect, she knows it and relies on it to get through life.

She was also a member of an extended family group that would descend on our congregation every summer. The Christianson’s were one of the more stalwart families in church, and would host various aunts, uncles, cousins and friends as they rotated through the summers to work at their set net fishing site on the east shore of Cook Inlet. They all hailed from the Intermountain West and the kids were especially a most impressive bunch, every one a varsity athlete, cheerleader, or honor roll student. It was only later that we found that in the manner of all teenagers away from home for the first time they were embellishing credentials to impress the locals.

That wasn’t the case with Katy – she was as genuinely outstanding as everyone else said they were. A natural blonde with finely chiseled Scandinavian features, she was graceful to the point of seeming to glide regally through a room rather than walk. I was interested but doubtful; I wasn’t a bad kid, but not a totally good kid either, but with Katy there was no “wiggle room”. Proper belief and behavior were dominant aspects of her personality and she was troubled by any variation from the standard however slight.

She first appeared the summer after my sophomore year but attempts to meet her were foiled by the cloud of cousins that surrounded her wherever she went. It was August before I figured out how to weasel my way through her familial entourage;  the effort left me exhausted and all I could manage as a greeting was something like “Hellorgle borgle argle” before bolting for the back door of the meetinghouse at a dead-run.

It’s amazing what two years can do for a young man’s confidence and when she came back to work the summer after graduation I felt  little stress in striking up a conversation. However, as we talked about our respective plans in life I began to wonder why she’d come back North; while I was slated to simply start school at the University of Alaska in the fall she had a schedule of seminars, photo shoots and conferences that seemed to leave little time for school much less work on a fish site. I also learned quickly to avoid any topic in conversation that came even close to variance with church guidelines for youth.

We seemed to get along well enough that it seemed safe to ask her out on a date. There was no ulterior motive on my part; my romantic life was already complicated, and I was just looking for a time-out and an opportunity to relax – albeit with a beautiful blonde – but just a relaxing evening nonetheless. When I picked her up she seemed a little edgy , but during the drive to the theater  I finally got her to laugh a bit and it seemed like the evening had been saved.

When we got to the Mall Cinema the film had already started, and the theater  packed, so I took her by the hand and led her to what ended up being the last two empty seats in the house. As we sat down I looked over at Katy and was shocked to see a slightly stricken, ill look on her face. She took her free hand and using just two fingers she removed my hand – the one clasping hers and moved it to the armrest between us. There was a theatrical element to her movement – she used just her thumb and forefinger which made the movement look like she was handling a dead fish.

The evening went downhill from there. We left after the first film in a double feature and as I drove Katy back to the fish site the inside of the car felt more like Alaska in January than Alaska in June. On the long drive home later on I replayed the evening over and over but remained totally baffled – it wasn’t until long afterwards that I learned that I hadn’t been a date for Katy – I’d been a project, something to be fixed.1 At some point I had been judged as being defective and she’d lowered herself to spend time with me in hope that some of her “goodness” would rub off.

That stung infinitely more than the dead-fish hand-removal – that somehow embroidered jeans, shaggy locks, a bit of facial hair had made me into a liability, someone to be diverted (but not necessarily saved) from the path to perdition. It was a body blow. I could handle open hostility or contempt, but this?

In the end I sought my usual last resort – I sprawled in the bunk of my loft bedroom and cued up a record on my stereo, which happened to be the aforementioned Songs for Beginners. As I laid there thinking the events of the evening pushed two particular songs to the front in my thinking:

I Used To Be A King

“I used to be a king

But it’s all right I’m O.K. and I want to know how you are
For what it’s worth I must say I loved you as you are

And in my bed where are you
Someone is going to take my heart
But no one is going to break my heart again”

Wounded Bird

I’ve watched you go through changes
That no man should face alone
Take to heel or tame the horse
The choice is still your own
But arm yourself against the pain
A wounded bird can give
And in the end remember
It’s with you you have to live
And in the end remember
It’s with you you have to live

