Wednesday, August 27, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 239): "COLOUR MY WORLD" (1970) Chicago

Summer is dwindling, if not quite dead. I mean that in the sense in which “summer” is used to refer to the season when the kids are out of school. That time grows short, indeed. But “summer,” as the actual season, has almost a month to go, though here in the States we've got this Memorial Day to Labor Day mentality, while “summer” as a climate condition goes on a bit beyond the equinox sometimes. Which is a way of saying it still feels very much like summer, temperature-wise, but the sense of an ending is everywhere apparent. Particularly here in a college town.

As someone born just past mid-August, I long ago accepted my birthday as a harbinger of that inevitable change. It always depressed me a little as a kid to know that a mere two weeks of “summer” remained. Enough time for “something”—it’s a popular vacation period—but not enough to make one forget time’s ineluctable movement.

In posting “a song of the day,” many factors determine the choice, but I have to say that, in these hazy, lazy days of summer, I’ve felt at times like I’m “phoning it in.” Making a choice based on some feature of the calendar and letting that do the talking, so to speak. I feel that things maybe will sharpen up as we press on into my favorite time of the year, generally. I expect that fall might be a bit more focused, a bit more . . . exacting? than has been the case of late. Though who am I to say? Maybe it's just been that all these summer activities have distracted me. Certainly, winter is better for sedentary occupations.

One thing these posts are proving is that I still feel most drawn to the music of the Sixties and Seventies because those are the albums that meant something as recorded works. One of the challenges of punk was that it kicked in the head the very notion of being an “audiophile” who sits back in fat cat splendor drooling over his well-crafted disks. Records became much more catch-as-catch can and even the ones that were notable for “production values” throughout the Eighties still look and feel, commercially speaking, like cheap product—gone were the heavier vinyl, the gatefold album covers and interesting packaging, and then came those cheesy little plastic CD cases. Which is a way of saying that my generation, who came of artistic age in the Eighties, got cheated by their place in history, in terms of the record industry, but it got even worse (from that point of view) later.

All of which is—I like to think—fitting preamble to this post on today’s song. “Colour My World,” written by James Pankow, Chicago’s trombonist, and sung by the late Terry Kath, was on the band’s second album, released in January, 1970, as a big, sprawling, ambitious double LP (though, true, the double LPs fit on a single CD). The song is the B-side of another great Chicago song “Make Me Smile” (also sung by Kath), that was released in 1970. Then, in the summer of 1971, “Colour My World” was re-released as the B-side of “Beginnings.” And that summer it was on the radio quite a bit as a double A-side, enough to “colour my world” in the closing days of summer. I remember the summer of 1971—I turned 12—quite well because I was smitten. Even more smitten than I was by a crush on my sixth grade teacher in the 1970-71 school year. This affair of the heart had even more potential to provoke melancholia—for I was smitten by a siren of the airwaves.

Being depressed by the fact that summer was ending was bad enough, but being depressed by the fact that the summer-long re-runs—on Channel 48 out of Philly—of The Avengers were coming to an end was much worse. It had become a ritual of the summer to watch Mrs. Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) display her lithe lines, her fierce intelligence, her wry smirks, her cultured Brit accent, her auburn tresses, her slightly pixie-like (in shape) face with its faultless cheekbones and pointy nose, her large, lambent and very expressive eyes for my amusement. I was fully captured. Oh, and I was amused by John Steed (Patrick Macnee) as well. This was the first time I’d seen the black and white series—formerly I knew only some of the color episodes of the 1966-67 season—and that meant becoming enamored of an even younger Rigg. Though I don’t know that I was enamored of Rigg—I was enamored of the character created by the writers and embodied by her: Mrs. Emma Peel, who, if she were the same age as the woman who played her, was just shy of 30.

Of course, when you’re 12, anyone over 20 seems to inhabit an entirely different world. That summer, in its dwindling days, my parents took us to an amusement park in Pennsylvania. And on the ride, I heard, as I had a few days before (after the re-broadcasting of the final episode with Emma—“The Forget-Me-Knot”), “Colour My World.” It's hypnotic—it’s easy to fall into a trance, listening—the repetitive piano melody and the sweetly melancholic flute solo suited perfectly my mood. To say nothing of the words, in Kath's baritone with an appropriate catch in his voice, that I could easily imagine Steed, sans Peel, singing to her himself: “As time goes on / I’ll realize / Just what you mean / To me.” And “your love / That I’ve waited to share and dream / Of our moments together / Colour my world with hopes / Of loving you.” So short and sweet.

The song seems to force a brooding disposition upon you, even if you aren’t usually so inclined. I was thus inclined anyway. And sitting in the back seat of the family car, behind the driver’s seat, I heard the song on the radio, beating out my hapless heart. It would be foolish to cry and yet some relief would've been afforded, I suppose. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

“Colour My World” gets it all across: the hopes of loving that probably won’t pay off, even though one realizes that loving is what it’s all about, “as time goes on.” The realization that comes “now that you’re near,” we can say, extends past the end of the song and lets us think the hopes will be fulfilled. I tended not to hear it that way, then. And I still don’t hear it that way, now. In the happy version, the passage of time lets the speaker cherish his beloved even more than he already did. In  my version, the passage of time puts it all in the past tense. He’ll realize, as time passes, “just what you mean to me.” But it will be too late.

Emma—Diana—had left the series in 1967. The series, in 1971, was in summer re-run and summer was nearly over. As time goes on.

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