Between the end of 2019 and the start of February 2020 the following events transpired:
My Dad had a stroke
My dog got sick and we thought she might need surgery (luckily she didn’t)
A former colleague/friend passed away from cancer
My Father-in-law was given a few months to live (also cancer)
So, when a friend posed the following question to me; “If you were forced to choose, “Be My Baby” or “Leader of the Pack” which would you pick?” I felt so relieved. There is nothing better to serve as a distraction than a question like this. Yes, it’s a hard one, but dwelling on a Ronettes vs The Shangri-Las scenario is much preferable to my brain compared to the list above.
Be My Baby:
Phil Spector. I’m a sucker for Phil Spector. I know he killed someone and he is in jail. But, if you read this book, you might feel differently about him. Sure, he is most likely a total creep. But, at the same time, I can’t help but have a soft spot for him. He’s a real outsider/uncool guy (very clearly so until he became famous and then because he was famous people tried/wanted to like him). Those are the kind of people I relate to. I like you Phil, and I like how you made things sound.
Obviously a hit. But, that might also be the problem. As in, this song is pllllllaaaaaayyyyyyeeeeedddddd out. It was on the Dirty Dancing Soundtrack and probably a million other soundtracks (no research was completed to validate this statement). It is often on the radio. Maybe too often?
Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew. That’s them on this song. And damn! Do they sound good or what?
Not sure how much I relate to the Ronettes. I mean I love them. I adore them. But, can I imagine being one of them? I cannot.
Cool hair. The Ronettes had very cool hair.
Leader of the Pack:
Written by Shadow Morton. Just got into learning about him in 2019. Yet another loser/outsider who was in the right time and place. If you never did any research on him you should hop to it.
I love the “teenage tragedy” genre. I just can’t get enough. I used to listen to “Last Kiss” on the oldies radio station as a kid and I would feel so much empathy for everyone involved. Sounds silly, but it’s true. My Dad once said of “Last Kiss” that it’s a “we better hurry up and have sex now because we could be dead any minute” type of song.
Piano is killer.
Their accents are killer.
Mary Weiss’ voice is so swell. Very similar to Madonna’s in a way. Not perfect. But perfectly not perfect. You know what I mean?
When I first started having crushes on people (elementary school) I always had a weakness for the boys in my class who were “bad.” I felt certain that I could help them. Help them with what I’m not sure. Because if I helped them to be less “bad” wouldn’t that most likely result in my losing interest? Anyway, if you were the same way, you intrinsically already know what I mean. “Bad” is interesting. “Bad” is appealing. “Bad” is something you think maybe you can heal?
“I met him at the candy store.” Need I say more?
There is only one thing I would change about this song. I would like a loud snare hit after “whatcha mean when you say that he came from the wrong side of town?”
Finally, if there was no “Leader of the Pack” there would be no “Bat Out of Hell.” Jim Steinman is a hero. LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE ALBUM WITH AN OPEN MIND. Forget every karaoke version of “Paradise…..” you’ve ever heard. “Bat Out of Hell” is the tropiest/most genius album ever made.
While waiting for your next album to be released next year, I came to realize that it’s been almost 4(?) years since your music has been a part of my life.
It was around November 2015 when I first acknowledged you guys. I was 19, and finishing my first year of an English Teaching Training course. My Literature teacher gave If Only as an example of a phrasal verb. She then recommended the whole class to check the song out, and that’s exactly what I did (and I’m sure I was the only one who did).
Needless to say, I was completely hooked at first listen. I proceeded to look through some of your other work on Spotify (not every album was available at the time) and I remember digging what I heard.
But it wasn’t until February of 2016 that I started diving deeper into your discography. Pressed the shuffle button and You Can’t Stop Us started playing. ‘UNBELIEVABLE’, I said to myself. I can’t describe what I felt at that moment, but deep inside I knew it was going to be life-changing.
One of the things that I love doing the most is showing music to my friends. A week after being plunged into the Hansonverse, I told Keila – one of my internet best friends, whom I’ve been talking for 5 years and still haven’t met yet- about you. She also fell in love instantly, and we would start sharing our thoughts on songs and some of your weird hairstyle choices from back in the day.
2016 was, strangely, a hard year for me. I was in my 2nd year of university, had recently moved to an apartment and I felt empty and hopeless. I started trusting the wrong people, the teachers weren’t what I expected them to be, and the course wasn’t my favorite thing to study. Thankfully, your songs, live presentations, and documentaries were there to keep me safe. I got super interested in your story – Strong Enough To Break opened my eyes to how the music industry works and how tough it is for every artist. The year was ending and I knew absolutely everything about you and everyone knew how much I loved your music (this caused people to unfollow me on Twitter, which I never really cared about in the first place); Keila and I both stated which album was our favorite (though it could change over time), and we would discuss which piano or guitar solo stood out the most in the songs.
