Tuesday, March 07, 2006

the rolling stones gather

Today I offer a salute to the kind of song that I ordinarily twist and bend against, especially now when nostalgia might as well be considered a controlled substance. The kind of song that usually makes me feel carsick because it inevitably recalls my being strapped into the backseat of my parents' Plymouth Volare as we sped through some stretch of midwestern nothing on the way to Boston, the movies, dinner, what have you. Like any kid, the car stereo wasn't mine, and it was always tuned into what can only be called, for want of a better term, 'mom rock.' Not to be sexist--it's dad rock too certainly--but I've seen that term applied to maturing, semi-acoustic bands as Wilco these days, and though I vigorously disagree with that sentiment, I'm not going to invite that kind of confusion either. This is music that wasn't yours, and if you had control of the dial, even at 8, you'dve fixed it.

I came to hate all varieties of mom rock from my little beige backseat, and in the '70s there was an abundance of it. You couldn't buy gas, but you could cry on your steering wheel. Air Supply. Ambrosia. Orleans. God, they all sound like pastel-colored party drinks. But, somewhere mixed in among them was this song, a big gust of soft rock sap from Peter Paul and Mary.

Now, what differentiates this from the bearded simple-syrup merchants listed above? I mean, these are the people who brought Bob Dylan to flyover country, buffing out all the keening imperfections into one perfect, harmonous blend ready for top 40 stations, the kind of stations who weren't into the funny thoughts and funny smells coming out of the big city folk scene.

But, this song captures a mood, there's no denying it. It's filled with all this sun-drenched sadness, loss and regret, and most of all Love, big bubble-lettered love in every sighing note. It's the kind of swollen-hearted ballad that only really goes with trips on airplanes from back when you could still wave at your family from the top of the stairs before your boarded.

My mom used to sing it from the front seat when it came over the radio. We weren't and she wasn't leaving on a jet plane, mind you, she just liked the song so much she couldn't help herself. I'm sure she liked how beautiful it was, and especially liked how it was my older, tougher brother's favorite song when he was small and my dad had to, in fact, leave on a jet plane. And it IS beautiful--certainly not at that moment when I was hearing it--but it just gets brighter and glossier the further I get from that station wagon. You're a kid, the sun's in your eyes because you picked the wrong side of the backseat, and your mom--your mom!--is singing this crazy swooning ballad about jetplanes. Who says 'jetplane' anyway? Why are the vocals all warbley like that? And if someone is that broken up and really 'hates to go,' why don't they just stay? Twenty years later you figure that song and that moment out. That's true mom rock, and I hope everyone has a song like this from way back when, no matter how much it might've made your head hurt.

Peter Paul & Mary, "Leaving on a Jet Plane".

I will, in fact, be leaving on a jetplane tonight, but don't worry, I'll be back. 'Til then, champions.


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