I believe this is a first: a record that I owned as a teenager, subsequently got rid of – most likely out of embarrassment –– and have now procured again, a mere 42 years or so later.
Oh, if only we could leap into our adult selves, self-assured, being who we are, unconcerned about the opinions of others with regard to our tastes and fascinations. Alas, it just doesn’t work that way. We have to go through that weird molting period when we cast off our skin, often several times, emerging somewhat different. We let go of things of the past in order to move forward. Most of what is shed is best left shed, but sometimes we cast things off for the wrong reasons, and get to a future point where we look back on those lost bits of ourselves with a more gentle eye.
It’s not possible for the young to understand the old, particularly what they see as sentimentalism. But now, as I approach old, I see that what I thought I was dismissing in my elders as rank sentimentality was really something else entirely: an affection for the younger version of myself that I see in others, forgiveness for the mistakes I made, wonder that anyone gets through this life. When we look at a young couple out and about and just enjoying each other, and sometimes it makes us ooh and ahh a little, or we see a family with young children trying to get down the street while their children need to stop and look at everything (and try to put everything in their mouths), and we are just awash in the memory of what that was like. And I feel such tenderness, such affection for that version of us, a version I loved, a version I can’t have back. And that’s okay, but it’s a big feeling, and that’s the deep part of sentimentality, a mix of joy for what is and grief for what was.
That’s an overly deep way to get into this album, because it isn’t that deep. This was an album from my high school days. Friedman’s song “Ariel,” came out in the spring of 1977, my junior year, and went top 20. It’s a silly, sweet, lovely little romantic song, on the verge of novelty. When it came out, I had just fallen in love for the first time with a wonderful girl — we’re still friends to this day. She was a year older, way, way more mature than I was, and mostly had different taste in music. She leaned much more toward jazz and singer-songwriter, and I was trying to figure out where I lived in between rock and folk. But there were several things we agreed on, and this album was one of them. (Now that I listen to it again, that makes perfect sense — it’s ’70s singer-songwriter and jazzy by turns. It was odd for that even then.) I got it free for doing some kind of nonsense for the very local radio station, 3WD in downtown Schenectady, and I will just have to tell more of that some other time.
It’s a very ’70s record, swinging from silly to very earnest, embracing a number of styles under the modest vocal talents of the songwriter. As a teen, it seemed . . mature, adult, in some ways. This seemed to be about someone who was, compared to me, a grown-up, a youngish adult thinking youngish adult things, in that Deep and Meaningful ’70s way. When I was 16, it seemed aspirational, about some kind of adult life I might someday have.
But then I went to college. When I was 18, 19, it seemed . . . sentimental. It did not rock. The cover photo resembled nothing so much as an attempt to outdo Donald Sutherland’s “Animal House” character for aggressive use of corduroy. As I was then deeply, deeply embarrassed by my youthful affection for things of this nature, by who I used to be, at some point I cast off this record.
In fact, I cast off a lot of my high school records, most with no regrets. As I got more into rock and new wave, I couldn’t bear what some of that old, super-earnest music represented. I cast off John Denver, I cast off Billy Joel, I even cast off James Taylor. There was much else. They were from versions of myself that I no longer saw as valid. Not only would I not listen to them: I would have been embarrassed had anyone known I still had them. But mostly I cast them off because I just didn’t think they were good music anymore. And I really never looked back.
Maybe 10 years ago, probably listening to some satellite radio channel, I heard “Ariel” again for the first time in years. And I liked it. I really liked it. It’s just sweet, dumb, fun, adorable. And so I bought a copy on iTunes, and remembered that once I had owned the album. But that was about it. Then at the beginning of November (2020), on a jaunt with socially distanced friends to Siren Records, I happened across this in the bins, and . . . yes. I just wanted to own it again. It fits right in with all the other ‘70s singer-songwriter stuff I love (I’ve been on a real Melanie tear this year, and Thanksgiving day music alternated between her and Carole King). It’s exactly how i remembered it, perfectly fine, and nothing to be embarrassed about. Of course, I can say that now that I’m past embarrassment (I used to say that was a gift that arrived in your 40s).
Nowadays my attitude toward my younger self is a little like a line from this album: “Have some faith in what’s his name.” I did some things very well, and I fucked some things up very royally. I shed a few skins along the way, some for the better, some maybe not. It’s all okay. And sometimes it’s okay to let a little piece of your younger self back in your life.
Originally published 12-1-20.