Biff America: Songs And Promises (column)
The drugs kicked in just before bedtime. The warning label specifically warned of not mixing the decongestant with alcohol. Had I read that label I might have known that. And if that combo didn’t keep me awake my mate’s elbows to my ribs cinched the deal.
It was a warm night in the Nevada desert. We were heading to Northern California for our spring ski and bike getaway. I had been nursing a head cold for a few days before we left town. By the time we hit the Utah border my nose was purely ornamental.
I learned that in Nevada it is far easier to buy hand gun ammo than Sudafed. Such was the pity, because I had plenty of ammo in the camper but my sinuses felt like they were full of pudding.
In a small Nevada town I filled out forms and endured serious stink eye from an ancient pharmacist. I did myself no favors by wearing my ‘Breaking Bad’ sweatshirt and Red Sox hat. Though wracked with congestion and cursed by a Boston accent, I finally was able to convince ‘Nurse Ratchet’ that the drugs were for a medicinal, not a recreational, intent.
I took the medication just before my mate served up a meal of kale, cauliflower, lima beans and squash. After that, I enjoyed about an ounce of bourbon to wash the taste out of my mouth. We then turned in for the night. That’s when I discovered that some decongestants can keep you awake.
While my mate tried to slumber in our camper, I lay next to her with a clear head but a pulse-rate of a dyslexic trying to play scrabble. Our RV is about 20 square feet so there was nowhere for me to go. So after several elbows and complaints I headed outside.
We always pack a portable short wave radio, so I grabbed that, a sleeping bag, and ear buds and sat in a lawn chair listening to world band radio and looking at the stars.
To those unfamiliar with world band radio, it is possible to receive broadcasts from around the globe in even the most remote locations. That night, I picked up “Radio-Taiwan” broadcast from the other side of the planet in, albeit marginal, English. The host sounded to be a young Asian woman and the show was titled, “A Rock+Roll Music Anthology of the English Language.”
Scientists contend the most acute of your memory senses is olfactory; the sense of smell. But if a smell can bring you to a place in time, the music of youth, for me at least, is a callback to emotions and intentions.
Often it occurs on road trips while searching for a strong radio signal; when over the speakers comes the scratchy sounds the likes of “Maggie May,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” and “Fire and Rain,” and I am then transported back in time. I still remember most of the words and almost all the passions.
Jethro Tull came on through my ear buds. Aqua Lung brought me back to memories of teenage days of ‘cruising the strip’ listening to 8-track tapes, and looking for trouble. The Turtles’ “Happy Together,” evoked memories walking down railroad tracks, holding hands, with my Junior High crush. I was reminded of teenage angst by Dylan’s “Desolation Row.”
That music produced emotions both blissful and melancholy.
The music was a collective voice of our generation. The declarations were filled with principles and pronouncements of everlasting freedom and moral integrity. “All you need is love,” “We can change the world,” ‘May you have a strong foundation when the winds of changes shift.’
The songs I heard that night recalled the fanciful belief that my generation would in fact change the world.
“Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight.”
“If God’s on our side, he’ll stop the next war.”
Every generation is convinced that they will not make the same (youthfully perceived) mistakes of their parents; but as those kids age they realize that this is not as easy as it might appear.
I couldn’t help but wonder that night if I had done all I could have to live by at least some of those lofty and, yes romantic, standards. Or have I, as Paul Simon put it in the Boxer, “Squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises.” I fell asleep before I reached any conclusions.
The next morning while heading west, I finally had time to analyze, with a semi-clear head, some of my feelings and doubts from the night before.
Those black and white assumptions of youth somehow take on a gray hue as you age. I had no idea, back then, what life and happenstance had in store. Truth is, it is far easier to write empowering lyrics than to live by them. And of course, even writing profound lyrics can be a challenge.
For instance, consider the classic song, MacArthur Park. “Someone left the cake out in the rain, I don’t think that I can take it, cause it took so long to bake it,
And I’ll never have that recipe again.”
Obviously, a tune written by someone on whiskey and cold medication…………
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body, Soul.” is available at local shops and bookstores or Shop.HolPublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul
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