Music “Friends”

 

  • Candle In The Wind
  • Tiny Dancer
  • Philadelphia Flyer

Ask anyone to name their favorite Elton John single and these three tunes will probably place high on the list. One of the least likely choices would be  “Friends” – and by that I don’t mean the TV sitcom Friends but a song from the soundtrack from an “okay” 1971 British teen romance film by the same name that interested me more for the cover art than for the music or any message in the film.

..a 1970 song that  didn’t really show up on my radar until the winter of 1988

When my family and I returned to the Kenai Peninsula my  good friend (Eu)Gene Faa was working as a deejay for KCSY, a soft-rock AM radio station based in Soldotna. He had rich baritone on-air presence with a voice devoid of the reedy quality his voice had when I first met him in the winter of 1971 when we were assigned to the same study-hall table. He was cousin of one of my better friends, so I’d been vaguely aware of his existence, but it wasn’t until I noticed him drawing  historically accurate sketches of German panzers instead of doing his  homework that I realized that there just might be  common ground between the two of us.

He wasn’t  physically striking and was unfortunately overshadowed by two most definitely-striking  step-siblings.  Red-headed, slight of build and equipped with a slight lisp he seemed to fit more into the slightly-annoying sidekick role than the buddy category, but a buddy he most definitely became as we would intermittently bump into each other over the next couple of decades as I would come and go from the Peninsula and the Lower 48. Each time we came back in contact we’d share our good news and bad news – marriage, military service, divorce, discharge, new careers and so on.

In those pre-Internet days I’d listen to the radio while I worked in the studio, and while KCSY was a bit too middle-of-the-road for me Gene would make a special effort to come up with a more diverse playlist if he knew I was listening. I’d try to liven things up by calling up with a disguised voice and requesting some Led Zeppelin or Def Leppard, songs that the programming format would never allow. Gene would give me a mercy-laugh for my all-too-transparent attempts at foreign accents, but during one such call he replied, “ I can’t play “Stairway to Heaven” for you Dave, but I’ve got some early Elton John that’s a decent  substitute.”

…then he played Friends” and I liked it right away. Simple melody with a string accompaniment that joins in about half-way through the song – always a good thing for me. Uncluttered lyrics with a message about friendship that avoids getting overly emotional. I made a comment about it the next time I ran into him at the mall, and from then on he made a point of playing it just before his show as over each noon, and when he did I knew he was waving to me – a “shout out” in contemporary terms.

Gene left the station and the Peninsula around Christmas of 1988 and other than a letter or two in the mid-Nineties  I never heard from him again – other than to find out that he’d passed away from complications from diabetes.

In his book “Thank God for The Atomic Bomb” the legendary academic and literary curmudgeon Paul Fussell made the observation that other than the very famous no one is remembered more than about seventy-five years past their death and Eugene seems to have beat that mark by about fifty years. As I’ve been writing on this piece I have failed to find any kind of record of Gene – even his relatives have little to say about him.

I don’t like that.

Eugene Faa did not exactly set the world on fire. Most of his life he struggled with the diabetes than finally took him  –  also a factor in his divorce and the primary reason he was discharged from the Alaska National Guard.  Gene didn’t command any armies, he didn’t make a fortune on Wall Street and he never held an elected office – but he was a good friend to me, and that’s why I’m writing this today. I’m hoping that publishing this post will get his name saved to enough computers and cloud storage facilities to make sure he’s remembered long past Professor Fussell’s seventy-five-year mark.

Gene was my friend.

Eugene Faa

 

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.

Music: To Our Children’s Children’s Children

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL_c1_kaI1Zf8ZXffqfNq6ibQqhW78fEqn

(I love progressive rock. The music of the Alan Parsons Project, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and the Moody Blues all strike a resonant chord in my heart and listening to their music brings peace and directs my thinking to grand and cosmic topics. Unfortunately some of those wonderful songs are “time-stamped” with less than grand events and listening them brings on memories of what was going on in my life  when I first heard them, cosmic or not)

It was the latter part of November 1970 and well into that part of the Alaskan year when our days seemed more like life on the Moon than life on Earth. Only five degrees latitude separated us from Eternal Night and with only six hours of true sunlight each day SAD (Seasonal Adjustive Disorder) was a very real battle for people like my dad or my older sister –  but not for me.

