Saturday, August 7, 2010

Being a Rock

When you're young you know everything. As you become middle-aged you tend to question everything. And when you get old you realize everything is so bizarre and ridiculous that it makes no sense at all.

It seems like every year, about this time, I have another birthday. If my new age doesn’t end in a zero, I try not to dwell on it too much. The older the fiddler, the sweeter the tune.

I usually spend much of the day listening to music, taking a retrospective trip down memory lane. Nostalgia isn't what is used to be, except on birthdays. It’s interesting how certain songs will trigger memories of specific segments of my life.

"We skipped the light fandango and turned cartwheels cross the floor
I was feeling kind of seasick, the crowd called out for more
The room was humming harder and the ceiling flew away
When we called out for another drink, the waiter brought a tray
And so it was that later, as the miller told his tale
That her face at first so ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale"
(A WHITER SHADE OF PALE by Gary Brooker and Keith Reid)

Music is the language of the angels. When the right song hits you, you feel no pain. It brings splendor to loneliness and the heartbreak of love.

"If I were a carpenter and you were a lady
Would you marry me anyway, would you have my baby
If a tinker were my trade, would you still find me
Carrying the pots I'd made, following behind me
Save my love through loneliness, save my love for sorrow
I've given you my only-ness, come give me your tomorrow"

I was born at precisely the right time to suit my musical taste buds. When I became a teen-ager, a new musical style called rock-and-roll had just been invented, thrusting the whole country into a generation-gap frenzy. Teen-agers loved the beat, but everyone over thirty basically thought the world was about to come to an end. While many of my classmates in the late 50s and early 60s swooned over Pat Boone, Ricky Nelson, the Everly Brothers and Elvis, I tended to like the heavy hitters like Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Bo Diddley.

"I walk 47 miles of barbed wire
I use a cobra snake for a necktie
I got a brand new house on the roadside
Made from rattlesnake hide
I got a brand new chimney made on top
Made out of a human skull
Now come on take a little walk with me, Arlene
And tell me, who do you love?"
(WHO DO YOU LOVE by Bo Diddley)

As years went by, my music taste expanded into the blues, including John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed and many of the old-timers.

"Got me working, boss man, working 'round the clock
I want me a drink of water but you won't let me stop
Big boss man, can't you hear me when I call
Well, you ain't so big, you just tall, that's all"
(BIG BOSS MAN by Jimmy Reed)

When I was in college, I discovered folk music. Bob Dylan, Tom Rush, David Bromberg, Paul Simon -- profound hidden messages in the lyrics.

"Get born, keep warm, short pants, romance, learn to dance
Get dressed, get blessed, try to be a success
Please her, please him, buy gifts, don't steal, don't lift
Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift"

Years passed and I became a working stiff in my 30s, into the Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker, Credence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, George Thorogood, Taj Mahal, Canned Heat and Joy of Cooking.

"I'm going where the water tastes like wine
We can jump in the water, stay drunk all the time"

I moved into the Hollywood Hills for a couple of years. Two of my closest neighbors were aspiring actor Harrison Ford and singer-songwriter Danny O'Keefe.

"Everybody's gone away
Said they're movin' to L.A.
There's not a soul I know around
Everybody's leaving town
Some caught a freight, some caught a plane
Find the sunshine, leave the rain
They said this town will waste their time
Guess they're right - it's wasting mine
Some gotta win, some gotta lose
Good Time Charlie's got the blues"

In my moody forties, I couldn’t get enough JJ Cale.

"I go down there every chance I get
It`s where my baby she met her death
And the river runs deep and the water is cold as ice
Ain`t no woman gonna make a fool out of me"

On occasion, I even found myself liking Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Pink Floyd, Moody Blues, The Doors, soft jazz and new age sounds.

"When I was just a baby, my mama told me, 'Son,
Always be a good boy; don't ever play with guns.'
But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die
When I hear that whistle blowing, I hang my head and cry"

In my fifties, I became more conscious of the world around me.

"Everybody knows that the dice are loaded, everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over, everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed, the poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes, everybody knows
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking, everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling, like their father or their dog just died"
(EVERYBODY KNOWS by Leonard Cohen)

Sometimes it doesn't matter if the lyrics make sense. If it sounds right, it is right.

"Sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come
Corporation tee-shirts, stupid bloody Tuesday
Man, you've been a naughty boy, you let your face grow long
I am the eggman.
They are the eggmen.
I am the walrus.
Koo Koo Kachoo."
(I AM THE WALRUS by John Lennon and Paul McCartney)

Basically, I can listen to music and reflect upon a time in my life when I first heard it. Every time I hear Sonny and Cher singing “I got you Babe,” I think about the woman I was seeing back then. The Rolling Stones remind me of my Army stint, while Simon and Garfunkel bring back my college days. And whenever JJ Cale does “Cajun Moon” or “The Fate of a Fool,” I remember my years living alone on a mountaintop, seeking answers to questions I hadn’t even thought of yet.

The purpose in life is to grow and I've been able to accomplish that in all directions, except vertically.

"I have my books and my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor, hiding in my room, safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island
And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries"
(I AM A ROCK by Paul Simon)

Tuesday, August 10, is my birthday. Excuse me while I kiss the sky, and break on through to the other side.

Whiskey River don't run dry.

Koo Koo Kachoo.

Quote for the Day -- "Music in the soul can be heard by the universe." Lao Tzu

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where writing about music is like dancing about accounting. His blogs appear on several websites, including

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