Thursday, June 03, 2004

This post is dedicated to Tricia Southard, whose musical mood reflections always make me sit up and take notice.

It's the summer of 1976 and I'm dancing in the living room with my cousin Susie. We like to hang out together, which surprises our parents immensely. No one really thinks we have anything in common; for example, I've already finished two years of college, while school was always agony for Susie. She's four years older than me but still lives at home. Right next door to my folks' house, in fact; we've been neighbors as well as relatives as far back as we can remember. The combination of Susie and me has caused my mother repetitive motion injuries to her sensitive ears before. For example, when we were younger, we once had a pogo-stick-jumping contest on the concrete floor of our enclosed front porch. (Hey, it was raining outside.) I'm sure my mom still remembers what a pogo stick jumping contest on concrete sounds like. I also remember that Susie won, 1100 to 800. But this time we're just putting the needle to the vinyl, over and over again. Five, six, thirteen, fourteen times. And dancing. The song is Love is Alive, by Gary Wright.

It's the fall of 1979 and I'm pounding on a Fender Rhodes on a makeshift stage in the dining hall of Baker House at MIT. Eddie and Joel are on their guitars, Greg on bass, and Scott on drums. Scott and I are a couple, several years short of the point where we realize we can't play music together any more. He's also singing lead on this tune, something he rarely does, but it fits him so well. It's also one of my favorite songs, one that always gets me on my toes although it provides too slow a burn for most dancers. I love the lyrics because they're so damned -- anti-sentimental, something that I consider refreshing, something that truly illuminates the relationship between Scott and me. He's tellin' us this and he's tellin' us that ...... No double-speak here; we can detect it a mile away. And we don't need you ladies cryin' 'cause the story's sad. A nice walking bass line that I can double on piano. Yup, it was my idea for our ad hoc little coffehouse band to cover Rocky Mountain Way, by Joe Walsh.

It's 1985 and Rick has just come back from a trip to Canada with some of his buddies. We've been together only a couple of months, and we're still determinedly offhand about the whole relationship, neither wanting to scare the other away. He tells me a story about dancing with a girl in a bar when this song came on. His eyes lit up, and he warned her, "It's a little punky, but it's fun to dance to." "A little?" the girl says scornfully, and decides to sit it out. But now he's brought home a copy on vinyl, and we pop it onto the turntable. Only many years later will we decide that this is one of "our songs"; there can't be too many other couples who give that honor to Go! by Tones On Tail.

It's late 2003 and Rebecca is determinedly exposing me to a lot of the music I've ignored for the past twenty years, since too many bands broke up and too many other things intervened. We're on the road somewhere between Toledo and Chattanooga when she starts telling me the story behind this tune, now eleven years old but entirely new to me. By the time she's done, I wish I'd written it, although given my ignorance of hockey it would have been impossible. After six or seven replays of Fifty Mission Cap by Tragically Hip, she finally persuades me to listen to something else. When I get home from the trip, I read every Web page I can find that re-tells the story of Bill Barilko's disappearance in the Ontario forest.

Once in a great while I still get on the phone with Susie (now Susan), who still lives in Connecticut with her husband and son. Scott and I also exchange e-mails once in a while; he's a happily private person who would want no details of his life revealed, so I'll remark only that in one of our conversations, we joked about the futility of belonging to a species whose members experience boiling hormones at an age when they still find it funny to light farts. Rick and I, of course, stopped being offhand about our relationship, have been married for nearly sixteen years, and are somewhat stunned to be still experiencing the vagaries of a prolonged post-graduation job hunt at an age when many of our friends are earning tenure, going public, or, heaven help us, dealing with their kids' graduations. And Rebecca continues to expand my musical education at every opportunity. (I 'm afraid I haven't fallen in love with either Rufus Wainwright or Ben Folds yet, although I'll have to admit to an instantaneous fondness for Bitch and Animal.)

My mom tells me I used to twist along with Chubby Checker records as a kid. Back then it was primal, I'm sure. Now, it's a serving of aerobic exercise, with a side of very cool memories. Got an adult size pogo stick, too; maybe I can break it out and hop to the oldies. All I need is an agreeable cousin, a concrete porch, and a pair of earplugs that would fit Mom. Or, I could just do it at home; if the noise started to get to Rick, he could drown it out with Led Zeppelin. But that's another story.


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