Why was I so blessed?

  • Maybe it was because I’d spent the last eight years growing up in photonic-starved environment.
  • Maybe it was because I spent most of my waking hours as a student indoors focused on reading books.
  • Maybe it was the distraction music and television provided.

Whatever the case, darkness was no curse for me. It also helped that I had mentally tacked the two hours of morning and evening twilight onto our officially allotted daylight; twilight that would paint everything with a magenta/orange glow as magical as anything found in fantasy or science-fiction. For that matter daily living in a sub-Arctic winter wasn’t that much different from what I saw on 2001: A Space Odyssey: We bundled up in parkas and warm clothing marginally less complicated than space suits and went about our business in harsh conditions under the stars. Alaskans would make great astronauts.

Perhaps that’s why a Moody Blues theme album based on space travel hit appealed so strongly to me. Released in late 1969,  To Our Children’s Children’s Children was written and produced as a reaction to the Apollo 11 moon landing – with  generous portions of childhood memories and psychedelia as additional ingredients. I’d purchased the record at the suggestion of my friend Bachelorette #21  and soon found that playing it on my stereo wasn’t just a matter of listening – it involved interpreting and deconstructing the music and sometimes just basking in the glory of resonating synthesizers and haunting vocals.

Blasting, billowing, bursting forth

With the power of ten billion butterfly sneezes

Man, with his flaming pyre

Has conquered the wayward breezes

Whispered class-room discussions about the album led to a Friday date with B2 and as I started out that evening the album was still resonating in my head. I was definitely working on an outer space vibe  –  snowflakes caught in the headlights’ glare could easily be mistaken for stars and planets zipping past as the Enterprise traveled at warp-speed.

…but while totally stoked about both the album and the evening’s activities I was a little jittery – not because of the young lady in question but rather the location of her home just off the end of North Kenai road. I’d be putting 150 hard-to-explain miles on the odometer that night, so  it wasn’t the date but rather getting my cover story right that was launching intestinal Stukas. I took a deep breath and drove on, confident that I had planned for every contingency.

Our destination was a cinematic nerd-fest currently showing at the KAMBE theater, a double-feature including the Italian action flick Danger: Diabolik and a nondescript science fiction film entitled Project X. We were able to watch the entire first film, but Time was wearing Adidas that night and we had to leave half-way through Project X2. The snowfall had picked up a bit while we’d been watching the shows but the extra travel time brought on by the worsening weather allowed us to pick up our on-going medium-to-deep discussion about To Our Children’s Children’s Children,  and when we kissed on her doorstep I all but floated over the deepening snow out to the Maverick, elated on several levels but mostly relieved that the night was going to work out.

Oh you’d like it

Gliding around get your feet off the ground

Oh you’d like it

Do as you please with so much ease

CHA-THUNK!

The Hand of Fate abruptly pulled the cosmic tone-arm across the 33 1/3 record of my life as I ran the car into a snowbank while  backing out of the driveway. Twenty minutes of feverish digging and shoving got the Maverick out of the ditch and back on the road but in the process I lost the left brake lens cover and wasted another ten minutes searching for it before giving up and driving off.  As I turned onto North Kenai road I glanced at my wristwatch I could see that I had only forty-five minutes to curfew, but if I drove just a little faster I could get home on time. As I loosened my death-grip on the steering wheel and shook some of the tension out of my shoulders I mentally skipped to the next song.

Gazing past the planets

Looking for total view

I’ve been lying here for hours

You gotta make the journey

Out and in

Out and in

BA-WOO-WOO-WOO

All I could see in the rear-view mirrors were flashing red lights, so I immediately pulled over and started digging through parka and trousers for my wallet. An Alaska State Trooper materialized  at the side of the car and as I rolled the window down I wondered if Smoky the Bear trooper hats were designed to scare the hell out of people or if terror was just a fringe benefit.