 I also walked away with two convictions seared in my heart:

  1. No matter what they looked like, how they acted or what they did I would never look at anyone as stereotype or anything as a complete person.
  2. I would never bother with another “Professional Girl”. When we were dating My Beautiful Saxon Princess would fret over her slight tummy a la Ursula Andress in the seminal Bond flick DR.No. Little did she know that slight (in her mind) imperfection was the “deal-maker” for me

 

  1. A few summers (and a haircut) later I heard a first-time-around  Christianson cousin loudly enquiring at a church dinner about the “mangy hippy” Katy had gone out on a date with a few years earlier.

Laptops, Hacky-sacks and Soda Straws

Keeping this page going is like kicking a Hacky-Sack. As long as I keep busy and frequently add words and images I attract views and followers. Unfortunately there are times in my life now where writing is not quite – but almost as impossible as keeping a little leather packet full of rice in the air. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I deal with severe autoimmune problems, that between ankylosing spondylitis and rheumatoid arthritis the simple act of walking can sometimes defeat me.  What I haven’t been as open about  is the running gun battle I have with upper respiratory infections. It’s not unusual for me to have up to six cases of bronchitis a year; I’ll spend three weeks fighting the sickness only to get sick again only three weeks after I get better.  To put it bluntly I spend most of my time feeling like I am trying to breathe through a soda straw.

 Both the inflammatory diseases and respiratory problems stem from questionable medical practices of the mid-20th century.  I’m a thymus baby – as an infant I had an enlarged thymus which was thought to cause SIDS ( Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) The condition was called status thymicolymphaticus and while that is now an obsolete term it didn’t keep the doctors from removing that pesky gland with a series of hard x-ray treatments in 1953. The practice was discontinued not long after my treatment – a small comfort now that I’ve lived 64 years with a compromised immune system.

 It’s frustrating because I did everything right in terms of healthy living and I still ended up in the cross-hairs of a disease I didn’t even know about until I was almost fifty. It’s frustrating because I have a healthy dose of transpersonal commitment, a genuine desire to help those around me and other than call friends there’s not much I can do.

…so I write. I hope that I will some up with something that will bring insight, comfort or just a laugh to others. Unfortunately there are times when I can’t even do that (write) and I just have to hope that you’ll all hang around until I can get back to the keyboard.

 

 

2018: Studio Deitrick

Due to a very fundamental misunderstanding with Dad we spent most of the summer of 1987 without a studio. “Useful studio space” was one of the deal-breaker conditions  to be met before we assumed house-sitting duties while my folks served a mission in Nova Scotia, but evidently there was a generation gap in the definition of the word “useful” and we were left to work out of an unfinished/unheated garage. Nevertheless I had clients to service, so after squeezing my drawing table into my old loft bedroom, I divided my long Alaskan days between marker renderings and carpentry, taking care of both my clients and construction chores.

It was a happy day in mid-August when Lori and I nailed the final bit of trim, hung the last of the curtains in the windows, and had an impromptu party sipping New York Seltzer, eating poppy-seed muffins from the Soldotna Safeway and listening to the Peter Gabriel blockbuster album SO.  I was feeling great relief at having the wherewithal to go into full production, but there seemed to be another intangible presence dancing along with us to “Your Eyes”.

For the preceding three months it felt like a member of our family was missing, and it was only after three sets of verbal volleyball that we figured out  what had been missing:  Studio Deitrick.  The studio had become a part of our lives in the same way writers described the Starship Enterprise as being as much a character as Kirk, Scotty or Uhura in Classic Star Trek.   For years most of our life revolved around that particular kitchen of the mind – no matter what else was happening, we all eventually congregated in the studio. In addition to serving as delivery room to countless works of art, our children grew up in our studios, we entertained in them, and all my prep time for thirty years of college teaching happened in Studio Deitrick.

