The River's Badge

Saturday, April 14, 2018

What About 1972?

(not really)

1972 was kind of icky when it came to music. Yes, I was firmly ensconced in country music, but one could not escape the pop hits of the era since they were everywhere -- on my black and white portable TV, on my little sister's record player, in the bloodstream of every sixteen-year-old who hadn't slid into the dark side (shudder!) of music.

I was sixteen and a junior in high school. Being a junior has its own cache. One is almost there -- too sophisticated to be condescended to by the senior class like the puny freshmen. Juniors had earned a modicum of grudging respect by way of their advancing age. The nice thing about being sixteen was, I didn't have to meet any expectations. I was in that wedge phase; too young to assume adult responsibilities; too old to be patronized. Sixteen was when I started smoking -- a life decision I would now heartily disavow. But it seemed Kool and grown-up at the time. And subversive, which was very important.

The truth is, I was foundering. Granted, things weren't as bad at home as they had been, but the scars were still raw and not scabbed over. The difference was about 100 feet -- the distance from my newly-claimed room from the family living quarters. I could almost pretend that I wasn't part of that broken clan. I'd found something new to grasp onto -- order. Sublime order. Order is very important to the child of an alcoholic, which makes sense, although I didn't realize it at the time, because I was stupid. I didn't know why one minute's difference on my alarm clock would disrupt the course of my whole day. I didn't understand why I had to flip on my portable TV before I stumbled into the bathroom to apply my makeup and hear the same CBS promos every single morning. Every task had its time, and if some unexpected event occurred to scramble my schedule, my heart began pounding.

Humans are distinct from other mammals in that they can create a whole way of getting by out of nothing. The downside to that is, we become slaves to the course we've adapted, and it turns into a prison we can't break out of. I'm still very time-oriented and I experience a flash of panic if I am one minute off-schedule. I've gotten better, but it's still there.

What was family life like?

I would call it "unsure". I never knew what to expect when I burst through the kitchen doorway in the morning. I was, however, always on guard; girded against the worst. Some mornings it was eerily silent -- no one was around. I preferred those days. Other times, there was a super-serious discussion taking place -- my dad still woozy from his overnight carousing; my mom futilely trying to yell some sense into him. On the worst days, there was hair-pulling and obscenity-laced tirades, combined with amateur judo moves, played out on the green shag living room carpet. At times I'd find my dad with a trickle of blood oozing from his fingernail-scratched cheek. I'd step across the melee and head out the front door to wait for the school bus.

I compartmentalized. Compartmentalization is a very valuable tool. Keep stepping forward. Sadly, life seemed useless. I went through the motions. If I was cognizant enough to think about ending it all, I probably would have. I was too naive for that, though. My sinews wouldn't stand for it. I stiffly believed that life had to get better; that this wasn't all there was.  My life's goal was to get out. Then I'd show 'em.

I don't know (although I suspect) what my little brother's and sister's existence was like then. We all internalize things differently. Unfortunately, I was born a sensitive soul, and life simply battered me.

It didn't help that music was so schizophrenic. Aside from radio, I had my TV, which only featured the hits of the day on late-night Fridays. The Midnight Special was my tether. I didn't sleep much, so staying up late on Friday nights was de rigeur. I recall that Johnny Rivers hosted a lot of Midnight Specials. The music wasn't good.

The worst rock song of all time clocked in at approximately eight and a half minutes -- the height of self-indulgence.

  
No song should ever be eight-and-a half minutes long. Some say it's a great song. I say it's long. If this song is representative of 1972, let's just erase 1972 from history.

The Hollies were still around. A lot of folks were still around. This song is the Hollies' road to glory. I may have heard it too many times, because now it's just background noise played on FM oldies radio. I don't know why they were working for the FBI, which seems rather far-fetched. And once we get past the (admittedly) iconic intro and the working for the FBI bit, I lose interest.



This song, on the other hand, I like. I think it boils down to repetition. Anyone can sing along with it, and really, isn't that all we want in our music? I love Neil Diamond.


In retrospect, it was a transitional time. Some of the fifties acts were still around and still churning out hits. Elvis Presley always makes me laugh when I catch his performances on screen. I can't help it. It's not that I want to laugh at him, but I find him to be so ridiculous. I actually would like to find resonance in his catalog of hits. I think perhaps it is that he was so synthetic -- a plastic facsimile of himself. Nevertheless, he still had a hit song in 1972:


Rick (nee "Ricky") Nelson was also still around from the fifties. I watched "Ozzie and Harriet" with my brother, who made delicious fun of "Ricky", and I was afraid to admit I liked some of his songs. Ricky later became sort of surly about his early success. After all, he would have had zero success in the music biz if it wasn't for his dad's TV show. His resentment was well on display with this song:



Carly Simon had a hit song in '72, which will always be immortalized like this:



Hey, that's what you get when you sell your soul to a condiment company.

There were songs from 1972 that I didn't hear, or I missed; that are now classics. That's sometimes how it goes with music. Nilsson was someone I didn't know. I choose not to know him by way of Jimmy Webb's awful book. But listen to this one all the way through. It's magic:


I also missed this song, because apparently Bread claimed the charts. Any band that calls itself "Bread" deserves to be lost to history.

Al Green:


One of the few things America has going for it is that this song was featured in Breaking Bad. The other thing they have going for them is that they actually had one good song. This one isn't it. Dave Barry did a whole riff on "for there ain't no one for to give you no pain". You be the judge:


There were other acts who hit big in 1972, like Jim Croce, who was awesome and underrated. And some new guy named "Elton John". And Chicago, who I frankly didn't care for until the eighties, when Peter Cetera (who the other band members disdain) joined the group. Derek Erick Clapton and the Dominos did "Layla", which wasn't ever any good until the "Unplugged" performance. 

All this was tangential to my pitiful life.  

Sometimes I wish I could revisit that time, to observe the person I was then. I might be able to offer some comfort to her; let her know that the future would be hard, but that things would work out in the end. Nothing exciting would ever happen, aside from giving birth, but the road would meander to places she never dared dream of.

Life is a conglomeration of memories, happenstance, accidents. NOTHING ever turns out the way one imagines when they are sixteen.  

I like this song, because my little sister and I shared it. That's the story of life. Memories are all well and good, but if you don't have someone to share them with, they'll just be a whisper in the wind.


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