Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tales of Mystery and Imagination

Most of my friends probably became aware of the Alan Parsons Project in 1977 or 1978, possibly later than that.

The group enjoyed its greatest commercial success in the early 1980s.

But I remember when I first became aware of the band. It was 35 years ago this summer, probably in June. I say "probably" because, when I was growing up, I didn't measure summer by the calendar.

I think my school system held summer sessions in those days for students who had failed certain courses, but that was never an issue for me. I usually got good grades so I never had to spend even a fraction of any of my summer vacations in school.

All I really knew — or, to be blunt about it, cared to know — about the summer season was that school adjourned in late May and resumed in late August. The actual dates were unimportant to me.

In between, I knew I would visit my grandmothers, sleep late most days, see some movies, do some swimming and some reading — and go back to the classroom whenever the adults told me to do so.

About midway through the summer would come the Fourth of July, with roadside fireworks stands and homemade ice cream. That was the closest thing to a measuring stick that I used to calculate how much remained of my summer vacation.

For the purpose of pinpointing events in my young life, "summer" is about as specific as I can be.

I was browsing in a local record store — as I was apt to do during summer vacation in those days — and the proprietor of the store, who was in the habit of playing recent releases, started playing Alan Parsons' debut album, "Tales of Mystery and Imagination," on the stereo.

It wasn't a very large store, and, whenever the stereo was playing, the sound seemed to fill the place, leaving no room for anything else. It was impossible to carry on a conversation with someone standing next to you.

That — and the delightful feeling of the cold breeze coming from the window air conditioning unit — is my most vivid memory, but I also remember buying many records and tapes there.

One of them was that Alan Parsons album.

I had already been introduced to the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, and I stood, transfixed, as I listened to songs that had been inspired by those masterpieces, all of which were more than a century old — "A Dream Within a Dream," published in 1849; "The Raven," published in 1845; "The Tell–Tale Heart," published in 1843; "The Cask of Amontillado," published in 1846; "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether," published in 1845; "The Fall of the House of Usher," published in 1839, and "To One in Paradise," published in 1833.

The album took its title from the name of a posthumously published collection of Poe's works that focused strictly on his mysteries.

(That collection, by the way, reportedly inspired sci–fi writer Ray Bradbury, who received a copy of it when he was 9. I supposed devoted sci–fi readers owe Poe a great deal for that.)

Modern readers will probably tell you that Stephen King is the master of horror.

And, for modern readers, that is probably true.

I'm a fan of Stephen King's works, and I'm a fan of Poe's works. And I'll put Poe up against King any time.

Read any one of the pieces that inspired the music on the album that came out 35 years ago this month, and you'll see what I mean.