“Going a little fast for conditions weren’t you son? Let me see your license please”

He looked at my license, bit his lower lip then said: ”Are you June Deitrick’s boy?”

“Yes sir”  I replied, silently adding “ …and if you’re friends with my folks I am so screwed”

He sighed: “You’re in trouble enough without a ticket. Get home as safe and soon as you can”.

A gypsy of a strange and distant time

Travelling in panic all direction blind

Aching for the warmth of a burning sun

Freezing in the emptiness of where he’d come from

Although I managed to get home without getting stopped by a second trooper unexpectedly cruising the highway close to home my internal dive-bombers had renewed their attack by the time I pulled into the driveway. Expecting the worst I was surprised when Mom didn’t go ballistic over the broken curfew. I explained in my half-truthful manner that I was late because I took a friend home, a friend “who I didn’t want to identify”.  Mom assumed the person in question was a football buddy too “— faced” to navigate but for some reason she only grounded me for the next week.

I never thought I’d get to be a million

I never thought I’d get to be the thing

That all his other children see

…Look at me.

By the time I climbed up to my loft and collapsed on my bunk the internal Stukas had all landed and I was able to relax. I cued up the album and let the music wash the stress away – as I’ve written before alcohol had little effect on me and I moved in the wrong social circles to get involved with weed so music was my drug by default, especially brand-new progressive rock albums.

Watching and waiting

For a friend to play with

Why have I been alone so long

Mole he is burrowing his way to the sunlight

He knows there’s some there so strong

…then with a start I remembered the missing brake light cover.

August 1971

Our legendary midnight summer sun had just edged under the horizon but there was still plenty of light in the sky as I dropped B2 off after our end-of-the-summer-headed-for-college date. As I backed the Maverick out of her driveway two thoughts came to mind:

  • Her home and surroundings looked totally different when not buried in three feet of snow.
  • The Maverick’s red plastic brake-light lens cover was sitting smartly on the side of the road as if it had been just dropped there…

__________________________________________________________________________

  1. See 1971: “…then Dave turned 16 and discovered girls”
  2. See Project X Amazon Review

Music: Reasons for Waiting (Reconsidered)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iybAyDFrhhI

 Schadenfreude has never had any appeal to me. I’m convinced that taking “shameful joy” in another person’s failure is both pointless and petty, but there is one failure for which I will be forever thankful.   Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull fame gave up learning to play the guitar when he became convinced that he’d never play as well as Eric Clapton and I applaud that set-back for two reasons:

  • We’ve already got an Eric Clapton.
  • Without Anderson’s skill with the flute we’d never have had “Reasons for Waiting”.

1972

Room-mate Roulette is just one of the challenges a college freshman encounters, but it may be the most crucial. The stress involved in learning to mesh with a complete stranger can have a major effect on both your academic career not to mention your entire life so I’d assumed that careful thought and preparation went into room assignments…so please forgive me for being disturbed when I learned that the selection process was only slightly more sophisticated than a dart game.

Unfortunately I had to go throw the dart board twice. The first assignment worked out well : I drew an upperclassman whose part-time job and interest in the outdoors essentially gave me a private room. Unfortunately he dropped out mid-year and I had to go through the room assignment game a second time and ended up with Scott, a fellow freshman with a heavier footprint requiring  more accommodation and coordination, especially in the following areas:

  • Getting up in the morning
  • Turning in at night
  • House-cleaning
  • Laundry
  • Setting the thermostat
  • Female visitors
  • Post-fart courtesy

…and so on. Music was one of the hardest points to negotiate –  Scott favored hard rock (Grand Funk Railroad/Quicksilver Messenger Service/ Led Zeppelin)  while I preferred progressive rock and acoustic groups (Moody Blues/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young/America) Playback volume was sticky issue until we agreed on a head-phone truce which unintentionally kept us from mixing our music  and appreciating what the other guy listened to.

