“When you look over your shoulder
And you see the life that you’ve left behind
When you think it over, do you ever wonder?
What it is that holds your life so close to mine.”
– Jackson Browne, You Love the Thunder
The music starts rolling in months before our 40th high school reunion.
Someone creates playlists of old songs, the soundtrack to our high school days in the late 1970’s, and posts these on Facebook. The playlists have names like “Slow Dance” and “Oh Very Young.”
My husband Alan and I went to high school together and graduated in 1979. “You guys are coming to reunion, right?” ask friends of ours, some of whom we have known since we were in grade school. “You have to come!”
As the playlists continue to appear – “Still Crazy After All These Years” and “Sweet 16” – memories of my teenage-self surface. I remember sitting beside Alan, our knees touching, listening to The Eagles at a classmate’s 15th birthday party and wondering feverishly if I had the nerve to be a “Witchy Woman” (I did not, until much later). And Sweet Baby James’ “deep greens and blues are the colors I choose, won’t you let me go down in my dreams?” seemed to mirror my own fantasy-infused state of mind.
By 16, I was a restless teenager. I felt the thunder and the rain in Jackson Browne’s lyrics, and with Joni Mitchell I dreamt of being free in Paris, unfettered and alive. Springsteen understood that, like so many other 18 year olds, I was Born to Run and by my senior year it was time to go.
The weekend of our reunion begins with a memorial for classmates who have died. It is so easy to remember them, and us, at 18: light as air, bright as fire. After the service, any hard protective façades we may have arrived with are broken. Time has brought us all back down to earth, and we connect easily with each other.
In the evening we want to celebrate: “Rejoice, rejoice we have no choice but to carry on.”
Everyone is different from who they once were, and everyone is the same. In this group are over 150 people – some I know well, others I vaguely recollect – most of whom seem at least to recognize my name. That sense of familiarity, of being known, is overwhelming and emotional.
I end up talking to Bill, a music blogger at Somuchgreatmusic.com and the classmate behind the playlists that have been flowing towards us for months.
“Why is the music of the 70’s so great?!” I ask. “And do I feel this way just because it’s the music we grew up with?”
“It is great!” says Bill. “In the 60’s the music was hippy bands, flower power. And the 80’s was the Gordon Gekko era – music was about attitude, anger, me first.
“People make a mistake when they criticize the 70’s for not having one recognizable style – because that’s exactly the point. This was an era of enormous breadth. There were so many incredible music genres that were all distinct and all occurring at the same time: Southern Rock, Soul Bands, amazing singer/songwriters – and towards the end, Punk and New Wave.”
We all had our favorites: Bill liked Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Marshall Tucker Band; the Brewster Road rebels smoked weed and listened to the Dead; the super-achievers on the Yearbook Committee liked Billy Joel; the CSNY album “Déjà Vu” was played incessantly in my studio art class.
But we all listened to everything. “We might have drawn the line at disco, eventually,” Bill jokes, “but really, there were not a lot of boundaries.”
It seems to me it was an era of both fluidity and moderation. We were comfortable with nuance, variety, contradiction; we didn’t have to take sides. It would have been hard to imagine, back then, simplifying our likes and dislikes into the space of today’s rigid on-line identities.
What is it, 40 years later, that holds our lives so close to each other’s? The mellowing of age, for sure, and perhaps the somber recognition of time’s passage.
And – the music we grew up with. It taught us that even if we love some songs or artists more than others, in the end our hearts are big enough to appreciate them all.
“Don’t worry about tomorrow, Lord, you’ll know it when it comes,
When the rock and roll music meets the risin’ sun.”
– Grateful Dead, One More Saturday Night
Published in the Summit Daily, October 9, 2019