Saturday, March 9, 2019

Come Down in Time

Once upon a time when I was in high school, Karma delivered my first boyfriend.

Actually, he was more of a hand-me-down, since he'd just come from being a close friend's boyfriend. After dumping her, he waited a few months and asked me out. Since he was older, already in college and had eyes like Paul McCartney, I accepted and we became an item.

Then he set about telling me what was acceptable in his world and what wasn't. Listening to Top 40 music had to stop. Only serious musicians were worthy of my ears and attention. An artist like Elton John, with his piano-based music, didn't have enough guitar cred to bother with. Period.

But because I was young and he was my first boyfriend, I went along with all of it. He never has to know that five years later, I saw EJ live and ate up every minute of it.

Fortunately, that malleable, young woman eventually realized she could make her own cultural decisions, ditched him and went on to have relationships with men who didn't try to shape her musical taste (okay, there was that one in the mid-90s, but he did introduce me to some musicians I'd never have heard of otherwise).

That's the only reason I can think of to explain why, when Holmes asked what we were going to listen to last night, the first words out of my mouth were, "Early Elton John."

The unexpected craving to hear the music from a young but seminal time in my life came out of nowhere.

All I know is that EJ wasn't on my mind when Holmes, Beloved and I sat down at the bar at Little Saint and ordered a Negroni for her and a bottle of Mont Gravet Rose for everyone. I wasn't thinking about music when I tucked into a bowl of chicken vegetable soup with a hint of heat. And nothing else was on my mind when I downed my fancy toast except the mashed avocado, bacon, spicy honey and tiny orange sections astride the grilled sourdough.

Like the moment in a film when everything freezes except the music, when Holmes' food arrived, Beloved looked at him incredulously and observed, "I never thought I'd see you ordering a kale and grits bowl!" She had a point since he's not exactly a mindful eater, but the bowl's contents - flash fried kale drizzled with honey, Autumn Olive pork, cheesy grits and, just to take it over the top, a runny egg with hot sauce - belied the wholesome-sounding descriptor.

Whew, she didn't have to worry that someone had abducted Holmes and replaced him with a healthy eater.

The dish was obscenely good, with bits of crispy kale shattering everywhere if you weren't careful. He couldn't even finish his egg salad toast because of licking the bowl on the kale and grits.

Meanwhile, Beloved's lavash-crusted flounder over parsnip puree and braised kale brought her great pleasure judging by the moans and eye-closings.

It was once we'd relocated to Homes' man-cave that my suggestion of early EJ was floated. Holmes was immediately on his feet in an attempt to locate as much Elton John as his collection would yield. "I don't know if I have the one..." he said, allowing me to respond, "Madman Across the Water?" By then he'd not only located it, but five others, including the eponymous "Elton John" from 1970, his second studio album.

For reference, that's the one that leads off with "Your Song," which, while it's been wildly overplayed, never seems to get tiresome. Maybe because it's a reminder of my best friend and her first love, who considered it their song.

One of the reasons I enjoy our basement record listening parties so much is that, without fail, we always look up what year the album came out. The point, of course, is to place the album in the context of our lives (or at least, the context of the memories of our lives). Like that time when Holmes put on British band Ace's "Five-A-Side" and the only too familiar strains of "How Long?" blared from his mega-speakers, my first question was, when?

1974, Holmes announced after picking up a magnifying glass from the pencil cup on the bar and zeroing in on the microscopic printing on the back of the album. Beloved and I looked at each other all grins, reminiscing that we were doing a lot of dancing in 1974.

But "Your Song" is from a 1970 album and I am practically positive that I never heard of Elton John or that song in 1970. "It didn't get played here until 1971," Holmes informs me, but I still can't believe I heard it that early.

Maybe I didn't discover it until after "Madman Across the Water" came out in 1971, because I definitely remember the instantly classic side one with "Tiny Dancer," "Levon," "Razorface" and "Madman Across the Water."

Twenty two minutes of pure piano pop perfection.

Holmes also had EJ's album "7-11-70," a live album that I'd never even known existed, despite it being his fifth album. We listened to some of "Tumbleweed Connection," which I learned was a concept album based on country and western themes.

To be honest, "Burn Down the Mission" was the only song I even recognized, while "Come Down in Time" had a similarly rapturous effect on Beloved as the lavash-crusted flounder had. She not only sang the words, but closed her eyes, the better to be transported back to 1970.

Beloved was most excited when she saw that he had a copy of the "Friends" soundtrack, a movie that had escaped my notice in 1971. She, on the other hand, recalled seeing it at the Capitol Theater, which was on Broad Street near the Science Museum, but since it was demolished long before I arrived here, I had no knowledge of it.

But that got me to thinking that, for the most part, I have no memory of where I saw most of the films in my life before ten years ago when they built Movieland two miles from my apartment. Yes, I know I saw "Flashdance" at the West End Theater on L Street in D.C. and I have clear memories of seeing "Jaws" at the Riverdale Theater, but not a lot beyond that.

And here Beloved was recalling not only where she saw "Friends" in 1971, but totally digging hearing the title song and the new-to-me "Honey Roll" again.

Well, I want to say that I'm your Mister Funky
Singing this song is taking up your time
I did the donkey, now I'm your funky monkey
Sing it, children, sing it on your mind

Our 1971 selves took control as she and I looked at each other and cracked up at the funky monkey part. I think it's gonna be a long, long time before I've made up for all the EJ I missed out on.

Bossy boyfriends be damned, you can deny a young woman her Elton John, but eventually any Mona Lisa or Mad Hatter worth her salt is going to listen to whatever she wants to.

Turning back, she just laughs.

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