…but then something happened in the early summer of 2015 and Studio Deitrick went away. Even though the house we bought had a very similar floor plan to our previous rental, there was no room for a studio as such and I was left to cram what I could into an extension off the back of the kitchen…and when I was done  nothing clicked. Oh, I got the room into a semblance of order but there was no magic and it remained nothing more than a converted breakfast nook …and the three years I spent in there were the three least productive years of my life.

It was only after we started making changes when I lost my contract with Nashville State that the Studio came back into existence. As we sat in the sitting room that we’d organized from the old studio space it just felt capital-letter R Right. When we trudged up to the new studio in the old bonus room it felt capital-letter/bold, underscore/Italic R “right” – the strongest impression of “rightness” any of our studios have felt since leaving Sterling in 1989.

That extra member of our family has come home.

It still has that vibe now. No doubt the resemblance to my loft bedroom back on the ranch has a lot to do with the feeling, but even on the worst days when that flight of stairs seems a thousand feet long, I continue to feel a calmness of certainty when I sit down at my desk.

Does that mean that our troubles are over and all of our challenges are being solved?

No…but for the first time in years I feel hope.

Doors and Windows

When I wrote about shuffling studio space the other day I failed to mention one important point – why I made the change. Yes, I wrote earlier that the move was meant to get me moving, but what I didn’t mention is that it wasn’t just exercise-type moving that needed to happen.

I needed to move out of a window.

A couple of weeks ago I was informed that my contract was not being renewed at the junior college I have been teaching at since the doors opened in the fall of 2012. I’ll skip editorial comment other than to say that the dismissal was handled in a most callous manner because the first reaction I had when I found out was a feeling of serenity.

  • Never mind the abrupt last-minute email message.
  • Never mind the loss of income.
  • Never mind the fact that at 65 it’s doubtful that I will ever be hired to teach again.

When I read of my dismissal I sat back and the thought came me: “When a door opens God will open a window.

OK – I admit it. In the past I’ve dismissed that phrase as trite and over-used, but it’s the first thought that came to mind and it has prompted me to jump-start other parts of my life and career – and I am convinced the new studio is an important part of that new beginning.

What’s more: when we finished the move and surveyed both the new studio and the sitting room in the space the old studio used to take up both my Beautiful Saxon Princess and I felt an overwhelming sense of “right” in the new arrangement.

Works for me.

1961: The Sandman

ReRun Saturday + 1. What I didn’t mention in this post was that 100 year old home didn’t last another twenty years. An extended family member had it leveled sometime in the Eighties and put a manufactured home on the lot. Logically I understood the move – the place needed constant repair and was hard to heat/cool but it still broke my heart when I heard the news. It felt like losing a grandparent.

David R. Deitrick, Designer

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The Sandman is a member of what I call second-string mythical characters.  Not prominent enough to rate the massive Disneyfication that would weld him into a universal image, the Sandman has been used in both print and broadcast media for a wide-range of roles ranging from benign wizard to superhero to evil demonic menace. You’re welcome to take your pick of any of these incarnations but personally I know him to be a kindly short little man dressed in mid-19th century British garb.

I know that because I actually saw him in 1961.

Despite the lack of any Romany blood (that I know of) my family and I were gypsies when I was a kid. Using education alone as a measuring stick it was obvious that we never stayed in one place for long; by the time I got to seventh grade I had been a student in seven…

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Music: On The Way Home – America

 

It’s an old joke.

The world sees a sixty-five-year-old man but inside there’s a twenty-three-year-old yelling “What the HELL happened?”

It also happens to be very true.

Age ambushed me. For most of my adult life I looked and felt younger than my peers and on occasion younger folks. When people found out we had kids in middle school their response was “ What – you fooled around in high school and had to get married?”  I ate right, exercised – my only health issue was carelessness about  sleep.  I was going to be that senior citizen that would draw comments like: “How does he do it? – he’s stayed so young!”

I wish.

I was in my late 40s when my body started to cash all the checks my ego wrote in my youth. Then there were the tests, and among other things I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic and (very) painful autoimmune disease similar to rheumatoid arthritis1. All of a sudden it was like there was a pull-date stamped on my fourth-point-of-contact, a pull date that had expired.