Forward to January 2017, I had just arrived in Bristol, England to start an English course that would take up the entire year. Hands down, one of the best trips of my life -not only because I lived in the UK by myself for a year, but also because I had the chance to see you live for the first time: 10th of June, at London’s o2 Shepherds Bush Empire.
When the concert finished, I got to meet Isaac – he signed my The Walk and Live & Electric album booklets. I remember having a whole speech in my head, but when I had him in front of me I froze – the usual.
After I went back home from the UK, I dropped out of my English Teaching course and started studying Journalism. I’m now on my 2nd year and I’m loving it – writing articles is my thing.
So, two years have passed since that night, and I’d like to write out all of the stuff that I’ve wanted to tell you but couldn’t:
I’ll never get tired of saying you’re the best band in the world and the most passionate and hard-working group of people I’ve ever seen.
My bond with Keila grew stronger because of you. She was also able to see you in concert in 2017.
Thank you for not giving up and staying true to yourselves.
In such a short amount of time, you’ve become my saving grace. The fact that I can reach out to your work whenever I feel down is satisfying.
This week we lost someone who we all know (even if you don’t know that you knew him).
He is playing in the restaurant, the coffee shop, the grocery store, the gas station, the dentist’s office, the doctor’s office, on Spotify, AM/FM radio, your phone, your laptop, your turntable, your parents “Hi-Fi,” the jukebox…..EVERYWHERE.
You may not have known his name, but you knew his drumming.
His name was Hal Blaine and he will live on wherever music is played.
He is truly inescapable (and simultaneously sub-famous).
His hard work and content is literally woven into the fabric of anyone’s life who has ever been in a public place where music was playing.
To celebrate his accomplishments and life, we present to you a list of 10 songs that feature his signature beat.
In no particular order:
1. “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth”-Meatloaf
“I think I might like Peter Gabriel more than The Beatles.” This is what I whispered to my SO right before going to bed earlier this week. I hesitate, even now, as I type it out right in this moment because it still feels sacrilegious. The Beatles have been number 1 in my book since I first laid eyes on them in 2nd grade when watching “A Hard Day’s Night” with my brother. But, then I discovered you.
Your rise to the top with me was both gradual and immediate. In order to keep things organized and (somewhat) coherent I felt it best to document it in the form of a timeline.
Sledgehammer is on TV all of the time. I mean constantly. Every. Minute. It is inescapable and quite frankly, I find it lame. I am into Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Liz Phair, Dinosaur Jr, The Lemonheads, Juliana Hatfield, and anything cutesy that happens to be shown on 120 minutes (which my best friend records religiously so that we can watch later) think The Murmurs.
Sledgehammer seems like music for old people in comparison.
The irony is that I do like soul music at this time in my life. In fact, there was probably never a time in my life that I didn’t like soul music, as my parents raised me right by always turning the radio dial to an oldies radio station. I have liked Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, The Supremes, The Shirelles (Soldier Boy!), etc. since elementary school. I do not realize that Sledgehammer is an homage to all things Berry Gordy. I am not yet old enough to understand.
I quickly become obsessed with the John Cusack movie “Say Anything..” Yes, yes, I know, it is technically Cameron Crowe’s movie. But in 1997, according to me, it is John Cusack’s movie. He is a pure dream for all people who are seeking a partner who is thoughtful, quirky, a bit of a loner, and who most importantly knows things about music.
Recently, I have seen some articles floating around on the internet about how the scene where he goes to Ione Skye’s house in the middle of the night and plays “In Your Eyes” has been re-perceived as stalking behavior. I suppose it is. Much of what our culture views as romantic is often predatory behavior. What can I say? In 1997 I am sucker for predatory behavior (especially when it involves music). Consequently, I am also a sucker for “In Your Eyes.”
I work at a bagel shop during college so that I have money to buy books, do things with friends, and most importantly, purchase music. We listen to a classic rock station throughout the day and they often play “Solsbury Hill.” There is no denying it, “Solsbury Hill” is a song that has a high level of audio aesthetic. Naturally, I am drawn in.
I work with a guy named Rich who is older than me (probably late 30’s, early 40’s at the time). He is a musician. That’s why he is working at a bagel store with a bunch of college students. Because, unless you’re lucky, talented, extremely persistent, and/or some combination of those qualities, many musicians don’t ever end up hitting “the big time.”
