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