Monday, November 16, 2009

A Summons to All My Foolish Blood

First, all apologies that this is really just an audio track, and yes there are live versions of the recent Posies-fueled Big Star doing the song, but I wanted the original. Second, it's fitting I'm counting for something about this song leaves me doing math. It was released in 1972, and Alex Chilton, with Chris Bell's help we can assume, wrote it when he was 22. It's about being, of course, "Thirteen," but Chilton was 13 in 1963 (the year of my birth, which doesn't mean much but I like that things fall that way). "Paint It Black," which gets name-checked, was released in 1966, so that complicates the timeline a bit (of course, I've got a theory).

Third, I can see I've started all wrong. So sweet and seemingly simple "Thirteen" is, that to analyze it is akin to explaining a gorgeous dawn, which if it talked would say, "Shut up and just enjoy, dummy. Ray beam ray beam ray beam." The song totally nails the adolescent sexual ache, even better one sorta pure--those rhyming, chiming acoustic guitars are the poor boy's heartstrings, aren't they? So dads are bad and the Rolling Stones are good (we have something we worked out to say about it, pop's sweet puzzle telling us things we don't yet know) and it's a life that runs from the school to the pool to the dance, and asking someone to be an outlaw for your love sounds terribly romantic, even if you don't quite know what you even mean (but no doubt pop will tell us someday, and we don't mean dad). So much tenderness, the darn kid even thinks in harmonies.

But it's a vision of 13 we want to believe more than ever live, isn't it. Nine years out at 22 Chilton can wrap things up with a nostalgia that's utterly appealing. But how often is living 13 charming? Don't lie to yourself, or let a song lie to you. Note that Chilton isn't really singing about himself at 13, either, as he was 16 when "Paint It Black" got released. But memories, and pop songs, they pull tricks on us, allow us to create the narrative we call our lives. I'd like mine served up this pretty and wistful, wouldn't you?

For I'm a goddam liar too. No way was I a proto-hip nine-year-old buying #1 Record when it got released in 1972 (assuming the distribution snafu that killed the record didn't happen and I cold find it in a record store, of course). In fact, I first bought it as the twofer with Radio City CD that got released in 1992. Hoping to feel at least a bit cool, I want to remember it was one of my first compact disc purchases, from that upstairs place that existed on Iowa Avenue in Iowa City whose name I'm totally blanking on. But I didn't even live in Iowa City in 1992 and had had a CD player since at least 1988--so had to have CDs out the shelf's wazoo at that point.

How are all these years and memories not in harmony to me? I can't begin to fathom, but I can singalong with "Thirteen" again and somehow find some belonging.



Blogger George said...

P.S. The new box set Keep an Eye on the Sky is completely worth getting, but maybe not the place to start.

1:13 PM  
Anonymous E-6 said...

As someone who has the "two-fer", Sister Lovers, Ryko's live release, and Chris Bell's I Am The Cosmos, the boxset seems the logical next step. And as someone who really likes The Posies (Dear 23 is my favorite 90's Seattle record in a walk), I still don't consider that marriage to be Big Star. I'm funny that way.

7:50 PM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

For me, Thirteen occupies this crucial area of American culture called the pastoral. It is Chilton's channeling the claim he made on pop into the voice of the kid he did not quite yet see as part of his own audience, if that makes any sense. When did the Stones make it to Nashville/Memphis? 1970? With Gram Parsons in tow? So that's how Chilton saw himself in relationship to those guys. Anyway, the song knocks me out.

6:52 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

eXTReMe Tracker