The reason that hanging out with a bunch of temporarily insane Viet Nam vets fresh back from combat was a new phase in my own musical experience, aside from the fact that I’m obviously using music as a ragged thread to tie together utterly unrelated themes, is the importance of music to some of those vets, and to the era that was just winding down in the early 1970s.
Music was part of the Revolution, the anti-war protests, the hippie movement, all of it. One of my coworkers, the assistant director of the place I did archaeology, was a Rolling Stones fan. This big, scary guy all tough and shot up from the war, this thuggish guy from a tough neighborhood in New York where being Jewish meant you had to learn to fight, this guy who had the swagger walk down cold and carried a crowbar in the front seat of his car and knew how to use it, once told me that he “cried and screamed like a girl” when he saw The Stones at the ball park in New York.
“You saw The Rolling Stones live?”
“I cried like a girl, no kidding.” He was getting teary-eyed again as he sat behind the desk in his office, his head covered in most spots with randomly placed and pointy tufts of flaming red hair, and his smuggish face pointing nose first at the object held above the desk in his hand. He had used the intercom to call me into his office a moment earlier and was showing me an album he had just acquired…a Rolling Stones album…and was telling me about the concert and the album at the same time. I did not fully understand why we were having this conversation.
“So take this and fill it out,” he suddenly said, thrusting a small square of paper in my general direction, a piece of paper that looked like a postcard on one side and a form to be filled in on the other. “As soon as you can. Do it right now.”
So my boss had just forced me to join the Columbia House Record Club so he could get a free album by getting someone else to join. I had to pick five albums from this list of mostly totally stupid stuff. I was able to find one to give to my mother as a birthday present, and it was an album by Jim Neighbors, the enigmatic actor/singer. Another remains today as one of my favorite albums of all time, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen.
So, now that I had albums coming, I had to get…a record player. So I consulted with Carl, and we managed to dig up a tuner and a record player and set it up in my room. I scavenged my parents’ old speakers from The First Stereo. I dug deep into my pockets and searched for change in the couches and got enough to buy a new needle (that’s the device that reads data off the album on the record player). And the records came and it was good.
The other benefit of the stereo was the built-in radio. Not very many months later, I moved from my parents’ house into my own place. My girlfriend at the time, Leslie, just recently told me that she thought it was SO cool that her boyfriend had his own place. Now that I think about it, that would have been pretty cool for a couple of 16-year-olds. She reminded me that we would get together and tune in the radio to listen to The Fourth Tower of Inverness…indeed, we did. Now that I think about it, holding hands with Leslie and listening to The Fourth Tower of Inverness was even better than Mad Dogs and Englishmen.
Which brings me right up to the present. Since I mention my first girlfriend, I will also mention my last girlfriend, Amanda. There are a number of things that I’ve always liked but no one that I was “with” (as it were) also liked, or at least, such things were not important to them. For instance, I’ve always wanted to own a Subaru. No one I was “with” ever wanted a Subaru, so that never happened. Amanda strongly prefers Subaru. So now we have a couple of them. How cool is that?
As I say, there are a number of things like that with Amanda and me. And it turns out that even though she did not really know Joe Cocker when we first met, one of her favorite songs is “Feelin’ Alright“…the version done by Joe Cocker.
Amanda was somewhat ensaddened to learn that the song is not about feeling all right. It’s about how, “You are feeling all right because you’re an evil thoughtless person, and I’m distinctly not feeling all right at all. In fact, I feel trapped and I’m having nightmares and I dread the day you dump me for some guy with a different name, a different face” (I paraphrase).
But who cares what the song says. It’s how it makes you feel that counts.