Friday, March 23, 2007

Boats Against The Current

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

from Jacqueline

It’s funny how it catches up with you, the past. In fact, so much past has been catching up with me lately, I wondered if the universe was trying to tell me something. I just began watching a “BBC Classic Concerts” show on TV – it was the band YES (does anyone remember YES, or were they a British phenomenon?) I loved their music, and it was so strange to see this footage circa 1971, when I was but ... aw, heck, you don’t want to know how old I was in 1971. I wish I could say it seems like only yesterday, but it doesn’t. It seems a long time ago.

Music, along with those other sensory teasers – smell and touch – can whisk you back to any given time or place in an instant. I could be taken blindfold into the county of Kent, England, and know I where I was – and I could probably tell you the season just from the fragrance on the air. If it’s sweet and fresh, it’s spring, hot and clay-ish, then it’s summer, and if the air smells of peppery herbs, then it’s September, because the hops are being harvested.

There’s a lot of music around right now that takes me back to teenagerhood and my early twenties, and it seems I’m not the only one. Why else would all these bands of yesteryear be getting back together again, if not to tease us baby-boomers? The Stones we can expect, they pop up every year like hardy perennials, but right now they are really going for it with once concert after another. When I saw them in Anaheim a couple of years ago, Mick Jagger must have run over 60 miles in one evening, from one side of the stage to the other. Mind you, his dad was a physical education teacher, so he knows how to keep fit. Actually, did I ever tell you that Mick Jagger’s dad was one of my tutors in college? By the time I was going through higher education, he was a lecturer at the college I attended – one of several brushes I’ve had with the music industry, if removed by several degrees.

In the last few weeks The Police have been on the move again. I always used to go to see The Police with my brother. We were both big fans, but it sometimes proved tricky, not least because my brother is the spitting image of Sting. He can’t help it. He’s been mobbed before, and he even used to change his hairstyle to whatever was the opposite of what Sting was doing with his hair, just so no one screamed after him in the street. The silly thing is that as he has grown older, he still looks like Sting, so he can’t win. Years ago, when my brother took my parents to Universal Studios on one of their first trips to California, they suddenly heard screaming girls running up towards them, all shouting, “Sting!” My brother ran off to hide, and when they asked my mother where he had gone, she simply said, “You know, he’s on vacation with his family, so why don’t you just let him be today.”

A week or so ago Genesis announced that they’re planning a reunion tour. (Tell me you know who Genesis are). Let’s just hope they know how to keep their guitars plugged into the electricity supply, because I’m not available.

When I was sixteen, along with my best friend, Anne-Marie, and six other girls, I was given a place at a boys private school where they were embarking upon a co-education scheme for the first time in about four hundred years since Elizabeth I granted the school its charter. It was the big experiment. Anne-Marie and I thought it was pretty cool – she’s still very happily married to the guy she met there. Anyway, I sort of hung out with the blokes who were into music, so became involved in booking bands to play at the school at weekends. Genesis were in the early days of their formation then, ex-pupils from another boys private school who had seen a market in doing gigs at schools. Nice work if you can get it. I think we all grumbled because we had to pay 30 pence (about 60 cents) instead of 25 pence to get into the gig.

So the band turned up and the evening began (complete with a strobe light, or maybe it was just another one of the blinding headaches I suffered throughout my childhood and teen years). I was backstage because I was responsible for something – can’t remember what – when the sound died because the power plugs for the guitars started popping out of the electric sockets as the band moved around – our old stage did not sport a very good power system. So I leapt onto the stage and began pushing plugs back into power strips, and remained there for the whole concert, my hands and feet and even my rear end holding power cables in place.

That’s the story of me and Genesis.

But there’s been something else at play lately, some strange vibe out there, that’s rekindling all sorts of connections, and teasing my memory. Last time I was in the UK, in November, I met up with the girl who was my first friend at school, when I was five. We were so alike that people used to think we were twins, and we played upon it at times, just for a laugh. When we met we were wearing almost identical clothes – jeans, a t-shirt and both with a purple cardigan. And we wear our hair the same length, and have the same color eyes. We arranged to meet for coffee two days later, and so help me, we both wore our hair up, both were wearing jeans and black turtle neck sweaters, and we both were now having to use readers to even see the menu, which wasn’t necessary, as we both only wanted a black coffee. Funny, that.

Back to Yes, and The Stones, and Genesis. One of my closest friends when I was a teenager, was the “boy next door.” He was a big music aficionado. We went to concerts together, and listened to albums (oh, yes, remember albums?) all the time. He contacted me recently, having seen my books at a store in London (he reckoned he recognized the author photo straightaway. Seeing as I haven’t seen him since I was about eighteen, one wonders what I looked like then). Anyway, we’re meeting up for a drink next week, when I go back to England. It’ll be a long walk down memory lane.

