Wednesday, July 15, 2015
But as I listened this one time, driving around late one night (it must’ve been after midnight because the traffic was light enough that I wasn’t cursing idiot drivers), the song suddenly took on new meaning.
We all associate songs with things that occurred in our lives. Sometimes there’s a direct correlation. A love song that takes you back to a specific romance. A dance record that symbolizes an epic party and you want to vomit each time you hear it because that’s what you did six times that night.
Other songs evoke an emotion, and sometimes only your subconscious knows what’s it’s connected to. You just feel warm or sad or homicidal when you hear it.
But rarely does a song suddenly take on new meaning after almost fifty years. MacArthur Park however, has never been an ordinary song on any level.
Here’s what I realized for the first time. MacArthur Park represented my college experience.
It came out in the spring of 1968 just as I was entering UCLA. (UCLA is on the quarter system and I graduated high school in January.) In an era when songs had to be short to get coveted radio airplay (4 minutes max), MacArthur Park was a whopping 7:24. And yet there was such demand for it that stations were forced to play it.
High school was small. I had outgrown it. UCLA was big. High school was 3 minutes; UCLA was 7:24.
The setting is an iconic park in Los Angeles. I was born and raised in LA. My mother was born and raised in LA. My family has been here since Zorro.
MacArthur Park was overly dramatic. That was me, full of myself because I was going to college and mired in puberty. The song is filled with turgid imagery. I was now a “man of learning,” finding meaning and poetry in everything.
Between the parted pages and were pressed
In love’s hot, fevered iron
Like a striped pair of pants.
But then there were lyrics that were so idiotic that even I recognized it.
I don’t think that I can take it
‘Cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again
What the fuck nonsense is that?
So I always had the perspective of not taking anything too seriously. Being able to spot and laugh at absurdity is I believe the key element to writing comedy. Thank you, Jimmy Webb. And seriously, what the fuck DOES that mean?
And yet, later there is a lyric that just kills me. Like most adolescents, I was rather obsessed with finding romance. Sex certainly but I longed for a girlfriend. And then the lyric came along…
After all the loves of my life, you’ll still be the one
That seemed so romantic – finding that one special girl who would always be “the one.” Sigh. At the time however, every girl I went out with I thought was “the one.” Today I can’t even remember the names of half the girls who were “the one.”
But I still find that lyric touching.
Now the song changes direction and goes from a lush power ballad to a driving rock song. Hey, that’s me – I got my youth, I got my music. It’s party time! I would dance if I wasn’t such a shitty dancer. At first the rock section is fun and a welcome relief from the drama. But then it keeps going… and going. And after awhile I say “enough already.” I got classes in the morning.
There’s a whole stanza where Harris sings about the future course of his life. He’ll win and lose “the worship in their eyes.” He’ll have dreams, he’ll drink wine (Richard Harris drank a LOT of wine), he’ll be up, he’ll be down, he’ll have stuff, he’ll put all his stuff into perspective, etc. It’s essentially a graduation speech.
And finally the song swells to a thunderous crescendo. It sweeps me along. My emotions are raging, I’m about to be launched into the future that will chart the very course of my life. An angelic chorus is joining in.
Oh no. I’ll never have that recipe again. What’ll I do? What’ll I do?
And then the song ends with a flourish. And I say…
Yep, that was my college experience.