Death and the double bed

As I was cursing the person who installed the wallpaper border in our hallway 22 years ago and wondering whether it would have been easier if I’d removed it 21 years ago, a song popped into my head.

It isn’t so much a song as a psychodrama. Over the chorus of bland studio musicians singing “Things get a little easier/Once you understand,” the listener is entertained by assorted spoken-word 70s-era generation-gap scenarios.

“Come on, Ma, what do you want from me?”

“Shut up and listen to your mother!”

And so on.

“Once You Understand” was by a fabricated studio band called Think (yeah, like, heavy, man…) and was released in 1971. I would have been at most 6 years old. Maybe I was older when I heard it, which would mean that our radio station kept playing it years after it had been a minor hit, but holy cow, I hope not. Regardless, I remember it well and associate it very specifically with lying in my parents’ bed.

The reason I would be in my parents’ bed was likely because I had been banished there from the bedroom I shared with my brother after one too many incursions into his side of the room or he into mine. Looking at that bedroom today, I can’t imagine how there could have been two beds in there. The size of that bedroom was more appropriate for primate study.

Banishment to the parent bed was no particular hardship. For starters it was bigger. Secondly, in the winter, my parents had an electric blanket. In truth, this thing was unsettling with its hard, hot coils spiralling within the material, and even at a young age I questioned the sensibility of sleeping underneath a fire hazard. Remember, this was the 70s, a less regulatory age, when seatbelt and smoking were optional for all.

But the electric blanket was equipped with his-and-hers dials that hooked over the headboard, each one with a dial that one could turn to the comfort setting of one’s choice. Doing so set off a soothing orange light on the dial, which afforded hours of fun and mitigated the potential terror of bursting into flames.

But the best part of the parent bed was the bedside clock-radio-lamp. All those dials and buttons to push and play with in lieu of going to sleep, and of course music. If I kept the volume low enough, I could listen to music while my brother had to settle for a boring eight-to-ten solid hours of sleep.

I listened to a lot of songs, I’m sure, but when I think of lying in my parents’ bed, “Once You Understand” always springs to mind.

Why, do you suppose?

Because at the end of the song, a cop comes to the door and tells a father his son is dead.

DEAD! HIS SON IS DEAD! OF A HEROIN OVERDOSE!

I’m six years old, I don’t know what heroin is, but I’m lying in the dark and CJFX Friendly 58 Radio is filling my tiny, impressionable head with innocence-crushing mortality. What kind of song is this? How on earth are things getting a little easier? Smaller grocery bill?

There’s another song I recall lying in that big bed at night: “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks. It’s 1974, and I’m now 8 or 9 years old, wise to the ways of the world but still apparently unable to keep peace with my brother in our sleeping pen. Let’s sample those lyrics:

“Goodbye, Michelle, it’s hard to die/When all the birds are singing in the sky.”

SWEET LORD, DEATH IS ALL AROUND US!

Some say we have no true memories, only copies of copies of copies of memories, essentially memories of memories. That may be so, but some things stick vividly in your mind, associated with a time and place, and nothing has a firmer hold on the brain than music. Add a big double bed and death? Indelible.

Not all my musical memories are associated with that bed, of course. During the recent census, I found myself humming a jingle that was used by the Canadian government to promote, I believe, the 1976 census: “June the 1st is Census Day, count yourself in. June the 1st is Census Day, count yourself in. Canada is counting, counting on you…” Thankfully, the jingle didn’t end with “… or you’ll DIE!” And yet, it still takes up valuable space in what is surely a finite brain of mine.

Clearly I must have been traumatized at that impressionable age by the idea of government.

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About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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41 Responses to Death and the double bed

  1. franhunne4u says:

    We had joy we had fun we had seasons in the sun …
    *humming*
    Thank you for another earworm …

  2. byebyebeer says:

    I’ve never heard that song, I don’t think. Heavy. I don’t have any song related memories of my parents bed but still remember how soft the sheets were and one vivid dream about a bunch of kindly old ladies floating in bubbles. At least I think it was a dream. And our previous owner painted over wallpaper, so you know it could always be worse.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      What, were they hoarding the soft sheets and giving the kids the scratchy burlap ones?

      • byebyebeer says:

        Ha! Yes I think so but my pillow case featured a sesame street picnic scene which was pretty sweet. Two thoughts: licensed character kids’ sheets are still unduly scratchy and also it’s hard to sleep when your pillowcase is so distracting (a bit like your clock radio only sadder).

