This morning after dropping Sue off at the train, I pulled around the block to Graham’s 318, the coffee shop where I write some mornings. But first I sat for a minute listening to a song on the radio.
The Sirius 60s channel was on. I’m not stuck in the past, mind you. My other stations include Alt-Rock, The Loft, The Spectrum and wherever I can find interesting new music.
But there’s something about 60s music that is distinctive beyond all other decades. Yes, there are a few saccharine songs I can do without. But the inventiveness of the era is what I like most, and the diversity in production qualities.
So I sat there listening to The Lovin’ Spoonful song “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice.” The in-and-out harmonies. The clean drum lines. The lyrical melody. And yes, the memories of listening to that song coming from my older brother’s room when I was eight or nine years old.
I’m thankful that my brothers had good musical taste. Sure, we all ingested hits from AM radio in the 60s and 70s that turned into guilty pleasures. But there’s something about the space created by that song by the Lovin’ Spoonful that transcends all eras.
The music washed over me in the Subaru, which has a nice Harmon Kardon stereo. So you can really hear the music. The intensity of that moment was like time travel to me. I could feel the sensation of being upstairs in my bedroom at 1725 Willow Street Pike south of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. My brother’s room was right down the hall. He still has the amazing record collection assembled in those years. Original copies of albums by The Beatles and many others. He takes fastidious care of his stuff, so they are all in pristine condition.
The music makes me think back to being a skinny little kid of seven or eight years old who already loved to run. We lived next to a golf course and I often crossed the practice range and several fairways on my way to friend’s house along the 17th hole. Whether I wore shoes or not did not matter. The golf course grass was a sensational surface to run on.
I invite you with me on that running jaunt across the golf course. The short walk across the circular driveway behind our house. Under the rose trellis rich with red flowers in summertime. Through the Zook’s property and across Niblick Avenue to the driving range. That’s where I’d head into a trot. If I wasn’t careful on summer days the mullein would stick between my bare toes. So I learned to lift my knees and paw back with my feet rather than driving them through the low plants with their little knobby heads. And I ran…
If I wasn’t careful and the mullein did stick between my toes, I’d stop, bend down and pluck them out. And start all over. Then I’d start picking my way between the mullein patches and the “good” grass. This became a swerving game. The mental aspect of running took over. I was having fun. It felt effortless to run.
Music of my mind
Yet the songs in my head would never leave. The smooth strains of “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice” would course through my brain the entire way. I’d wonder to myself what it would be like to be in love with some girl. Then I’d imagine the girls I know in that regard. And there was something there, but not really. Not yet. That time would come.
But that wonderful music and the innocent trip across the golf course felt liberating. It helped me leave any childish worries behind. That was important some days. I was an anxious child in many ways, wrought in some stages by a sometimes difficult father. He had lost his own mother when he was a mere seven years old. By all family reports, she was a remarkably intelligent and cultured woman and would have made a great grandmother to us boys. But she died of complications from breast cancer surgery. The year was 1933.
My father never really like our music. He loved Big Bands and hits from the 1940s, which he’d play on his stereo and sing along. He had a great voice too.
But I hated that music, and the weird tunes in Camelot, the musical he liked best. Perhaps there was something more about that production that he liked. Some aspect of the symbolic virtues locked in an idealistic world.
It’s true, it’s true, the crown has made it clear
The climate must be perfect all the year
A law was made a distant moon ago here
July and August cannot be too hot
And there’s a legal limit to the snow here in Camelot
The winter is forbidden till December
And exits March the second on the dot
By order, summer lingers through September in Camelot
Perhaps we had more in common than I had ever thought. It makes sense. He was my father after all. It comes out in strange ways. I catch myself biting a pinkie finger while I think about some subject. Just like he did. Genetics rule. The evolution of child to man.
Those runs across the golf course were my personal time to think about everything going on in my young life. Yet those runs were also an escape. That is the dichotomy of life, and why we run as well.
Racing days and ways
Years later I would race high school and college cross country meets on golf courses. That’s not so common now as it was in the 70s and early 80s. Times have changed. Golf courses have gotten more conservative about litigation and so protective of their turf. It’s the “I’ve got mine” mentality written green and large. God Forbid someone else should share that precious space, or think themselves entitled to enjoy it if they aren’t a “member of the club.” The country club mentality infests all sorts of subjects.
Country-clubbishness vexed me even as a child. My father loved golf, but we couldn’t afford to be members of the golf course that was literally in our back yard. So I reveled in traipsing across its fairways and walking barefoot through the dew on the greens. I never harmed the place in any respect. In many ways, I knew that course far better than its own members. Hid among its dark pine trees on rainy days. Played army in the sand traps in late fall when the golfers gave up. Sledded down the snow-covered hills in winter. Chased herds of deer through the woods in late spring. And peeled off my clothes on rainy days and slid down the fairways like they were a Slip-and-Slide mat.
In other words, I owned the place in my own way.
Many years ago
That was all many years ago. But it all comes back when a song by the Lovin’ Spoonful plays on the radio. My only wish in life is that perhaps I could have liked myself a little better at times. Not been so anxious. But it’s wired in me, and I’ve learned to deal with how my mind works, and find better spaces and better places to occupy my mind and my time.
The lyrics of that song are intended toward some object of affection. But it struck me this morning that they could just as easily be sent backward in time to that child running across the golf course. From me…to me.
And when we’ve had a few more days (when we’ve had a few more days)
I wonder if I’ll get to say (wonder if I’ll get to say)
You didn’t have to be so nice (be so nice)
I would have liked you anyway (would have liked)