Friday, January 7, 2011

Here Jef goes again

Singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty died Tuesday after accomplishing what we can all hope for: a life interesting enough for an obituary with a trivia item. When he was with the band Stealers Wheel, Rafferty co-wrote and sang a song called "Stuck in the Middle with You." I knew the song well - I'm the right age to have both rolled my eyes after hearing it too many times as a pre-teen and again to have retched a little as an adult while it played in the background of perhaps the most gratuitously violent scene in movie history†. I even knew - eventually - that it wasn't Bob Dylan who wrote it or was singing it. What I didn't know until the remembrance on NPR (now I've thoroughly revealed my demographic) was why I and the rest of the world thought it sounded a lot like Dylan. It was Rafferty's idea of a joke. Apparently he'd been taking some flak about his voice and style, and he figured goofing was preferable to fighting, so he wrote a song that didn't acknowledge the similarity so much as roll in it. He was as surprised by the hit as a lot of us were by the facts.

People misunderstand songs all the time. I was pushing middle age before I realized the lyrics to "Winter Wonderland" didn't go, "In the meadow we can build a snowman and pretend that he is parched and brown." And I suspect there are still Republican Party members out there who believe Springsteen's "Born in the USA" is the uplifting, patriotic anthem they thought it was when they attached it to Bob Dole's presidential campaign.

So let it be known that I'm fully aware I'm missing the mark while, these days, I've been humming Todd Snider's "Long Year." The song's narrator stumbles into a 12-step meeting and takes a seat at the back. When it's his turn to speak, all he can come up with is, "It's been a long, long year; How did I get here?" While I think the world of Todd's music and Todd himself (he was kind enough to spend a little time with me and I enjoyed it immensely) and can very much relate to most of his music, I've never been much of a drinker or addicted to any chemical or even activity that society deems problematic beyond the colorful Lycra and tendency to talk too long about training and racing.

But if you pick, choose and parse a song the way (say) Dole's camp did, you can find the right words and tone to meet your needs and ignore the rest for a while. And oh, that chorus. It has been a long year, and sometimes I still find myself wondering how it happened and marveling that I hung on. But it's the song's final lines that ring truest. Going by the admittedly arbitrary calendar, my long year is over and the new one is already 1.9 percent in the bag and - just for starters - I'm only now resuming my blog duties and no farther ahead on other work than I was this time a year ago. "Long Year" ends with the narrator heading from the AA meeting straight to the bar to tell his old friends about his awkward day. One of them mentions that all he needs is another drink, which he accepts, tosses down and sings,

"… I thought to myself, 'Well, here we go again' …"

It sounds profoundly sad in the song. When I sing it to myself, it's with a certain amount of apprehension, to be sure. But not sadness. There might even be some eagerness. There's another line coming up in the popular media that seems highly appropriate here, and I doubt that I'm misinterpreting it because it's in a comic strip and I'm the one who wrote it. The line goes, "I don't think he's ever confused comfort with happiness."

I hope that gets a few people through their day with a little less creative editing.

In fact, if that's the best NPR can mention in my obituary, I'll be quite fine with it. But they'll have to wait a while.

Here we go again.
† "Reservoir Dogs", of course. I highly recommend the opening scene in the diner; stick with the movie beyond that and I won't be held responsible.


David Bruggeman said...

Reagan also used "Born on the Fourth of July" in his '84 campaign, to the same willful (?) obliviousness to the context of the full lyrics.

La Professora said...

Your quote has me envisioning Frazz, cold, wet, and grinning like a madman while exercising.

However, it's better than "Life'll Kill Ya".

Liz H. said...

IMO life contains far too many "here we go again" moments. But it could be worse. Going 'round again is better than not going at all. But I really prefer going forward, with occasional stops to reflect. (For instance, today my car broke down, so it's a good day to reflect on the ephemeral nature of money, and on forgiveness for the fallible mortals who forgot to renew the insurance six months ago.)

I think this year will involve lots of forward movement, or at least digging out of the hole last year left us in. Every day is a new beginning.

Robert E. Zeitner said...

Hello Jef:
You already have your obituary. It's on the back of your t-shirt.

David said...

Hey Jeff,

Your second paragraph is a hoot. When my younger sister was a kid she thought that line was "and pretend that he is partly brown." She thought the lyrics were a nod toward political correctness on race issues. Apparently she thought black people might be offended if the lyrics indicated that snow was only white.


Brandon said...

Great post. You may appreciate Hayes Carll as an artist.

I just found your blog. A few of us triathletes love your comic up here in Vancouver BC.