The song “Cars” by Gary Numan changed everything for me. At least, that’s how I tell it in my head, looking back over the years. Like everything stopped, looked up, and gasped, and then nothing was quite the same as before, and never would be again. The first time I heard it was a pivotal moment, akin to the first time I walked up the steps at Penn Station and stepped out into the filtered sunlight of 7th Avenue, where the air felt charged with life and possibility to such an overwhelming degree, I needed to stop on the sidewalk to gulp it in and let it begin to settle over my skin.
Okay, to be fair, when I got home later, I did feel I needed to shower away the light filmy grime of the city, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to go back and experience it all over again, as soon as possible. I was a slightly different person forever after that, or just a little more of who I already was, perhaps.
The song gripped me cleanly, but otherwise much the same way. Still after all these years, I hear it each time as though I’m opening a gift. I can’t describe the gift in concrete terms, though. It just somehow made a lot of things okay, made me know I was okay, and as my son so eloquently puts it, “This song sounds like the theme to a 1980’s Chinese movie action montage, and that is a wonderful thing.”
On the more linear track briefly, it’s funny how many young people don’t even bother to drive cars now. We cloistered ourselves in them for decades, for good and for ill, and now they are cloistered in their bedrooms with a phone or a tablet, instead, the world at their fingertips, to both experience and to shun. Me, I still like to drive, my car is still my tiny kingdom. I’m no more or less alone than I ever was, wherever I am.
The movie Blade Runner 2049 addresses that to a degree. One thing that struck me about it was the profound loneliness of every character. And the replicants who were inadvertently made to feel special through true memory enhancement were a great parallel to a growing segment of our current society, and our increasingly internal natures.
I’ve always been alone, even in tiny crowds of my own delightful offspring, and so I’ve rarely thought about loneliness. I think maybe it requires a desire for something on the outside that could repair something on the inside. But I’ve never really liked having other people meddle with my design.
Anyway, it’s not as deep as all that. It was just new music, for my new generation, and the electronic tune and rhythm runs through my blood like fuel created specifically for my operating system. It’s not a complex composition; I just feel more alive when I hear it.
Have you ever heard this particular remix? It's sort of my favorite, though my brain tends to not let me have those, and Numan himself has recorded it a dozen different ways. It's perfect driving music.
PS: in case anyone reads this who feels like a deep sort of person. I like pretty much everything he's ever recorded for release. But part of me will always be 14, and I hope the same is true for you.
It’s because it’s Mother’s Day and Bobby Darin’s birthday, and my oldest daughter, a new mother, I swear if you hear her voice without seeing her face, you think my mother has come back to life. Jazzy mezzo-soprano: strong-minded, filled with dry humor, and... tinkly. Anyway. My timey-wimey detector went off today.
But I don’t know quite where I want to begin except you should know that no one sang “Lazy River” better than my mother. I never heard anyone else do it well, until I got a Bobby Darin record when I was about 17, and that was the B side.
Before Bobby Darin and later Frank Sinatra records, my knowledge of vocal standards came from a) what my mom might have sung, though she was way more into 50s rock and roll, early Motown and disco, and b) whatever happened to be floating around on TV variety shows that I didn’t pay much attention to. They were just kind of there.
Anyway. I heard “Mack the Knife,” and then I heard “Beyond the Sea,” and I realized this guy, who I thought sang only dumb pop tunes, sang all this other much better stuff, and made it interesting. And what he did with “Lazy River,” which starts slowly and simply, and gradually builds, well, Mom did that, too. As I said, did it better, but that’s another track for another day. Mom had a few Saturday morning lessons at the Met when she was a child, so she knew better what to do with her voice than most people.
This is meant to be about firsts, and kind of about lasts, I guess. Circles, maybe. The last Mother’s Day I spent with my mom was when my oldest daughter was two, and we went to that restaurant in Martin City, you know the one, except of course you don’t, but if you were there then, you would and still do.
Now my daughter is thirty, and she has a teeny tiny baby, and when she speaks, my mother’s voice comes out of her mouth. It was similar before, but has become downright astonishing. It’s pretty fantastic. She has the same hair, too, actually. Some of these things skip a generation, I guess.
So Bobby Darin introduced me to the understanding of how people took vocal standards and made them their own. Then around ten years later, when I was in the hospital with our first child, my husband brought me a Frank Sinatra cassette tape, Reprise: The Very Good Years. And around five years after that, I bought Mack the Knife: The Best of Bobby Darin Volume Two. (sound off for All Music reviews; they auto-play ads and won't show you the page if you adblock.) Those two albums were my Bible testaments for what a singer could do with good songs. I learned from them like I was learning a language. It took me awhile to adapt to all the songs on the Bobby Darin compilation. I wasn’t used to the slow stuff. But they captured me eventually and held onto me, note by note. I can recall each note in each song, in both that album and the Sinatra one, because they both mastered every syllable they sang, and I drank it all in, over and over again.
