Monday, May 18, 2009

Teen Spring Sun Days


It's mid-May and gray today. Unseasonably cool temperatures. Hard to recall days of sunshine and nothing doing, but that's really all I'm fit for in my wishful-thinking mode. So what I remember is this: Warm sand between my toes, finally. Fifteen years old, the thaw of my first real Michigan winter; snow and icicles gone, rain and mud gone, and the sun working its late-spring magic on my sour, pale-skin self. My school at the time was situated between two lakes, adjacent to State Park property. In the spring, shanties for ice fishing gave way to calm blue water, gentle waves carrying sparks of light. Between or after classes, I would head with friends to a two-story, yellow-painted structure by a small patch of beach—the boat launch location for summer camp students. Throughout the year, we'd head there to talk or not talk, to smoke or not smoke, to sulk or to smile as our mercurial moods demanded, and very often to listen to music. We listened to a lot of classic rock like the Beatles, the Doors, the Who, Pink Floyd; we listened to folk rock such as the Grateful Dead, Simon and Garfunkel. But when I think of that year I was fifteen going on sixteen, when I think of the spring fever season of 1985, I only think of reggae. I think of Bob Marley, of course, but also the dub reggae/pop band UB40. Their hugely popular album, Labour of Love, had been out a couple of years, but it still seemed fresh to me; regardless, it was the perfect cure for what ailed us: the long months of being cooped up inside or huddled under too many layers, shivering. Who didn't want to imagine the island life that reggae brings to mind? And although, at the time, I'll bet none of us could say where the name UB40 came from (it represented a British government form for claiming unemployment benefits), we could nonetheless relate to its leisure. To its laid-back, do-nothing-but-dance-in-the-sun mellow. There was "Red Red Wine," of course (link here)—a song I later discovered was first recorded by Neil Diamond (see my post on N.D. here; link to N.D. version of "Red Red Wine" here). But more than that tune of drowning your sorrows, I loved "Cherry Oh Baby" (found here), with its more optimistic take on new, hoped-for love. What I heard, despite mildly conflicting versions of printed lyrics, was: "I will never let you down/I will never make you wear no frown/If you say that you love me madly/Oh babe I'll accept you gladly." And to my not-yet-kissed, fifteen-year-old self, that song with sunshine and sand, with bare legs and shoulders—that steel drum and horn sound—was all I needed to pull me from my winter doldrums.

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