Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Hazelblackberry: mama don't want no peas, no rice, no coconut oil

Dear Nick

When I was a girl I didn't realise there was any connection between the jingles played on ads and the songs on the radio. This continued well into early teenagerhood. I was in a car one day with one of the various uncles, probably Raffles, when "Drift Away" by Dobie Gray came on the radio. Remember the Drifter chocolate bar? I don't much either, but I do remember the advertisement had someone driving a convertible along a road. Maybe the road wound down along a coastal cliff or maybe through a valley; either way it was on a winding road, and the top was down, and "Drift Away" was playing. So I said something along the lines that I couldn't believe that they'd put the song from the ad on the radio. Raffles then took great delight in pointing out to his naive young niece that the song, in fact, pre-dated the ad; that ad makers plucked songs already in existence form the turntable and put them to work to spin more filthy lucre for them. And so it was that this young innocent - as she was then, my word - was inculcated into the dark world of the promotional arts.

(You may notice that this recollection doesn't include any direct quoting of conversation. I only just noticed it myself. This wasn't deliberate but it does remind me how often when reading autobiographies or memoirs I'm astounded by (at?) the large chunks of verbatim conversation from 53 years ago that are recalled by all these prominent memoir-worthy people. It is apparent to me that until I too have a memory capable of recording the thrust and parry of everyday chats, I will never stake for myself a place, never carve for myself a niche, in the memoir pantheon.)

Anyway, it should have come as no surprise what. so. ever. to young Raffles that I was so ignorant in the ways of the world. Bloody Ern didn't listen to the radio much, except to get the latest weather report, and we mostly trundled along listening to country songs, which I kind of thought were all autobiographical. I actually thought Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner were married (if that means anything to you). Listening to the sparkling banter in their marvellous duets I thought they'd been married and divorced (whatever that was, but it sounded terrible) several times, and endured the deaths of various children, not to mention all the AFFAIRS and general messin' round. That wicked Jolene. But I also knew that Dolly was WISE - hip, if you will - to Porter's carryings-on. This gave me comfort. And if you listen at a single sitting to all of Marty Robbins' "Gunfighter Ballads" and then throw in 'The Hanging Tree' and 'My Woman, My Woman, My Wife' you are left with the thought that, "Man, has he lived."

Fortunately we mostly had compilation tapes like The Great Country Folk or Country Gold, the kind of tapes favoured at the music stands of roadhouses, which shared the pain of life's sorrows amongst a collection of unfortunates. This only confirmed for me the idea that all country singers, and the people who listened to their music, were deeply tragic people struggling to rise above the endless daily sagas flung their way. It's why I became so manic about knowing the words to these songs; the words helped me lay out the full map of their lives in all their glorious drama. I'm sure it drove Bloody Ern nuts as we would bounce down a road, him humming along to the tune and throwing in the odd word here and there that he thought sounded about right only to be corrected in a hiss by me, wizened already at 8 years old. But you have to understand: he was disrespectin' mah crew.

I was reminded of this because Grumpy and I were driving along by the coast on Saturday, when "Drift Away" came on the radio and we reminisced about the Drifter Bar, realised neither of us could really remember it, and stopped for a Milky Way instead. Milky Ways are very sweet, aren't they? Chewing on one set all my new dental work singing.

Until next time, Nick.

hb





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