So, I’ve been thinking about the past. About how it shapes us, how it can rattle our cage, how memories can be sweet and, after a time, even the bad ones can become mellow enough for us to look kindly upon them, and we can have a regard for who we’ve become because of those times. And along the way there are the sound-tracks to our lives, those songs and melodies that hung in the air when we were this age, or that. I look back to the girl with hair down to her hips, who wanted to be a writer but didn’t know where to start – and it would take another twenty years for her to figure it out – and I think, “It all turned out all right after all, didn't it?” She was probably listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” while she was trying to make sense of what life was going to be all about.

By the way, does anyone remember Nantucket Sleighride?

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  1. God, Our J.! There are so many responses to this post, on so many levels. We, Bob and I, live the soundtrack to our lives! We have over 3,000 cds - and dearly love our Aussie and English imports - because nostalgia plays a huge part of where we were at, and what we were doing when something was first played, or we first heard it. BOb has a photographic memory for times, places and dates. Mine isn't so great, but I can get overwhelmed with memories at a song, or smell. We're addicted to VH1 "I love the 80's" marathons, and their subsequent second version, "I love the 80s Strikeback". Not only is it the music, but the popculture reminders that they showcase. The 70s version of these shows is just as compelling.

    By this time, most of the memories are softened with passing years and new adventures, and few bad ones seem so bad after all.

    For me, books and sometimes smells can trigger a quick trip down memory lane. Funny that.

    Now I'm going to be totally bemused all through lunch. I don't mind though. :-)

    PS: THings I've written in the distant past of my childhood and teens can also bring things back, too.

  2. Songs from my youth are much more memorable than the music I listen to in my dottage. Maybe because my emotions were so raw and embryonic back then. I guess that's why CDs like "Herman's Hermits, their greatest hits" sell so well. Argh!

  3. I caught that Yes concert last night, too! My thought watching the interview bits was one that I often have - what haircut/wardrobe/overall look would that person have if they were that age today!

    Went back to watching the figure skating, though.

  4. I remember all those groups when they were first popular, except perhaps "Yes" - that's not striking a chord. AND, I liked Herman's Hermits, Patty, and remember them now with nostalgia. Two girl cousins and I put on shows on our grandmother's front porch, standing on chairs and the concrete-topped brick bases of the porch columns and dancing to Herman's Hermits music. Okay, we were young.

  5. Herman's Hermits? Peter Noone lived in one of the villages close to where I grew up, and I still remember one of my schoolfriends writing an essay about her visit to his house - her dad was a chef and he'd been asked to cater some event there. And I, too, did not finish watching the YES concert - I loved the music, but could only take so much of the talk. Made me want to go out and buy "Fragile" again, though.

    And Marianne - 3000 cd's?? Wow, that's a lot of music. My husband is a big iTunes user, and now downloads just about everything he wants. Apparently, the end of the cd is nigh.

  6. "...end of the cd is nigh."

    Please don't say that, Our J. I'm still trying to find a new Sony Walkman so I can play my Bill Vera and The Beaters tape.

  7. Oh my God! I was a huge Yes fan! My high school boyfriend and I used to see them in LA and then drive down to see them in San Diego. We were devoted. Several years ago my lovely husband bought me the CD's of Fragile and Close to the Edge so I could put them on my Ipod. Pretty sweet huh? I'm sorry I missed the special. When I listen to them I feel... well, youthful! Music can transform you!

  8. Patty, even cars only come with the cd player now, but I know what you mean about those tapes. The thing is that some of those old vinyl records are fetching a pretty penny now, so it makes you wonder if tapes will one day find a place on the antiques roadshow.

  9. Pam ... and I always thought Rick Wakeman was so cool.

  10. Speaking of Mick Jagger.... A local canine, Cooper, had a run in with him early last Novermber in San Francisco.
    Cooper was with one of his people up at the San Francisco Presidio Park. Cooper for some reason does not like anyone who looks like a loiterer. He will charge and bark at them. At the Presidio were two men who looked like they might be homeless so Cooper charged up at them.... but without barking... surprising his person.
    Then something even more extraordinary happened. Cooper stopped well short of one of the men. Sat down very politely and cocked his head as his person came up to "rescue" the men from Cooper.... in time to hear one of the men say, "Sorry luv, I've nothing for you."
    It was Mick Jagger. It seems he is not just a rock star, but a dog person and an alpha creature with enough charisma to impress Cooper.
    How about that for a lickety-split aura analysis?

  11. I still go see Joan Baez every chance I get, usually with my sister. We always end up weeping with nostalgia for our hippie childhoods, and ALWAYS forget to bring Kleenex.

    We did the same thing at a CSNY concert in Oakland a couple of years ago, and the nice man next to us gave us his handkerchief, and then asked us if we weren't awfully young to be CSNY fans. Made my month, that did.

    Now I have to go find some Nantucket Sleighride to listen to. Don't know them....

