Thursday, August 20, 2009

Living In Oz: The Album (Part II)

Alyson - Rick Springfield (mp3)
Me + Johnny - Rick Springfield (mp3) -- SONGS REMOVED BY REQUEST

(Part 1 is here)

I don't think you can call someone your "first girlfriend" if you never had a date with her, never kissed her, and never really did anything more physical than one hand grazing another. But, by the strictest definitions, Amy W. was my first girlfriend, the first girl I went with. [NOTE: The girl on the left looks nothing like Amy W., but that's precisely the kind of ensemble Amy wore regularly.]

Amy W. might well be the shyest girl I ever knew. And she had some seriously buck teeth. [NOTE: Isn't it sad that initially describing someone with a negative trait -- say, "buck teeth" -- automatically makes you think they were unattractive? In truth, it was probably her most noticeable trait, yet she was also incredibly cute. When I think of her, I specifically recall the Olan Mills picture of herself she gave me. Soft-focus lighting. Soft fuzzy purple V-neck sweater over some teal Miami Vice type of shirt. Wavy, feathered-back dirty blonde hair. And a gold locket around her soft neck.]

Six weeks of going with someone when you're 11 is, like, a serious chunk of your life. As a percentage of your life, fifth-graders going together for a month and a half is like 25-year-olds who date for two years! Entire dynasties rise and fall in the elementary school universe in less time than Amy and I went together.

For those six weeks, what "going with Amy" really meant was we'd spend recesses sitting within arm's reach of one another and saying as little as absolutely possible. Although I was gregarious and downright silly with my guy pals, Amy's presence forced me down to her level of mute interaction. We'd just sit there, in relative proximity, usually on the same bench. We'd look around, our hands clasped in our laps, and coexist. It was both terribly awkward and monumentally exquisite. There was nothing I would have rather been doing than to sit there mute next to Amy W.

On Valentine's Day in 1983, I gave Amy a necklace which was pretty damn expensive for a 5th grader. It was, like, $20, which was, like, totally three weeks of lawn-mowing and housework. Gag me with a spoon! $20 in 1983 is approximately $450 today or something! It was real 14k gold or something! In the exchange, Amy gave me a cassette of Rick Springfield's Living in Oz. This was my very first significant gift from a girlfriend, which practically made it my own personal Ark of the Covenant. (Except, you know, without some dude's face melting off or angels of death swirling around me.)

I listened to that album so incessantly I'm somewhat shocked the tape didn't burn. As the added kicker, Platonic 5th-Grade Man Tom was a huge Rick Springfield fan. Whenever we would pretend we were in a band, Tom would always play his guitar way down practically on his thighs because Rick played it down that low. And Tom did what Rick did, right down to sweating profusely.

When I consider my love of -- borderline obsession with, really -- the musical genre known as "power pop," I'm pretty sure its genesis began on Valentine's Day 1983 when Amy gave me Rick.

While in prior albums Rick had clung to a more traditional rock sound, Living in Oz found Springfield colliding with the synthesized world of 80s pop rock. The result is an album where Springfield fights with what it means to be human and what it means to have "human touch." Everybody's dancing to a drum machine, he writes in the opening verse of the opening song. And later, I sit so snug and isolated alone in the modern world.

This song feels quite prescient in our social network modern day.

All the songs are about the ways we connect. Although I realize this isn't a particularly shocking topic for power pop, on this album it feels much more thematic than usual. Songs about two souls finding one another serendipitously ("Souls"), or about engaging in a very surreal extramarital affair with his actress co-star ("Alyson"), or about just shaggin' a slut ("Motel Eyes"), or about connecting with his best friend ("Me + Johnny") or struggling to connect with his father ("Like Father Like Son"). [NOTE: I'm not the only one who noticed this, as I discovered this evening by reading's review of the album.]

The two biggest hits off this album, "Human Touch" and "Affair of the Heart," perfectly described what Amy and I had together. We never touched, and we hardly ever talked, so what went on between us HAD to be soooo much deeper than just physical, since that was non-existent. Our hearts were communicating without us!

When people want to know why I'm an unapologetically stout Rick Springfield fan, "Valentine's Day 1983" is my Listen w/o Prejudice plea.


Bob said...

This is just a terrific line: "There was nothing I would have rather been doing than to sit there mute next to Amy Wall." It captures the awkwardness perfectly.

BeckEye said...

Ah, Billy, I love you. Rick Springfield was my first concert ever and "Human Touch" is still my favorite of his songs.