The Wind Is in From Africa

The trees along my street are losing their leaves already. They usually go early, long before older, hardier trees have turned much at all. We’ve had several days of perfect October light, and if the weather forecast is right, we’re going to have several more. When we can manage it, The Mrs. and I like to take off on an October weekend and drive out into the countryside, into the season, into the ridiculous beauty of a Wisconsin autumn. Alas, it doesn’t look like we’re going to have a spare day this year, although I may contrive to steal an afternoon in the next week or so—and if I do, my Desert Island music will provide a perfect soundtrack, because so many songs on the list sound like October to me.

What those songs have in common are themes of memory and home, of getting back to where you once belonged—which is the wise thing to do with winter coming. There’s “Carey” by Joni Mitchell about precisely that, and “Oh Papa” by Maria Muldaur, a song that sounds the way longing feels. (Read about both of them here.) There’s “The Sad Café” by the Eagles, where everything we love the most lives on forever. There “Run for Home” by Lindisfarne, about hearing the call of home from a long way off. There’s Al Stewart’s “Time Passages,” about the healing power of memory. There’s the Mac’s “Warm Ways,” about finding forever in a single moment, and Elton John’s “Blue Eyes,” about finding it and losing it and then finding it again.

It occurs to me that a couple of quintessential October songs are not on the official Desert Island list, but should be. Two tracks from Van Morrison’s Back on Top, “The Philosopher’s Stone” and “When the Leaves Come Falling Down” are among his most beautiful songs. Back on Top is filled with wisdom that can only be acquired in real time, one year or one mile at a time, basic life lessons that require repetition and reinforcement before we learn them for good and all. The main lesson is this, I think: In the fall, nature summons up the energy to give us her best for one final time before the inevitable and not-far-distant triumph of winter. Once we accept that we’re faced with exactly the same inevitability—and once we are able to summon up the energy required to go happily on in spite of it—we’ve learned what autumn has to teach us.

Recommended Reading: From the front page of yesterday’s New York Times, a devastating report on what’s happened to the Tribune Company since it was purchased by gazillionaire Sam Zell and stocked with a management crew of vulgarians intent on dynamiting its reputation and legacy. Also worth a look: Paste magazine’s list of 10 Live Recordings That Trump Their Studio Counterparts. Discuss.

4 responses

  1. I think I bought my first copy of Blue (on cassette) in October of ’87. Great minds etc. Good call on “Time Passages” as well, though I don’t have a specific season to tie it with. I’m waiting for the cool weather to completely bring the heat to its knees before I break out any autumnal favorites. Any of Rhino’s Have a Nice Day volumes dealing between ’74 and ’76 do the trick.

  2. Autumn brings out the best in you. This is jaw-droppingly good. Well done, my friend. (And a nice selection of tunes, too, with an ovation for “Time Passages”: “Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight.”)

  3. I’m grimly amused that the Chicago Tribune “legacy” and “reputation” are threatened by “vulgarians”. Their reputation as a newspaper is unquestioned, yes. But the Tribune as a corporation was a union-busting bunch of bastards, to the extent that they didn’t keep their union-busting to their own paper, but shuttled scabs to any paper threatened by unionizing. Vulgarians have been in power at the Tribune for a long time.

  4. I know some find it treacly, but The Alan Parsons Project’s “Time” is one of my favorite October songs. A lot of it has to do with the fact that its sentimentality hit me at the right time — the autumn of my freshman year in college. It still gives me an autumn chill when I hear it. (Another, less popular Parsons song, “Days Are Numbers,” also strikes me as an October song…)

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