“It’s too late, Baby, now it’s too late, though we really did try and make it…”
Words from a Carole King song, released in 1971, five years before I was born. Unimaginably they have been haunting me all day*. Haunting because I remember the somber musical arrangement and regretful vocal melody from what seems like lifetimes ago. I have discussed this before, many times before as I have tried to grasp something beyond the experience of the casual music listener. Songs like this, from this particular era trigger a freefall into memory for me. Not memory as a verb or as a passive noun, no. This is Memory as a proper noun, a place that exists; a thing that I can touch with some, if not all, of my currently recognized and categorized five senses.
This is not a place of a childhood gone by or lost love or anything like that. No, even though I have a vested, nostalgic interest/bias in this stuff, because it impacted with me, I heard it, late 70’s/early 80’s and that was indeed my childhood, but these ‘memories’ are just a spring boards; a chaotic succession of windows into what I have come to think of as a aural time machine, somehow bringing me to a place I could only just barely understand as a child, but feel so enamored with now; life as a coming of age process for people my parent’s age in the that time.
My parents had not been hippies or participated in any of the sense of revolution that engulfed the world of many western 20/30 something’s in the 1960’s. No, they had worked and entertained friends and moved in and started a family, and their musical tastes reflected this. When I was growing up and subjected to my parents’ music it was always easy listening: Linda Ronstadt, Johnny Mathis, Burt Bacharach. Why? Because this particular time was the era that the singer-songwriter became a commodity for the ‘new age of consumer’. The hippie-psychedelic-folk-protest engine, a four-sided square cube of the 60’s brought on horrors like the eagles, where all of those elements met with cocaine and gin as a buffer, a filter if you will, and were squeeze-strained into the California, Laurel Canyon, milquetoast singer-songwriter ‘movement’ which basically brought all the soft, concerned Earthy-protest of the hippies back into a stable and marketable commodity for the newly re-charged, post World War II baby boomers. This was music for those who had been just slightly too old to be drawn into the short-lived and in the end disappointing thrill of revolution that cast iconic careers in the Woodstock generation and had instead seen the motifs of that era as the next marketable romance to hold each other at night and think about how the only reason to live through and look past atrocities like Nixon, the Vietnam war and the rise of the serial killer was to settle down in a home, with a factory or dock job and begin raising children to try and move the population yet another generation past the greed and terror that had eeked in around the edges of the American dream and begun corroding it.
On the surface there was nothing wrong with this. Its what people do: carry on living regardless of the loneliness and adversity that permeates the world as we have defined it for ourselves as a culture. Raise babies, seek the future… how was my father or your father or grandfather or whoever most closely links you to this time I discuss here, how were they supposed to know that the jobs would devolve to the point of extinction (and as well, how were the computer programmers who replaced them a decade and a half later supposed to know that they too would suffer the out-dated, out-sourcing death-knell)?
I found another killer record today. Sara’s been really into thrifting, finding stuff in thrift stores and then selling it on ebay. When I go along I comb the records, and I mean vinyl records, for all those IPod generationals who think I might just be using an archaic word for CD’s. We have our old turntable (Sara’s; I had several but all of them were in those all-in-one stereo combos from the 90’s and they weren’t worth moving) and between the two of us we have quite a bit of vinyl. Everything from Roy Ayers to the Misfits to Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, Billy Joel, James Brown, etc. I like to dig through the piles of discarded memories that is a record pile at a thrift store – it in and of itself is a way to climb back through time. You always get staples like Ray Cunnif, Brahms and Herp Albert and the Tijuana Brass, and those alone are enough to take you back. But then there’s stuff that I find, like these quirky records from the dawn of the Stereo Age, with bold cover notes boasting the ‘Brand New Technology’, ‘A New Way to Listen to Music’, etc. They’re awash in these trippy designs and insignias that are supposed to emulate, I guess, multi-faceted sound waves, frequency oscillation and a head start in a new and better direction and quality of life for the music listener. I imagine its because I was born during what could still be considered the early segment of the Stereo Age that this stuff appeals to me so much. I remember the dark lacquered book case that was just inside my family’s front door, in what people then called the ‘Den’, with its many shelves for books and records and even a drop down liquor cabinet, where things like Clan MacGregor Scotch, Tom Collins mix and, the holy grail, an always replenished plastic bottle of my Grandma Baker’s (Dad’s mom) Grasshopper cocktail mix hung out and waited for me to hit the age of curiosity when I would one by one drain them all of their assorted contents and replace with water to keep up appearances (my folks were never big on liquor so it wasn’t something that ever got noticed). That was another throw back many of these records played to, this idea of the cocktail party as some new and space age ideal one must always be prepared to fully stock at a moments notice. The sixties-bleeding-into-the-seventies was full of this new age, chic social agenda that included Fondue, Roasts, cocktails of seemingly exotic nature and a ‘Hi-Fi’ stereo system upon which either Linda Ronstadt or Herp Albert could whisk the merriment into a delighted frenzy at a moments notice.
These are the records, not just records as in vinyl but records as in a documents of people and the way they lived, so different but not so distant from today…
Listening to Stereophonics: Language. Sex. Violence. Other
*Although posted today this was actually written several weeks ago on a day off.