Dear Internets, Thank you.
When I was 15, my brother, Gene, gave me a mixtape for Christmas. The tape blew my musical world wide open. On it was the likes of Nick Lowe and Jim Steinman. And, of course, it introduced me to the master, himself, Elvis Costello. It was “Beyond Belief.” (See what I did there?) My life was never the same.
I eventually wore that poor tape out.
None of the songs on the tape, however, connected to me as deeply as the second song on the A-side of the tape. It became something of a theme song for me. It’s kinda funny that the title is Pity the Poor Boy, as I never saw the song as anything but optimistic. At the very least, I thought it celebrated spunk and moxie, which is what I was (and still am, I guess) all about.
As a Minnesota farm kid, pre-Internet, I had no idea who Alan Price was, and I never thought to ask Gene who the guy was that was singing the song (which at that time, I also had no idea what the title was, so I called it “Going Under”).
It took a number of years of nearly constant play in my car cassette player for the tape to die. But die, it did. In spectacular fashion, the tape broke and spewed out the front of the player as I was driving to work one morning. It was all crinkled and bent and torn. There was no fixing it. Poof! No more tape, and no more song.
I missed my song, but it didn’t feel like a big deal. I figured I’d ask Gene about it, and then I’d find it on CD somewhere. When I finally inquired, though, Gene had no idea what I was talking about. He couldn’t for the life of him place the song or the artist.
Shit! Now, mourning set in. It felt like a friend had died.
But at least I had the memory, right? The song never completely left me. It still buoyed me in tough times, those when I thought I was a “lonely boy who’s going under.” In the absence of any recording, I did what humans did in the olden days, before all this technological rigamarole. I sang it. In the shower, in my car, wherever I needed it. Sometimes just for the fun of it. Sometimes softly to myself, as an invocation. Sometimes loud and angry, like I was yelling at God. Any way and any time I needed it, the song was always right there. In my lowest moments, this song would still lift me up.
That was all well and good, but I really wanted to hear it again. More appropriately, I longed to hear it again. For. Years.
Upon the advent of Yahoo! and then “The Google,” I would occasionally type in some of the lyrics. It never worked, but the search led me on some interesting wild goose chases…to books I’ve cherished, to other songs I’ve enjoyed, to articles that miraculously provided the “just in time” guidance I needed in the moment. In looking back now, I guess that’s another gift the song gave me.
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself really needing my song. Nothing earth-shattering, just the garden variety disappointment that’s part of my chosen profession. Every once in awhile, though, you find yourself momentarily worn thin, or getting your hopes up about a particular possibility. In this case, it was a little of both. It was a week where the hits just kept coming, and they were painful ones. When I woke up that Saturday morning, the shock had worn off, and I all I was left with was the sinking “What the hell do I do now?” feeling.
It’s in these times that my first step is always to call out to the Google gods in hopes they will bless me with a link to my song this time. It’s never, of course, about actually finding the song because the song is nowhere to be found. In fact, over the years, I began to wonder if the song really existed outside my own mind. Maybe it was all my imagination. I created the song and somehow had convinced myself that there was this tape and… Okay…don’t go there.
Really, what the search had become was the first step to finding the answer to the life question that weighed on me at the time. It was a reminder that the best answer usually came from the inside.
This time was no different. Except…
In the past, I had always typed in the first lyrics in the song. I had gotten into such a habit of focusing on that part of the piece, that I never thought to go deeper. I’d play around with strings and key words that went a little further in the piece, but that’s it. This morning, though, as I hummed the song lightly to myself, I had an epiphany. O! The irony!
In the search box, I typed: I’ll try anything yes I’ll do most anything to really make it lyrics. I hit Enter.
And there is was. After twenty years searching.
I wasn’t crazy. I hadn’t imagined it.
I found a page to the song lyrics. And that’s when I learned that the real title and the artist. A quick search of the song title, artist and “YouTube” later, and…viola!
I coulda kicked myself.
I gotta say, I almost didn’t listen to it. I mean, it’s very strange. I’ve been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life, right? If I listened to the actual song—I mean, what if I had the song on my iTunes?!? Would I still sing it? Would having it somehow diminish its specialness for me? Would my world implode?
Fuck it. I found an mp3, bought it and downloaded it.
I started to listen to it on my computer, but just couldn’t get into it. I knew what I had to do. I transferred the song over to my iPhone, popped the top down on my car and played the thing as loud as I could—over and over—as I drove around to nowhere in particular. I got to know my song again. Those strings at the beginning that nearly always brought me to tears, the kick-ass piano solo that made my heart swell. The singer almost yelling out “Oh, I’m a dreamer, and I’m a schemer!” over and over again until the last one, which he holds…and then, in a beautiful glissando, it falls beyond the singer’s range and into nothingness. The experience of hearing to the song again was (surprisingly) everything I remembered it to be. Everything I hoped it to be.
It’s been a couple of weeks now. I don’t listen to it every day. I don’t want to take having it at my disposal for granted. Barely a day goes by still, however, when it doesn’t play in my head. When it does’t pick me up and guide me. Thankfully, that hasn’t changed. Yet, it’s also nice to sometimes just get lost in the listening and touch base with that kid who fell in love with this song so many years ago. Other times, it’s nice have someone to sing along with me.
So…to Alan Price…thank you. Man…saying that feels lame compared to the impact your song’s had on my life. I don’t know where you are or if you’ll ever read this. And I don’t know if you’re feeling awesome about your life’s work or disenchanted by it all. I hope the former. Regardless, no one needs to pity this boy, because he isn’t poor, and he isn’t lonely. And he’s far from going under. And your song, Mr. Price…your song. Well, let’s suffice to say I’m still dreaming, and I’m still scheming. And your song has played a huge part in that over the years.
And to all the other dreamers and schemers out there…here it is. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope it helps you even half as much as its helped me.