They’re playing my song
Close your eyes and summon up a song that transports you to a magic destination. Good, now you’ve got your earworm (what a curious word) for the weekend.
Reading all the contributions for the Follow the Reader column below (as I do), I know I’m not the only one for whom a piece of music (or another favourite, fantastic cuisine) can trigger a travel reverie. Hear Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, think Manhattan, but that’s Woody Allen’s ear-worm.
I have a few. One is Simon and Garfunkel’s America — about a lonely couple on a long-distance Greyhound bus trip — from their Bookends album of 1968. A few years after that, a friend and I, on our first overseas journey, flew to San Francisco armed with three-month Greyhound USA bus passes and our fathers’ old air-force greatcoats to ward off the winter. We were so terribly young. At a time before everyone was but a text away, I marvel at our parents putting faith in us for the adventure. It was misplaced, of course, but that’s another story.
On a clockwise circuit, the America I found was one I fell instantly in love with — the spectacular landscapes, the towns and exhilarating cities, and the friendly and enthusiastic people. In Gershwin’s words, if “there’s a boat dat’s leavin’ soon for New York”, save me a berth.
But the trip also opened my eyes to the harsh divide between the haves and have-nots. Bus stations were rarely in the Nob Hill part of town. I had no conception of people, large numbers of them, sleeping in cardboard boxes on the sidewalks and begging on the streets. And I had not encountered so many people drifting, in search of some part of the dream they knew not what; not rooted anywhere by relationships, family or work. Of course, Australia was quick to catch up.
Simon and Garfunkel capture the moment: “Cathy, I’m lost, I said though I knew she was sleeping/And I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why/Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike/They’ve all come to look for America.”
Stevie Wonder’s You Are the Sunshine of My Life is another of my tickets to ride. It takes me to the mighty Empire Theatre on Leicester Square in London, the old MGM showcase. I am dressed in an usher’s uniform, which could double as a lion tamer’s, and I have a significant crowd to settle into numbered seats before an instrumental version of Stevie’s song ends (it’s the last on a 20minute music loop between movie sessions) and the lights fade. After that the torch has to be whipped out and disputes sorted between latecomers and seat-hoppers. In all my jobs in the decades since I look back on my ushering (and lion-wrangling) abilities with strange satisfaction and, indeed, get a similar pleasure from many of life’s straightforward tasks — send me your washing-up and laundry, but no ironing, thanks. So now you know what songs are buzzing around my brain. Back to your own.
I am dressed in an usher’s uniform, which could double as a lion tamer’s