Summer is a state of mind. –author unknown
College radio. It’s not for the faint of heart! Ok, I’m not trying to be dramatic but the eclectic nature of college radio makes it barely palatable for a large chunk of the “listening” population. That being said, I still find myself tuning in occasionally for the sheer randomness that it offers. I “worked” at my college radio station…sure it was in the news department, but the news is flanked by programming and a lot of that programming is music after all. This opened the door to a wide variety of music genres and styles and for whatever reason (at least for me) it opened the door to a gem of a group called Sly and the Family Stone.
By the time I “discovered” them, a greatest hits CD existed…and boy did I love it! Optimistic, upbeat, socially progressive, soulful, it quickly became one of my favorites and “Hot Fun in the Summertime” stood out above the rest. I’m not sure what I like better…the way the song builds, the creative use of strings or the horns (probably the horns.) The song just oozes good times. I found it interesting to learn that this tune actually came out in August of 1969…at the end of summer. Sly and the Family Stone performed it as part of their set at Woodstock helping to propel them to stardom and push the song to the No. 2 spot on Billboard Hot 100. The song is also listed on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 of all time and is considered by many to be a “summer anthem.”
Jamming out to this song reminds me of summertime in good, ol’ Lawrence, Kansas…cruising up the hill in my little red car blasting the CD (I’m sure my music choice turned a few heads!) I was tickled to learn years later that the group hailed from the San Francisco area…my absolute favorite city for summertime fun! I still enjoy their greatest hits collection today and if you listen closely you just might see me blasting their music again…this time in my red swagger wagon! Not as cool, but just as fun.
Up next: SONG 8…”hip, hip. Hip, hip.”
Under all speech that is good for anything, there is a silence that is better…. –Thomas Carlyle
Let me start by saying that I have mad respect for public speakers. It takes a great deal of time, thought, composure, and courage to share your ideas and perspectives with audiences both large and small. It is no easy feat to step up and out into this arena, which is probably why public speaking is high on the list of our “greatest fears.” It’s one of those occurrences where we are typically happier on the receiving end and offer pity to the “poor soul” up front with a microphone. Often times though, it’s equally uncomfortable for both parties…and yet this is exactly where many of us will find ourselves this graduation season.
The whole idea causes my mind to take a stroll down memory lane. First, as a sixth grader giving a pseudo-valedictorian speech to my classmates as we prepared to advance to junior high. I can remember pouring my thoughts onto a few sheets of wide-rule notebook paper…the usual platitudes intermixed with memories of sixth grade antics. I can recall wearing my hair up (an attempt to look more sophisticated, I’m sure,) donning a flowery dress and trying very hard to speak slowly and clearly. My palms were sweaty and I hardly recognized my own voice over the loud-speaker. The event venue, a school gymnasium, seemed extra cavernous and despite the dozens of parents and family members in the audience…there were moments where I felt like I was all alone. Time passed so slowly…each second its own eternity. The whole speech couldn’t have been more than seven or eight minutes and while it concluded with applause, I always wondered if maybe they were just happy that it was done? I know I was.
Twenty plus years later, I can still see the faces of those who spoke at my high school graduation ceremony, but what they said is a complete blur. Classmates, community leaders, administrators…their mouths were moving, but I have no idea what they spoke of that day. What I can clearly remember are my sunglasses: mirrored wannabe wayfarers. We wore our graduation caps toward the back of our heads to accommodate our extra-large mall bangs and adding sunglasses (and not disturbing the bobby pins) was not easy. It was an extraordinary, bright, sunshiny day (I remember that)…and I NEEDED those sunglasses. Gathering in a long line, I remember looking at the faces all around me and realizing I didn’t know everyone’s names (a sad fact that weighs on my heart today.) Obviously, it was loud as we paraded onto the football field with music and cheering family and friends in the background, but as soon as the ceremony began I was lost in my own thoughts. Deliberately taking in the moment, I was convinced that I would never experience anything like this again. I looked for my family in the stands. I smiled at my best friends. I scoped out a cute boy. I looked at the sky…a lot. This day could never be duplicated and in some ways both the world and time stood still. There was a charge in the atmosphere (one that would eventually lead to a thunderstorm and tornado warning that night.) And while the message was lost on me, I silently prayed that the valedictorian would just keep talking. That didn’t happen. And in a blink of an eye, I found myself preparing for yet another graduation.
