Top 5: On the Way

The windstorm that blasted through the Midwest this week is gone now. Yesterday, the first day after the storm, the sun struggled to stay out and the thermometer crept only into the 40s. This morning, the car windows needed quite a bit of scraping. There’s sunshine, but it’s no longer October light, for in its wake, that windstorm brought November.

For the next several days, autumn will linger, but in a couple of weeks, we’ll move to what New Englanders sometimes call the locking time, the gray space between autumn and winter. That season between seasons can last a few days, or a few weeks. It can even weather a snowstorm, if the snow melts in a day or two. But once the snow cover is here to stay . . . that’s winter. This seems like a good time to briefly discuss a few more of the songs on my Desert Island list, the musical essentials that remind me who I am and where I’ve been. A few of them have the sort of vibe that fits nicely with the graying world of November.

“Maxine”/Donald Fagen. From the 1982 album The Nightfly, which Fagen has acknowledged as a backward-looking album, “Maxine” is a wistful reflection on a time when possibility was unlimited, obstacles were surmounted lightly, and love was enough to live on. Which is an autumn thing to do.

“Steppin’ Out”/Joe Jackson. On the radio in the fall of 1982, which was the first autumn I was out of college and living on my own in the big city (well, Dubuque, but it was a big city to a farm boy from Clarno Township). Ever since, those big piano chords have reminded me of that life. Back then, “Steppin’ Out” was a song I couldn’t wait to hear, and then hear again, and it still is. I’ve listened to it twice now just writing this paragraph.

“I Believe in You”/Don Williams. I love me some Don Williams, who hit Number One 17 times on the country charts between 1974 and 1986. “I Believe in You” was his biggest hit, and also crossed over to the pop charts, making Number 24 during Christmas week in 1980. Despite that warm, grandfatherly delivery, it can be heard as bleak—trust nothing in this world except the love of the people you can look in the eye. But it can also be heard optimistically—that when everything else fails, you can trust the love of the people you can look in the eye.

“For Your Babies”/Simply Red. One of the more recent records to make the list, this one is from the superb 1991 album Stars. “For Your Babies” is one of Mick Hucknall’s best performances, in which he sings to a child and its mother in a way Don Williams could understand: “I don’t believe in many things, but in you, I do.” The rest of Simply Red never sounded better, either.

“Wasted on the Way”/Crosby Stills and Nash. One of the lessons we learn with age is how much we let slide when we’re young. We fail to take sufficient notice of things that happen, places we go, people we know. Even if we’re satisfied with the road we’ve taken and the place to which it’s brought us now, we never fully escape regret over some of what we left undone. But since we can’t go back in time and fix it, we’ve got to let it go.

So much water moving underneath the bridge
Let the water come and carry us away

I’m working on it. Because it’s an autumn thing to do.


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