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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Music: 1980

I left the U.S. for Puerto Rico in 1972 and returned in 1980. At that time, it was my 16th move—averaging one a year—product of an Air Force that felt my dad was the guy for the job in too many places.

In the midst of making the transition back to what was once familiar, I didn’t take into account that my interests were no longer the same. My attitudes had changed. My horizons were broader than even many, much older people. If the world around me was different—very much so—so was I, even more different than the changes in the world now around me.

But like a masterful soundtrack, compelling but subliminal, music began linking the gaps. In Puerto Rico, music is like air, often hot, always present, occasionally overwhelming. Though first I noticed the relative silence, I quickly developed a habit of tuning in to the music of the new background, the melodies and rhythms that marked the minutes and suffused my space.

Music became my embodiment of time and place. It is for near everyone, but for me it wasn’t an automatic process: it was deliberately cultivated. It began with Queen’s CRAZY LITTLE THING CALLED LOVE, echoing the rollicking rhythm of Elvis and the nervous energy of arrival. LONGER by Dan Fogelberg settled like a butterfly on the soul, a signal that calm was not weakness. I can feel both songs as they place me in the Rapline office, the vintage 60s stereo the perfect companion for solitary nights and shared pain.

Wrenching Janis Joplin’s tragedy back to our minds was Bette Midler’s THE ROSE, a song that drifted over the nooks and crannies of Oxford like a gauzy curtain. Christopher Cross emerged full-blown and bracketed the summer with SAILING and RIDE LIKE WIND, songs that bring the heat of dry sunny days of exploration. IT'S STILL ROCK & ROLL TO ME, by Billy Joel, was the drumbeat of those lazy, hazy days, energizing and insouciant.

But the clearest mental stage is a bowling alley, Kiamie Lanes, where Mae Helen served chili and sandwiches, Bill, Don and I scattered pins and quips and music was like a second skin. FUNKYTOWN, by Lipps Inc., is the scenario for happy moments when a win was secured. The tender harmonies of SHINING STAR, by The Manhattans, brings moments of sadness, none my own. Not everyone went to Kiamie’s to share: some went to say goodbye. INTO THE NIGHT, by Benny Mardones and JUST THE TWO OF US, by Grover Wasington Jr. and Bill Withers are a sonorous reminder of quiet times with friends, those moments when silence is shared because it’s understood. STEAL AWAY, by Robbie Dupre is the song of a prank executed brilliantly, though I believe the bulk of the pain ended up being mine.

The Spinners are my bridge from Kiamie’s to everywhere else, with medleys that never failed to break my darkest moods. WORKING MY WAY BACK TO YOU/FORGIVE ME GIRL was the anthem of a future I could dimly perceive; CUPID/I'VE LOVED YOU FOR A LONG TIME was the paean of a brief past I felt too keenly.

The last piece of that 1980 collage came much later, in the summer of 1981, when The Manhattan Transfer, an outstanding jazz vocal group went nova with BOY FROM NEW YORK CITY. A jukebox in a long warehouse space, several pinball machines, four guys playing away, talking about everything and nothing, empty pizza boxes scattered about, the Oxford streets barren as the tiny clock buzzed the wee hours… moments of heart and mind caught in a web of notes.

It would happen again in 1984.


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