  12. Oh yes, my OTHER music memory story is that a few Thanksgivings ago, I put an old Weavers record on after we'd eaten (this was also at my sister's house).

    My brother--the youngest of us three--had brought a friend along. I remarked to this young man that the Weavers were what my mom used to listen to, when I was a kid.

    He looked at me and said, "my mom liked the Pogues."

    Seldom have I felt quite so old.

  13. NOt sure about the Nantucket Sleighride, but we've got just about everyone musically mentioned so far. Our guilty pleasures, aside from endless English New Wave groups from the 80s, but we go anywhere to see the Moody Blues - Plymouth, England last year. We also have endless Beatles cds, right up alongside ABBA, and U2, Grateful Dead, Police, Genesis, Tom Jones, and God knows, too many obscure ones to list. Bob knows his music history just like his art and movie/tv trivia - mind like a steel trap. Seriously, it's spooky. :-)


  14. Joan Baez's father died today at age 94, according to the obit in today's LA Times. Albert Baez was a physicist, a Quaker, and a pacifist and much admired by his daughter who said of him, "Decency would be his legacy to us."

  15. The Pogues? That's positively new wave. Oh, and the album was Nantucket Sleighride, the band was Mountain. Oh dear, that is going back way too far. By the way, I loved Neil Young's "After The Goldrush." And what about the Strawbs, anyone remember?

    I loved the story about Mick and the dog, by the way - that's one to remember. One of my friends was stuck at an airport with him a couple of years ago (well, yes, it was a small airport on an exclusive little Caribbean island) - the flights off the island had been delayed, so a few of the passengers began playing a game of Scrabble. She's good at Scrabble, and she said he wasn't a good loser!

  16. A physicist, a Quaker and a pacifist - no wonder Joan Baez is the woman she is today, and was yesterday.

    OK, confession to make - I think my all-time favorite band could well be U2, with Joshua Tree coming in as one of my most played cd's

  17. I listened to Round a bout by Yes just yesterday. Not just popular in the UK.

    I saw the Rolling Stones in concert in one of the more recent tours. I went for Dave Matthews but Mick blew him away.


  18. Jim - and there I was thinking I would be setting myself up for a ribbing about being a mid-range baby-boomer (as opposed to late-stage baby-boomer), when just the mention of Yes has brought out all sorts of memories. Good for you, our Jim, I knew you were a man of taste.

    One of my friends who read the post emailed to remind me about an evening's dancing in Leicester Square in London (and I mean, in the square, not in a club) to the Steve Miller Band belting out, "Silk and satin, leather and lace ...." Oh, that must have been circa 1982.

    And so it goes on ...

  19. Jacqueline- I believe you would love listening to my ipod! Both U2 and Neil Young are frequently played. I also notice that unlike my sons, who download music, I always listen to a single artist at a time and actually buy the CD. No mixes for me. I think it's a fall back to buying the albums. There was a certain snobbery about not just listening to the top 40 hits.

    Yes, Rick Wakeman was cool,(sort of Gandalf- like) but I was seriously in love with Jon Anderson.

  20. Genesis, Orpheum Theatre, 74......great show. Wish they had a concert film of early Genesis. Their shows were not merely a concert but a theatrical event.
    But it is like Thomas Wolfe's You Can Never Go Home Again--- that was different time. Those "reunion" tours sometimes are very pathetic.
    Still I listen to the old stuff of theirs, and U2 and YES and......

    thanks for the nice post J

  21. Jacqueline:

    U2 - Rattle and Hum! My fave.



  22. Yes, you're right about those reunion tours. There was a certain pent up energy within The Police, for example (and we all know that it was really because they were dying to get back to the hotel and beat each other to the brink of death), that seemed to burst on the stage and give them an edge. Now they're older, wiser (and richer) one wonders if it would be the same.

    When we went to see The Stones, at one point Keith Richards was leaning over his guitar, and it looked for all the world as if his back had locked and he wasn't going to be able to stand up again. I couldn't help but laugh.

    So, the memories are good, but you can't go back. I'd look silly in half the clothes I wore then anyway. My mother said I looked pretty silly at the time.

  23. I liked Yes very much as a kid and was handed down a couple of Yes t-shirts that I wore throughout my junior high school years.

    Last night I put on Sticky Fingers and for the umpthousandth time felt some of the same charge I got when I first heard it (those horns!), overlain by my present-day politically correct judgments (amazing that the line "like a black girl should" didn't set off riots). Powerful stuff, music. It's no wonder I still want to be a rock star.

  24. Oh, and one more thing: I saw Peter Gabriel a couple of years ago and loved the show -- what a spectacle he put on, completely worth the very high ticket price. The show was so theatrical and elaborate, sometimes even humorously so, as when the orange-jumpsuited people emerged from under the stage and guided the electrical cords while Gabriel and the other performers circumnavigated the round stage. I guess he got attached to having other people manage his electrical cords!