Notes toward a revelation, Part II

21 10 2007

Do you know, you go along for years thinking nobody’s onto you, and then… I mean, you think because you’ve had a thought but never mentioned it to anyone, even in passing, that no one knows what you’re talking about, and you’re one of the few to have thought it. Then, there it is in print. Listen to this: “By a back-derivation typical of pop revivals, the fantasy glamour of the original songs is translated into a description of the era in which they originated: in the case of the old-new Bacharach craze, as if life in the early Sixties had been a live-action Dionne Warwick song, with deft periodic accentuation by oboe, xylophone, or celeste.” A Geoffrey O’Brien piece from the NY Review of Books, which unfortunately you can’t read without paying.

Have you ever heard a song (I’m sure you have) and for one reason or another, taught or misled by TV and movies and greatest hit compilations, been convinced it summed up an entire era? It might have been a greatest hit, playing everywhere on radio in the backgrounds of lives normal and extraordinary—that might help—or it might’ve been a sleeper, one of the lesser-known tracks of a nevertheless established artist, and cherished for that exact reason, let’s say “After Hours” or “The Only Living Boy in New York”, whose lyrics never once mention bell-bottoms but just from the mood it casts you can extrapolate, without irony, and in fact much empathy, entire matching vested outfits, hairdos, the shapes of taxicabs and, if you’re honest, focal lengths retained if not consciously remembered from films and famous photos of the era, montages and representative pictures your mind has, in the privacy of dreams or some untutored apprehensive synthesis, matched to the music, associated with the song. Everyone, it seems, in that era, must’ve had whole days like that song, governed by it: of this you’re convinced if for no other reason than that you’ve seen people in movies conduct days or months collapsed into that song’s three minutes, as though mood were a color and flavor released in water by the dried leaves of a melody. Everyone, you might even sometimes dare to say, during every second of that era, felt like this, prisoners all of some pop-scored montage abstracting the emotional essence of the times. The days were different then: there was no normal life, there were no hours between instances of this song on the radio when, absent its spell, people resumed the drudgery of lives not far different from our own (and drudgery always feels the same). No one washed clothes, grew frustrated, took dictation in a sterile office, or saw their children off to school, but they all flew to exotic places, they all fretted over love and marched against war, they all smoked and gazed into nothing for long worried moments over a glass ashtray in a lonely diner. Or maybe the association stems from a memory of hearing it on vinyl, in a shag carpet and wood-paneled den, from your dad’s hi-fi; fuzzy snatches of movies you didn’t understand, which were full of airports and adults, seen in the half-light of Saturday afternoons, and which looked older than the photos your mom took on vacation—about as old, actually, in color and graininess, as their framed wedding photos on the VCR—but which nevertheless impressed with the importance of their emotions.

At any rate, all this just to say I have a problem with the lyrics of the Gene Pitney song “24 Hours from Tulsa”, an early Bacharach hit. They say

“Dearest darlin’ I had to write to say that I won’t be home anymore
’cause something happened to me while I was drivin’ home
And I’m not the same anymore
Oh, I was only twenty four hours from Tulsa
Ah, only one day away from your arms
I saw a welcoming light and stopped to rest for the night”

but where can he have started from that’s 24 hours from Tulsa, except maybe Alaska or the furthest Florida Key? The song, in fact, implies that he’s already been on the road for an unspecified length of time, headed home-and- sweetheartward before being waylaid by love, but as someone who used to do an Austin-Pittsburgh run for the sake of a girl, I’m here to say neither coast is 24 hours of straight driving from Tulsa.

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