I refer to the song as “Salisbury Steak” because it annoys Rich and I have a habit (some might fun it endearing, others might find it annoying, I guess it depends on the day/person?) of teasing people.
In between lathering bagels with cream cheese and my manager teaching me how to expertly frost and decorate brownies, I will turn to Rich and say, “Oh I hope they play Salisbury Steak soon!” When I’m out in the dining room wiping off tables and the song begins to trickle through the speakers I make eye contact with Rich and point upwards slowly mouthing the words, “salisbury….steak”. Rich just shakes his head. I am young, naive, clueless, and damn lucky that my parents saved up money for me to go to college despite the fact I floated through most of high school on a cloud of academic ambivalence. Rich is in the middle of his life, working at a bagel shop. Maybe I shouldn’t have teased him so often.
I begin to learn how to appreciate Phil Collins during this time. This is important because learning to love Phil is the gateway drug to you Peter.
For further explanation you can go here: Dear Phil,
I begin with toying the idea that the time has come to explore Genesis. After writing about Phil Collins, several people gave me recommendations regarding particular songs or albums by the band. I ask my SO to download some Genesis albums.
It takes 4 hours to get from my current home to the place where I grew up. 3.5 hours if you don’t stop to grab food or go to the bathroom. It is also a wonderful opportunity to listen to music. My SO and I leave at night to make it home for Thanksgiving dinner. The Pennsylvania Turnpike is mostly empty because it is late. Driving on the Turnpike during odd hours is (for me) like going swimming on a really hot day or eating the most delicious piece of pie. It just feels good. I adore long (mostly empty) stretches of road. I like to drive. I think it is in my genetics.
We listen to “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” in its entirety. We don’t skip songs. A few songs in, we stop talking but will occasionally make eye contact when the band manages to land an astounding musical trick. It’s like watching the circus with your ears. “Behold! As Peter Gabriel sings seemingly nonsensical lyrics about carpet crawlers with great emotion!” “You’ll be awestruck by Tony Banks dynamic use of synthesizers!” “Phil Collins will astound you with his unique and clever approach to the drums!”
As “In the Rapids” segues into “It” my SO turns to me and says “Whoa! What’s the name of this song?” I look down and say, “It.” The title is “It,” and we both laugh, because who does that? Who ends an album with a highly complex and emotional song and then titles it “It?”
After we finish listening I say, “If I was a musician and I heard this album I would quit. I would feel like I could never do better than this so why should I keep trying.”
We only read the Wikipedia article on the album after listening. Then we laugh and laugh about the story line. Rael? A Puerto Rican youth in NYC? Sure. Okay. I got none of that. But, I loved every bit of it at the same time.
December 2017-March 2018
I listen to “I Have the Touch” A LOT. Repeatedly. I can’t figure out how you’re making those sounds. I want to know how you’re making those sounds.
I request to watch this for my birthday.
It has all of the answers to all of my questions about “I Have the Touch” and then some! You carry around a briefcase of cassette tapes! You swing on a vine with your children! You left Genesis (and fame) to be with your wife when your daughter was born! You are a giving me a cerebral boner.
Around 35 minutes in I turn to my SO and I say, “he has a hard time finding words. Can you see that? That’s why he uses music.” Then at the 39:14 mark you say, “I….feel…often in conversation, inarticulate. And if I have time..which I do on lyrics, to go through..uh..hone it down, word by word…um..measure by measure, then I feel I can get…exactly what I want.”
I understand this. This is why I have always loved writing. I get it Peter. And you get it too. This is why art is so imperative. It helps humans to feel connected and not alone. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this. You GET IT.
Late April 2018
I go to a yard sale where this older guy is selling his record collection. He has a boxes and boxes of clean, rare, and varied albums. He meets almost all of the criteria of a record collector (hoarder) as evidenced by the fact that his garage is packed with records, he is able to speak with me easily and readily about Jerry’s records, he has all genres of music, and he tells me “My kids don’t want it, so I have to start getting rid of it.” He asks for my email address so that he can email me when he begins selling the next subset of his vinyl empire. He has a hard time making eye contact. I like him. I wish he had a child who appreciated his obsession.
At his sale I purchase “Peter Gabriel Live.” You are a vision on the cover.
Sparkly, simultaneously human and alien.
At home I find that this same album was previously downloaded onto our hard drive years ago my SO (he hoards downloaded albums which takes up much less space than collecting records but serves the same function) and so I drop it into my music library.
I am hooked.