I’m fighting it like I have I fought every other challenge in my life, but I don’t think this will be one that I come out on top of. That doesn’t mean I’m planning on checking out anytime soon, but if you saw what mornings were like for me you’d wonder why I keep going. Medication helps to an extent, but I rely on music to help me survive each day. I have a Sony Walkman loaded with 891 songs set on shuffle and each morning as I am trying to move I’ll plug in the earphones for inspiration.

First up at bat this morning was “On the Way Home”, a Neil Young tune that was first released on the Buffalo Springfield album Last Time Around. It also shows up on the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young live album, Four Way Street, but my favorite version, the one I listened to on my Walkman this morning was a cover by Gerry Buckley and Dewey Bunnell ( AKA America) on their 2011 release Back Pages. In his review of the album, music critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote that Back Pages was “a visit with old friends that can still do something unexpected after all these years.” My initial reaction when I listen to Buckley and Bunnell’s version of “On The Way Home” is much the same, but then…

Maybe it’s just the box in life I currently occupy. Maybe it’s Mr. Young’s always-enigmatic lyrics. Maybe it’s the hot wings we had for dinner last night – but “On The Way Home” triggered some “non-mundane”2 ideas in my mind as I struggled to get up. Morning is not my friend but rather a painful contest between gravity and will — but morning is also when I have the most insight. The non-verbal right side of my brain is in charge and mental and emotional walls have yet to come all the way up – the walls, barriers and masks we hide ourselves behind as we travel through our waking life.

As I listened to “On The Way Home” the song’s allusions to a journey had me thinking of more than just a trip to church, to college or back home to Alaska. I was just on the cusp of a wonderous insight into how we’re all on our way home in our journey through life …and then the orderly left side of my brain fired up and that thought evaporated.

Now I won’t be back till later on

If I do come back at all

But you know me,

and I miss you now.

Somewhere in those lyrics  was a germ of a vision that kept the fear, anger and fatigue at bay this morning but I’ve been awake too long now and the vision is gone.

 

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Notes:

  1. A condition that has nothing to do with ankylosaurs or any other large reptile.
  2. Sometimes words get so used that they lose their utility. Such is the case with “special” and “spiritual”. For now “non-mundane” is the placeholder used to describe feelings and conversations that I’d previously refer to as ‘spiritual” before that word got worn out.

2018: “…the number you are calling has been disconnected or no longer in service.”

(I try to keep to a schedule with this blog: new material is posted on Tuesdays, visual art is posted on Thursdays and re-runs show up on Saturday morning…which means something like this should be published on this next Tuesday the 19th. However, given the content of todays repeat it seemed more appropriate to run this today as well.)

This last week has been a little odd.

Granted, life is always a bit different when illness is involved – and I have definitely been sick for the last couple of weeks.  Three times a year I develop an upper respiratory infection with a cough that keeps me from both working and resting until the illness has run its course. I’ve had both the flu shot AND the pneumonia shot, and I am regularly dosed with antihistamines, antibiotics, steroids and vitamins, but in the end,  I have to just ride it out and cough until I don’t cough anymore.

Another pattern played out at the same time. Other than teaching at the college, going the church or visiting the firing range I spend a lot of time alone in my studio here at the house. While there are times I’ve had buddies that would regularly stop by and visit I am kind of  in a friend-famine right now so other than my Beautiful Saxon Princess I am on my own.

The situation makes me kind of sad,  but it does motivate me to reach out to others in the same situation, so I spent a lot of time this last week trying to get in touch with old friends. Most of my answers involved voice mail but this time I found another disturbing trend – more and more calls were met with “….the number you called has been discontinued or is no longer in service”. Granted with the constant battle between cell phone providers people tend to change numbers much more often than they change their underwear, but the sad truth was a lot of those people I tried to call are dead.

Dead. Four letters that just slap you in the face.

