We will call her Alice, because that is not her name. She was at least two years ahead of me in school, maybe three. In those days, 40 years ago, she’d have been called slow, if one were being charitable. Perhaps that was the reason why she seemed drawn to the younger kids on the school bus.
We were not accustomed to that. The school-bus pecking order was pretty simple—age meant precedence. And because the span of ages on our bus could range from lower-elementary kids to high-schoolers, the social hierarchy was as stratified as the British peerage. If you were in fifth grade, say, you hoped to be invisible, which was the safest way to be, especially since many high-school boys acted as if they’d just as soon kill you as look at you. But Alice was different. She liked hanging with us. And we liked hanging with her, because she kept treats in her purse. It was not at all unusual for her to give you a piece of candy or gum on the ride home.
Now maybe Alice and I had been talking about the songs we heard on WLS, which was usually playing on the bus radio. Maybe it was a frequent topic of conversation between us over a period of days. It’s been too damn long to remember the details, although I’ll never forget this: One afternoon, she reached into her purse and pulled out not a Hershey bar or a gumball to give to me—but a WLS Hit Parade survey she had picked up at the local record store. And for a while after that, at least until I started going to the record store and getting them myself, when the other kids were asking Alice whether she had any gum or candy, I would ask if she had any more Hit Parades.
Alice’s moment of kindness on that September afternoon in 1970 continues to reverberate down through the years like few others I have experienced.
One of the songs listed on the very first survey I ever held in my hands has been on my Desert Island list ever since its first incarnation, and it’s a record about which I am completely irrational: “Candida” by Dawn. It’s the first record I ever loved, light and catchy, guaranteed to shape a listener’s taste (and his future) in a way far different than other songs on the survey might have done, like Rare Earth’s “(I Know) I’m Losing You” or the Guess Who’s “Hand Me Down World.” Three years ago I wrote the following about “Candida”:
The Mrs. and I have no children, but it occurs to me that the feeling I get every time I hear “Candida” must be akin to the way it feels to look at baby pictures after the kids have grown. No matter how much time has passed, no matter how you have changed, no matter how they have changed, in that eternally frozen moment, all the losses and disappointments that have been a part of life since that picture was taken haven’t happened yet. The pictures are a gift from another time, a dispatch from another, better, purer, safer country. And so is “Candida.”
I wouldn’t change a word, not from three years ago, or 40.
Here’s a medley of “Candida” and “Knock Three Times,” along with the song you’d get if you crossed them, “What Are You Doing Sunday” (which just sneaked into the Top 40 in late 1971). It’s a weirdly edited lip-sync performance from some TV show, but I don’t care, because I dig ’em and I’m not afraid to say so.