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We Are Gods

We are gods and might as well get used to it.
Barry Hansen (The Whole Burbank Catalog liner notes)

Let's talk, Time Travelers.

Is this you? You collect tokens of the past: an old cardigan belonging to your mother, your grandmother's Chaucer, her name penciled on the endpapers, a single turqoise clip-on earring left behind by Great Great Aunt Peg. Little time machines, objects with life breathed into them by other people's pasts: a snag on an old sweater, a used record smudged by somebody else's thumbprint in 1972. It's almost as if a thing must be marred by the past for it to matter.

You surround yourself with the sounds of the past, collected in the albums that lean against the wall, or tucked away as data on our computers. (Don't we all try to leave on that jetplane.) The Byrds. Carole King. Al Bowlly. Petula Clark and Sam Cooke.

The "when" is not important; all of it is just the right time to disappear to, just for a while.

You spend most of your waking hours trying to travel back in time. You obviously have yet to succeed, though you're convinced you've come close. Glimpsed around the corner of another era. Are you lifting a dress off the rack in a vintage shop or touching the sleeve of a woman in 1959? If you close your eyes tight enough, are you listening to a recording of an audience clapping in a field in 1974, or are you in a field? Is it 1974?

Is this you? It's sometimes hard for you to imagine that there might be some sort of membrane preventing you from actually being there, preventing you from actual time travel. (What do you mean, "physics"? What do you mean, "am I on drugs"?) You sometimes imagine it as an old afghan stretched across the opening to the porthole. Other times, it's a hatch blocked by your grandmother's hutch. Or Grandpa's walnut pipe shoved through a door handle, as if they're trying to warn you.

A giant glowing neon sign: DO NOT ENTER. NOT AS NICE AS YOU IMAGINED IT.

A time that's better off dead.

Recently I came across an article written by someone who was contending that rock and roll, as we know it, is dead. This writer believed that we'll never produce the same type of culture-changing music that was produced in the mid-to-late-twentieth century. Which is possibly correct. But my problem is with the grander statement made: how can something be gone forever? How could rock and roll be dead if we're still listening to it?

I don't understand how an idea could die. Then again, to be perfectly honest, I don't understand death in the least.

Is this you too?

* * *

1. The Allman Brothers Band, Brothers and Sisters
2. David Bowie, Aladdin Sane
3. Jackson Browne, Late for the Sky
4. Elton John, Honky Chateau
5. Led Zeppelin, Houses of the Holy
6. Joni Mitchell, For the Roses
7. The Rolling Stones, Goat’s Head Soup
8. Todd Rundgren, Something/Anything
9. Bruce Springsteen, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.
10. The Who, Odds and Sods
Cameron Crowe’s Top Ten Albums of 1973 (from the Almost Famous bonus DVD, via)

Our relationship with each album we encounter in our lives is entirely unique. I certainly have my own memories and associations. My sister, propping open the gatefold of Michael Jackson's Thriller and lying opposite, gazing at MJ and his baby tiger. A dance theater exhibition performed on our back porch for the entire neighborhood to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, my brother in diapers waddling across the make-shift stage to the disco version of "Beethoven's 5th." J and I, early in our courting days, doubled over with laughter from the ridiculousness of a hand-wound "Walk Don't Run."

Some people collect. Some people listen. Some of us, by simple nature of watching a piece of black vinyl spin at thirty-three and a third rotations per minute, attempt to travel through time.

* * *

And then it appeared before me on a Doobie Brothers album insert: an ad for Loss Leaders, a set of promotional albums released by Warner/Reprise (by mail order only, for $2) throughout the 70s. The Loss Leaders were compiled and annotated by Barry Hansen, better known as Dr. Demento, and were heavy on the T Rex, Beefheart, and Tull. There was also Bonnie Raitt back in the day, James Taylor, too, as well as artists I'd never heard before: Jackie Lomax, who sounds like Paul McCartney on heroin; and Carlene Carter, daughter of June. A song called "Doin' The Meatball."

When I came across these records, I was tickled by the juxtaposition. A pre-Stevie Fleetwood Mac followed by Jethro Tull and Alice Cooper. Todd Rundgren cozying up to Devo. Jerry Garcia and Allen Toussaint sandwiching the country soul of Arthur Alexander. And I knew exactly what it was that tickled me so: It was honest, the seventies not as the media had constructed it, but as a living, breathing soundtrack. The full breadth of a musical zeitgeist condensed, two vinyl discs at a time. 

Not all of it as nice as I imagined it, but a split in the membrane nonetheless: my very own little time machine.

You are in a field. This is 1974. For now.

It's worth mentioning that the final Loss Leader album was almost entirely comprised of the kids with guitars from a burgeoning punk scene: Gang Of Four, Wire, Sex Pistols. Because that was how it ended, right? Punk killed rock. Rock and roll is dead. That is, until it dies again. And again.

But I mean really: the end of something.

How can things possibly end, completely, for good? Rock and roll can't die because we still listen to it. Because we're still hearing some of it for the first time. The Jackie Lomaxes and the Carlene Carters. The first time I heard The Byrds' "Chestnut Mare" was two weeks ago, pulling the vinyl from its cardboard sleeve, well-worn from whoever owned it and loved it last. Whoever sat before me with can headphones over his ears, listening to Roger McGuinn profess his equine love. He probably laughed too, casting his laughter into those quivering vinyl grooves. Listened to it again and again. I pick it up and hold it in my hands. This is how we travel through time. And this is how things survive. 

Nothing dies unless it is forgotten completely. 

(Nobody dies. Unless.)

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.

Reader Comments (3)

..this is me ..thank you wonderful

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCozy foland

Zan, do you know Mary Margaret O'Hara's album Miss America? I think you may enjoy the track "When You Know Why You're Happy." Here's a live performance:

A fellow Rundgren fan

February 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMle

Cozy... you're welcome. Now there are two of us!

Mle... loved that. Thank you. I could tell instantly she's related to Catherine O'Hara, whom I love as well. And anyone who signs a comment as "A fellow Rundgren fan" is welcome around these parts forever and ever.

February 4, 2011 | Registered CommenterZan McQuade

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