Friday, February 02, 2007

Basement Song 2.2.07

Welcome to the first installment of The Basement Songs, a weekly feature I’m going to have on the blog. What is a basement song? It has nothing to do with the Basement Tapes. I can only think of a couple Dylan and /or Band songs that may qualify as a basement song. A basement song is purely personal. Quality of song isn’t important (not that the bootlegs of Dylan and he Band were all masterpieces). It’s how a song makes you feel and how it can take you to a place… a moment in your life or and event. Songs that can make you relive every emotion, good or bad. As I do not know all ten of you who read my blog, I can only write from my own experiences. Of course, there are some songs I may never write about… particularly Bruce Springsteen’s “Valentine’s Day.”

So why “basement songs”? I grew up in a Cleveland suburb and my parents owned a large four story house. As you may have figured out, the house had a basement. The room was essentially a dumping ground for toys. My dad’s workbench occupied a corner… which was essentially a dumping ground for his tools. When my brother reached adolescence, he began playing drums and decided to clean up the hole. He decorated a corner with some ugly green shag carpet he’d found somewhere and hung some posters (mostly beer posters. How my folks didn’t figure he was drinking down there all of the time is beyond me). His drumset, our old toy boxes, and my dad’s tool bench (which was still a dumping ground for his tools) occupied the other corners. The corner with the carpet began to resemble something of college dorm room. A couple of old couches, some grungy yellow rocking chairs, and a cheap, JC Penny stereo with four speakers mounted to the cinderblock walls. My brother hung out there and jammed, but he was never one to stay in the house. He always had to be doing something, someplace to go. The basement was essentially a hangout for him and his friends to drink when they didn’t have anywhere else to drink. That room became something else for me.

By the time I was 10 or 11, I started to get interested in rock music. My parents had never been into rock and roll. My dad listened to classical and my mom preferred show tunes or standards (what was then called elevator music). My discovery of rock came from hanging with my brother. He listened to the first Boston album religiously and Bob Seger’s “Stranger in Town”. He had a copy of Clapton’s “Slowhand” that floated around, as well. And, of course, he was in a number garage bands. When I was 11, I was given a cheap cassette recorder for Christmas. Not sure why I was given it, but I used the thing to death, placing it next to stereo speakers and taping songs off the radio. I guess you could say this was the beginning of the basement songs. I would collect tapes of my favorite songs and then head to the basement where I could listen in private and try to decipher what the singers were saying and figure out what the drummers were playing (I, too, became a drummer). At the same time, I had friends in grade school that had older brothers and sisters, too. All of us would compare music and loan LP’s to one another. It was a new world opening up. And the one place I went to listen to the music and explore this world was our basement. It became my fortress of solitude.

I spent hours and hours just LISTENING. I wouldn’t read. I didn’t talk to anyone. Occasionally I would scan the album cover. But for the most part, I absorbed the music. This is something that I rarely get to do anymore. I’m married, have two adoring kids, I have a mortgage, bills… who has time to listen to music. That leads to another point about basement songs… they endure. A basement song isn’t some pop ditty that you listened to a thousand times as a kid and then go back to and nearly vomit. A basement song is something that has a place in your heart and you can listen to whenever. Years can pass… decades… and you’ll hear that song again and you’ll remember why you loved it then and you still love it.

Okay, I think you know where I’m coming from with the whole basement setup. Maybe it wasn’t a basement for you. Maybe it was your bedroom. Your car (like I do now). Maybe it was when you went running and you had headphones on. Who knows? It’s not about where you heard the songs; it’s about the songs themselves.

That’s what I’m going to write about: The songs that mean something to me and why they’re meaningful to me. And hey, if one of the ten of you decides you want to write something about one of your own songs, then I’ll post it. Sadly, I do not have the money or the capabilities to actually post the songs themselves. But, if you email me, I’ll send the song to you (provided I have an MP3 of it).

So let’s get started with what I consider my very first basement song. And guess what, it’s not even a rock song. The song is attributed to being sung by a green frog hand puppet, no less. It is “The Rainbow Connection”, from THE MUPPET MOVIE.

