Last month, author Robert K. Elder asked if I'd share some words connecting music with my memories. He was planning the April 29th release party for his latest book, THE MIXTAPE OF MY LIFE: A DO IT YOURSELF MEMOIR (Running Press/Hachette Book Group), and I told him I'd be happy to help.
Immediately, Supertramp's TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME sprang to mind, though I really had no idea why. My only real memory associated with the song was of driving with my sister and my father long ago. Thanks to Rob and this exercise, I worked on a little piece (shared below) to help me explore that memory even further.
The release party, held tonight, was a blast, including essays from the author himself, as well as Chicago Tribune Entertainment Editor Janine Schaults and diehard Chicago Cubs fan, Bill Savage.
Here's the text of what I read, which was followed at the event by a rendition of Supertramp's TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME, performed by the talented School of Rock Oak Park-ers (thanks guys!):
Take the Long Way Home
I was 7 and my sister was 5 when our parents divorced. At the time, we were living just down the road from here, in River Forest.
By the time I was 12, Mom had remarried and moved to Hoffman Estates, which was NOT easy to get to from Downer’s Grove, where Dad lived.
I-355 had yet to be built, so we’d slog back and forth -- every other weekend -- along Route 53 or Finley Road, always in our dad’s totally NASTY van.
First, let me paint a vivid picture of this van for you: It was a rusty, brown, shag carpety, cigarette smokety beast of a vehicle -- with a CB Radio.
My little sister’s “handle” was SWEET PEA.
Our dad’s handle was, horrifyingly, HORNY TOAD.
And, because I loved a candy called Sugar Babies, my handle was actually SUGAR BABE.
Here’s the thing.
NO ONE back then bothered to tell me that a SUGAR BABY is another name for [and I actually looked this up]: “a person in a romantic relationship who receives cash, gifts or other benefits in exchange for being in the relationship.”
NOT THAT ANYONE WOULD HAVE HAD ME:
I was 12.
I had a mullet with an Ogilvie home perm.
And I wore a training bra under my smiley-faced, iron-on Tshirt, with rainbow suspenders locked onto my Jordache jeans -- the ones I wouldn’t DREAM of wearing without underwear like Brooke Shields did in those Calvin Klein ads because… two words: Suspenders and Wedgies.
And remember, this was 1979: We didn’t have smart phones. We killed all that driving time in three overlapping ways:
1. Talking to truckers.
2. Playing driving games.
3. Listening to music.
We’d often play something we called the ABC game, which is exactly as it sounds. You had to find a sign or a logo or ANY word outside of the car, beginning with each letter of the alphabet. The game was over when everyone in the car reached Z.
Sometimes, it took FOREVER to find a word, especially on our longer road trips, and it was during those lulls when music mattered the most.
Okay, so it was 1979, and Supertramp’s TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME was #10 on the charts. We had the BREAKFAST IN AMERICA album on cassette, and when it wasn’t IN the cassette deck in Dad’s gross van, it was surely just being flipped over.
Supertramp’s cofounder Roger Hodgson has often described his two interpretations of the hit song he wrote:
- It’s about a guy dragging his heels, taking the long way back home since his wife treats him like a piece of furniture and he’s the laughing stock of the neighborhood. Let’s just say, I now understand why my dad kept this song on repeat.
- It’s also about how it may take a long time to find your way home, but that you always will -- once you’re truly in touch with your heart.
And, the song held some duality for me, too, depending on my pre-teen moods:
When things with Dad were great, like when we went to Old Chicago (an indoor amusement park and shopping center), I didn’t want to take the long way home. I didn't want to go home at all, because, as a 12-year-old, I saw him as my “favorite” parent then!
But when I was missing things back home -- like my mom or my stepfather or my baby sister or my friends or my other life, I wasn’t happy about being shuttled back and forth in this ugly brown van with an often cranky, alcoholic father, a man who frequently missed the exits and turns, and who, in those times, forced us to take the long way home.
As you can imagine, taking the long way home was a complicated matter for me, but this song left room for all my feelings and interpretations.
Still, I cling to the positive memories of those weekend visits. There was one time when we were almost to our mom’s, but my little sister still needed a Z word to finish the ABC game. Dad and I were each already through the alphabet, and trust me, Z words weren’t easy to find.
But our dad intentionally diverted us from our usual route, specifically to drive past that HUGE Zenith TV sign along the highway -- I think it was on 294?
That night, our dad took the long way home.
And you know what?
It was absolutely worth it.
Thanks so much for creating this book, Rob. My father and my sister are both gone now. I’m grateful to you for giving me a reason to reconnect with all these memories from my past.
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Tags: #blogging365, book review, Chicago Cubs, do it yourself, everyday blogging, memoir, music, Old Chicago, Robert K. Elder, Roger Hodgson, School of Rock, Sugar Babies, Supertramp, Take the Long Way Home, The Mixtape of My Life, Zenith TV