Even the most faithful will duck and dodge the topic of death  and I confess that quite often I energetically  shove it to the corner of mind…which is why it is very odd that in the last week I’ve inadvertently tried to call:

  • Bonnie Gamage
  • John Prowse
  • Sandy McDade
  • Janice Young
  • Bernie Koebbe
  • Richard Bird
  • ….and my mom

All of these people have passed one – some a number of years ago. When I first tumbled what I was doing I assumed that  senility had set in, but then the proverbial light-bulb flashed on above my head:

Several times in my life I’ve participated in programs that have a specified time span and a population that passes through in waves. In each instance, be it military duty, educational programs or missionary service I’ve encountered the same phenomenon:

  • Starting out I hardly knew a soul.
  • When I got to the middle  I could connect a name with a face to everyone in the group
  • As the end came near I was back knowing very few people.

It’s turned out to be true of life in general: As child my circle consisted of just family and a few friends but during mid-life at the peak of my career I met and interacted with (ultimately) thousands…but as I am entering my “senior phase” I’m back to a fairly small circle.

…a circle that is getting smaller with each day. I think that trend is part of the reason the eulogies/memorials I’ve written have had so many readers: it taps on basic – almost primal – emotion.  I’ve been blessed with some marvelous experiences in life and I’ve done just about everything except get rich, preferring to count my riches in terms of friends rather than dollars. When I write these memorial pieces  I’m not just observing a passing – I’m mourning the loss of my true wealth.

 

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

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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

Music: ” (Once Upon a Time) In Your Wildest Dreams”

 

There is a rare disease that afflicts anyone living near a theme park like Six Flags or Dollywood. It’s a painful ringing echo in your ears that comes from the endless repetition of radio advertisements for the park’s signature ride, usually a mammoth roller-coaster with a name like Avalanche, King Cobra or Hurtinator. In 1986 the signature ride for Utah’s Lagoon theme park was the Colossus rollercoaster and its radio spot was in heavy, heavy rotation on every AM and FM station along the Wasatch front. However, that commercial flood didn’t bother me much – in the spring of 1986 our life in general had become one big existential roller-coaster full of ups and downs in our income, health and quality of life.

The peaks included:

  • My career was really starting to take off. I was winning awards and making a regular income and as far as we could tell that trend would continue.
  • We moved into a larger/nicer home with the best studio space I’ve ever had.
  • I was able to fly home to Alaska for a visit to see my sister Robin graduate from college.

…while some of the valleys were:

  • Our car was broken into, resulting in a smashed window and stolen tape deck.
  • Lori suffered a miscarriage with serious complications.
  • I developed major back problems – severe pain,  spasms and lack of mobility.

At first, I assumed I’d just aggravated an old back injury1, but the pain grew daily until I woke up one Saturday morning unable to move. I dutifully put on the “captain face”, told jokes to the boys and made light of the situation but that schtick soon wore thin. A late-night phone call from  Mom2 just made the situation worse; she hinted at a grim, possibly fatal prognosis but refused to answer specific questions as she wasn’t “attending” (physically present).

The pain was unbearable, and I distinctly recall lying in bed expecting to go to sleep and never wake up again. Oddly enough that finality didn’t bother me as much as the physical pain; it may have been just the painkillers talking but I wasn’t worried about a Last Judgement – I was just sad at the thought of separation from Lori and not being around to raise my sons to adulthood.

As I started to drift off I felt more resigned than scared and was almost asleep when a song came on the radio that caught my attention. It was a simple synthesizer melody that slowly grew into a lush sound with symphonic backing to which an understated syncopated percussion joined in after a few measures. That soft cadence was in turn followed by a bass guitar – and at that point the combination of sounds was creating a slightly familiar but frustratingly unidentifiable sound…unidentifiable until the vocalist started singing and the last Lego snapped in place:

Once upon a time

Once when you were mine

I remember skies

Reflected in your eyes

It was Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, a progressive rock band that I’d been a devoted fan for decades…and when I say fan I mean dyed-in-the-wool DNA fan maintaining a complete set of their albums through two sets of vinyl and one set of cassette tapes.