This particular version of the album is the trifecta because it was transferred from vinyl (I know this because at the beginning of DIY the song skips), it is live, and as you openly stated in the liner notes “Although this album was compiled from four concerts in the mid-West of the United States, some additional recording took place not a thousand miles away from the home of the artist. The generic term of this process is ‘cheating’. Care has been taken to keep the essence of the gigs intact, including ‘human imperfection’.” I love you for your honesty. I also adore well produced/mastered music.
I’ve listened to the following songs from “Peter Gabriel Plays Live” so frequently that I’ve lost count: “Not One Of Us” “I Have The Touch” “Family Snapshot” “DIY” “Intruder” “I Go Swimming” and of course “Solsbury Hill.” “Family Snapshot” can often make me cry. As can “I Go Swimming,” particularly when things shift in the song around 2:45.
My parents go to this fundamentalist church that has a live band, and I accompany them when I find the strength to try to be a better daughter despite the fact that I strongly oppose the beliefs propagated there. Within the fundamentalist movement there is (what I believe to be both a contrived and dastardly) use of “modern” music to work people into a frenzy. After listening to “I Go Swimming” repeatedly I realized that what you are doing in that song is the same method and progressions they use as well. I’d like to believe they stole from you, but the fact is that I’m sure you stole from someone else.
I once attended a Transcendence Conference (yes, seriously, and ironically it only was offered once) and a group of singers and musicians from a local predominantly African American church performed as part of the conference. Before playing the leader of the group explained to us that many of the songs deliberately include key changes with the purpose of keeping people engaged in the music and to trigger emotion.
Once I get into something I like to research the hell out of it. The good news is that the internet is chock full of information on Genesis and has a decent amount of coverage connected to you. Although, I really wish that I could watch the BBC documentary about Genesis and I can’t find it anywhere (Help? Someone?).
I particularly like this interview with you from 2002.
You talk about how people “use songs” and how you then deliberately wrote a song about grief to try to help others. During this interview it becomes clear to me that you are not only a great musician, but also a real human.
Thank you for doing human rights work and trying to promote and support world music.
Thank you for being brave enough to go out on your own after Genesis.
Thank you for being smart and taking your time in the studio.
Thank you for being such a good human.
Thank you for creating music that I can “use.”
If more artists were like you the world might be an even better place than it already is.
Love Letters 2 Rock N Rollrecently asked its Legion of Super-Stringers to write a blurb about our “up-to-bat” songs, the tracks that would play if we were professional baseball players about to enter the batter’s box. I swear the pun in my choice is unintentional.
The crowd was anxious. This wasn’t supposed to be close, wasn’t thought to be any real challenge for the hometown heroes. But that’s baseball. There’s no clock. There’s no guarantee of dominance. The team who scores the most wins. Obvious? Sure. It ain’t rocket surgery, man. It’s baseball.
So there we were: bottom of the ninth, the visitors ahead by one run, two outs, the bases loaded, the season coming down to whatever happened next. The final playoff game in a best-of-seven series. The winning team would go on. The losing team would go home. We’d been the favorites to go 4-0. It hadn’t worked out that way. Injuries. Bad luck. Baseball.
Scratchy McQuade was at bat. He’d strode to the plate as his familiar at-bat theme “I Honestly Love You” by Olivia Newton-John played for the still-puzzled fans, desperate for a hit. Maybe not an Olivia Newton-John hit, but you go into battle with the pop music you have, not the pop music you wish you had. First pitch: swing and a miss, strike one. Second pitch: high and outside, ball one. Ball two. Ball three. Strike two. C’mon Scratchy! C’mon Olivia!
Ball four. Scratchy strolled to first, the run scored, and the game was tied. A conference at the mound, the content of which caused seasoned lip-readers to blush like schoolgirls. Play resumed. Next batter.
I was so far down the line-up that no one knew what my at-bat song would be. I’d been an occasional designated runner, but otherwise hadn’t appeared since preseason exhibitions, and I was set to be traded in the off-season. I was not a hometown hero. But there weren’t many choices left. The manager had sighed, cursed, and thumbed me to the on-deck circle. With Scratchy now at first, and the potential winning run at third, it was time.
My song played. That well-known intro. The fans buzzed. They knew the song; they all knew the song. And they started to sing along:
I wanted the TV version, but I was okay with a snippet of the longer version from Nelson Riddle‘s TV soundtrack album. I ruled out composer Neal Hefti‘s version, The Marketts‘ hit version, covers by The Who, The Jam, the live Kinks. I wanted old school, old chum. I wanted the original.
Excitement surged through the crowd, palpable and electric. They didn’t know me. But they knew the song. They felt the confidence of the just and true. BATMAN WOULD SAVE US!
