I thought about writing this post as I sat down to watch my favorite baseball team, the New York Mets, try to overcome the Kansas City Royals, who have beaten them in the first two games of the World Series. This will be about certain songs that relate to periods of my life and an explanation of why they’re meaningful to me, as I look back upon my 71 years. The first song is about baseball. I grew up a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers. During the 1950’s, New York City had three teams, each with a great center fielder. Back then Center Field was the most glamorous position on the ball field and I dreamed of becoming the Brooklyn Dodgers Center Fielder. There was a problem with that though.
The problem was that I wasn’t a good athlete and was slower afoot than a turtle. No matter how hard I played and how hard I practiced, I was constantly chosen last in baseball pickup games. I was a flop in Little League. When the Dodgers broke my heart by fleeing to Los Angeles, at the end of 1957, I was 13 years old. Sometime that year, in the midst of my melancholia, I came to realize that I was never going to be the Center Fielder for the Dodgers and in fact I just was never going to be even a halfway decent athlete. This song though speaks to the aspirations that drove me to practice and play, while in the naivete of my youth.
My senior year in high school was a great time for me and a tragic time as well. After spending my first three years in High School as a rebellious outsider, for some reason I came out of my shell and actually achieved a position as a minor celebrity by making funny announcements over the school PA system in the morning. In one, advertising a senior dance, I did a parody of the popular TV program Gunsmoke and cast myself as the bad guy, “Bat Out of Hell” Spindell. The nickname stuck until the end of the school year. Halfway through that year my mother was paralyzed by a stoke that would kill her by the end of August. I received my drivers license in November and inherited her car, a 1957 DeSoto. Between the freedom I felt with my own wheels and the pain I felt for my Mother’s wasting away, I drove that fast car late at night like a demon. Street drag racing and finding the DeSoto’s limits, as if I was living up to my self given nickname:
Not succeeding as a ballplayer and aging out of high school, my thoughts turned to girls and to sex. In the early 60’s, there was yet to be a sexual revolution. Teenage sexuality and angst were to be played out in the large backseats that characterized cars back then. Almost all of my beginnings of sexual exploration came “making out” in my car, parked in some dark, secluded spot. This song perfectly describes a common experience back then and also makes me glad my parents emphasized birth control when they taught me about sex:
As the 60’s progressed into the 70’s, my hair grew long and my beard grew full. I protested, I marched and I was an activist of sorts. Went on the road and took trips in my mind. At one point, given my known predilection for Psychedelics, my friends used to call me “The Old Tripper” and that wasn’t about my clumsiness:
Sometime in the middle 70’s, I was on a camping trip with friends in Vermont. I had to head back to the City early, so I showed up at the campfire that night wearing a black jumpsuit, studded with many golden zippers. My friend Mr. Toast dubbed me “Flash” and that nickname stuck with me until the end of the 70’s:
I left the Vermont campsite at midnight that night, after taking a dose of organic mescaline, for the long drive back to Brooklyn, still wearing my black jumpsuit. Smoking grass, I drove through the night until I reached Springfield, Massachusetts, where there was a 24 hour Howard Johnsons, off the Interstate. I was in the mood for a dish of Ice Cream and some black coffee. As I walked from the car, I saw my reflection in a mirror by the entrance. The vision was of a tall, skinny guy, whose shoulder length, blond hair was frizzed out, giving me a manic look. Sat down at the counter, lit up a Marlboro Red and got me a coffee and a dish of Ice Cream.
A Massachusetts State Police Patrol car pulled up and in came two uniformed State Troopers, wearing their distinctive hats and high jackboots. They sat down next to me and ordered coffee and donuts. I did my best to seem unobtrusive, but I just wasn’t an unobtrusive seeming guy. Ate my ice cream slowly, drank my coffee and chain smoked my Marlboro’s, affecting as casual a manner as possible and hoping the cigarette smokescreen I was putting up, hid the smell of the marijuana I’d been smoking. I was determined to wait them out, because I thought I would collapse from fear and nervousness, heightened by the mescaline, if I stood up with them still there to observe me. They finally left. I paid my bill, left my tip and went to the men’s room. Went into a stall, sat on the toilet and I started to shake as an anxiety attack hit me. Shook uncontrollably for what seemed like a long time, worrying that the cops would be waiting for me when I got in my car and finally ginned up the courage to leave. Went out the front door and walked to my car, no police to be seen. Got in, revved up and out on the highway feeling like I had escaped a scary fate. I had been frazzled:
The 70’s passed and then came the 80’s, a career, marriage, children and even a house. Then I heard this song:
And now I’m fast approaching 71 years old, I’ve survived being near death and so far I have my health. This song sums it up for me with the lines:
It’s all right even if you’re old an grey,
It’s all right you’ve still got something to say