We’re in Tucson this week which means an eight hour drive through the desert to my folk’s house. Whenever we take these long drives, I’m tossed back to m childhood and the long summer vacations we spent driving across the country. My mom was (and still is a nurse) and my dad was (and still is) a teacher (will they ever retire?). This meant that we had three months off when school let out and we sure as heck weren’t going to spend it sitting around watching television. My earliest memories of those trips were of an old Ford the family owned. I have no recollection of ever sitting in that car, only the sleeping arrangements. In the front seat, my dad drove, my mom rode shotgun and my younger sister, Heidi, 4 or 5 at the time, sat in the middle. In the back, my oldest sibling, Beth, always wound up on the floor of the car, resting on the foot rest. This left Budd to stretch in the entire backseat. Where was I? I had the best spot to sleep, the back ledge, under the rear window. Yes, my friends, this was long before there any of those seatbelt laws. I sometimes marvel at the fact that we never got in an accident. If we would have, there may never have been a Thunderbolt blog.
In my opinion, this was the ideal place to sleep. The sun always kept me warm, and my ear was always next to the radio speaker. My first introduction to rock and roll was during those summers. Those ads for “AM Gold” that you sometime see from Time-Life, those songs are the soundtrack to my childhood. At a time when FM was in its infancy, AM stations across the nation would spin the best “mellow” hits. Because of these trips, radio became my first love of music. To this day, I have a hard time sitting through most albums, especially with the digital age and every artist believing that they really have to fill an 80 minute cd. Please, people, if 40 minutes was enough for the Beatles, then it should be more than enough for everyone else. This is why, when I discover albums like the last Tegan & Sara or the new Shins that are concise and comprised of their best material, I am thrilled as a music fan.
The next car we had was a van. The Red van, as it came to be known. We had that thing for over ten years and it must have had over 200,000 miles on it. By the time we were driving around the country in that car, I was knee deep into my Hardy Boys obsession. I wanted to own every book. I think I wound up with ten. Later, when I became a Stephen King fanatic (in 5th grade!), I worked my way through “The Dead Zone” and “Carrie” while zipping past scenic landscapes. Budd still slept, by the way. Occasionally, Heidi and I would head into the back of the van and play with her dolls. I distinctly remember a time when I had her Ken doll serenading Barbie along with the radio. He was singing “Life’s Been Good” by Joe Walsh. That was my first exposure to lyrics having more meaning than just “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.” When I look back on some of those “safe” songs from the 70’s, I’m amazed at how subversive they were. Take a song like “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band. What sounds like it’s supposed to be about a frolicking afternoon spent in the garden or something is really about sex. Pure and simple, the song is about sex. I don’t know if it was supposed to be a joke or an attempt to get things by the censors, but whoever was behind the Starland Vocal Band pulled a fast one on the world. Then there’s Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin Away”, which comes across as another one of his mellow, cool jazz songs. The song is filled with as much disillusionment as Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” I’ve been reading “All The President’s Men” this week and suddenly, “Slip Slidin Away” feels so tied to the let down and disappointment of the times. Yet, what Simon is saying in the song seems universal. People whose lives didn’t urn out the way they wanted. A woman who married before she was ready, and a father who is divorced from his child’s mother, and seemingly from his son, are just as prevalent today as they were in the 70’s.
For our trip to Arizona this Easter (a yearly tradition since Mom and Dad moved there), I decided to make a mix cd of some of the songs I recall from those long summer days. I figured that for the stretch of the drive in the desert in which even Am signals die, we could slap on this cd and sing along with some oldies (except “Afternoon Delight”… I don’t think the kids are ready to be singing that one). At first the cd was for our family. Something I wanted to share with Sophie and Jake so that they had a sort of musical memory book of my youth. But as I completed it, I decided I wanted to give this cd to my siblings and my family. They must remember all of these songs. Even if they were sleeping through most of the drives (like Budd), this music had to have seeped into their brains. As I completed the cd and burned copies for everyone, I got excited. I hoped that they would get a kick out of the mix, even if it isn’t their type of music (especially Mom ad Dad). This music shaped my life and many of these songs would become my early basement songs, so to speak. If the only time I got to listen to rock music was in the car during hellish days in a car with no air conditioning, then the thoughts and emotions I sorted through during those times would be tied to these songs. And like any good basement song, whenever I hear the selections on this mix cd, I was taken back to my youth. The sun beating on my face. The bump of the highway. Wind blasting on my face. And Paul McCartney thumping in my ear. Those were good times. I’m glad I had them with my family and I hope that someday, Sophie and Jake will be able to look back on the songs we played for them with fondness.
Here is the track listing for this cd:
“The Best of My Love” – The Emotions
“Silly Love Songs” – Paul McCartney & Wings
“Afternoon Delight” – Starland Vocal Band
“I’ll Be Around” – The Spinners
“New Kid in Town” – The Eagles
“The Things We Do For Love” – 10cc
“Le Freak” – Chic
“You Are the Woman” – Firefall
“Slip Slidin Away” – Paul Simon
“How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You” – James Taylor
“September” – Earth Wind & Fire
“Love Will Keep Us Together” – Captain and Tennille
“I Saw the Light” – Todd Rundgren
“Sir Duke” – Stevie Wonder
“Cruel To Be Kind” – Nick Lowe
“What A Fool Believes” – The Doobie Brothers
“Car Wash” – Rose Royce
“Stuck in the Middle with You” – Stealer’s Wheel
“Don’t Stop” – Fleetwood Mac
“Super Trouper” – Abba
“We Are Family” – Sister Sledge