Proust had his madeleine, I have Dave Mason. Whenever I want to revisit the early 1970s, I can put on his album Alone Together and be transported. I’m not entirely clear what the trick is, where the instant connection comes from. It could be that the song simply fits in so well with other great albums from that same year, like George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (Mason plays on that), or Eric Clapton’s Layla (Clapton plays on Alone Together), or the sound that evolved out of Traffic, the band Mason formed then left. It could simply be that Mason represents mid-tempo rock, with jazz and folk flavorings, in a certain quintessential way and that kind of music was the perfect emblem of sophisticated rock of its era.
Which is not to say that I was into it at the time. No, and that fact makes Mason’s defining album more exemplary. I didn’t hear it, back then, except on the radio. “Only You Know and I Know” was the radio song, but on FM others were played too. The song didn’t blow me away, felt almost a bit too Californian. I was always into the darker side of Brit folk, but on this album Mason achieves a feel good sound that never panders, never gets insipid. Now, when I hear it, it just feels like a time gone by, still alive, still vital, but gone. And yet not really. Images come to mind of roads in Delaware that don’t look like that anymore, but they do in my mind. And so, perhaps, they will live on, as images, so long as I live and so long as I can put on Alone Together.
Yesterday I remarked on the “fellow feeling” that comes and goes. The version of that reawakened by this song belongs to time spent with my older brother, Tom, back when I was 17-18 and he was 25-26. It’s almost like some essence of those days is instilled in songs like this. Not that he was a big Mason fan and I don’t think he played this album for me. He liked Mason’s recording of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” (Mason played on Hendrix’s version). Later, around 1980, my friend Tim’s girlfriend Claire played Alone Together a lot and I became enamored of “World in Changes,” which I nearly selected as the song for today. But because I associate that with that phase of my relations with Mary (pre-kid, in other words), that dislocates the song from 1970s revisiting.
All of which I’m going on about to get a handle on how that works. Not in any deeply analytic way, but simply in what I would call the affective sense. How does it feel? To be listening to Dave Mason’s “Only You Know and I Know” in 2014? “’Cause you know / That I mean what I say / So don’t go / And never take me the wrong way.” There’s something in the song’s expression of its straight-talk sentiments that speaks—maybe even reeks (with a strong inhale)—of a time of bell-bottoms, bongs, and long hair. It feels made for the mating rituals of those slightly my elders, wrestling with commitment in a world that’s supposed to be higher and hipper than that. And it’s not like it necessarily applies to anyone I know. It’s as if the level of sophistication about romance contained in just about any Frank Sinatra song plays its part in whatever romance was like for my parents, even if they never would have pretended to such sophistication. For me, not yet serious about anyone in those teen years, the song feels optimistic about it all. About how people can “relate,” as they say.
And that’s maybe the point of me going back so much to those times. That’s how far I have to go to remember a time before “her.” And that’s a long, long time. Hearing Dave Mason wave his magic wand takes me back there—to that time of jamming rock songs that had no angst and no bitterness, but simply knew that music was the answer, the key to all the good, groovy feelings we should have for one another, “young and gift strong” as we were (to borrow Berryman’s line). It wasn’t corny, romance under those conditions. It didn’t have to be a pain in the ass.
Only you know and I know / All the loving we’ve got to show / So don’t refuse to believe it / By reading too many meanings.
Don’t go getting all heads-up about this. You know it feels right, babe. And if that seems crazy, “Aw, I ain’t no crazier than you.”
Today Dave Mason is 68.