Saturday, February 04, 2012

Something to Talk About

There are some recordings I can listen to without having any thoughts whatsoever about the people and places in my life when they were released.

But, for many reasons, that is rarely the case with songs and albums that were released in 1977.

I'm not sure what the precise reason for that is — if, in fact, there is a specific reason. I suppose a lot of it has to do with the fact that, although I was still young, I was maturing rapidly, becoming more aware of many things of which I had been mostly unaware before. Many of my "discoveries" that year left deep, permanent impressions on me.

And my most influential discovery was probably in the form of my first serious love.

I've heard it said that you never forget your first love, that your first flame never quite burns out. I don't know if that is true, but I know I will never forget Karen.

She's still living, married with two mostly grown children she has raised in my hometown — which I find somewhat ironic since, when we knew each other, she had only lived there for about a year and didn't really seem to care for it.

Her family had lived in Indiana and California when she was younger — and she often seemed eager (to my great disappointment) to leave the town I loved so much as soon as she was old enough and, perhaps, return to one of those places — or try someplace new.

Frankly, I figured at the time that I would stay there the rest of my life, and Karen would move on somewhere else. As things turned out, though, she stayed there, went to college there, met her future husband there and built her adult life there.

I, meanwhile, moved away a few years later and never moved back. Ironic, huh?

Karen and I met and began dating in the summer of '77. Fleetwood Mac released "Rumours," which is often regarded as the group's finest album several months earlier, 35 years ago today, in fact, but every song on it brings back vivid memories of that relationship with the white–hot intensity of a blooming love affair — and so my memory links the album to hot summer days, not cold winter ones.

I suppose that is because I bought a copy of that album late that spring, shortly before Karen and I met, and we used to listen to it on summer evenings in her parents' living room — with the lights out.

But I didn't buy the album for with that purpose in mind. As I recall, I bought the album before Karen and I met. I was already familiar with several of the songs on that album. I wouldn't have bought it if I hadn't been.

My memory is that I first heard songs from the album being played on the stereo in a small record store I used to frequent after school. It was located in what had been a long–vacant building and was called Dr. Gonzo's Records and Tapes — with a clearly hand–painted sign out front.

It was sort of a combination record store/head shop with incense always burning, and I guess a lot of the people who shopped there had somewhat unsavory reputations.

But, in spite of that, I got to know the owner of the store pretty well. He knew a lot about music, and he always steered me in the right direction. Besides, he had the best record selection in town.

My memory is that his store was the first in town to stock "Rumours" — and it is entirely possible that I first heard songs from that album in that store and not on the radio.

I did hear a lot of songs from "Rumours" on the radio that year, though. It was one of the most popular albums of the year, maybe one of the most popular albums of my life to that point, and several of its songs became group mainstays.

I guess anyone who is old enough to remember the 1992 presidential campaign associates "Don't Stop" with Bill Clinton's rallies and TV commercials — but it always reminds me of 1977.

Sometimes I have random memories of riding in cars with my buddies and hearing that song playing on the radio. Sometimes the memories are more specific than that. But the one thing of which I'm absolutely sure at all times is that the song triggers memories from 1977, not 1992.

Most people, even people who were alive in 1977, probably think "Don't Stop" was the most popular song on the album, but, technically speaking, it wasn't. "Dreams" actually made it to #1 on the charts; "Don't Stop" reached #3.

"Rumours" was one of those albums that just kept generating hit after hit after hit and continued to influence the charts for months after it was released.

I've always regarded "Go Your Own Way" as sort of a signature song for Fleetwood Mac, but it was actually the fourth most popular song from "Rumours," peaking at #10 on the charts.

"You Make Loving Fun" peaked one spot higher than "Go Your Own Way" — and there was a time (probably when it was a staple on the radio) when I looked at that song as a group signature piece.

But, in my mind, I am reminded more of my relationship with Karen than I am any of the other times I have heard that song — and I've probably heard it thousands of times since 1977.

That's only natural, I guess. It's perfect for a young couple in the grip of passionate love, and it became a hit after Karen and I started dating. We even regarded it as "our song" for awhile. On summer evenings when we were sharing the experience of young love in the dark of her parents' living room, "Rumours" was nearly always the first record that played softly in the background.

We had something of a ritual. There were certain records that we played almost every evening, and I got to where I could tell how much time had passed merely by knowing how many sides of our standard LP playlist had been played. (By process of elimination, I could also estimate about how much time we had left before the curfew imposed by her parents.)

These days, when I listen to "Rumours," I almost feel as I did way back in '77 — that exhilarating feeling of being young and free and having everything ahead of you. We've all been there, right? It's what Joni Mitchell called "the dizzy dancing way you feel as every fairy tale comes real."

Maybe that explains the enduring appeal of "Rumours" and why it still speaks to us in 2012.

Even if the fairy tale smashes in a thousand pieces — and even if we know in advance that it will — we are powerless to resist pursuing it, anyway.