top of page

American Tune

Beautifully written off-topic Sunday post from a melancholic Todd Marella in Portland, Oregon.

I need a hug. More accurately, I need to hug. If you’ve met me, and we’ve become familiar, there’s a pretty good chance we’ve hugged. As we should be, if we are heeding the wisdom and recommendation of the brightest scientific minds, I am isolating. It’s proving more challenging for me than I initially imagined. This global pandemic is really cutting into my hugging program. Don’t get me wrong, solitude and I have become friends of late. Our budding relationship began before the world inserted ‘COVID-19’ into its daily vernacular. We keep each other company, solitude and I, just fine. Like anything one takes for granted, it’s the sudden absence of something, or inability to do something, that really heightens our appreciation for it.

This piece you’re reading is off topic, and not about flat track in the PNW. Guilty. Instagram gets more of my attention than it deserves, as there are people who love me, who get a fraction of the time and attention I give to the ‘IG.’ Guilty again. Making matters worse, much of the images and content are fluff, twaddle, poppycock, balderdash, ssentially throw away, vapid and empty visual calories. Every now and then, something in my feed strikes a chord evoking an emotion that is barely beneath the dermis. I’ve a rolodex of those. Pick a subject. Pick a person. Pick a time in my life. This afternoon, nestled between an ad for a survival blanket, and a crude, hand-held video in a repeating loop of a toddler getting knocked flat on its face by the family dog, there it was…Paul Simon, in a T-shirt and baseball style cap, standing behind his guitar. He’s somewhere that lets the viewer hear birds chirping in the background. Like most of his catalogue, it takes but a few notes played in the order and rhythm he arranged them, and I’m caught by that surprising surge of emotion. It’s familiar and fresh, but the memories it evokes are as old as my race bike, and it’s a ’74. I’m utterly frozen, transfixed watching his nearly 80-year-old hands form shapes that enable him to configure those impossible chord changes up and down the neck, picking out a melody which sounds like accompaniment from at least one more instrument, setting the table for the bounty of words upon which this listener is preparing to feast.

Although I’m alone as it’s happening, I’m aware of my efforts to hold back tears, and how much of me it requires to do so with each chord fretted, and every syllable sung. The tears welling within my ducts aren’t uniquely associated with the song, awaiting it’s playing to spring up with the predictability of some sonic, emotional geyser. Instead, these are tears that are a distillation of experience and feelings which have been percolating under the pressure of my personal tectonic plates for as long as I can remember, including events as recent as right now. I make it through the first verse and chorus without completely losing it. As soon as he declares:

And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered

I don’t have a friend who feels at ease

I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered

Or driven to its knees

My ability to compose myself has vanished. I’m sobbing as powerfully as I ever remember crying. Mind you, I’m singing out loud, as well as I can muster. The song is gorgeous, and poignant, topical, and timeless. It deserves a voice better than mine. It deserves to be heard, especially in these times. Surely, I am not the only person with whom this American treasure of reckoning and gratitude, of ownership, humility, honesty, and grace…resonates so clearly and strong…

It’s all I can do to keep singing the second chorus while I copy the YouTube link to send it to my mom in a text.

But it’s alright, it’s alright

For we lived so well so long…

I’m giving it a second listen when I receive my mom’s response. She’s beside herself, telling me she’s shaking from crying so hard that she can barely text. For many years my mother has reminded me of her sole request when she passes, and that is to have Paul Simon sing at her funeral. She tells me it’s the least I could do if I really love her. I tell her I see her stepping into our sunken, earth tone living room to put “There goes rhymin’ Simon” on the turntable perched on a shelf of modular plastic furniture in primary colors, while I sat on the couch with the giant tomato red porcelain Pegasus that was a vintage Mobil petroleum sign, flying across the wall above me, and thinking 'everything is good'.

This of course, makes a complete mess of Mom, and she tells me so. Between the ages of 10 and about 15, I must have heard that album at least twice a week, sometimes more. For good reason, as it’s a great album. The first track is Kodachrome, the album ends with Loves me like a Rock, a gospel tribute to a mother’s love for her son throughout his life as viewed through his lens. The record is solid throughout, and like The Clash's London Calling, draws from several genres, like mixed media to deliver a complete and whole document. Deep on side two is a tune called St. Judy’s Comet. I implore my friends who’ve all had baby boys in the last two years to cue (quietly) this tune up when they go to put them down to sleep…

The album is comforting to me, as it reminds me of a time when I really wanted for nothing… I had it all, until that Californian Highway Patrolman put my Z50 in the trunk of his patrol car and left me standing in my driveway holding back tears, but that’s another story.

The song American Tune is a hug. It will have to do until we get the green light to get close again, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. It closes with:

Oh, and it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright

You can’t be forever blessed

Still, tomorrow’s gonna be another working day

And I’m tryin’ to get some rest

That’s all I’m tryin’ to get some res


bottom of page