Friday, January 15, 2010

A song about a song, Wallgreen's, and musical memory

Since I no longer commute, the only time I really listen to the radio is when I'm in the car making visits to parishioners. And since they all live pretty much close by, and even the hospitals are generally a short drive - even those sessions with the car radio are brief. So, I don't listen to a lot of music on the radio.

And so I was fooled briefly when I heard "Sweet Home Alabama," and following Lynyrd Skynyrd's rubric early in the song to "turn it up," I did. But it actually wasn't "Sweet Home Alabama," but rather a song about "Sweet Home Alabama." It was a catchy little tune about a guy reminiscing about his youth in the 1980s listening to the archetypal Skynyrd tune about the Southland and what it's like to miss home - even though his childhood was actually in Michigan.

I didn't realize it was Kid Rock (I'm not a fan), but like I said, the tune was catchy and made me think about how music gels and sets in the memory, linking to other memories, resulting in a cerebral explosion of recollection of old times and oddly-related happenings.

Music is powerful that way.

Shortly, I heard the song again, only this time I heard it from the very beginning, and was fooled again! Only this time, I thought it was the late great Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London," (thanks to the song's borrowing of the opening chords), but no, for some reason, the Kid Rock song about "Sweet Home Alabama" includes the opening piano riff from Zevon's "Werewolves." Go figure. Can you believe that song ("All Summer Long") fooled me twice?

But anyway, my own young adulthood was a lot of fun, though not quite as "edgy" (shall we say) as the narrator of the Kid Rock "All Summer Long" tune.

I was not a fan of Lynyrd Skynyrd in those days, but in the mid 1990s I did have the honor of having "Sweet Home Alabama" played as bumper music before I gave a speech in tribute of Stonewall Jackson at a Lee-Jackson Day event in Danville, Virginia (from the steps of the Last Capitol of the Confederate States of America). I can't hear "Sweet Home Alabama" without thinking of Virginia (ironically), Stonewall Jackson, and the Third National Flag of the CSA. Music is powerful that way.

Since commentary about the music being played at Wallgreen's has somehow become a feature of this blog, tonight's tuneage is illustrative of this effect. Today, the frequently-Hollywood-visited Gretna Wallgreen's on Stumpf blared out Thin Lizzy's "The Boys are Back in Town" - which never fails to make me think of my high school class ring (Walsh Jesuit H.S., 1982) and send a chill up my spine.

Okay, here's the connection:

In the same period of time cataloged by Kid Rock (the late 1980s), I was working the midnight shift at a warehouse. My boss turned me on to Stephen King, whose short story collection Skeleton Crew includes a macabre tale called "The Raft." In this story, a bunch of high school kids are on a raft, and a monster from under the raft's boards sucks the football star ("Deke") gruesomely between the floorboards. I hate when that happens...

Here is King's description of the unfortunate football player's extraction from my 1985 edition of Skeleton Crew, pages 298-299:
"Deke's football ring - All Conference, 1981 - slid slowly up the third finger of his right hand. The starlight rimmed the gold and played in the minute gutters between the engraved numbers, 19 on one side of the reddish stone, 81 on the other. The ring slid off his finger. The ring was a little too big to fit down through the crack, and of course it wouldn't squeeze.

"It lay there. It was all that was left of Deke now. Deke was gone. No more dark-haired girls with sloe-eyes, no more flicking Randy's bare rump with a wet towel when Randy came out of the shower, no more breakaway runs from midfield with fans rising to their feet in the bleachers and cheerleaders turning hysterical cartwheels along the sidelines. No more fast rides after dark in the Camaro with Thin Lizzy blaring 'The Boys are Back in Town' out of the tape deck. No more Cisco Kid."
Do you see what I mean? After all these years, each and every time I hear "The Boys are Back in Town," I think of my own gold class ring and poor old Deke being eaten by a sea monster. And I didn't even have a Camaro.

Music is powerful that way. "Turn it up!"


Ted Badje said...

Even though Stephen King is anti-Christian, you have to admit he writes the best short stories. I liked 'The Mist', 'The Jaunt', and 'The Raft'. He is very good at narration, and describing the scenery.

'All Summer Long' reminds me of a mix that would be played by a local band of little repute at a Ramada Inn. I guess it is a guilty pleasure.

Admit it, Pastor, dude, you're a headbanger.

Joe Greene said...

Great post, Fr. H. Songs I hear on the radio often transport me back to my high school days.