I was hit by the first pitch. Our run scored. The season was saved! I was traded to Metropolis, but I’d had my moment. A hero? I guess not. But I’ll take it. Yes, Commissioner. Yes indeed.
Recently, we asked some of the folks who regularly write for us and/or who would like to write for us but are often quite busy to consider what their “walk up” song would be if they were a professional baseball player. If this seems an odd request to you, then you should probably stop reading here, as things will only become more odd in subsequent paragraphs. If this prompt makes perfect sense to you, then congratulations! You have successfully surfed the internet long enough to find a blog where the writers are as nutty as you are (when it comes to music anyway).
In short, we got some highly creative, fun, wacky, thoughtful, and well written responses to our walk up prompt. We recognize that these are not letters and therefore we are deviating from the format of our mission. But, come on! It’s baseball season and it’s fun to mix things up every now and then.
Leadoff Writer: Mike
I love music. I love baseball. I love the intersection of music and baseball. No other sport has the languid, thoughtful tread to allow the imagination such breadth as to inspire the arts of the closed eye: literature and music. “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” “Casey at the Bat,” You Know Me Al, Ball Four, Damn Yankees, The Boys of Summer, “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon (Tinker to Evers to Chance),” “Talkin’ Baseball,” “Centerfield,” Why Life Begins on Opening Day, Moneyball, the Baseball Project… Through every generation for over a hundred years, baseball’s influence has bled into even the most avid sports-hater’s cultural awareness.
But what happens at the actual ballpark? In the grandest of days, the sole arbiter of non-anthemic music at the park was the noble organist. In today’s era, however, most of the time it falls to an unimaginative wannabe I Heart Radio overnight DJ to choose whatever is the lowest common denominator to energize the masses into an involuntary hive mind response of standing and swaying. Whether it’s tired classic rock, pseudo-hip hop, pseudo-country, or the dreck of corporate pop, there is little for the enlightened ear to enjoy other than one tiny oasis of hope: the walk-up song.
At some point in the late nineties, inspired by the brilliance of organists like Nancy Faust of the Chicago White Sox and Vince Lascheid of the Pittsburgh Pirates who would cleverly play upon the player’s names and backgrounds as they were introduced, players began to choose what song they would walk up to bat, subject to the stadium PA overlord’s veto of course. The problem with this, however, is that most players (as much as I love them) are the kind of meatheads who would choose something like Smash Mouth’s “All Star” or Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder;” simplistic and insidious earworms that make the world dumber every time they are played. Forgive me for even mentioning them.
I’ve often pondered what would be my walk-up song if I had the chance, that once chance to punch the jukebox for forty thousand people. But I’ve honestly never been able to realistically imagine myself as a baseball player. Unless I discovered some freak trick pitch or something, like Henry Rowengartner. Then I’d probably do something like “Believe It or Not” by Joey Scarbury or Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” before I stood up there in front of 95 mph missiles with nothing but a stick in my hand. So I’ve always kind of just stopped there.
But what I can do is imagine a team I would love where each player had not only the skills to be a pro but the taste to make their walk-up music approachable enough for a big crowd but so much cooler. A mixtape of a lineup that combines the popular and the esoteric that reflects the personality of the players and the team.
So, without further ado, I will turn it over to the stadium announcer to present the 2018 Portland Mantis Shrimp:
“Leading off, in left field, number three: Marcel Dupree!”
Marcel Dupree is a speedster and a showboat of the first degree from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He loves a crowd and the crowd loves him. He knows what they want and he’s happy to let them have it. Like his number trois, this all-star knows nothing gets things going better than this all-star trio.
“Batting second, at second base, number thirteen: Jorge Vallenilla!”
Jorge Vallenilla is quietly productive batter and slick infielder. Upon joining the Mantis Shrimp he had to abandon his preferred shortstop position and number 3 to the fan favorite Dupree. He loves to share music from his beloved native Venezuela.
“Batting third, in right field, number fifteen: Brett Mavers!”
They start playing his walk-up song as he’s introduced and every pitcher in the league knows he’s in trouble as two-time league MVP Brett Mavers steps to the plate. A southern Californian surfer with perfect plate discipline and lightning quick bat speed, Mavers is a one-man wrecking crew.
“Batting fourth, at first base, number seven: Willie Washington!”
At forty-three years of age, Willie Washington knows the end of a great career is coming. By far the most popular player, having spent his entire career in the Mantis Shrimp organization, his quiet strength has carried the team through their lowest moments and their greatest. An epitome of class, he is considered royalty in the Portland area where he makes his home all year long.
“Batting fifth, in center field, number ninety-six: Reno Conigiero!”
