Wednesday, July 27, 2005

callow youth

This is prompted by Mrs. L's essay, Mrs. L's Guide to Raising Adults. I'm an adult now, but I remember when I was not...

In the summer of 1969 I was 19, living on my own in Chicago, in a single furnished room in an apartment hotel on Clark Street, across the street from the Lincoln Park Zoo. I'd left Minnesota and my parents' home 2 years earlier, at 17, the day after high school graduation, with not much more than Mrs. L's $100 in my wallet when I arrived in Chicago. I worked as an au pair that first summer, living in the suburbs with the family whose children I cared for. By the summer of '69 I had a full-time job in downtown Chicago in the Clerk's Office of the Federal Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and I spent my days quipping with lawyers (one of whom I eventually married) and occasionally with federal judges. Four nights a week I attended classes at City College, on Lake Street, after which I'd catch either a 22 (Clark Street) or a 36 (Broadway) bus back home, where I'd run a hot bath in which I'd soak, while working on trig problems or conjugating Russian verbs by candlelight. It was great to be young in the '60's, and to be 19 and on my own in Chicago, in 1969 - although money was always tight, it was a heady time for me.

That summer I discovered Leonard Cohen. I mean, I first discovered a Leonard Cohen album: Songs from a Room. I'd first become aware of him the previous summer, when I heard his song, Suzanne, sung by Judy Collins on her album, In My Life, and I was curious about the Canadian poet who'd written the haunting lyrics.

I was quite the audiophile in those days. I didn't have kitchen facilities in my furnished room, but, much more important to me, I had an AR turntable with a Shure cartridge that I kept balanced within the recommended weight range using a small set of plastic disc weights and counterbalance supplied by Shure when I purchased the cartridge. While my best friend was reading Cosmopolitan and Glamour, I was reading StereoReview (to which I'd subscribed) and Scientific American. I was interested in having the best possible sound quality of the recordings that I listened to (she says in self-defense).

That summer, in addition to working full-time, going to school part-time, and being an audio nerd, I was still seeing My First Love: G, a 22-year-old about whom I was totally nuts. We'd met back in Minnesota at a street dance, when I was 16 and just finishing up my junior year in high school and he was 19, and just finishing up his sophomore year at the Catholic Men's College in my town. He was from Chicago, and seemed incredibly sophisticated to me...but then, anyone who wasn't Minnesotan seemed incredibly sophisticated to me in those days. I was immediately smitten.

When I moved to Chicago in the summer of 1967, G was about to begin his senior year of college in Minnesota, so although we stayed in touch (I still have his letters), we stopped seeing each other. A year later, after graduating from college, G returned to Chicago, where he attended law school for exactly one day ("I knew it wasn't for me," he said). One day in early fall, 1968, we literally bumped into each other, on Randolph Street, and we began seeing each other again. I was totally nuts about him, and there weren't many things I wouldn't have done for him, and he knew it, although there was this one thing...

I remember the night I first listened to the Cohen album, Songs From a Room. The Cohen song that had first captured my attention, Suzanne, was not on the album, but it was an absolutely amazing album nevertheless. As I sat crosslegged on my bed, listening to Cohen's raspy voice singing Bird on the Wire, Story of Isaac, A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes, The Partisan...I was blown away. G called, and I told him about it. A couple of nights later, G came over. One thing led to another, and afterward, as we lay curled in each other's arms, spent and happy, we listened to the album as it played on my AR turntable with the weighted Shure cartridge. G especially liked the last song on the album, Tonight Will Be Fine. I was touched and slightly embarrassed when he said thatthe lyrics reminded him of me: Oh sometimes I see her undressing for me, she's the soft naked lady love meant her to be...she's moving her body so brave and so free, If I've got to remember that's a fine memory...and I know...from her eyes...and I know...from her smile...that tonight will be fine will be fine will be fine will be fine....for awhile.

When the album ended, he asked me to play it again. I was totally nuts about him, and there weren't many things I wouldn't have done for him, and he knew it...but not that. I refused to play the album a second time for him that night. Audiophile that I was, I explained, earnestly: "Playing it twice in a night will flatten the grooves, I've read about this..."

Gawd. I was SUCH a nerd. Amazingly, he continued to see me for almost 2 years after that, and we remain friends to this day. I can only say...and this isn't Cohen, but a fellow Minnesotan (Dylan): Ahhhhhhh, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.

Thank goodness.


Robin said...

Yeah, me too.

emmapeeldallas said...

LOL! Um, there's more to come here, but I'm having problems with AOL (big surprise, huh?) and so I'm saving as I draft...there's probably a more efficient way to do this, but I haven't discovered it yet, so bear with me, and thanks for the comment!

Judith said...

What a fabulous read!

Albert said...

What a great entry. I never did know that about record grooves! --Albert

sierrajazz said...

Thanks for sharing some personal things about your life. It is nice to know a persons background and some of their personal experiences while growing up. That was a delightful read, I am sorry it ended.. thanks to AOL problems. Well please continue. I will have to check out Leonard Cohen. I have heard many people here mention him.. always always love to learn about different music and artists, AND poets.. I found the Lady Shalot poem and read the whole thing... beautiful!!!

Paul said...

My Back Pages. You hit my favorite poem one nigh, and my favorite song the next? What the hell is going on here?

emmapeeldallas said...

Well, I'm not familiar with Seamus Heaney or Annie Proulx so you're probably safe from having any sense of deja-vu in the near future...

p.s. - it's only fair to warn you, I'm a huge Yeats fan, though.

Marc said...

in the marvelous voice of Robert DeNiro..."are you talking to me?......are you talking to me?"

Hello Judi....Just noticed that you were recommending ("pimping" as they say here in J-Land) the Golden Voice and Platinum mind of Leonard Cohen.....and followed the trail this mirror image journal entry. Being of the same age, and living that magical year 1969, your entry pulled me back in time!
Much of what you experienced softly echoes in the memories that I have packed away. (Which I now occaisionally unpack in my journal too!)

Oh yes....I too had to play my albums with a weighted Sure cartridge..... As long as there was music in the air, there was an en element of Hope in my heart!
"I saw a beggar on his wooden crutch
he called out to me and said
why ask for so much?

I saw a woman leaning from her darkened door
she called out to me and said
why not ask for more?

Like a bird on a wire
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way
to be free"..........................Leonard Cohen

Hoping you found the balance! Peace!~~~~~ Marc :)

Lily said...

lol okay... you commented and because I'm a good little J-lander I came to return the favor and instead I'm returning a compliment. A lovely journal, truly honestly it is. It's refreshing to find people who can actually write.

I love hearing of "back then" so this story certainly caught my attention. (My turn to call myself a CURRENT nerd lol oh well I think that's why Will dates me lol)

You'll be added to my alerts, and I'll be back. (I can never say that without laughing lol)


Sam said...

I had my own AR turntable and used a weighted Shure cartridge, too! 1969 brings back so many memories. Reading this entry makes it all seem like yesterday. I really liked this post. Thanks for sharing your memories with us.