(Note: We Moody blues fans are a snooty, opinionated lot comprised of three distinct camps divided by the group’s three incarnations:

1)    1964-1966: The original group featuring Denny Laine as lead vocalist, and doing mostly covers of American pop and R&B

2)    1967–1972: The “Core Seven” years when the band reigned as the premiere art progressive rock band producing one of the first concept albums “Days of Future Past”3

3)    1977-present: Now a Soft rock group recording synth-pop tunes like In Your Wildest Dreams – the tune that was currently playing)

As a staunch member of Group 2 I normally would have passed on a recent release like the song I was now hearing but for some reason I kept listening.

I wonder where you are

I wonder if you think about me

Once upon a time

In your wildest dreams

 It could have been nostalgia that kept me listening – at thirty-three you’ve lived just long enough to have something to look back at. Earlier in the summer we’d run into my former Best Friend and her family4 and since that time I’d been thinking more often about my time in Fairbanks (coincidentally the time of my peak interest in progressive rock) which brought me back to:

 Once the world was new

Our bodies felt the morning dew

That greets the brand-new day

We couldn’t tear ourselves away

I wonder if you care

I wonder if you still remember

Once upon a time

 It could have been the character of the group and their music in general. I always thought that the Moody Blues music was “stealth scripture” – necessary knowledge/ truth that would have been otherwise rejected by an audience had it been presented via traditional organized religion.

 And when the music plays

And when the words are touched with sorrow

When the music plays

And when the music plays

I hear the sound I had to follow

Once upon a time

In typical music industry fashion, the song faded out to an unheard conclusion, but it kept running through my mind for the rest of the evening. In my opinion it wasn’t even close to the quality of “The Story in Your Eyes”, “Question” or just about anything else they recorded during the Core-Seven years, but it did have a nice, reassuring feel, as if a good friend had stopped by to tell me that everything is going to be OK, mate!” That’s when I sat up in bed and realized that all the morbid thoughts I had earlier that day were gone, displaced by that new Moody Blues song and thoughts generated by it, proving again the “stealth scripture” aspect of music produced by Mr. Hayward and company.6

I wish I could say that after listening to “In Your Wildest Dreams” everything was OK and that I made a speedy recovery…but I can’t. I went through another 9 weeks of misery before the pain began to subside and while the condition5 causing the discomfort went into remission it returned with a vengeance fifteen years later and has continued unrelieved to this day.

However –  I did get to raise my sons (and a beautiful daughter) to adulthood and my beautiful Saxon Princess is still by my side. I’ve continued to create images with both paint, paper, wax and words.

…. and I am still listening to the Moody Blues.

 

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 Notes:

1)    See 1985: Fighting Soldiers from The Sky

2)    A registered nurse

3)    For years we were told that the album was the product of collaborative magic between the Moody Blues and the London Festival Orchestra. The real story is a bit more pedestrian and starts with the group working off a hefty advance from DERAM Records…

4)    Including a spouse who bore an unnerving resemblance to the husband in the song’s official music video.

5)    Ankylosing Spondylitis: An autoimmune disease involving pain and inflammation along the vertebrae – a condition much like rheumatoid arthritis and connected in no way whatsoever to ankylosaur or any other type of large lizard.

6)    The fact that it was the Moody Blues singing the song was significant as well – I doubt I’d have listened as intently to any other musician(s) with the same intensity.

1971: You Can Never Go Back Home

English majors will think first of Thomas Wolfe when encountering the title of today’s post, but the line makes me think of a song written by Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues on their 1971 release Every Good Boy Does Favor.  I purchased the album in August of that year while driving with my family back to Alaska from the lower 48 and had not had access to a record player until we got to my sister Robin’s apartment in Anchorage. I spent that silent week studying the lyrics printed on the record sleeve and was very undecided about the opening lyrics to You Can Never Go Home Anymore”

  I don’t know what I’m looking for

I never have opened the door

Tomorrow might find me at last

Turning my back on the past

My family would be parting company the next morning with my parents and younger sisters driving on home to Sterling and my older sister Robin staying in Anchorage while  would be taking the train to Fairbanks, my first year at college and my adult life.

I really wasn’t going back home.

The departure wasn’t as traumatic as it could have been. I’d been away from home many times before; youth conferences, Boy’s State – even flying by myself to California and back more than once – these all had given me the experience to take change in stride. I’d even been on a family trip to Fairbanks once before to take in the 1967 Alaska Centennial exhibition so I would be on familiar turf.  I was also counting on plenty of built-in friends, people I knew from living in Anchorage and others I’d met through the aforementioned trips and activities.

Even so my departure would have been even easier had it come a year earlier. Growing up as a service brat meant moving a lot; you learned to make yourself at home quickly and then move on just as easily. Since moving north in 1962 I’d lived in three different homes and attended four different schools so I’d little opportunity to put down roots – I felt more like a displaced California kid than an Alaskan boy. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I began to feel like a dyed-in-the-wool Kenai Peninsula rat content spending the rest of my life living between Turnagain Pass and the Homer Spit.  However, economic realities of the time required training or schooling beyond what was available locally, so I was off to the University of Alaska.

It was also a period of transition for higher education – while most jobs did not require a four-year degree the Vietnam conflict was running hot and the draft was in place. This meant more young men were going to school to get that all-important 2S Deferment, so college enrollments were on the rise. As I rode the train north I could see that most of the other passengers were also headed for college and that a lot of them were edgy about this new phase in their life….or was it that deferment?

I suppose I was a bit smug as I sat and watched the others; living away from home as part of a large institution held no terror for me.  I was sure I’d easily find my way around campus and based on the 1967 family visit navigating around the city of Fairbanks itself would also be easy. According to my parents this included getting to church, but it didn’t seem likely that my shadow would be regularly crossing that doorstep any time soon. While I had always been blessed with a knowledge of God’s existence, I had serious church issues, a few of them doctrinal, but most of them social. As I grew up church attendance had been compulsory which was particularly galling as our little congregation in Soldotna had not been a safe place for me.  That resentment had combined with the usual adolescent chafing brought on by the “shalls” and “shalt nots”; my plan was that once I left home I would to go to church once or twice (so I could answer in the affirmative to my mom’s inevitable questions) then slowly extract myself from activity and start a new life.

…. a new life that was well on the way to starting the minute the train arrived at Fairbanks, when I promptly:

  • moved into my dormitory room
  • plastered the walls with black light posters depicting “healthy” barbarian women
  • registered for classes
  • started seeing Molly, a charming young lady from Anchorage
  • got caught up in playing intramural football on Sundays

Everything seemed to be going to plan up to the point where I ran into the brick wall – or cement floor to be precise. It happened after a dance held during orientation when a disagreement with a former high school classmate turned physical1. Unfortunately the bruises and scrapes from bouncing off doors, walls and floor of the Moore/Bartlett/Skarland complex entry way weren’t nearly as distressing as losing just about all my friends. Molly was very cool to the idea of dating someone apparently prone to brawling and my former friends from Kenai lined up behind the other guy and stopped talking to me.

My shiny new life had fallen apart.

By the middle of the first week of instruction I was climbing the walls. While my roommate and the other floor occupants were nice enough, most  conversations ended with a three-minute pitch on why I should be smoking weed with them2. Other than discussing syllabus and textbook requirements nothing was happening in my classes, so I couldn’t really throw myself into schoolwork. After spending a few afternoons looking for patterns in the acoustic tiles on the ceiling above my bed I took the bus into town.

As I mentioned, I was already familiar the down-town area, but after hiking a mile out to the hobby shop and back there wasn’t much to fill the time until the last bus later that evening. With no particular destination in mind I started walking again and was startled a half-hour later to find myself going past the Monroe & Minnie chapel. The late afternoon sun was warm and my feet were really starting to ache so I walked up the cement steps and sat down next to the front door. For a moment I smirked at the irony of the situation – I’d gone off to college trying to escape church and now I was sitting on the front steps, but I had to admit I was feeling more comfortable and relaxed there than at any other place since I stepped off the train two weeks before.

