No, I'm not feeling especially apocalyptic today; it's just that on my way home from the gym, the old Skeeter Davis tune "The End Of The World" popped up on my iPod. For those of you who don't know the song, it's a particularly plangent tearjerker (Why does my heart go on beating? Why do these eyes of mine cry? Don't they know it's the end of the world? It ended when you said goodbye.) that struck a chord with me when I was a young teenager and which I've loved ever since.
I discovered it, as I did many of my favorite pop songs from the early 60s, while walking my paper route with a primitive transistor radio (twenty times the size of an iPod Nano and delivering only the local AM radio stations through a tinny speaker that somehow managed to sound like Carnegie Hall to my impressionable young senses) stuffed in my bag as I languidly wandered the mostly deserted streets flinging the unloved and unwanted Detroit Shopping News at porches and/or bushes depending on my mood.
I don't know why that song resonated so strongly with me. When I first heard it I'd never been in love or anything resembling it, so it would have been hard for me to identify with the notion that life wouldn't be worth living if some special someone walked out of my life. Star-crossed romance, or romance of any kind, seemed as abstract a concept as traveling to Greenland or Mars; I was much more concerned with getting my hair to stand up the right way and finding the right pair of sharkskin iridescent trousers to wear when hanging out with my gang on Friday night.
But the song stuck with me; when I got my first guitar, I learned to play it and often inflicted it upon anyone unwise enough to remain in the vicinity. Eventually I collected a suitable set of heartbreaks and doomed loves for which it could serve as a soundtrack, but ultimately it was supplanted in the misery department by the more artsy plaints of the Smiths and Joy Division, and became more of a private nostalgia thing for me.
Which was how I took it today, until for some reason I started calculating and discovered that it had been almost 45 years since Skeeter Davis and "The End Of the World" entered my life. I've been having an increasing number of these disconcerting moments lately, wherein I come face to face with a memory that for the majority of people alive today is practically ancient history.
And that in turn gets me ruminating on how much - and how little - has changed. Ipods and cell phones and the internet would have been completely unimaginable to the 15 year old Larry who sang along with Skeeter's heartbreak without having any real idea what it was about, but the feelings of sadness and desperation were as timeless then as they are today. It's odd: in the past, my memories have tended to be vague and romanticized things, subject to much editing and rewriting as the moment or the emotion necessitated, but lately they've been vivid sense memories, including things like how my first cigarette smelled and tasted, or what the sun felt like as it beat down on my back that first day of summer vacation as I headed for the railroad tracks to meet up with the gang.
And most of these memories, the vivid ones, anyway, are coming from those early teen years, just before alcohol and drugs drew a curtain over many of my darkest maunderings, when I was still clear-headed enough to get the full effect of the world I was being cut loose in, and still sufficiently bamboozled by hope to understand the true meaning of desperation.