The Music Meme: Day 4

Day 4: A song that reminds you of something

"Heart of the Sunrise" by Yes

Let's face it: this is a pretty vague prompt. Almost every song I've ever heard (or at least the ones I remember hearing) remind me of something, even if it's only the name of the song and/or the artist. And a bunch of them--I'd be willing to say most of them--remind me of something else, typically something related to places or times where I was listening to them. I'm not unique in this, of course; in fact, songs have been written about this very phenomenon, including such hits as the Four Tops' "It's the Same Old Song," Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA," and perhaps most prominently Boston's "More Than a Feeling," which has now achieved the meta-status of being a song about being reminded of a time and place that always reminds me of a time and place: the main quad of UNC's north campus, close to the Old Well between the Old East and Old West dorms, where back in 1976 I heard the familiar guitar arpeggio blasting out someone's window. Ahhh, memories...

Where was I? Oh, right. For my own memory-intensive song, I decided on the massive eleven-minute prog rock epic "Heart of the Sunrise" by Yes. Why did I pick it? Because it connects to not just one, but a number of intense memories, all of them evoking different aspects of my youth.

1) I first learned about the song, and the album (Fragile), and the band, and really about most progressive rock in general in the same place: the Cultural Arts Center at Chapel Hill High School. I was in said building for a very simple reason: the powers that be at CHHS had screwed up my tenth-grade schedule. As I discovered on my very first day of high school, they'd manage to give me two English classes and no math class, which even I knew was going to cause problems when college applications came due. Getting me an appropriate math course, however, required some rejiggering of my other classes, and as a result, I had to give up the art class I'd wanted; it wasn't offered during seventh period, the last meeting period of the day, and the only one I had available. The electives available in period seven included batik, print-making, and technical theater. In a moment that had profound implications for my future, I chose to become a techie.

Techies are a breed I've discussed here before, so it will suffice to mention that in the fall of 1979, that breed was to a large degree defined by dress (plaid flannel shirt over black t-shirt), grooming (hair that went pretty much wherever it wanted with no product, treatment, or blade to say it nay), and musical taste (rock, particularly of the prog kind.) When we were building a set, it was the norm for there to be some kind of musical accompaniment blasting from the sound booth, and as a result, my techie elders were able to teach me about the pantheon of music: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, ELP, the Dixie Dregs, Queen, and so on. Bits of Jethro Tull, Supertramp, and Santana made it into the playlist, as well as a desultory Grateful Dead side or two. and yeah, every so often I was able to sneak in a little Kansas. Or Styx, once or twice.

But the album that got its hooks into me quickly, partly because of the cool cover art (and the awesome little booklet inside the gatefold) was Fragile. "Roundabout" just about killed me with its infectious bassline, the plaintive thunk of Bill Bruford's snare, and the touch of classical guitar that set my little fifteen-year-old heart a-flutter, and I was quickly drawn in by the storm sound effects of "South Side of the Sky" as well, but "Heart of the Sunrise" would go on to stick in my memory the most, because...

2) During the spring of my junior year, I got together with some friends in hopes of performing in the annual Junior Follies talent show. The instigator of the gathering was guitarist Bill Ladd, who would go on to play in one of NC's best-known party bands, Johnny Quest. Crammed into his little brother's bedroom were Bill, yrs. truly, Reed Altman (an all-state tenor who was also a mean bass player), and the little brother in question, Rob, who at that point in his life looked sort of like a blond pipe cleaner. Honestly, his hair seemed to have more mass than his limbs and torso combined. I was a little surprised when he settled in behind the drum kit in the corner, but I was even more shocked at what happened when we started kicking around ideas for songs to play.

"Let's do 'Heart of the Sunrise!'" piped Rob.

And then, as god is my witness, HE FIRED OFF THE BRUFORD DRUM PART OF THE INTRO. A thirteen-year-old waif playing Bruford parts is not something you will see in most parts of the musical universe, but there on the second floor of the Ladd house, it was happening. I'm pretty sure my jaw was on the floor.

Rob remains the best drummer I've ever worked with, and one of the best I've ever heard. He was the anchor of the Pressure Boys throughout the 80s before going on to work with everyone from Don Henley to Susanna Hoffs to the Red Clay Ramblers to Alanis Morissette (you can hear him on "Ironic," for example, though he's not in the back seat of the car). He still insists he never knew how to play "Heart of the Sunrise," and that my memory is faulty, but you know what? He's wrong.

We ended up playing Steely Dan's "Reelin' in the Years" for our audition. And we didn't get picked for the show.

3) That summer, my first serious girlfriend came to town and spent a week at our house, sleeping in my brother's room, since he was out of town at the time. Needless to say, when the "long-distance" part of a long-distance relationship is removed, there's a lot of time to make up for, and we did in fact spend a good bit of that week making out. (In my own bed, I should note, rather than my brother's; I have SOME couth.) I'm not going to go into detail--as I said, SOME couth--but let's just note that on the first afternoon we were at my house together, while my folks were at work, I had already dropped the needle onto Fragile, and that the slow, dreamy portion of the song became for me a powerful reminder of that afternoon, and that time, and that stupid, adolescent storm of emotions that helped make me what I am today.

Other songs may have meant more to me. I don't know that there's another song that has meant as much to me more often.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on August 9, 2017 1:48 PM.

The Music Meme: Day 3 was the previous entry in this blog.

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