If I were writing an article for the ENSIGN, this would be the point at which I started to fervently pray – but it was more like a conversation with myself while God listened in on the extension.  I actually hadn’t been doing much praying because I didn’t want Heavenly Father to tell me to not do things that I wanted to do – a spiritual version of  sticking my fingers in my ears and chanting “ LA-LAL-LA-LA-I-CAN’T-HEAR-YOU-LA-LA-LA!” or the way I would  carefully edit what I’d tell my parents about my extracurricular “activities” rationalizing that a half-truth was better than an out-and-out lie. What my youthful hubris kept me from realizing was that I wasn’t fooling Him one bit and that maybe His plans for my life were different than my own.

As the sun continued to sink towards the horizon the air got a little cooler, so I stood up and stretched – and heard some indistinct sounds from inside the church. I checked my watch (5:30) and I wondered if Mutual (youth meetings) met on Wednesdays so I checked the door and found it unlocked.  After a self-inflicted eye-roll I eased through the door and into the foyer where I found two young ladies sitting on the floor against one of the walls. They were seniors at Lathrop High School and after walking over to the church they’d taken a quick snooze to rest up for a “Get Acquainted” dance due to start in about an hour. One of the girls I knew in passing from youth conference while the other one…

…was someone that I really, really wished I already knew as well. Bearing a strong resemblance to my friend Marie3 back in Soldotna, she was fair-haired and petite with umber eyes that played to my weakness for brown-eyed blondes.

Hmmmm.

About a month later…

I was sitting in church, the petite brown-eyed blond on the pew next to me. We were on our way to becoming Best Friends, a development that I did not see coming, but welcome just as the overall improvement in my life was greatly appreciated. I also liked where I was sitting – this congregation definitely was a safe place. The members had been very welcoming and warm towards me and I knew I was where I had always wanted to be.

I had enough fun at the dance to prompt my appearance at regular church meetings the following Sunday where I ran into Lance, Gwen and other friends from past youth conferences. During the intervening weeks a disastrous visit back home to the peninsula was met with an icy reception by former friends, and convinced me that the future was here with college and my new circle of friends…

…who became almost as important to me as a newly reacquired spiritual awareness.

Between sermons, motivational speakers and inspirational posters I’ve gotten the message that you can’t blame all your shortcomings on other people – but at the same time there’s something to be said about the negative effect of growing up with never-ending criticism and ridicule in a place that was supposed to embody divine love. There was also the stress of trying to reconcile what I was taught to be proper behavior with the open-secret off-hours antics of men who were supposed to be my role models.

It brought to mind the an old saying “I could not hear what you said because your actions shout so loudly!”  4 To me that statement had added weight: Early in life I learned that I didn’t get smacked as often if I paid more attention to a person’s body language and actions than to what they were saying. At the same time, I learn mainly through analogy and patterning, so verbal presentation of abstract concepts can often come across as someone speaking French – I can piece together a little bit of the information but most of the meaning is lost.

What I was starting to figure out was not particularly Gallic in nature, and therein was hope.  I decided to try and have more “conversations with myself with God on the extension” and would try reading and studying in the hope of gaining faith, the difference being that this time it wasn’t to keep my parents or even my new Best Friend happy….

…. this time it was for me.

 


 

1.He had given me a hard time all the way through high school and after a couple of very improper comments to Molly I thought to myself “I’m not going put up with  another four years of this” and punched him in the nose. He then proceeded to mop the floor with me. Did I mention that he was an All-State, 4-year letterman in wrestling and had at least three inches on me? Definitely not a good choice on my part.

2. See 1972: A Different Kind of Bug Dope.

3. See 1971: Alaskan Graffiti.

4. A line that had to have been written by someone who grew up in a bi-polar household.