With his purple-dyed locks and infamous off-field escapades, Brooklyn’s Reno Conigiero embraces the celebrity life of the pro athlete sometimes a little too tightly. Blessed with a great power/speed combo, Conigiero sometimes lets life’s distractions get in the way of his performance on the field but when he’s on, there’s almost no one who can cover the outfield or the plate better.
“Batting sixth, at third base, number nine: Izumi Kingetsu!”
With an almost supernaturally intense discipline, Izumi Kingetsu began life in Japan first as a piano prodigy, then as a tennis star, and finally as the first female baseball player to compete in the National High School Baseball Championship at Koshien. When told she could never become a professional, and denied the opportunity in the Pacific League, she was a walk-on tryout at Spring Training for the Mantis Shrimp and beat out all competitors to become the first female major-leaguer.
“Batting seventh, at shortstop, number forty-one: Jose Azucar!”
A Dreamer brought to the US as an infant from Guatemala, Jose Azucar is an outspoken and eloquent advocate for immigrant rights and social justice. An acrobatic wizard with a glove, he is also the team’s spiritual leader in the clubhouse and in outreach to the community, saving runs and saving souls.
“Batting eighth and catching, number thirty-seven: Ross McGunth!”
Ross McGunth is a veteran catcher who knows every dirty trick to win a baseball game in the book. Hated by opposing teams, McGunth is a lovable “red-ass” who keeps the team in line with the bizarre traditional unspoken code of the clubhouse. Not the greatest of batters, when he does crack a key hit, the crowd loves to bring back his walk-up song as an impromptu a cappella.
“Batting ninth and on the mound, number fifty-three: Thorne D’Averil!”
A Cornell graduate in philosophy with an iconoclastic streak, Thorne D’Averil has never fit in particularly well with his teammates. Because of this, despite his terrific talent as a southpaw ace with six pitches he can consistently throw for strikes, the Mantis Shrimp are now the fifth franchise in his career. However he has seemed more at ease than ever and the Portland gossip columnists of the sports pages are speculating it may have to do with a budding romance with his third baseman.
In 1966, my brother Art had a red Alfa Romeo. I’m told it was kind of a crappy car, really, and I remember its ignominious final days in his possession: a scarlet husk parked, prone, lying in state beyond the shed at the end of our back yard. Collecting dust, collecting rust. A tow truck ultimately came to whisk this luckless red Alfa Romeo to the promised land.
But my prevailing principle memory of this doomed vehicle is a happy one. I believe the memory involves the consumption of Royal Crown Cola, or possible a root beer at the nearby A & W Drive-In. The memory absolutely involves the car’s one true immortal virtue: its radio.
That radio? When I was six years old, I may have thought that radio was magic.
I mean, it must have been magic. There were songs I heard on that car’s radio that I never seemed to hear anywhere else. I should ask Art if he listened to Syracuse’s 1260 WNDR in ’66, or if it was WOLF instead, or even the less-fabled WFBL. Whatever it was, it played “I Like It Like That” by The Dave Clark Five, a record that–to me–only existed on the AM dial of Art’s doomed Alpha Romeo. Even better, it played–often!–another irresistible exclusive: “I Fought The Law” by The Bobby Fuller Four. To this day, more than five decades later, my visceral memory of that terrific song is inextricably linked to those moments in my brother’s Alpha Romeo, of drums, guitars, and a singer bemoaning his fate of Breakin’ rocks in the hot sun, all pouring forth from the little car’s speakers as my big brother cruised suburban streets with his pesky kid brother on board. It’s indelible, and I embrace and cherish its vivid image.
Involuntary Memory #4 by Nicole
In the early months of 2014, I had an internship at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. When I applied, I didn’t think I’d be accepted, but I was, so off I went. Like a lot of people that spring, I was astounded by a clip of the band Future Islands performing on David Letterman’s show. That gravel-voiced singer with the slick dance moves and wild eyes, so recklessly earnest… It seemed a direct rebuke to the ruthless cynicism that often dominates online pop-culture ‘discourse’. I knew I had to investigate them further.
“Tin Man”, from their 2010 album In Evening Air, pulled me in immediately. It starts off with bouncy synth notes that sparkle like sunshine on the water, but the lyrics are jagged with grief. It mirrored the push and pull of that spring—the weather that went from blue and balmy to sideways sleet and back again, the way my “job” made me feel like a child playing dress-up in adult clothes, the yearning to go back to New York (where I’d gone to college) and the terror of not knowing what I would do once I got there.
