classic rock

Exit 229. I knew the answer all along.

I was watching Jeopardy! a few days ago.  Jeopardy! and other trivia games have always been huge in my family.  I’ve told people that my hours of reading random stuff on Wikipedia, then clicking a link to something else I read that I’m curious about, and repeating that dozens of times, are just studying for being a contestant on Jeopardy! eventually.  This argument was justified a few weeks ago when something I had read following a Wikipedia rabbit trail actually showed up a day or two later as a Final Jeopardy! question.  (“In 1790 Thursday October Christian became the first child whose birth was recorded on this remote island” — I had read about said remote island on another Wikipedia distraction-fest a few years ago, so I might have still gotten it right had I not read about it again recently.  I’ll let you think about it; click here for the correct response.  It’s also tradition in my family not to give away the answer in trivia games to non-participants who might be watching and playing along.)

Anyway, that isn’t the point of this post.  Another recent Final Jeopardy! category was “Female Singers,” and the clue was “In the 1990s this New York native had 8 of her first 10 Billboard Top 40 hits reach No. 1.”  I’m sitting there trying to think of the answer, and the first thing that comes to mind is, Crap!  In the 1990s I wasn’t listening to female singers who had No. 1 hits.  I was listening to R.E.M. and Pearl Jam and Aerosmith and Toad The Wet Sprocket, and then I had my Pink Floyd phase, and then I became a Christian and listened to DC Talk and Jars of Clay and Third Day.  I might not know this one.  Who could it be… whoever it is, her music probably sucks.

I was staring at the TV, at the words “1990s” and “No. 1 hits,” and I thought of something else.  A meme, of all things, something that I saw months ago.  It said to post the song that was No. 1 on your 14th birthday, and that is the song that defines your life.  Mine was “Vision of Love” by Mariah Carey.  That’s pretty much the opposite of what defines my life.  I’ve had plenty of visions of love, but unlike the song, they never come true, at least not for long.

But, back to Jeopardy!… my 14th birthday was in the summer of 1990.  Vision of Love was a No. 1 song from the 1990s by a female singer.  And it was from the start of her career, and she did have a lot of big hits in the next few years after that.  Could Mariah Carey be the correct Jeopardy! response?  I didn’t know whether or not she was a New York native, and I didn’t know exactly how many No. 1 hits she had or anything like that.  But I didn’t have a better answer.

Mariah Carey was correct.  I had the answer all along.

Literally.  I’ve literally had the answer since I was 14.  Somewhere in my parents’ attic is a cassette tape of Mariah Carey’s first album, the one with Vision of Love on it.  I haven’t listened to it since I was 15 or 16, but there was a brief time when I didn’t think that Mariah Carey sucked.  She had a strong voice with a pretty impressive range, and there were some catchy songs on that album.  Mariah lost favor with me a few years later, when she released another album with a song with banal lyrics and lots of parts where she was just shrieking at a pitch that only dogs and dolphins can hear, and by that time I was pretty much ditching pop, R&B, and hip-hop altogether in favor of classic rock.

So when I heard Alex Trebek telling the two contestants who wrote Mariah Carey that they were correct, I felt pretty proud of myself.  I thought that this question was going to be completely out of the realm of things I know about, but I knew the answer all along.  Maybe this is the case more often than I know.

Exit 211. I see them running too.

I discovered classic rock in the early 1990s, my high school years.  As my teens wore on, I realized that I was enjoying less and less the R&B and rap that the remaining radio station of my childhood played.  By the middle of my high school years, the stations that played what I considered good music of that time period were gone.  MTV still played music in the mornings, and they had the show where they played the most requested videos of the day that came on in the early evening.  I watched a lot of that, especially during school breaks when I was home in the morning.  But when I was listening to the radio while in my room doing homework, or in the car once I started driving, I wasn’t finding anything I liked among the numerous R&B, rap, country, and Spanish-language stations that Monterey County was in range of at the time.  There were a couple of classic rock stations, playing rock music from a time period that spanned from the mid-1960s (my parents’ teen years) to the mid-1980s (my childhood).  Most of these songs were before my time, and I didn’t remember them.  Some of them were by artists I had never heard of.  But I came to discover that I enjoyed it.  Good music.

Some of these songs remained background music to me for decades, coming up every once in a while while flipping around the radio, without me actually paying close attention to the lyrics.  And sometimes, I will actually listen closely to the lyrics of a song like this for the first time, and I’ll have a sudden realization and find some meaning in the song that I had never found before.

Like this one.

