Saturday, August 23, 2014

Forever Young # 31: "Closure"

Song:  Wrecking Ball
Album:  Freedom
Released:  October, 1989

Changes were afoot within my circles in the late 80s.  Many of us were getting married, buying homes, establishing careers and soon enough having children.  Going off to school earlier in the decade was a considerable primer for dealing with change in our lives. These new experiences intensified and cemented the deal. 

The late 80s were interesting times in terms of connecting with our youth.  Some of my peers dropped out.  Others moved on.  But for most of us, these were not options.  Severing ties with the friendships and experiences of our younger selves would have been akin to razing our childhood homes.  Still it could be difficult on occasion to reconnect with the past.  I vividly recall going back to my hometown of Franklin one evening around this period and walking into the Uptown Pub.  This watering hole was never a favorite haunt, but on that night it felt worse; strange even.  I felt out of place and out of sorts.  It was a feeling of trying to keep something going which was no longer there.  Around then I realized that with change, you have to leave a part of you behind.  There’s no avoiding it. 

And yet…..

And yet, there is always that quest lingering within.  That search for recapturing or revisiting something that was.  Or maybe it’s the notion of closure.   When you’re older and presumably wiser, you look at the world from a broader context:  “If I only knew then what I know now”.  And so, when nostalgia kicks in, which inevitably happens from time to time, there is an urge to go back.  Back to those simpler days when the highs seemed easier to achieve, being as there were not so many layers to filter through to get there.

I had planned on tackling Wrecking Ball ( ) near the beginning of this Forever Young blog series.  It is such a magnificent song, and I’ve loved it ever since first listening to ‘Freedom’ upon release.  But back in January, I wasn’t quite ready to revisit Wrecking Ball.  Those original emotions had not stirred back up.  And so, I sat on it and gave it another go this past week.  This time, I was rewarded. 

There was a wrecking ball in downtown Franklin many years ago.  It must have been 1975 or so.  I watched it tear down a large section of a 3-level brick building across from Franklin News on Main Street.  Prior it was an old, mostly vacant complex for a number of years.  I do recall a dance studio on the top level that was easily accessible via a large fire escape.  For kids who loved to explore, like my friends and I, there was access to the inside from several alleyway doors and crawl spaces.  Machinery and tools were sprawled about on the 1st level; a legacy of a bygone era of blue-collar work in the heart of town.   This was one of many places we investigated.  Dean Junior College, just up the road, was another.  There were all sorts of tucked away spaces there; nooks and crannies that only ourselves - and possibly a custodian or two - would know of.  There were also a variety of barns, industrial buildings and other structures we would check out.  The rooftops were not out of bounds either. We never stole anything.  Curiosity was the driving force; a desire to take the path less trodden.

Watching the old building come down that summer had an effect on me.   I realized at the time that new (a bank) would be replacing old.  Was this good, or not so good?  I struggled a bit with the thought.  I recall a sensation that a part of me was being torn down with it and that I’d never be able to go back to that place, aside from memory.  It wasn’t necessarily the structure either.  It was more the whole ball of wax, including the adventure and comradery….. that Stand By Me sort of feeling (the movie and the song).  Yes, that was what came crashing down in a heap of bricks and mortar in the summer of ’75.

Change can be tough, and that wrecking ball may have been the first inkling of it for me.  With each change in your life, though, the next one gets a little easier to swallow. And Franklin was a place where we saw a ton of it.  Development was rampant in Eastern Massachusetts in the 80s.  Franklin was in the crosshairs.  A final added chunk of rte. 495 in the late 70s gave equidistant access in all four directions: Cape Cod to the South, Providence to the West, Worcester to the North, and Boston to the East.  The rural feel disappeared as a variety of our backwoods hangouts suddenly became a thing of the past. And with residential development came the chain stores, leaving Mom and Pop places like Franklin Furniture, Jimmy’s Penny Candy, Kearney’s, Puritan Drugs, Brunelli’s, and Newberry’s in the dust.  In the process, Franklin lost much of its charm, luster, and character.  A large number of my concrete memories had become abstract ones.  The town was becoming just another chunk of flotsam in an endless sea of suburban sprawl.

As those life-changing events of career and family played out for me into the 90s, I know I reflected on all of this.  And it was not simply the development of that small town I grew up in.  It was all the loss that went with it.  Sure I had gained so much by focusing on what I needed to in order to make life work into adulthood, and I knew this to be good.   But I also realized that I had lost something in the process; a bit of innocence and adventure and discovery and exploration and opportunity and youthful exuberance.  The road ahead would be influential and groundbreaking in its own right, but now it would include the occasional glance into the rearview mirror, hoping to see something that would entice me to make a U-turn. 

Several of the songs that grabbed my attention at that juncture in my life were about this sense of loss.  There was Iris Dement’s transcendent song, Our Town (see Gem Music Video of the Week # 4, January, 2008).  There was Rick Danko’s rarity What a Town.  There was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers American Girl.  And of course there was Neil Young’s Wrecking Ball.  Where the other three songs are explicitly about a sense of loss from the perspective of youth and home, Wrecking Ball covers more ground.  Love and closure factor into the equation in all of these songs, but Young links past to present here, each verse describing some unique relationship, both long-lasting and fleeting.  In all these scenarios, the looming wrecking ball is the metaphor for closure to something that was, but can never be again.  There’s a link between them, but it’s left for the listener to interpret.

When I take a ride to Franklin these days, visiting family and friends still dwelling there, so much comes flooding back. Now, however, it’s more complex.  There are the old memories of my youth, yes.  But there are also recollections from that time of significant change in my life, when I was coming to the realization that……shit happens.  The wrecking ball is inevitable, and how you deal with it becomes the ultimate definition of one’s character.  But we need to save a space and time to connect with what was there beforehand, if only to get some closure.  It may seem counterintuitive, but this helps to define our character too.   Wrecking Ball appears to back this notion up.

-          Pete

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