May 2004

Golden Oldies

By Suzanne Strazza

Driving out to Southeastern Utah is one of my favorite trips for various reasons: the scenery, the excitement of impending adventure and the excuse to listen to Golden Oldies on the radio.

I have no CD player in my car, so radio is it. Of course, publicly, I only listen to Public Radio (especially since I produce a show on KSJD). All my stereo buttons are programmed to public or community radio stations — KSJD, KSUT, KDUR — thus making the statement that, besides being intolerant of commercials, I am above “commercial” music.

That is, until I get out of range. As I approach the state border, I hang on to the last vestiges of “Morning Edition” or “Talk of the Nation” and then, with a little rush of excitement, I hit “search” and try to guess what classic tune I’ll hear first.

One of my favorites is “Brown-Eyed Girl.” Come on, who doesn’t start to sing a bit louder when they hear Van belt it out? The amazing thing is that I still spend half the song going “ya na nah do be wah” since after 20 years, I still haven’t figured out the lyrics. But that doesn’t diminish the joy one iota.

As I drive along, my kids in the back of the mini-van (far enough back that their squabbling doesn’t interfere with my listening pleasure), I sing, I dance, I clap, snap and shimmy. I talk to the DJs and I skip down memory lane. I talk to the kids only during instrumental interludes, lecture them on the diminished quality of music today, and pump up the volume.

I have become my mother.

There are two key differences, though. First, my songs are not “oldies,” they’re great songs that have endured the test of time. And second, I am much cooler than my mom. I know my kids are not back there rolling their eyes at me, they’re saying to themselves, “Mom is so hip!”

Yeah, whatever.

What is it that makes listening to songs from my teen years so much fun? Quite honestly, I am having a lot more fun now than I actually did during that time in my life. Those years were horrendous and college wasn’t much better. OK, the years after college weren’t stupendous either. I was a geek. I know that surprises a lot of you since I am so ultimately cool now, but I’m for real. LOSER.

Do you think it was because I liked bad music?

I think songs were much simpler then. I could actually understand most of the lyrics. But then again, that might also have something to do with hearing better at 20 than at 40.

Maybe too, music played more of a role in our lives. Every moment had a song to define it: “Havin’ My Baby,” the song that really cute, pimply George Swain sang to me at the seventh-grade cotillion; “Rock Lobster” as Lucy and I got dressed to go out; Jim Miller’s favorite, “Look Sharp” (which was my favorite because I was so in love with Jim Miller, who of course never looked twice at me. But I quoted it on my yearbook page anyway).

Now, there aren’t a lot of songs that pertain to my life. Scrubbing toilets and taking out the trash, while my kids’ noses run and my husband goes on another trip for work, isn’t really the best fodder for a hit tune. Music was everywhere and everything then — the beach, dances, parties, in the car when you and your friends first started to drive. Now it’s mostly just part of the cacophony of life with a husband, dogs, kids, telephones, etc. Background noise.

Speaking of dances, I heard “Stairway to Heaven” this weekend. That was the song to get asked to dance to way back when. If he asked you to dance to that, you were practically engaged, especially after he rubbed his sweaty hands all over your back and ground up against you during the slow parts, making it impossible to separate during the faster parts.

Then there was the mythology that went with so many songs. Remember the story about “Rollercoaster of Love” – the one where the woman got murdered in the room next to the recording studio and it was her scream that could be heard in the background? Man, they just don’t sing ’em like they used to.

Like I said, they’re not “oldies.” These are truly great songs, sung by truly talented musicians (even if some of them were one-hit wonders). I mean, can anyone deny that Barry Manilow is a genius?

The thing is, I’m not alone in this passion for good music. Everyone’s got a secret favorite. Broach the subject, maybe offer your favorite up, and suddenly everyone has an opinion. I mentioned the topic to two of my friends over coffee this morning and was rewarded with a medley of hit tunes.

I was treated to a full rendition (complete with dance moves) of “The sailors say, Brandy, you’re a fine girl. What a good wife you would be…” That was followed by “How sweet it is to be loved by you. You were better to me than I was to myself…” And, let’s not forget the all-time classic, “Let’s Get It On.”

The amazing thing is that the songs perfectly matched the women who sang them: sassy, sweet. There has always been something about music that our souls identify with and I think, once connected, always connected.

I have to wonder, what does my favorite song say about me?

“Last night a DJ saved my life
“Last night a DJ saved my life from a broken heart
“Last night a DJ saved my life
“Last night a DJ saved my life with a song.”

Suzanne Strazza is a free-lance writer in Mancos.