Friday, October 14, 2005

The Nostalgia Train

I've been listening to Procol Harum's Whiter Shade of Pale, which always makes me a mite wistful.

(A digression: did you know the organ introduction to this song is an adaptation of the Air from Bach's Third Orchestral Suite? Seems that one or more of the band's members were Bach lovers--as am I. This particular Bach piece is usually referred to as "Air on the G String" on compilation albums at Wal-Mart, but it's justly famous; and the Bach-spawned introductory theme in Whiter Shade, played on the fabulous Hammond B-3--we should all genuflect now--is haunting and lugubrious and deliciously sad. It's interesting to listen to the two pieces back-to-back. Annie Lennox did a remake of Whiter Shade of Pale a few years ago, but decided to dump the Hammond and replace it with a synth patch. Bad choice. Take away the organ intro and what are you left with? It reminds me of a favorite line in "Miller's Crossing" about gangster Rug Daniels: "Not a bad guy... if looks, brains and personality don't count.")

So here I am, 1:am and thinking about 10 years ago. My divorce, long coming, arrived in the summer of 1996 and, as these things tend to do, scattered my ordered life to the winds. Pretty much overnite I was without a place to live, and had major decisions to make about work and material things. I found a friend with a vacant living room to accommodate my old Chickering 9 foot concert grand piano, put a futon bed and 20 racks of CDs and a stereo up in another friend's unused attic, and put the rest of my worldly possessions--a fold-out sofa, a desk, an easy chair, boxes of books, a TV, some clothes--in a room in an old office warehouse in downtown St. Paul. No kitchen, no bathroom: just a room. $130 a month. I was on the top floor of this turn-of-the-century office warehouse, which was not a residential building but a number of the painters and photographers and furniture makers who rented space there had set up housekeeping. So I joined their ranks, the itinerant pilot who comes and goes at all hours in his silly uniform. (It was an interesting room, high enough up that bugs were not a problem, and looking out on the final approach to the South runway at the St. Paul airport. I slept with the window open to the sounds of the city, the room suffused with a circus-peanut glow from the street lights below.)

I kept the things I was most likely to need--my cel phone charger, a change of clothes or two, a sleeping bag, a bottle of ibuprofen, my flying bags--in the back of my truck, and I basically lived for the next three years bouncing between these places and whatever hotel I was flying out of.

Man, that's a lifetime ago now. But it's fascinating to look back on how... unfettered I was then. I leaned on my friends a lot, but I was basically on the road flying 2 or more out of every 3 days. I don't think I could survive such an existence now.

It seems odd to look back fondly on something that was rather wretched at the time. But there is a vitality in living that way, a sense of living on the balls of one's feet, as it were, and not being tethered to a bunch of material bullshit. I certainly don't regret my mortgage and car payment now, and indeed life now is very, very good. But all these elements of "stability" close a lot of doors for one, it must be said. My opportunity to backpack around Europe for a summer is a couple decades behind me now, methinks.

iTunes makes it so easy to pick a soundtrack for your life, minute-by-minute.

Good Night.


derek said...

They took his hair, Tom. Jesus that's strange.

wunelle said...

Bit of a shakedown artist, not above the occasional grift.

Lizzie said...

wow, it's like you read my mind. Going to bed lonely makes me wake up nostalgic. Except for the whole being a pilot part, I know just what you mean about looking back on times in your life fondly that may not have been so much fun to live through the first time around.

Terrific post.

wunelle said...

The sun rises on a lovely indian summer day here in Wisconsin. Here's hoping it's headed East for you!

The Retropolitan said...

I always remember "Whiter Shade of Pale" from the Nick Nolte segment of "New York Stories." That song was pretty much the whole segment, but I love that part.

derek said...

Go ahead and run, sister. I'll track down all you whores.

mango said...

But there is a vitality in living that way

Agreed! Sometimes the very worst times cn be the very best because that's when you learn the most about yourself, see what reserves of hitherto unsuspected strength and balls you have - and, like you said, the sense of freedom.

wunelle said...

I did see New York Stories, and I think that was my re-acquaintance with that song. I've loved it ever since. (The Woody Allen segment was a hoot, too.)

There's a scene in another favorite Coen Brothers movie (they're all favorites, I guess), O Brother Where Art Thou?, where the guys are sitting around a campfire in the middle of nowhere, talking and laughing. And I have that same kind of epiphanie at that scene, a reminder that so much of the stuff we think is important is really just baggage. Not to talk about the nobility of poverty or anything, but there is something essential in that life, concentrating on basic comforts and sustenance and friendships; that is so far from what most of us get caught up in.

(Yeah, that's kinda stupid when the movie is a frickin' farce!)

As for the Great Miller's Crossing Quote-Off:

"It's gettin' so a businessman can't expect no return from a fixed fight. Now if you can't trust the fix, what can you trust? Pretty soon you're bettin' on chance!"

derek said...

Well, Bil, If I'd known we were going to cast our feelings into words I'd have memorized the Song of Solomon.

wunelle said...

That's what I like about you, Derek. I never met anybody made bein' a sonofabitch such a point of pride.

Tho one day you'll pay the price for it.