  3. I remember hearing the concept of an electric blanket as a kid and just couldn’t imagine what it might look like. The reality was disappointing.

  4. pinklightsabre says:

    You were asking me about a post yesterday, I think it was a comment thread we exchanged, not a post. Dawn was telling me about a piece she heard on Radiolab about the nature of memory, how it’s actually a version of the last memory rather than the original, so it fades over time like a polaroid: but it’s not the image that’s fading as much as the actual content of the memory that can change. I think that was the thread we exchanged. I referred to it in a post somewhere but can’t recall where. Like the dial and the coils here and the overall tone and vibe, nice. Bill

  5. Yeah, what was up with all those songs about death in the 60s and, I guess early 70’s? They’re called Teen Tragedies. I never heard this one before, thank goodness. It’s hauntingly ironic.

  6. Elyse says:

    My early childhood was filled with songs where folks died in car/motorcycle crashes. Leader of the Pack and the like. But Seasons in the Sun is now running through my head even though its contemporary Wildfire is trying to winnow it out …

    I just spent a couple of weekends removing wallpaper that I have hated for the 14 years we’ve lived in our current house. Dish detergent and water works really well and doesn’t stink. (not dishwasher detergent, that would likely remove the skin from your already sore hands). the rooms are now repainted and look really good. So it’s time to move ..,

  7. ksbeth says:

    well, in case you do die, it is important that you let them know, otherwise you will make the census inaccurate. what about ‘starry, starry, night’? i used to weep for vincent, not having any idea who he was but knew ‘he had to go…’.

  8. 6-years old in ’71?! There you go bragging on your youth again. Punk-ass bitch. [Is ‘punk-ass’ a hyphenated phrase? Does it describe ‘bitch?’]

    So funny. I was going to mention ‘Seasons in the Sun.’ A cancer pop hit. Do you remember what ‘Timothy’ by The Buoys was about? Hint: *burp*.

  9. Bun Karyudo says:

    I remember “Seasons in the Sun” too. I was about 7 at the time and I obviously never thought very deeply about the lyrics because I always thought of it as quite a chirpy, bouncy song. Incidentally, you were quite right to be worried about electric blankets. Mine caught fire when I was about fourteen and I had to drag the blazing mattress out into the garden before it burned the house down. 😦

  10. “The size of that bedroom was more appropriate for primate study.”

    Your point?

    Yesterday, I took a sensible Memorial Day beach vacation several days before Memorial Day (and all its slack-jawed, consumeristic hordes) and enjoyed teasing some Canadians at a coffee shop. They were passing through Oregon on their way back up to the land of bears and kilometers when I seized upon the opportunity to jibe them about the latter. It took, and pretty soon it became a running joke in a gathering group of people sitting outside on the patio, sipping mochas and taking the sea air. Apparently, Canadians’ heads explode when they ask for directions to local attractions and the response is invariably, “Oh, it’s only about a half mile up the road.”

  11. Paul says:

    Those were the days before triggers – many hit songs dealt with death. i actually just listened to Terry Jacks Seasons today. Along with Mary Hopkins “Those were the days my friend” [Just tonight I stood before the tavern Nothing seemed the way it used to be] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3KEhWTnWvE and the Rolling Stones with “Paint It Black” [I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black With flowers and my love both never to come back] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InRDF_0lfHk and Bobby Goldsboro “Honey” [While she was there and all alone The angels came] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKAeeGnAYBo. And the list goes on.

    Fun post Ross. As an aside, Ross, I did a guest post over at Mark Bialczak’s https://markbialczak.com/2016/05/29/the-secret-service/comment-page-1/#comment-80097 I would be honored if you had the time to drop by. Thank you.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      “Honey” is one of the worst songs of all time. It doesn’t make a lot of worst lists, though, because it’s been mostly forgotten, and rightly so. (Rhyming “neck” and “what the heck” is a rhyme against humanity.)
      Thanks, Paul, but FYI, your comment was flagged, probably because of the links. No problem for me, but I had to approve it.

  12. Oh my. Reading your piece and through the comments is like strolling through the worst Value Village on the face of the planet. Yikes. Is that where really smarmy songs go to die?

  13. Ned's Blog says:

    Don’t make me bring out “Undercover Angel” again…

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