Symbolizing Change

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Almost 40 years ago I spent several months working in a restaurant in Switzerland. It wasn’t a fancy place, but a restaurant in a train station. Western Europe, at least, has (or had at that time) a very extensive rail system, easy to travel on, and with a restaurant in most, if not all stations. This particular one was in the small city of Zug, about halfway betwen Zurich and Luzerne. If interested, you can doubtless find it on a map. It was a very pretty place, right on the Zugersee, a fairly large lake, only two or three blocks from the station, and there were swans in the lake, which I’d never seen up very close before.  Most of the city was on the eastern shore, tucked up against a mountain, but not one of the spectacular mountains of Switzerland. It was closer to the size of the mountains here in the Roanoke Valley in Virginia. There was a movie theater downtown, to which I often went, and even closer was a confiserie, where I would go and order several kinds of fruit pastries. That was, once I got established there.

I had come across an ad for a company that would arrange summer jobs in Europe for students, and I wanted to do that. I had just finished a year at Akron University before I left, and landed first in Luxembourg, where the company had a sort of tour, party and orientation for about a week before sending us all to our respective jobs.

. Since I had just finished taking a year of German in college, I was made a waiter. I wasn’t at all fluent, to begin with, but being a waiter, and constantly interacting with people helped me to become so in a relatively short time, but on a low level. I could have simple conversations with people, but couldn’t understand what people said on radio, TV, or in movies. Nor could I read very well. I never made the effort to acquire the vocaublary and knowledge of grammar that would have made me an accomplished German speaker, but I could get along in ordinary simple situations. Even this limited accomplishment gave me great self-confidence. Unfortunately, I didn’t extend my skills or apply the lessons I learned there to the extent I could have later on.

Several of us Americans arrived at the same time, and were housed in the second storey of the railroad station, along with some other workers. There were a number of Spanish people there, a Swiss guy, a Maylaysian guy, and later an Egyptian. A lot of us used to congregate in one of the rooms upstairs in the evenings when we were done working. We’d drink, talk, play chess, listen to records, and so on. Through the window you could see the mountain off to the left, and the lake right in front of you. Of course I listened to what music there was. There weren’t a lot of records, but I listened to them all, though I can’t remember the names of many songs or artists. I do remember three full-length LP’s (this was in the days before CDs, you know): one by Deep Purple, which I didn’t care much for; Meddle, by Pink Floyd, which remains my favorite of their albums; and Seventh Sojourn, by the Moody Blues.

I was reminded of this recently when I got a sudden yearning to listen to the Moody Blues again. It was generally considered unhip to like them back then, but I always kind of did. Some years after Switzerland, I bought a collection of some of their best songs, thinking that was quite enough for me, but then I remembered a song from Seventh Sojourn that I liked, and bought the album so I could add it to the cassette copy I’d made of the LP. This was in the 80’s, way before I finally made the transition to CDs.

Nowadays, instead of a fullblown stereo system (although I still have some very good speakers), I have a combination record player, CD player, cassette player, and radio, which I got for about $100. My appetite for music has declined since the 70’s, so that’s quite adequate for me.

So I listened to the collection, then listened again to Seventh Sojourn, and found its songs running somewhat obsessively through my head. I usually have music going through my head most of the time anyway, but not from this album, which I had largely forgotten about since the 70’s. I suppose there must be a reason why a particular song or group of songs becomes prominent in my consciousness at any particular time, but I usually haven’t managed to figure it out.

Such a thing happened to me not quite 12 years ago, when I woke up one day with a song from The Band in my head. That had been one of my all-time favorite albums for about 30 years, but I’d never listened that closely to this particular song: Whispering Pines, a very poingnant and regretful sort of love song. That day I listened to my tape of the album in my car, but that really wasn’t satisfactory, so I went to Burlington, Vermont (I lived in Vermont then, and worked in a small town 20 miles or so from the city), went to one of the big chain bookstores, and bought CDs of the first two Band albums. I listened more closely to that particular song, as well as to both albums, and noticed things about them I hadn’t before. Although the Band had three good singers, Richard Manuel, their piano player and occasional drummer, who had co-written Whispering Pines, was their primary lead singer, and an extremely good one. He had a somewhat troubled life, and committed suicide sometime in the 80’s. Just how good they were instrumentally jumped out much more clearly to me too. At any rate, I could no longer complain of the sound quality that I possessed.

The sequel to my sudden obsession with that song came only a couple of months later, when I met my future wife online, which turned my life onto a higher plane. I think perhaps this new obsession may have a similar significance for me too. The Moody Blues were a band who seemed to be oriented towards the mind and spirit, and while their lyrics may have been trite at times, their music had a certain power to it that I liked. I have recently undertaken something that I don’t care to get into now, but that I hope will be positive for my life and that of others. I think the Moody Blues music symbolizes that for me, and whether you enjoy their music or not, I hope you’ll be willing to wish me well in my endeavors. I certainly wish all of you well, especially in this time in which drastic change seems imminent. May we all face our futures in the best possible way for each of us and the people we care about. That’s my wish for anyone who cares to read this, as well as everyone else I care about…at the very least.

 

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