Friday, October 17, 2014

Kinks -- "No More Looking Back" (1975)

But lately I've been going to
All the places that we once knew

One of the highlights of my 40th high-school reunion in 2010 was a tour of my old high school with several dozen of my classmates.

Joplin High School (1958)
The building dated to 1958, but had been maintained so carefully that it looked as good as new.

Less than a year later, Joplin High School was just a pile of rubble thanks to the May 22, 2011, EF-5 tornado that killed 161 people and destroyed everything in its path.

Joplin High School, after the 2011 tornado
Two weeks ago, Vice President Biden and Secretary of Education Duncan came to Joplin to dedicate the new state-of-the-art high school, which cost an estimated $121.5 million.

Vice President Biden, at the dedication
of the new Joplin High School
Biden is famous for sticking his foot in his mouth -- the Washington Post has coined the word "gaffiness" to describe his proclivity for making verbal blunders.  He uttered one of his most remarkable misstatements in Joplin, when he referred to the "161,000 brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, [and] grandparents lost" in the 2011 tornado.

He meant to say there were 161 deaths in Joplin, of course.  But there's clearly some kind of short-circuit in the wiring that connects Uncle Joe's brain to his mouth.

I went to Joplin to see my parents shortly before Biden's visit.  The first chance I had, I walked from their house to new high school, which had opened for business at the beginning of the school year despite the fact that a lot of work remained to be done on the building and the grounds.

The new high school
I'm not sure what I was expecting to see, but what I saw was something very different than that.

The new gym and football practice field
The old high school, its parking lots and athletic fields, and the adjacent Franklin Technical Center covered 16 square blocks.  The new campus is even larger, and the building has been repositioned because the old building sat on a flood plain.  So things look very different than it did when I was a student.

Here's an aerial view of Joplin High School (which was known as Parkwood High School from 1968 until 1985) when it was brand new:

Here's what it looked like after the storm:

And here's an aerial view of the new campus:

(The top photo was taken looking to the south.  The middle photo and the bottom photo were taken looking to the north.)

Schoolboys in Disgrace, the 14th studio album by the Kinks, was released in 1975.  I bought it at the Harvard Square "Coop" (the nickname of the Harvard Cooperative Society) shortly after its release.

The album tells the story of a schoolboy named Jack.  that story is summarized in the liner's album notes as follows:

Once upon a time there was a naughty little schoolboy.  He and his gang were always playing tricks on the teachers and bullying other children in the school.  One day he got himself into very serious trouble with a naughty schoolgirl and he was sent to the Headmaster who decided to disgrace the naughty boy and his gang in front of the whole school.

After this punishment the boy turned into a hard and bitter character.  Perhaps it was not the punishment that changed him but the fact that he realized people in authority would always be there to kick him down and the Establishment would always put him in his place.  He knew that he could not change the past but he vowed that in the future he would always get what he wanted.

The back cover of 
Schoolboys in Disgrace
"No More Looking Back" is about the hold that someone from your past can continue to exert on you, and how hard it is to put that person behind you: 

And just when I think you're out of my head
I hear a song that you sang or see a book that you read
Then you're in every bar, you're in every café
You're driving every car, I see you everyday
But you're not really there 
'Cause you belong to yesterday

Ray Davies, who wrote this song and most of the Kinks' many great songs, was a keen observer of humans and all their foibles.  He could write sardonic lyrics with the best of 'em.

Ray Davies with ex-girlfriend Chrissie Hynde
But while Davies could be sharp and acerbic, he was at heart a deeply sentimental man.  Just like 2 or 3 lines.

"No More Looking Back" ends with these lines:

No more looking back
No more living in the past
Yesterday's gone, and that's a fact
Now there's no more looking back

Yesterday is gone -- long gone.  That is a fact.  But I'll never stop looking back . . . I'll never stop living in the past.

When I do look back, I'm usually looking back to my high school years and the people I knew then.

College and law school came and went but didn't leave much of a mark, it seems -- neither did most of my career experiences.

I don't have the old Joplin High School building to serve as a trigger for my high school memories.  But I don't think I need it.  I still have a lot of the people from those days -- they may look different to you than they looked 40-odd years ago, but they don't look any different to me.

In Seize the Day, Saul Bellow wrote that "[t]he past is no good to us."  That may be true, but that doesn't mean we can ignore it.

We may try to follow Bellow's advice to focus on the present, and to "[s]eize the day."  But one's past is a powerful and seductive force.  It's a lot easier to reshape the past to our liking -- the present often refuses to conform to our wishes.

All things considered, I think I like the past better.

Here's "No More Looking Back," which I think is an absolute masterpiece:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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