Darin had a better voice, considerably. But what Sinatra could do with a song made up for that, and then some. I tend to think of Darin as my young love, and Sinatra as my more mature one. That's probably a subject to take up and examine another time.
Next there was Limewire. I remember spending hours looking up the names of all the albums a former in-law stole from me and finding copies to download. I had a conscience about this; I didn’t want to take anything I hadn’t already paid for. Only at some point I realized there was also a lot of music being shared that literally could not be purchased in any format except through foreign sales, and a certain amount of happenstance. And I decided to see what other Bobby Darin music I’d never heard.
Do you remember that just 15 years ago and more, we couldn’t hear just anything at all we felt like hearing? It’s true, children. We didn’t even have YouTube yet. The world wide web was expanding rapidly—like the Old West, lawless and free—but very limited in scope compared to what we have now if we’re willing to concede personal ownership…
I remember the light in the room and the temperature of the air the day I ran across Bobby Darin’s version of “Call Me Irresponsible.”
It changed the way I hear music, the way I listen. I was so young, how old was I? 36, 37? Darin was 37 when he died. I was just getting started. I’m still just getting started. I hope. But that song, this song:
arrested me. Sinatra’s award-winning recording is nicely crafted and touching. It fits the movie, I suppose, though it was written for Fred Astaire, and wouldn't he have put a marvelous spin on it? This recording, though, is something else altogether. It’s something I wanted to know, as intimately as it could be known. I hope you really listen to it, at least once, please.
So, 15 years have passed, size 4 is a tender memory, there’s a lot of grey in my hair to cover, and I have really the most splendid grandchild to be had, that is, until my second daughter produces her first child later this year.
And today people were sharing pictures of time spent with their moms. Most years I really enjoy seeing that, but this year it felt kind of painful. I can’t quite say why. I am tired of the internet telling me relentlessly for an entire month each year that I should think of Mom, when I’ve been one longer than I had one. But the same was true last year, so I can’t say why this one felt different.
My youngest son came home from work with these two ragged tomato plants and said, “You better plant these before they die. I got this kind because I like how yellow tomatoes taste.”
He’d never gotten me a Mother’s Day gift before, but was told at work this is a thing to do. So downstairs waiting for me as well, was a nice hanging planter of miniature petunias. I trimmed the tomato plants, gave them a good root soaking, and set them on the counter. They’re lovely now, and ready for a planting in the morning. (He was told to give me a card, too, but his reply was, "I think she'd be confused and wonder why I was giving her a card." He's right.) Also, I received a big lovely bouquet of lilies via Federal Express from one daughter, and a fun pair of shoes in the mail from another. I felt loved.
I read earlier the reminder that the original intention of Mother’s Day was for women to support each other as needed. Women should do that, should lift each other up whenever and wherever possible. But honoring our own mothers as we each do is a lovely tradition, as well. And so, this is how I am honoring mine, twenty-eight years gone now. She gave me “Lazy River,” and thus, Bobby Darin, and thus, so much more, and I pass it all along in my own way, and I guess it’s all energy that changes form now and then but never really disappears, like "a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey ... stuff.”
At the beginning of Chemistry class one day toward the end of my sophomore school year, I tripped over someone’s bag on the floor, and tipped my desk over. Mr. Bobbitt, that exemplification of sound mental health, had one hard and fast rule; tipping over your desk means going to the principal. I expect he turned on his pink elephant playing the drums toy as I left. So I trudged back to the other building, told the secretary what happened, and she didn’t quite believe me, but sent me into the vice-principal. He told me he knew all about that rule, and also that he knew I wasn’t a troublemaker, mumbling something about “retiring soon,” and sent me to the library.
No one was in the library, not even the librarian. So I sat down to look at a book and she came in a minute later all red-faced. She saw me and cried out (honest,) “Did you hear? Bob Marley’s dead!” And she sobbed a little. I said some vague too bad things, I suppose, and the dam was broken open. She told me what she knew about it, brain cancer, and also told me a lot of things about how bad it is to shoot syringes into your temples? As I recall. (Actually, he died of a rare type of melanoma which spread to his brain.) And about how the world couldn’t be the same without him. So I was shocked along with her, and we talked about a lot of things, possibly the assassination attempt on the president a few weeks earlier, which is linked to this in my head, and about Mr. Bobbitt. And then I went to my next class and went home, and heard no one else talking about Bob Marley, except for a brief mention on the news.
Looking back, I quite like knowing there was a school librarian in Lee’s Summit in 1981 who revered and mourned Bob Marley.
And the moral of this tale is that you simply never know, about people. It’s a good idea not to assume you do.