“1970s” is unusual for three reasons.
Its’ origin. Several lines first appeared as ad libs in the break down section of performances of “It’s All Right There” from Good Day No Rain. I found myself doing vocal riffs night after night and they began to take shape and feel like something all their own.
It’s shameless and relentless self-referencing. Specifically, I cite “Lost in America” and “Blue Sky Song”. (“Midnight Ghost” became part of the recurring ad lib as well but didn’t make it into “1970s” for some reason.) This is tied in with reason #1. That kind of stream of consciousness free association is common when I sing live which explains how it wound up in the final version of this song.
Its flagrantly autobiographical nature. It’s rare that I write this directly about my personal history. And yet it’s not quite chronological…or even logical, for that matter. It seems to open with me returning home, possibly from a Gathering Field tour in the 1990s, and running through the schoolyard of my childhood.
I reached the rock-bed gate.
Not too soon and not too late.
Gathering Field members would meet in that schoolyard and leave our cars by the rock-bed gate as we jumped into our giant Dodge van to go pursue our rock and roll dreams.
When I sing the song, I picture that version of myself. It’s a summer evening and the schoolyard is empty. I reach the rocks and open the fence, muscle memory set in motion from a thousand childhood homecomings.
Then, again, it veers into the live free-form lyrics I’d developed at gigs that included my family all there waiting for me. This gets dicey at shows where the mention of my folks and siblings can choke me up sometimes. Before I can linger too long in the family reunion, though, it takes another sharp turn into a love song with my childhood sweetheart (and future bride) standing there too.
Your brown hair falling. Your brown eyes shining.
The future calling from right behind me.
Sweet seventh-grader smile made sweeter for the miles.
It’s innocence and hope with a wisp of melancholy thrown in for good measure stumbling into a bluesy-chorded bridge then a Gladys Knight “doo-doo” Dave Brown guitar solo and out into one final burst of very specific details:
Rooftop crosses atop the school, church, convent and rectory that bordered my childhood domain; the Converse All-Stars that gave my boy-feet wings; small pink box houses that lined the schoolyard perimeter; the bubbles of tar that remained after the lot had been paved that I’d lie poking and popping with great concentration; the giant blue water tower that hovered close by like a 4-legged alien cyclops; then, finally, Saint Bartholomew’s, which was the name that encompassed all that was my world as a kid.
All preserved in a song. A song I’ll sing for eternity under a sky…from…the…1970s.