Anyone who does not like THE MUPPET MOVIE does not have a soul. It is just a wonderful movie on so many levels. Despite its hip cast and the slew of one liners and cameos, it’s a movie about hope. Pure and simple. And this is laid out in the opening number sung by Jim Henson, aka Kermit the Frog. “Why are there so many songs about rainbows, and what’s on the other side?” That opening phrase is sung with such melancholy that you’d think this was going to be a sad movie. But it isn’t. And the song isn’t sad, either. In fact, it ends very upbeat, save for the way it’s sung and the maudlin strings that accompany it. The soundtrack to this movie was the first LP I was ever given as a gift. It was essentially my very first record (save for the Winnie the Pooh record I listened to when I was younger). This LP scarred me for life. There is so much sadness and despair on the record. Since this was the days before VCR’s, I couldn’t go and watch the movie every night to remind myself that everything ends happily. I only had the music. Weeks were spent listening to “The Rainbow Connection” over and over. It wasn’t the lyrics. It wasn’t the music. It was the way Henson sung the song. I felt his sadness. I connected with the fear and doubt. It is the same fear and doubt I experience o this day. I am a member of the lovers and dreamers club, that’s for sure. But at that age, I didn’t know that. That is the remarkable thing about that song for me. It touched a part of my soul that wasn’t even awakened yet. It would be years before I figured out what I wanted o do with my life. But here I was, 1979, already lost and unsure of myself.

Today, the opening banjo notes are played; I’m a child again. The worries of the day are forgotten for a brief time as I reexperience the simple joys of a nice song. I recall what it’s like to be some optimistic. I recall what it’s like to feel free and not worried all of the time. This is the type of song I hope Sophie and Jake latch on to and make one of their own. I want them to always be full of the hope the song expresses. I pray they don’t experience the melancholy that I went through and still do. That is a part of my personality I’ll never be able to shed. Maybe it’s that melancholy that keeps me feeling optimistic. Because whenever I’m feeling down and lonely and feeling as if nothing is ever going to turn around, I know that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. I know that there is some kind of treasure waiting for me at the end of the rainbow. It may not be gold or money. It may just be reassurance that things will work out. I have to keep that hope alive. I have to.

As easy as it would be to just cave in when the world is coming down, I have to show the kids that you don’t give up. Especially Jake. He has to be a fighter.

This song holds such a special place in my heart that I’ve never been able to buy a cd with it on it. I need to hear the crackling of my original LP before Kermit begins singing. The crackles bring me almost as much comfort as the banjo. Once upon a time, I dreamed big. I was going to be a huge star in Hollywood. Now, I’m content to be a huge star to Sophie and Jake. And even if I’m not the same lover or dreamer that I was as a child, it’s okay. I am happy. And that’s all you can ask for in life, isn’t it.


Jason said...


What a beautiful entry. I was right there with you in that basement. I feel strongly about "The Rainbow Connection" as well, but no way could I have put it in such delicate terms.

I learned the song on piano last year for a show, and discovered that the lead-in for the key change is one of the most glorious lead-ins I've ever heard.

Final story and I can't believe I'm admitting this: last week I'm listening to my Muppet CD while washing the dishes. "Finale: The Magic Store" comes on (which includes that reprise of "The Rainbow Connection"). I hadn't heard it in years. Suddenly, I'm crying over the sink. And I don't mean a few tears. I'm freaking bawling, and I'm confused as all hell because it came out of nowhere. I eventually figured out that it had a lot to do with the kind of thing you mentioned here: the message of hope in the movie, the feelings it brought out in me at such a young age, and I guess I hadn't felt them in a while. Happy and sad all at once. Kind of like "The Rainbow Connection."

Again, great post.

Geoffrey said...

Definitely a moving song, guilty pleasure stigma be damned. I have a DJ friend ( that used to play that song at the end of all her gigs. No joke, she's plays mostly hip hop (insert tacky Kermit joke here) and then wraps up the night with Rainbow Connection. Amazing.

I have TONS of Sesame Street and Muppet albums (vinyl baby!) that I used to play on my Fischer-Price record player. You know, the beige one, with a collapsable lid and a handle so you can carry it wherever you might go. Yah, I still have the albums AND the player. MIght have to bust that out this weekend now...

"Movin' Right Along" btw is another great track from "The Muppet Movie," a great road trip song that everyone has to sing along with.

Steve said...

I came to your blog from the link at jefito.

That's a very pretty post and I thank you for posting it. I've always loved "The Rainbow Connection". Jim Henson was a great talent and died much too young.

I took your idea and posted my take on it. I hope you don't mind.