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.