I carry on like a child of the Sixties, because those are the times with which I most closely identify, and I was there for some of it. I have some memories. But I was only nine in 1970, and my most crucial formative years were still before me when the Beatles broke up. The bitter truth of it is I’m actually a child of the Seventies.
Why bitter? Well, in the main, the Seventies sucked. They were years of maximum suckage. The Seventies are Watergate, the Energy Crisis, “stagflation”, the disastrous end of the Vietnam War, the Ford Pinto, platform shoes, and pop culture swirling ’round the bowl. Not all pop culture – for some reason, the movies of the Seventies were almost uniformly excellent, and often of a nature that could never be duplicated today, because they had the guts to eschew pat, happy endings – think Chinatown. It’s also true that there was great music in the Seventies, from the likes of Randy Newman, Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, and Joni Mitchell, and a trio from the pantheon of greatest rock albums ever made – Exile on Main Street, Who’s Next, and Every Picture Tells a Story – also belongs to the Seventies, albeit the early Seventies, which many think are more rightly thought of as the end of a decade that didn’t really begin in North America until February 1964.
Heck, Born to Run was the Seventies, wasn’t it? So was Walk on the Wild Side, and Night Moves. That was all great, but it wasn’t the zeitgeist. The zeitgeist was Laverne and Shirley, the Fonz going ayyyyyyyyyyy, and Charlie’s Angels. It was Disco Duck, Kung Fu Fighting, Convoy, and the Theme From the Poseidon Adventure. It was ChiPs. It was Disco. It was The Love Boat. It was harvest gold fridges, avacado green counter tops, and shag rugs in the wood-panelled rec room. It was rock as crazed Kabuki Theatre, with KISS. It was Glam, and bell-bottoms, and polyester. It was inauthentic, mass-produced crap. It sucked.
Not quite everything that made it big, though. Now and then a song managed to be both great and the consensus Top 40 radio favourite, and one of those was Dobie Gray’s Drift Away, released in 1973, though it was originally a country song written by one Mentor Williams and recorded by John Henry Kurtz, whoever that was, in 1972. It just goes to show you that music is music, and what starts out as a Country lament may yet contain the germ of Soul, because sad is sad, hurt is hurt, and we all experience our lives through a finite, universal repertoire of states of mind.
I don’t know anybody who doesn’t respond to Drift Away, which makes itself the subliminal soundtrack whenever I think back to my own wobbly adolescence as I lived through it in Grade 7, going to Gorsebrook School, in Halifax Nova Scotia. That was back in 1973. 1973. So very long ago, yet more fresh in my memory than, say, 2003. 1973 was the year on the cusp for me, when everything was changing and about to change more, the year when I bought the Blue Album and became a dyed-in-the-wool Beatles fan, the year I started to think critically, really think, the year I first realized there was a future I was running towards and had no idea what it would be like, the year I first fell in love with a girl who was too beautiful to be attainable, yet almost an honest-to-God girlfriend, for just a couple of weeks during an almost dreamlike October.
Funny how you only remember school when it was Autumn.
Anyway, that’s Drift Away to me, and I suspect it tugs on one or another heart string of just about everybody who was there when it first came out. It seems to have been designed for just that purpose, to freeze a time and a place in your mind’s eye, and provide a wistful score for the elegy you’re one day sure to write.