It took the simple act of Scott turning over in bed one February morning to change all that. The sun was just peeking over the Alaska Range to the south and was bathing the morning sky with orange, magenta and purple while a train crawled along the track on the other side of the parking lot, building up speed for the day-long run to Anchorage, the exhaust from its diesels adding to the wisps of ice-fog that had come up from the Chena River. As I was taking this all in I was mug-in-hand, leaning on our chest-high window sill with my toes tucked under the heat register when somehow in the process of waking up Scott pulled the headset cord out of his stereo and the first notes of possibly the most beautiful song in rock music poured out into our little basement dorm room.

The soft acoustic introduction of  Jethro Tull’s Reasons For Waiting  leads into a flute solo so beautiful that my eyes welled up — then Ian Anderson started to sing in his slightly wavering tenor:

What a sight for my eyes
To see you in sleep.
Could it stop the sun rise
Hearing you weep?

 Writing under the pseudonym Stendhal, 19th Century French Novelist Marie-Henri Beyle observed that viewers can be overwhelmed by the sight of an art masterpiece and sent into a state of distress much like a panic attack. What I felt at this particular moment was probably a low-grade Stendhal incident: the music, the view, the warmth from the hot chocolate, being in love – I couldn’t catch my breath

Oh –  I  didn’t mention that I had recently fallen in love? My Best Friend and I had spent the first semester playing at being in love – making those first tentative moves: holding hands, sneaking a kiss, whispering endearments hardly understood, but it wasn’t until the separation at Christmas Break that the relationship really found its depth.

We were in capital “L” Love.

You’re not seen, you’re not heard
But I stand by my word.
Came a thousand miles
Just to catch you while you’re smiling.

Notes from the flute become frenzied and erratic but then acoustic guitar steps back in for just a moment to restore the orderly flow of musical notes.

What a day for laughter
And walking at night.
Me following after, your hand holding tight.
And the memory stays clear with the song that you hear.
If I can but make
The words awake the feeling
.

Again the flute become frenzied but just at the point of discomfort, the song explodes into a cascade of violins with Anderson’s flute weaving a thread of notes in an around the strings as they underlie the final verse

What a reason for waiting
And dreaming of dreams.
So here’s hoping you’ve faith in impossible schemes,
That are born in the sigh of the wind blowing by
While the dimming light brings the end to a night of loving.

I’d spent most of the previous evening curled up on the couch with my Best Friend watching television, but by the middle of Night Gallery she’d fallen asleep tucked up against the left side of my chest.  As the closing credits ran I looked over at her snuggled up against me and suddenly Stukas started to fly interdiction against my central pump. I’d never really looked at anyone sleeping much less a beautiful blonde and I just marveled at the soft, open look to her features.

Fast forward to the next morning: that memory from the night before combined with scenic beauty, the music –  h*ll even the mug of hot chocolate –  all combined to create one of the most heart-flutteringly joyful moments of my life,  an instant of gestalt wherein the beauty of the moment outshined the factors creating it. I wanted to break the channel-selector off my life  and stay in that moment forever. In my short eighteen years of life I had never felt anything like that particular four minutes and seven seconds.

…and forty-seven years later just thinking about that moment still makes me smile.

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.

 

___________________________________________________________________________

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.

1963: He’s A Cool, Cool Cowboy

I’ve kind of drifted into listening to recordings of old radio programs at night before going to sleep so it seemed natural to tap this post for this week’s Re-Run Saturday.

David R. Deitrick, Designer

One of my most prized possessions is the cabinet to an eighty-year old RCA Victor radio …and you did read that sentence correctly; it’s not the actual radio but the wooden box that used to hold a working device. It’s a beautiful example of Art Deco styling made of warm colored wood with dark Bakelite (cellulose-based plastic) trim and a large cloth speaker panel located in the center. Just below the speaker is a glass frequency gauge that would glow softly when the radio was on – and for the entire two years we lived in Anchorage it was on a lot.  I listened to that radio every night without fail.

I miss AM radio – not the jungle of evangelists, sports talk and conservative ranting we have now but that magic ethereal net of music and words that held us all together years ago.  It might seem that I…

View original post 1,062 more words

Music: “Hello It’s Me”

 

(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:

  • KFQD
  • KRSK
  • KCSY
  • WSKW

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.

1973

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

1979:

“ 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” .

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