But there was a certain freedom to that time, too, especially once spring arrived for good. The apartment I was staying in had a balcony, and I used to sit outside in the humid air, overlooking the maze of hotels and highways near Reagan National Airport. In the chorus of “Tin Man”, Samuel T. Herring sings, “And time goes by/and you’ve got a lot to learn, in your life…” Those words became a kind of mantra for me. I have a diary entry from that period that reads, in part, “I’m ready start my own life—my real life.” I decided to move back to New York, feeling like if I didn’t do it then, I never would. I knew it would be hard, but I also knew it would be worth it.
Per Hermann Ebbinghaus: “Often, even after years, mental states once present in consciousness return to it with apparent spontaneity and without any act of the will; that is, they are reproduced involuntarily. Here, also, in the majority of cases we at once recognize the returned mental state as one that has already been experienced; that is, we remember it. Under certain conditions, however, this accompanying consciousness is lacking, and we know only indirectly that the “now” must be identical with the “then”; yet we receive in this way a no less valid proof for its existence during the intervening time. As more exact observation teaches us, the occurrence of these involuntary reproductions is not an entirely random and accidental one. On the contrary they are brought about through the instrumentality of other immediately present mental images. Moreover, they occur in certain regular ways that, in general terms, are described under the so-called laws of association.”
Involuntary Memory #1 by April
In the spring of 2012 I found myself traveling down Highway 101 towards San Francisco whilst this song played on the radio. The day was bright, my rental car was clean (and had a yellow exterior, or am I making that up?), and I was simultaneously anxious and excited. I had come to California as part of a (fairly) big leap of faith. I wasn’t escaping a dust bowl. I wasn’t trying to make it “big” in Hollywood. I wasn’t aspiring to become a championship surfer. And yet, I was evolving. I was becoming the director of a summer camp.
For the past 2ish years I had been working as a counselor for a large medical giant that probably secretly owns the city of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. If they don’t own the city then they are probably building an entire system of underground tunnels so that they can build a city under the city where they can rule supreme after the apocalypse.
The pay was good, the co-workers were smart and fun, the clients were my cup of tea. The system however, was soul sucking. You were expected to see no less than 6 clients in an 8 hour day. There was a perpetual motion machine of paperwork. My office was windowless. There were constant conversations about chart reviews, treatment plans needing to be signed, and always the threat of visits from the state during which we would be required to present “good charts.” Good charts had nothing to do with the quality of therapy provided. Good charts meant that all of the paperwork was present and accounted for, signed legibly, and all treatment reviews fit into specific timelines. You could be a terrible therapist and have “good charts.” You could be a mediocre therapist and have “good charts.” I didn’t give a shit about “good charts.” I wanted to HELP PEOPLE.
In short, my soul was dying.
So, I left. I took a flying leap and decided that I would leave my full-time job with benefits so that I could work as a director of a therapeutic summer camp without really knowing what would happen when camp ended in August. Perhaps a few rousing games of capture the flag were all that were needed in order for my soul to climb out of the file cabinet where it was gasping for air underneath a pile of “good charts?”
“Somebody I Used to Know” appears repeatedly (and subconsciously) on playlists in my music library during various years and months. April 2016, there it is. March 2015, oh…hello! April 2018, you again? I am still not sick of it.
Each time I hear it I am immediately back there.
I am walking up and down hills to meet someone for breakfast who I didn’t know, but then immediately felt like I had always known as soon as I met them. I give them as much music as I possibly can because their ear holes might just be the same model as my ear holes, and I can’t believe that such a thing is even possible. Translation: We like the same types of music. Almost exactly. Why was this person not my neighbor growing up so that we could have shared a pair of tin can telephones and listened to oldies radio together?
I am meeting a woman who has also taken a leap of faith to become a camp director. She impresses me with her fierce and unwavering ability to enjoy food. Regardless of age, background, race, waist size, sexuality, or level of education I have known many women who live in fear of food. Fears of ordering too much, eating too much, eating in front of others….there are endless (and boring) combinations when it comes to the ways women have been conditioned to hate food (and themselves). We order dinner. We order dessert. We order a second dessert! She is fearless and unafraid of caloric intake and I love her immediately (even though I almost barf as we travel back to our hotel later that night on BART).
I am meeting up with a high school friend who has just come from her clog dancing lessons. I haven’t seen her in decades. She is changed and the same all at once. But most importantly, she is (just like Paul Simon says) “still crazy after all these years.” While we are meeting for a drink, a solar eclipse takes place and everyone rushes outside to see the slivers of light reflected onto the sidewalk. It is May 20th, 2012 (thank you Google Gods for allowing me to pin down the date) and I am alive!
