Just One More Time

If a song makes your heart leap, why listen just once and then move on by?

The other day, I found my 16 year old son broadcasting his favorite U2 song over and over. “Beautiful Day” chimed through the house and I was so elated. Oh, I like the song, too, but my habit, the one that’s been mocked by so many, had descended!

So — how long has this been going on? Oh, I’d say since I plugged in my first stereo and began rotating 45’s in my seventh floor bedroom. “I want to hold your hand” more times than could be imagined.

An external aversion to this redundifying surfaced early on. My parents pointed to my amp and closed my door. My old friend/downstairs neighbor responded to my 6th replay of “Chelsea Morning” with his fortissimo rendition of “Wipe-Out.” Our parents stepped in and my turntable was immobilized for a week, and his drumsticks were cast out beyond the surf. But I never gave up my love for second and third plays, though many wish I had…

At college, the sophomore next door assured me that she didn’t mind The Spinners, but could I switch sides once in a while? I didn’t take criticism casually, back then, and programmed my Panasonic to repeat the annoying side endlessly, while I skipped off to the College Inn for a vanilla milkshake.

Not all my repeat performances sent my neighbors in search of ear plugs. James Taylor could spin a hundred times and nobody knocked on my door. The Beatles and Stones went over well — although, I did get some complaints when I played “The Long and Winding Road” ten times and sang along mournfully.

I guess certain musicians just seem to scrape other people’s eardrums. A couple memorable romances were brought close to the melt-down phase when I reached for a Burt Bacharach album.

“Put that down. Now! I mean it. I know where this is leading!”

“Just one song… it’s so pretty.”

”I know how you operate: one song – 100 replays! No!”

“Dionne Warwick’s voice does nothing to you?”

”You can develop a romantic outcome without excessive schmaltz!”

”What did you say!”

“Pamela – do we really need this stress? We both have two mid-terms tomorrow.

And, look what I brought. Some Allman Brothers — this is real music.”

“ Not on my turntable. Take that out of here!”

“You know what. You can take your Burtie B. and live long and prosper in a parallel universe.”

It wasn’t just then. Back in high school, my first chance at love had all the makings of a perfect fit. We were politically in synch, held hands while we called voters. We both played the cello, swapped favorite books, and we even fashioned our own utopia together. After about a year or so, my best friend took me aside and warned me not to let him near the box where I stored my records.

Everything was going so well. He was going to be a senator, I’d be at Knopf, and then one day he found the box.

“Pam, this can’t be true. There are two Bacharach albums in here! Yeah, I like your classical choices, very nice, and Joni Mitchell, of course, Laura Nyro —But you never told me about this! Bacharach has no place in our utopia!!!!”

“There’s nothing wrong with Laura Nyro. She went to Music and Art and is a wonderful songwriter.”

“Yeah. I know someone else who listens to Laura Nyro. Oh, yeah. But she doesn’t buy into the Bacharachian ‘Close to You’ hypocritical rot. Do you believe what he says?”

“How well do you know her?” I asked.

”Could get to know her better if you don’t forsake Bertrand Belchalot. I’m really disappointed, and having to find out like this … Does anyone else know about this?”

The scars never quite disappeared and well, he prematurely became a litigator.

Another time, I returned to my college suite to find the daughter of a NY Philharmonic violist quietly invading my box of LP’s.  “Tres eclectique, Pamela….. Shostakovich, Satie, Songs of L’Auvergne, loads of Mendelssohn, Chopin, of course, lots of Bach, almost no Handel … and, what, Burt Bacharach!

How pathetique! What’s new with his pussycats! Do your friends know?”

In my sorrow, I played “Walk on By” seven times, until my boyfriend gently turned off the stereo, took my hand and accompanied me to the College Inn. Two chocolate malteds and two club sandwiches and then he ordered a stiff vanilla shake for me..

But wait, I wasn’t a Burt Bacharach groupie – I just liked some of his songs. I also liked Georges Moustaki and Hubert Laws – and their exquisite album covers. And I didn’t ignore the Youngbloods, Stones, NY Rock and Roll Ensemble, Blood Sweat and Tears, the Who, CSN, – I could listen to exactly the same songs everyone else did and enjoy them just as much.

It’s the reciprocity aspect that’s created some unrest locally. But Father Time has stepped in. It’s taken years but finally my husband acknowledges that Chicago isn’t really that brassy. And I held my breath, last week, when he kept listening in the garage, with all our groceries ready to be carried out, basking in the last measures of the long version of “Only the Beginning.” I stared at him reverently and hoped he’d reach for the repeat button that was starting to rust, but he was carefully putting his sunglasses away and slowly reaching for the door. The smile – Chicago made him smile.

Back at my 1975 NYC apartment-warming, friends dating back from JHS on beyond arrived as I played “Miracles” from Jefferson Starship’s “Red Octopus,” over and over.  No Burt at this party, but I’d impulsively invited my 45 year old boss from Reader’s Digest, who sat on my floating platform bed with some of my friends, beaming.. I walked toward him with some canapés, and he gasped,  “12 times they sang it. I didn’t think the FCC allowed those kind of lyrics. What’s her name over here said it’s called “Miracles”?  Jefferson Rocketship? Right? I’m hip! Your friends are great, Pam. Lunch, Tuesday?”

That’s about when Dr. Wipe-Out, then a Harvard physician-in-training, gave me a gentle squeeze and raised his eyebrows in the direction of the same turntable that he’d known for years. Just one more time, I promised him. He checked the albums and shook his head.

My husband’s CD’s outnumber mine many times over and are neatly alphabetized.
His old albums still sleep in their original sleeves. Mine are on the bottom shelf in no specific order, utterly sleeveless. A while back when I was aching to hear “Quicksand” off of “Elephant Mountain,” the worn vinyl showed up in a Richard Harris album that I used to play at intimate gatherings.

Friends in New York – he’s a recording exec  – send us cast-off CD’s from time to time. Wilco, Ben Taylor, and Greta Gaines tumble out of the box.

Well, last week – somebody else made the cross-continental voyage. Bright red Columbia CD cover with just one song – “Who Are These People?”

Burt was back! The song has taken full command of my heart, and my boys have heard it played so many times that they now falsetto the lyrics and scream out “Stop” in synch. They’d have made a great back-up band for Burt – but when you’re working with Elvis Costello and Rufus Wainwright, these days … you just don’t need more help.

I think of all the years I was a pariah, as know-nothings sneered at my independent taste.

“Mother Jones” called Burt’s latest album, “fiercely political.”

He’s writing from the heart now – just like when he wrote “Close to You.”

When my son heads off to college, and he unpacks, he’ll discover a few CD’s he never knew he owned. And I hope that his new habit sticks – over and over, again and again.