Sunday, March 19, 2017

Journey Back to Baker Street



"In memory everything seems to happen to music."
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, The Glass Menagerie

It's amazing the power of a song to strip the years away in a single moment. A song from my childhood came on the radio this morning and the world folded in on itself and thirty years disappeared in a breath.

I was driving my daughter to school  and, just as I put my car into park at the elementary entrance, the song Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty came on the radio. I hugged my daughter goodbye and then sat in my car and let the waves of memory wash over me as I listened to the distinctive notes of the saxophone playing around me.

When I was little, maybe 6 or 7, I was given a tiny portable 45 record player. It was my treasured possession, even though the pink pleather box was cracked and weathered. It came with a single record, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head by BJ Thomas and I played that solitary song over and over and over again until my parents begged for relief. I tucked the record player back into the bottom of my closet and forgot about it for some months.

One day, some months later,  I was commissioned to help a friend of my mom's pack up her apartment to move. While there, I noticed her tossing some records into the trash. I asked if I could have them and she responded that many were scratched but I could have them if I wanted. I remember her shrugging and frowning as though perplexed at my elation over scratched 45s.  The only one of the handful of records that I recognized was Uptown Girl by Billy Joel as it was still being widely played on the radio. I grabbed all of them, recognizable or not, and finished the day of cleaning and packing with a spring in my step.

When I made it home, I pulled out my pink turntable, scooted up onto the bed that I shared with my sister and put record after record on. The woman who had gifted them to me had been right-- many were so scratched that they were unplayable. Two of them, the aforementioned Uptown Girl and Harvest Moon by Neil Young would play all of the way through. Most, however, ended up in my trash can.



I remember sitting there on that bed with my back up against the cold wall of the rickety trailer that we lived in in rural Iowa and placing the last record on the turntable. It too, was very scratched but I was persistently moving the needle around trying to find a spot that would still play. I'm not sure why I was so persistent with this final record, but I was. After a few minutes, I found the sweet spot and the sound of a saxophone solo burst into that tiny, dark bedroom. That sax solo was the only playable part of the record and, only a few seconds of it at that. But, there was something about the energy of those notes that stole my breath away.

I had always been an odd kid-- prone to crying jags, feeling the weight of the world perpetually on my shoulders, struggling with depression as early as kindergarten and with my nose perpetually in a book. It seemed that no one else on earth was like me. I felt lonely every, single day. However, those few notes that played out of my cheap, cracked pink pleather turntable were a revolation  for me. 

Those notes seemed to call out to me and tell me that I wasn't alone, that someone else out there felt the world as deeply as I did. I felt immediately less alone in the world. For the next weeks, until the record would become completely unusable, I would place the needle onto the record's single, sacred, unscratched section and cry with relief as the sounds of melancholy saxophone whispered into my lonely life and filled a hole that had never before been filled.

That broken record began a love affair with music that has since rivaled my voracious need for books. I had found the escapism and human connection of art. A tiny piece of my heart was healed that day and, if judging by my emotional reaction at hearing those same notes again today, the healing continues to this day. I am thankful for that single, broken record that was gifted to me at the time that I most needed it. I am grateful for the magic of music.

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