There’s a tradition at the University of Kansas…maybe it’s more lore than tradition…that advises students not to walk through the Campanile until graduation day. Those who choose not to heed this advice, “risk” not graduating at all. (In my mind, I equate it with dropping the “spirit stick,” like in the movie Bring It On.) If you know me, you know I wouldn’t dream of breaking tradition. While the landmark is one of my favorite places on the campus, I vowed to not pass through it until that special day. So, when it arrived, I was ecstatic. The opportunity to walk through its doors was symbolic in countless ways…a memory that I truly treasure. (I secretly relive the moment every time we visit the campus.)
The forecast called for yet another extraordinary, bright and sunshiny graduation day. (Newsflash: It’s also very humid in Lawrence, Kansas.) Thinking ahead, I decided to wear a red tank top and a pair of cut off jean shorts under my graduation gown. Not your typical graduation attire…oh well. I had a paper fish on the top of my cap (so that my grandmother could pick me out of the “sea of students” making their way down the hill.) I wore comfortable brown sandals as we walked in a procession according to major. (If I close my eyes, I’m practically there all over.) As you can imagine, a large university has an especially long ceremony. There were many, many speakers that day. We took our seats under the hot sun and fanned ourselves with the graduation handout. I remember thinking (again) that I would never experience anything like this. I looked for my family in the stands (futile with this many people around.) I smiled at my friends and remembered that the cute boy in my life at the time was sitting in the audience. And, of course, I couldn’t resist looking up at the sky.
Everything moved in slow motion. The audience’s applause were my only signal that one speaker had finished and/or another speaker was being introduced. They just kept going…probably offering up similar platitudes to the speech I gave way back in sixth grade. “Reach for the stars, believe in yourself, this isn’t the end…it’s only the beginning,” at least that’s what I imagine they said. Honestly, though, I have no idea. Another motivational speech in one ear and out the other. But what I do know for sure is that the sky was the best shade of blue that day. The breeze was satisfying in a way that you can only appreciate when you’re wearing the color black in the heat. Joy and relief abounded in every direction. And while most of my classmates could hardly sit still, I remember thinking that I wanted to stay there forever. I regret that I didn’t take more pictures back then…although I am grateful that we didn’t have the distraction of smartphones. And just like that, it was over. The speeches stopped and real life began again…a new chapter. I threw my cap (paper fish and all) high into the afternoon sky and never bothered to retrieve it. I congratulated the eight-year old girl inside of me for accomplishing her goal of graduating college and securing her “dream” job. And just like in the movies, I had a hard time leaving that day. There were several glances back over my shoulder. Last looks.
Fast forward all these years later and I now find myself attending these same type of events. I see students waiting (some anxiously, others joyfully,) parents reacting emotionally, spectators sitting impatiently, and speakers searching for new and interesting ways to connect with the audience…to say something worthwhile and meaningful. Maybe even something unforgettable. Having done some public speaking in my adult life, I feel a little guilty when someone approaches the podium. Guilty that I didn’t pay attention back then…knowing all too well how much work actually goes into preparing such a speech. Yet today I finally realize that maybe the graduation messages of my yesterdays were not actually lost on me. Perhaps, delivered in that moment was the exact message that I needed to hear after all. When the speaker took his/her place at the podium I was invited to sit, to pause, to reflect and to savor. It was an opportunity to take a deep breath and fully absorb the moment…each participant processing the occasion in their own unique way. Graduation and commencement, (often used interchangeably) in truth speak to two different ideas…one an ending and the other a beginning. And I can’t think of a better way to mark the importance of that moment than by fully taking in the present.
Listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom. Job 33:33
I won’t claim to be a big time Beatles fan. Don’t get me wrong. They’re GREAT! I love a lot of their songs and if I was around during their heyday, I would probably be among the throngs of screaming girls hanging on their every word, buying posters and otherwise going ga-ga for them. So, obviously, I think a lot of the Beatles. Still, I don’t own any of their albums or CDs and I don’t know all the lyrics to any one of their songs. But, there is one ditty that I just adore–Hey Jude!
