“the rain, the park, and other things” – the cowsills (1967)

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Two weeks ago, I went to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.  It was the first museum I visited for a bigger trip and I couldn’t have been more excited.  Not only was I in London, I was going to the V&A to see a special exhibition they had.  On what?  Well, music, of course.

The exhibition was called You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 and is currently running now through the end of February 2017.  Using the music that defined the era as a common thread, the exhibition was a look into how the fashion, politics, technology, and revolutions of the time influenced our culture, our music, and the world we know today.  This wasn’t just some nostalgia trip for the baby boomers and hipsters.  This was an intensive cultural exploration and at a period that still resonates with the public consciousness of the present.

The exhibition was incredible.  Music was the focus of the exhibition, so visitors were issued personal headsets that piped in tunes depending on where you were.  The song that would play was a reflection of whatever items in the collection you were looking at and enhanced the experience not just on an entertainment level, but bordered on something larger and more meaningful.

The collection featured amazing items such as rock memorabilia.  Various guitars, articles of clothing, and other personal effects from music legends were proudly on display.  There were also other aspects that elevated the musical experience.  In one room, it was designed to resemble a field at a music festival.  There were large pillows and got to relax and watch a giant screen depicting Woodstock footage.  As someone who doesn’t enjoy large music festivals, relaxing on AstroTurf in a climate-controlled building was perfect for me.

In other areas, politics and revolution were the focus and included posters, books, and other items integral to the promotion of counterrevolutionary thoughts and actions.  These items were used to promote various minority groups and encourage a more inclusive society.  John Lennon’s and Yoko Ono’s “Bed Peace” signs were on display as well as the first gay men’s magazine to feature full-frontal male nudity and pamphlets distributed by the Black Panthers.  Nostalgia has a tendency to distort everything with rose-colored glasses, and we tend to forget the violence and blood that was spilled to get where we are today.  The music of the time reflected that as well.

When I finished touring the exhibition, I perused the gift shop.  I’m not much of a gift shop person, but I looked around.  There were shirts and posters for the collection, but what really caught my eye was a record.  The V&A had issued a 2-LP album with tracks curated for the exhibition.  It was a bit pricey and I was wondering how I could get it back to the U.S. without damaging it, but I then saw there was a CD version.  Though I am pro-vinyl over CD, the CD collection was three discs and had a lot more songs and was cheaper.  Plus, I could easily put it in my suitcase.  It made perfect sense.

When I got back to Chicago and was unpacking in my apartment, I put the CD one.  There were a lot of songs I knew as well as some that were new to me.  As I was playing it, “The Rain, The Park, & Other Things” came on.  Oh, I thought, I love this song!  I hadn’t heard it in years.  And where I first heard it is kind of funny.  It was the soundtrack to a dream sequence Jim Carrey experiences in a scene in 1994’s Dumb & Dumber when he fantasized about a woman he is crushing hard on.  Outside of the context of that film, I really like the song.  It is fun, happy, and really catchy.

What happened next blew my mind.  I was looking at the tracks and I see “the Cowsills” listed for “The Rain, The Park, & Other Things.”  For years, I had always thought the song was by the Turtles.  I was unintentionally misappropriating the song for years.  For someone who claims to know a lot about 20th century pop music, this managed to slip through my fingers.  I just couldn’t believe it.

Naturally, I had to learn more about the Cowsills, a band that was otherwise unknown to me.  Basically, the Cowsills was a family band containing a bunch of brothers and sisters from Rhode Island and were the real-life inspiration for the Partridge Family.  They had about a dozen or so singles, but none were familiar to me.

Regardless, the Cowsills (not the Turtles) truly struck gold in 1967 with this infectiously sweet pop bubblegum treasure.  “The Rain, The Park, & Other Things” isn’t the type of song that sparks a revolution or challenges the status quo, but it serves a purpose.  It is fun and it makes me incredibly happy when I listen to it.  While flowers and a girl in the park are not the stuff of a great protest song or revolution anthem, the fact this song instills pure joy is revolutionary in itself.  It takes a lot of power to put a smile on someone’s face and, sometimes, that’s all the revolution and rebellion you need in this world.

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“i’m new here” – gil scott-heron (2010)

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Getting old terrifies me on some level.  I’m not old by any measure and am still very young.  I have a youthful vigor and energy and still can run wild during my more uninhibited moments.  College was just a few years ago, but it seems so far away.  Cliché thinking, I know.  However, when you have a 401k, savings account, and insurance, it feels like eons.  My studio apartment costs me $795 per month for rent.  I remember when I used to worry about paying my share of $230 for a room in a house with some friends.  Now, I spend that on alcohol and responsibilities.  Looking back, it makes me smile.

I will get old and I will die.  There is a lot I do not know, but I know that much for sure.  And it isn’t the dying that frightens me.  It is everything else.  Losing my mental and physical abilities.  So, I try to live my life to fullest.  I make a good living, have hobbies, and I surround myself with good people.  There are times now when I feel my life is just too busy, but days can be fleeting.  There may come a time when I will have nothing to do.  Just existing.  A wrinkled husk that used to go on adventures and make love.

What I’m most afraid of is losing my memory.  When I really think about it, that is the only thing I am truly afraid of.  Because what are we?  What truly defines us on an individual level?  I believe that our personal experiences make us who we are.  I am the person I am because of my experiences.  Moments with friends and lovers.  Periods of reflection and introspection.  Flashes of excitement and turmoil.  A random sequence of events that has settled in my brain and shaped my worldview is the reason I am the person I am at this very moment.

A few years ago, I made myself a promise to always work at being a better person.  I believe I have figured out the secret to success and fulfilling that promise.  Trying new things and being open to new experiences are essential in personal fulfillment and being a more whole person.  Whether it involves food, people, or places, I strive to “yes.”  To learn and become more storied.

Gil Scott-Heron had a long and amazing career as an influential and revolutionary afrobeat artist.  Before he passed away in 2011, he released his final studio album I’m New Here. A deeply personal record, Scott-Heron sings as a man who is aware of his own mortality and wise in the ways only a man of his age can be.  Naked and emotionally exposed, Scott-Heron reflects deeply on his life and his state of mind.  This record is a window into the final days of a man who has lived so much, but desires to live even more.

The title track “I’m New Here” is a ragged cut featuring Scott-Heron and an acoustic guitar.  Telling a story using spoken-word, Scott-Heron proclaims that no matter how far wrong you’ve gone, you can always turn around.  What I get from this is that the journey towards an increased sense of self and personal development doesn’t stop at any particular age.  Until you’re six feet under and just dirt in the ground, there is always time to focus on yourself.  If you live your life and grow, you will not have a life you regret.  In the song, Scott-Heron is comfortable with who he is and is aware of himself.  He didn’t become some different that he did not want to be.

Whenever I hear someone tell me that they are who they are and that how it always will be, I feel sorry for them.  To me, they’ve become complacent.  Sure, they might be happy, but only for a moment.  Happiness cannot sustain itself in a vacuum.  Grow from the ground and reach towards the sun.  It may be too high to grasp, but don’t ever stop reaching.  If you do, you might as well be dead.  Become constantly in a state of becoming.  Don’t overstay your welcome.  Go to another place and announce “I’m new here.”