I was 13 years old and a seventh-grader at Shumway Junior High School, a cesspool of pubescent hormones and knockoff Polo cologne. Julie Hood was also in my grade and she was a goddess. She had red hair that was feathered perfectly, wore gorgeous light blue James Jeans with matching eye shadow, and always had on sexy, auburn colored feather earrings. I was just a dorky kid who happened to catch her eye and she was my girlfriend even though I didn’t know what that entailed. We held hands sometimes and that was good with me.
Jim Croce is an incredible singer/songwriter who was taken from us much too early. Believe it or not, the man died at 30, even though he looked/sounded and had the wisdom of someone in his fifties.
One of my favorite Croce songs is “Which Way Are You Goin’.” At first listen, it sounds like a catchy, tap-your-foot-to-the-velvety-sound-of-Croce’s-voice-and-guitar kinda song. It’s only after a close listen to the lyrics that you start to get the message he’s sending. The first time you hear it, you’ll find yourself nodding your head along with the beat. The second time you hear it, you’re nodding your head in agreement with Croce’s words. You know — that kind of “Hallelujah!” kind of head nod.
This song evaluates old and new America (which, today, is closely resembling old America) and the decisions of man along with the hypocrisy of man’s choices, all the while disguising itself as a folk song. It is just as important today is at was when he wrote it.
However, even if you’re not into all that “preachy, political bullshit”… it’s just a damn good song.
Growing up, there’s this dumpy room in my parents’ basement with a ripped up couch and a T.V. that I watch too much of. Mostly I watch Nickelodeon, but one day I go down there and I see something else that blows my mind. There’s this woman in a car with three of her identical friends. Four of her. Why is there four of her? The one in the back draws with her fingertips. The one riding shotgun hangs out the car window—fucking crazy—and the one driving, she sings. The song is “Ironic.” And the duplicated woman is Alanis Morissette. I’m six years old and I’ve just come across my new obsession.
I’m not a diehard fan of The Rolling Stones. But I can’t listen to “Miss You” without being swept right back to my first year of grad school, when I had it playing on the reg.
I think, at the time, I was drawn to the song because I felt just as manic and out of control as Mick Jagger sounds when he talks about stumbling through the streets of New York, singing to himself and frightening innocent citizens who just wanted to enjoy a peaceful stroll through Central Park.
When I listen to it now, I’m reminded of late night karaoke sessions, art parties with my friends, too much cheap wine, and the all-consuming angst of trying (and failing over and over again) to get my shit together at 22.
Monday morning. It’s like a curse if you work as an entertainment reporter. Deadlines never feel more pressing and the close of another weekend inevitably opens up to a day full of catching up on who is fighting, dating, divorcing and dropping new music while trying to curtail a potential scandal. From my perspective, life for celebs would be a whole lot easier if they took a page from the life playbook of an average Joe and kept their clothes on, paid their bills, and remembered that the Cloud makes everything accessible. Monday morning and here I sit buried beneath work and unsure of where to start. While I figure it out I decide to go back in time and listen to a few old tracks that will prepare me for an interview with an old school musician later today.
You can find me
at the five and dime
soda jerk counter
I’ll be in my
eating banana splits
I can’t promise you
a rose garden
but I can tell you
love is in his kiss
and what really happened
on the Tallahatchie Bridge
Put another quarter in
I only exist
when the needle hits
and I start to spin
Ann Kestner is the founder and editor of the online literary journal Poetry Breakfast. For over 25 years her poems have appeared in various journals. She is the poet in residence at the Poetry and Arts Barn in Cream Ridge, NJ where she hosts a variety writing groups and poetry readings.