I probably first heard the song as a kid in passing. I imagine that I came across it in somebody’s parent’s album stash. Still, not much of a blip on my music radar. My next encounter with the Beatles was fleeting. I’m sure I saw someone on campus wearing a t-shirt and thought to myself, “Oh, yeah. I like the Beatles…cool.” I’d hum a few songs here and there. And at one point I thought about buying one of their CD’s at the local music store, but the new SneakerPimps release won out…a consequence of being a broke college kid and having to make tough financial choices. So the Beatles went by the wayside and I moved on with my life, but this was college and some things never die.
The Beatles resurfaced again a little later when I became acquainted with college radio. You know how it goes, one DJ likes 80s Punk, someone else likes Big Band, there’s always a girl whose show revolves around man-hating, angsty girl bands (one of my faves), and the list goes on and on. Basically, anyone can get a show. Thus one mild-manner fellow played the Beatles and I loved it. For the most part it had loads of elements to it—fun and poppy early stuff, catchy numbers that quickly become brainworms, ridiculous karaoke-type songs (Yellow Submarine anyone?), and later more thoughtful ballads. Who couldn’t find something to love in such a varied set!
All of this brings me to Hey Jude.
Senior year in college. Just when you’ve gotten used to the college lifestyle (and all the perks that come with it), you suddenly realize that all good things come to an end. As the cliché goes, “there’s a reason and season for everything under the sun.” It was inevitable. And while most of my crew would extend their college plan an extra semester or go on to work on a master’s degree, I was on course to graduate in the spring. It was all part of my super strict, no room for errors, by the book, four-year college plan. Sure, many tried to get me to stay in our little bubble…”Go an extra semester, minor in Spanish, go to grad school,” they all said. But as much as I loved them and loved that life, I knew my time was done. So in January while celebrating a birthday at our favorite hangout, Louise’s Bar Downtown, I strolled over to the jukebox to pick out the last song of the night. I had stood at this jukebox before. I knew the song choices and for nearly two years I had always picked the same song, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” by Neil Sedaka…well worth the quarters I sunk into the machine. (SIDEBAR: I really do like that song. It reminds me of peanut butter milk shakes, holding hands, and simpler times. However, amongst a college crowd, it always garnered groans and head turns…which made the song extra fun for me!) But this song was going to be THE last song of the night. It had to be special. We were here to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday, the start of my last semester in college and CLOSE DOWN THE BAR. Obviously, the pressure was on! So I dropped two quarters and selected Hey Jude and never looked back.
That semester whenever we all got together, it had to be Louise’s, we had to CLOSE DOWN THE BAR, and we had to listen to Hey Jude. It became for us the exclamation point at the end the evening. It had to be the song we sang or hummed walking out the door. It had to carry us home. And it always did.
On graduation night we ended up at Louise’s–where else, right? My dear friend (and roommate) had a roll of quarters and waltzed me over to the jukebox. She said that tonight we were CLOSING DOWN THE BAR with $10 worth of Hey Jude. I couldn’t think of a better parting gift. We made the selections and walked away. About an hour into the repetitive Hey Jude track, the bartender kicked us out. Apparently, the crowd was a little upset at what they considered our buzz kill music. We were escorted out that night (the first and last time that has ever happened to me), but we had the biggest grins on our faces.
I left town two days later to a new job, a new town and a new state. There I found new friends, my future husband, and a reawakening to faith. Hey Jude and I would occasionally cross paths during the years and my mind would wander back to those days. But recently my ten-year old son came home from school with a project that brought the Beatles back into focus. Together we researched the band, their history, their ride to fame, and their music. Hey Jude walked back into my life. After a particularly long day, with the kids finally in bed and a disastrous kitchen mess waiting for me, I searched YouTube for Hey Jude. I played it over and over! In the quiet of that night, as I was getting ready to CLOSE DOWN my kitchen, I played it just one more time–for me. It is the perfect way to cap off an evening and I finally know why…Hey Jude is soothing enough to change the course of a night, thoughtful enough to make you appreciate everything going on around you, profound enough to wake you up to life’s blessings, and long enough (7 minutes) that when it’s finally done, you’re really ready to say goodnight.
Take a sad song and make it better. –Hey Jude by the Beatles