That summer, my first summer running a camp, one of my campers (who is quite musically adept) “hates” “Somebody I Used to Know.” He sings songs constantly. He sings “Payphone” by Maroon 5 while we’re swimming in the pool. He drums on his chest to “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen while we eat lunch. He also brings in a photo-shopped picture of himself with a weed wacker, but that’s really neither here nor there, (although it is one of the highlights of the summer). But, whenever we hear “Somebody I Used to Know,” he says, “Ugh! I hate this song.” I ask and ask, but he can never explain why. Now, 6 years later I still don’t get it. It’s a really good song. Number 1 in fact, for the year 2012. It was a song that was playing the year my soul took Liz Phair’s advice and went “west (young man).” It was playing as my old therapy job became a job “that I used to know” and I moved into a more enjoyable phase of my working life. It keeps showing up on my playlists because it is a damn good song and I am still not tired of it. That’s when you know you’ve written a true pop hit. When it plays over, and over, and over, and people still love it just the same as the first time they heard it.
In short: Thank you Gotye!
P.S. How many takes were needed in order for you to sing “have your friends collect your records and then change your number” in such a rhythmically perfect way? Also, if people tell you that you’re just a Peter Gabriel or Sting ripoff don’t pay them any mind. They’re just jealous that you can shout-sing with such genuine emotion.
Involuntary Memory #2 by Jen
When my husband suddenly left me, I started obsessively listening to Sufjan Stevens’ “Come on Feel the Illinois.” I’m not sure why it resonated with me at that particular moment in time, but it hit the spot, musically. I particularly remember driving along the North Carolina coast, blaring “Chicago,” with my kids in car seats in the back with the windows down. They were too young to really see my tears for what they were, and I mumble-cry-sang the lyrics.
Two phrases from “Chicago” became mantras for me over the next two years, and I moved from “I made a lot of mistakes,” to the zen-koan-like “All things go,” as I navigated joint custody, a solo budget, and the infinite loneliness of losing my spouse.
Almost three years to the day after my husband left I took a solo trip to Denmark. It was my first time abroad and the longest I’d ever been away from my children. I stayed in a bunk in the hold of a shipping yacht on the harbor in Copenhagen. I crawled into the belly of the ship and found two nordic hipsters huddled around a wood stove. They were listening to “Come on Feel the Illinois.” It might have been the jet lag or the hash, but I felt like the credits were rolling on the story of my divorce and “Chicago” was the hopeful theme leading us to believe everything might just work out in the end for our fearless heroine.
Did you feel the loss during 2016 and well into 2017 when we watched so many artists and musicians leave the world? Were they your friends? The epic storytellers, trendsetters, and style makers who taught us all how to be a little cooler and a lot more open-minded: Prince, David Bowie, Chris Cornell, Chuck Berry, Sam Shepard, Harry Dean Stanton, and Adam West – they topped the much-too-long list of goodbyes. Myself, I felt sort of numb about it all. Each time, I watched my news feed light up with tributes. I listened to friends reminisce about defining moments that made this musician or artist one of their favorites. I had empathy. But I couldn’t relate to the sensation that I lost someone personal to me. I never felt like I’d lost a friend…except this time.
This time, it was you that died.
As I write this, it’s been 123 days since you died.
I can’t get my thoughts clear about it.
I haven’t cried. I haven’t faced it directly.
I’ve listened to your songs every day since I can remember listening to songs. I can’t tell you when you showed up in my life because you’ve always been there. Your music preceded my birth, and you helped me grow up. You’ve always been there for me: a consistent and supportive guide. There’s an empty space now.
I won’t regale you with tales of specific moments that one of your songs, or concerts, helped me out – I just want you to know that they, you, your music, changed me for the better.
It’s hard to explain how a person you’ve never actually met can be a friend and confidante. I see how ridiculous that sounds as I write it. But the person that the world knew as the rock star Tom Petty…that part of you that you shared with so many…well, that guy, I think, was a solid foundation for many people. Your capacity for creating universal and life-affirming lyrics, and your expert delivery of good old rock and roll songs aided in the positive transformation of many. This is the magic of music and you, Mr. Tom, were a profound channel.
It’s hard to explain how I feel now.
Two days ago, a friend shared a video with me: of one of my favorite bands covering your “Wreck Me.” It was a perfect tribute. I felt elation that someone thought to tape the moment, the pure love I have for both the band playing it and your original song, and the sadness that this is as close as I’ll ever be again to your original spark. That even though we’ll always have the 40+ years of music you left us, it doesn’t sound the same now. Because without you here, our continuum has changed.