Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices?
I’ve heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound that called the young sailors?
The voice might be one and the same.
I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it.
It’s something that I’m supposed to be.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.
It’s not the first song I can remember. I’d like to say it’s “Puff the Magic Dragon,” but, sadly, it’s probably Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” (We had MTV from the outset, and so, as you might guess, I actually got to see a video or two before they switched over to the “All Real World, All the Time” format.) And, while this isn’t about Dee Snider and company, I do have an odd anecdote about that song. Until I was five years old, we lived in an apartment building near Fort Hill in Lowell. For reasons too ancient to be remembered, I found myself four years old and mad as Hell. I believe this had something to do with the landlord and his policy of keeping pets from entering the building. Or, it may have been the loss of my favorite Looney Tunes plate to a cruel microwave. In any event, having studied my television well, I decided that the only sensible thing to do was to take my cassette single of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” outside, along with my mother’s tape deck, and to play it at full volume from on top of a nearby hill. I was so sure that the Man would crumble, and that pets would be let in. (Or, perhaps, the plate would be magically restored.) This was, actually, the first day that I got a bee sting, as I chose a poor hill, and I ended up with a sore forehead and still no cats or plates. I think that might be as close as I’ll ever get to a “down on his luck rocker” story. Ah well.
Anyway, returning to Kermit… It’s hard to say what it is about this particular track. I think anyone who’s heard it can recall that moment when the bridge transitions to the final verse. That amazing swell, and that longing. It’s a song for children in that it can be understood by the youngest parts of the heart – but it’s not a song that most children could articulate the meaning of. (Heck, I’m not even sure that I can.) I used to lie in bed and listen to my 45s on my strange little record player. It sort of looked like a TV, and you could put these film strips in it (not unlike viewmaster slides), and these would, in turn, play images on the screen while the story of “Cinderella” (or, whatever) played. It was cute, and I loved the thing. Between the player, my adventure books, and my lite brite, I was a pretty happy child. Anyway, I can remember playing a 45 of this song and feeling this overwhelming urge to cry. I must’ve been four years old, but I found myself alone in bed, and crying my eyes out over something I sensed. Even now, when I try to articulate the power that music has over me, I return to that instant. Which, I suppose, is why I’m starting this series there.
When people ask me what “art” is, I usually tell them two things. The first thing I tell them is that the whole “beret-toting, turtleneck-wearing, clove-cigarette-smoking” aesthetic is so last century. The second thing I tell them is this: “Great Art should kill you. Just a little.” And what I mean, I suppose, is that it should slot into a place in your soul. That the recognition of greatness allows the thing to enter you, and to take a little piece of you for itself. I guess we might call this the “vampiric theory of aesthetics.” That is, if we were twelve and snuggled under the covers with a stolen Anne Rice book. And we were girls. And our names were Melissa and Marcy. But, really, I’m not the first person to think up something like this. I like to think of this as a continuation of the aesthetics of people like Walter Pater. (If nothing else, that makes it sound like someone else is pretentious, and that I’m only copying them.)
Returning to the point, I suppose I could’ve chosen a lot of different Muppet songs. “Saying Goodbye,” at the end of “The Muppets Take Manhattan” is something that always gets me. Even, now. Jim Henson had this amazing understanding that children were capable of feeling many of the same things that adults do (or, perhaps, that’s better the other way round), but they’re not always capable of expressing them in the same ways. When I first heard “Rainbow Connection,” I cried. And I cried because something inside me gave itself over to the song. Its beauty, and it is beautiful, filled me with feeling only. It’s an experience I’ve known since, and will be repeated in one way or another with the songs that follow in this series. But I always think back to this song, along with “Puff the Magic Dragon” (which we’ll come to in one of these essays), and I see the birth of a life spent chasing the ghosts in these songs – digging for the essence of the eternal.
It’s impossible for me to speak plainly about these things. It is also impossible for me to speak to you without resorting to great amounts of sentiment. Which is precisely the point, I suppose. And I really wouldn’t respect myself if it were any other way. My life is fairly ordered, and I’m not given to the great emotional outpourings that I once was. (At least, publically. Though, there are the occasional, profanity-strewn Sox losses/wins/near losses/near wins – sheesh – that suggest otherwise…) It’s not that I don’t feel as much. Rather, my feelings are simply channeled into different efforts. The one place, however, that I have the same intensity is in my response to music. My musical tastes represent the language of my soul. I can remember colors, touches, smells, sounds, places, faces, words, dreams, everything about my life when I hear certain songs. Really. They’ve all got stories, and I am never at a loss for them. It’s reassuring to know that my biography is so tidily bound, and readily accessible, in my music collection.
For instance, I hear “Rainbow Connection,” and I know that my father is there – sitting just beyond the door. (Which is where he remains, now.) I hear a simple line like “have you been half asleep, and have you heard voices,” and I cry a bit – because I have. There has always been something about sleep that feels like surrender. I’m writing to you at pi in the morning, and I know it’s where I’m supposed to be. Sleeping would be a waste of the special access that sleepiness affords.
So, the “Rainbow Connection” is the inaugural song in our series. I hope you weren’t expecting a great explication, or an amazing musicological analysis of its place in American mythopoetics. To me, it’s a way of conjuring my dad into a place in mind where I can be happy. My father’s songs will dominate this list, and that’s as it should be. My father and I spoke through music, and these early songs were the first words he taught me. So, he needs to be here. But that’s all in good time. For now, there’s this: