Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Old Songs

In the morning, after the later night, the coffee is just right. Hot, dark, a comfort like the blue sky and the yellow-white light of the sun in the trees. Each sip brings the smell of it up to me, the taste down in the back of my throat, and the familiar sensations of memory and calm. The table is clear before me. Just the computer and my coffee cup. I am who I am.

Music plays from the computer. An old song. In 1973 I was five years old and my best friend was still waiting for four to pass. We didn't know that these songs were being written, rehearsed, and recorded. We had no ideas that one of the songs would become something of a hit, in Italy of all places, or that this was the penultimate album these guys would record. We only knew each other and the surety that we would wake in the morning, find each after breakfast, and spend the day together. It would be years of this before we found our way down to his basement or up into my bedroom to put the needle in the groove, turn the amp up loud, and sit in wonder.

This is what we were doing once again last night. Two grown men listening to the album from 1973 another from 1971 and a third from 1970. The history of boys growing up played backward or inside out. Our history.

It has been a long time since we sat and listened. He and I. Sure, we talked through some of it. We always have. The music is a thing in and of itself but it is also a vehicle, a conveyance to where we always want to go. He and I. There is depth and texture to it, a hot cup of perfect coffee, comforting and enticing.

Or a glass of creme liqueur nowadays. Late into the evening we put the albums on. No needle or groove. Platters and a laser, ones and zeroes, a selection now on a computer screen or on the face of a phone. Change. Inevitable. But there are still the rocks in that stream to which we return. The three stones from '73, '71, '70 even though we were too young then to know them. We came later. Kids crossing the stream on stones dropped by the glaciers. Steady under our feet and unmoving.

The songs are pretty much the same. The production had been done again. The guitar brought forward, the background vocals clearer, and blankets pulled back off the recordings. The yellow-white sun shining the darkness out of the trees. The same old trees made new every morning. We've known every note of the songs, the guitar solo on track three, the subtle jazz drums near the ending, the voices moving forth and back. We know all the words and still we puzzle over their meanings. Seven stones? A fat old lady outside the saloon? The giant hogweed isn't a myth? Things we've talked over a hundred times, we go through again, rubbing the stones smooth.

It's a comfort to return to these things. To have a friend come over to my house again, forty and some years after he first arrived. And to have it still work in all the same ways though really none of them are the same, is a biblical miracle.

The coffee in my cup is all gone now. The sun in the trees is no longer yellow, but the sky is a bright blue. The leaves are all gone from the trees and there are those who feel the need to marshal them off the grass. The music still plays, one of the old tunes, and this day has begun. I've cleaned up the glasses from last night, the dishes from popcorn, and put the house to right. In the old days I would slide the albums back into their sleeves and about to shelve them stop to stare down at the artwork and reread the lyrics. The words are all there in my head now, no need to look down at any sleeve. Good thing too. The sleeves are all gone. The albums too. The turntable and cassette deck. The childhood. And the band has broken up, each member going his own way. There won't be any new albums. Still, the music from 1973, 1971, 1970 plays on even after the coffee is gone and I shut down the computer. I can play it any time I want, no needle or laser required. Just the thought of the songs, the accompanying music of a best friend, and the comfort of another morning in which to listen and write on.