Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ronnie Time

Somehow or other, I managed to grow up in a house with a 70's rock star dad, without ever hearing any Lynyrd Skynyrd albums. My dad had albums by almost everyone - all he thinks about is music - but despite having toured with Lynyrd Skynyrd, he had no Skynyrd albums, that I ever saw.

Of course, I knew the hits; but the hits were hits, because they were immediately likeable; and that means that, usually, hits don't have the musical depth that other "album tracks" have.

And so, I confess it was a revelation starting to listen through the old Lynyrd Skynyrd albums this past year; and when I was able to wrangle a few weeks camping trip with three of my kids this past summer, I knew just what CD's we'd have to bring.

With my twelve year old daughter "Red Bear" (the redhead), my ten year old son "Sno-Cone", and my sixteen year old "E", I set off southward, only a vague notion of where we might go. On the itinerary was the KOA in Kent, Washington, a drive past Mount St. Helens, and then, the little resort town of Seaside, Oregon, but after that, things were a little fuzzy: maybe we'd hit California to help crew on the Tevis Cup endurance race, or even make it to Utah, where all the relatives were.

Well, I rented a Thule roof rack for the Sequoia, built a little bunk in the back for my daughter, threw a bunch of sheep skins and foam in the back (as a mattress), and we set off. It would spiral into an amazing adventure, in which we crawled through the lava caves in Mount St. Helens, dug for fossils in Wyoming, went body surfing and zoomed over the sand dunes in Oregon, ran into a herd of wild horses in northern Nevada, hung out with all the cousins in Utah, went mountain horse riding, and more. But it was Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Ronnie, the lead singer, who provided the soundtrack, and provided for maybe the most memorable moments of the whole trip.

The first magic moment occurred as we approached Mount St. Helens, the mountain in Washington whose entire top blew off when I was a little kid, in a volcanic eruption. As we ascended into the forests around the mountain, "The Ballad of Curtis Loew" came on; and to my utter amazement, as the chorus came on, all three kids - including E, my sixteen year old, who is very squirrely and shy - burst out singing at full volume, "PLAY ME A SONG, CURTIS LOEW, CURTIS LOEW!".

Wow. We'd been listening for the previous couple of days, but I had no idea it had resonated that much.

"Okay, put on 'Simple Man' now!", shouted E; and when the chorus came, sure enough, all three kids began singing at top volume, "BABY BE A SIMPLE...KIND OF MAN!". Of course, I sang along, too; and for a weird moment, I almost kind of got choked up.

You see...it was an awesome moment, but it had a bitter underside to it: Mom should be here, and the other kids. This is great...but it's not what it should be. We should all be here, together...and I felt a strange mixture of joy and sorrow, as I remembered some of those great times of old.

But, I thought, we are here, at least, and that is great; and one day, I will find that new woman, and she will be here, and it will be better than ever. And for the rest of the trip, I managed to enjoy all the other moments, as much as I could.

Like when we rolled into Bellingham, Washington, coming back home, and "Poison Whiskey" came on. I cranked it full blast. Red Bear was in the front, and began dancing wildly - still strapped into her seat - in the full throes of reckless ginger abandon. I even whipped out my Galaxy 2 and got some video of her doing her crazed "seat-dancing" (which I'm sure I will cherish forever). Or when, during the trip I wondered aloud if we should put on the Joel Osteen CD a friend had sent us, and E started screaming, "No! Ronnie's already taught us everything we need to know!", and then proceeded to enumerate all sorts of pearls of wisdom gleaned from various Lynyrd Skynyrd song lyrics. Or when "I Need You" came on again, for the 400th time, and one of the kids said, "this is the greatest song ever written". Or when I abruptly turned down "Tuesday's Gone" just prior to the piano solo, and all the kids started screaming, "PUT IT BACK ON! IT'S BILLY POWELL!"

By the time we got back home, the kids had become full-blown "Skynyrdologists", and I know that whenever any of us hear any of those songs for the rest of our lives, we'll go right back to those sunny summer drives, heading down through the great Pacific Northwest, and then east, across the deserts, to Utah and Wyoming, and then heading back up to Vancouver Island, on our 2012 summer adventure.

Everyone knows that music has the power to bind; but it struck me especially forcefully on this trip. It has been quite rare that Red Bear, E., and Sno-Cone have all been together with me for any length of time over the past couple of years; and to develop together a mutual obsession (with old Lynyrd Skynyrd tracks) was, I have to say, really cool; maybe even more so than doing all the cool adventures together.

And now, often when we are in the car driving somewhere, one of the kids will eventually say, "Hey Dad - it's Ronnie Time"; and we will crank up "I'm a Country Boy", or "Cry for the Bad Man", or "I Ain't the One", or any one of dozens of other old classics; and we will all laugh, and roll down windows (and even once last week, rolled down all the windows and the sun roof during a blinding rain storm, so that we all got soaked), and sing along with Ronnie, at top volume, together.

And I wonder, in those moments, if there is anything better than that...but I can never think of anything :)