Biff America: Songs of adventure
“Goodbye, Mama. Goodbye to you, too, Pa.”
The car was packed and waiting. I was not yet 19 and leaving home to escape parental ultimatums. My mum wanted me to go to college. My dad wanted me to learn a trade. I didn’t have the attention span for one or the skills for the other.
“Goodbye to this house and all its memories. We just got too old to say we’re wrong.”
There were some legal troubles coupled with lifestyle decisions on my part for which my parents could not abide. I honestly think it was a relief for them when I said I’d be moving out West. I was the youngest of six, and they were tired. I had no doubt they both loved and disapproved of me.
“Got to make one last trip to my bedroom. Guess I’ll have to leave some stuff behind. It’s funny how all those crooked pictures just don’t look the same to me tonight.”
The lyrics are from “Child’s Song,” made popular by Tom Rush in the 1970s. It was emblematic of much of what was going on as children’s values in the ’60s and ’70s conflicted with those of their parents who married in the ’40s and ’50s.
“Ain’t no use shedding lonely tears, Ma. Ain’t no use shouting at me, Pa. I can’t live no longer with your fears, Ma. I loved you, but that hasn’t helped at all.”
The song was a huge hit for Rush probably because countless young people were experiencing similar events during similar times. It would have been an amazing coincidence, and perfectly prophetic, had the song been on the radio as we pulled out of my driveway. Truth is, Keith had it cued up and hit play as I got into that beat-up VW square back and headed west.
We listened quietly as we drove through a town where we once road bicycles to Little League and sandlot football games. Other than a few family vacations to New Hampshire and Maine, that was the first time I would be leaving Massachusetts as an adult.
“Each of us must do the things that matter. All of us must see what we can see. It was long ago; you must remember you were once as young and scared as me.”
Fast forward 40-plus years, and I was cross-country skiing at twilight while listening to music on my earbuds. I was alone because, for the first time in a three-decade relationship, my mate is on crutches for an injury that would have killed me.
My music was on shuffle, and “Child’s Song” played. It brought me back to that night decades ago. I remembered the excitement, fear and hope.
“I got my suitcase. I must go now. I don’t mind about the things you said.”
Like most of the young, dumb and full-of-convictions teenagers of that era, I felt unique and special. I was hoping to emulate the adventures of the heroes of my adolescence: Kerouac, Twain, Cassidy, Dylan. Truth was, countless others were going through the same things at the same time, and many of them ended up in Colorado.
The town I found when I arrived had wooden sidewalks, dirt streets and draft beer for a quarter. A wild innocence prevailed. There were still a few miners, many hippies, lots of skiers and more than a few wide-eyed teens with East Coast accents. A few days later, I called my mum (collect) and told her, “This is where I’m meant to be.”
When I think of those early days, I think of it as the right place at the right time with the right people. My mate and I feel that way still. Would I rather have our town the same as it was when I arrived dressed like Easy Rider with a Boston accent? Yes! But despite the efforts of many of us to throw a wrench into the works of growth, it changed; some of it for the better and some not. Wonderful places cause folks to want to visit and live. I wish it was as easy for the new generation to arrive wild-eyed and scared, as Keith and I did, and gain a foothold.
“Child’s Song” ends with, “Mamma give your love back to your husband. Father you have taught me well, goodbye.”
If my parents were still alive, I would remind them, this is where I’m meant to be.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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