Running On Empty was first released in 1977.  I don’t remember 1977.  I wasn’t old enough to eat solid food or wipe my own butt in 1977.  I probably was in high school listening to classic rock radio in the car when I first heard this song.  Or possibly it might have been while watching Forrest Gump, during the montage in which Forrest is running across the country; that movie was released a few months after I graduated from high school.  But I think I already knew of the song’s existence by then.

And I did have some idea what the song was about.  Life on the road.  Constantly moving from one place to another with no clear destination.  And that is a feeling I know well.  Sometimes I don’t know where my life is going.  Sometimes I feel like my direction and goals are unclear.  And I literally spent four months on the road in 2005 trying to find myself, not knowing the specifics of where I was going more than a week or so in advance at the most.

But then, a couple years ago, the song came on, and one part of the lyrics really stuck out to me, at the end of the third verse:

I look around for the friends that I used to turn to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too…

I see them running too.  Everyone around me has their own struggle to find their destination and meaning in life.  It’s not just me.  I’m not alone.

Knowing that doesn’t always help me find my answers or my destination.  But it still helps to know that my struggles are not unique, and that there are others running on the same road I am.

Exit 199. Oh yes, we’ll keep on trying.

I have a lot of thoughts swimming around in my brain right now, and I’m not sure how much of it I’m ready to share at this point.  So instead, this week I’ll skip all that and write about one of my other recurring themes on this site: rediscovering a great song from an earlier time in my life.  This time the song is “Innuendo” by Queen.

Queen was a British band active from the early 1970s to the early 1990s.  I did not grow up listening to Queen.  I was vaguely aware that there was a band called Queen, and my earliest memories of hearing music on the radio as a preschooler include a song called Another One Bites The Dust, but I don’t think I connected the name Queen to that song until I started actually listening to Queen in my mid-teens.  Much of Queen’s later work was far more popular in Europe than in the USA, for a variety of reasons, so they were absent from the music that was around me in elementary school and my early teens.

Queen experienced a resurgence of popularity in the USA in the winter of 1991-92, for two reasons: lead singer Freddie Mercury’s death, and the release of the movie Wayne’s World, which featured a scene where the main characters drive around singing along to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.  I was watching MTV a lot at the time, I was 15, and the channel often aired both tributes to the recently deceased Freddie Mercury and a remixed music video of Bohemian Rhapsody, combining scenes from Wayne’s World with scenes from the original 1975 music video.  Queen was one of the first bands I got into whose heyday was before my time.

Despite this, however, my knowledge of Queen does not extend deep into their catalog, beyond their two greatest hits albums and the 2005 live CD from the Queen + Paul Rodgers tour.  (In this century, after Freddie Mercury’s death, two of the original members of Queen, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, have done tours performing Queen songs with other lead singers, but they have billed themselves as “Queen + [whoever is on vocals]” rather than just Queen.)  Innuendo, the song I posted above, was on the album of the same name, the last released in Mercury’s lifetime, but not on the US version of either of the two greatest hits albums.  Until a few weeks ago, I had heard the song exactly once.  I was in the car at some point in late high school; by that time I knew enough Queen music to recognize Freddie’s voice, but this was not a song I had heard before.  A few weeks ago, I was looking up something about Queen on Wikipedia (who knows why, it’s me and it’s Wikipedia, that’s enough of a reason), and I came upon a mention of the song Innuendo, and I thought, that’s that song I remember hearing once, the one that goes “yeah, we’ll keep on fighting.”  I should go listen to it, because it’s 2018 and you can find stuff like that on the Internet.  So I did.  (And I was wrong; the song contains the lines “we’ll keep on trying,” and “we’ll keep on smiling,” but no “we’ll keep on fighting.”  It is definitely the song I was thinking of, though.)

Freddie Mercury died of AIDS-related complications less than a year after this song was released.  Rumors had long circulated about Freddie having been in sexual relationships with men, and when some noticed his health declining, rumors had circulated about his having contracted AIDS.  But Freddie never said anything public about either of these topics until days before his death.  By the time Innuendo was recorded, the band knew that Freddie was dying.

And this is a really deep song, full of great quotes that can be interpreted as wisdom from one nearing the end of his life to pass on to the next generation, the kind of wisdom I need to hear these days.

While [all this variety of bad stuff happens in the world]… oh yes, we’ll keep on trying.

You can be anything you want to be.

Be free.

And whatever will be will be, till the end of time.

Thank you, Internet, for helping me unpack this song that’s been stuck in a corner of my brain for the last quarter-century.