Thursday, September 06, 2007

Lepzig Is Calling My Name

I love Thomas Dolby.

Back in high school, I did a cable radio show at a local station called WQAX (which has a storied history all its own). I'm not sure if we were actually allowed to do this, but some of us would take records home to listen to them and see if we wanted to play them on our shows.

A guy named Troy was with me one day in the studio. He knew I was discovering all the new wave music that I'd never had available, and he suggested that I check out Thomas Dolby's "The Golden Age Of Wireless". I had no idea what it was but I went along with it. Hey, crazy science stuff on the cover, right? I took it home and listened to it.

It didn't grab me. It made me think of some kind of retro-SF stuff; I remember picturing things that we would now call steampunk, but for the most part, I just...wasn't...hooked.

This would later become one of the biggest WTF?! moments in my life.

In the Summer of 1990, I was visiting my Dad in Kansas City. We were out hitting up garage sales, looking for books and records. We struck out all day long, until the very last house we tried -- they had some Wakeman albums, some jazz fusion stuff my Dad wanted to try out, a couple of Darksword novels and "The Golden Age Of Wireless" on tape. One buck.

I shrugged and picked it up. What the hell? Maybe I'd change my --




Listening to it again in my Dad's den, something...I dunno what, but something went off in my head, in me. There was stuff going on in this album that I couldn't identify. Something strange and exciting and exhilarating and comforting. Suddenly, this record, this experience, belonged to me.

In some ways, I think that that album fused to my identity. I felt the way that record sounded.

That October, I got a copy of the CD for my birthday, and you can pry it out of my cold, dead hands. I named my unattainable dream girl "Europa", after the lost lover in "Europa and the Pirate Twins". In a screenplay I've never written, the heroine is named Caroline FourFiveTwo. In stories I made up, my protagonists liked Dolby, too, and I'd drop references to the songs everywhere I could. I can sing that album back to front. I romanced a girl over the phone by singing "Weightless" to her. If I ever get off my ass and write some 80's pulp adventures, Rob Dolby is waiting to be my Buckaroo Banzai.

It's 17 years later, and I'm a different guy. I never stopped liking that album, or Dolby's music (hell, I may have been the only person in this whole college town who purchased "Astronauts And Heretics" -- TWICE, no less), but I have gone through periods away from it. The other night, though, I needed something kinda calming to listen to so I tossed a couple of Dolby tracks ("Leipzig" and "Budapest By Blimp") onto my wife's iPod.

It turns out that you can, sort of, go home. I only say 'sort of' because...well...I'm not the 16-year-old bottle of shaken-up hormones that I was in '90, so it's a different experience...but not by much.

The weirdest part is checking out Thomas Dolby now. He's bald, and heavier, and -- well, time's done its thing to him. He doesn't look like the Thomas Dolby I remember. That's inconsequential to my memories, of course; it's just weird. It's funny that, after all this time, the music is still as powerful; you can't feel time's marks on it.

There aren't any.

Point? Oh, yeah. Well, I'm feeling at once elated and maudlin. I really wish I'd been around and of age to experience all the New Wave stuff as it happened, instead of...well, I was 5 when Gary Numan's "Cars" came out. I sometimes daydream of being in my early 20's around that time, running around and going to clubs and buying records and generally LIVING it.

Pathetic? Maybe. But definitely sincere.