David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 6: Blondie (Picture This)

May 2, 2020

Picture this: Three teenage boys in a brown Volare driving around a college town hoping to find girls, settling for Mario's pizza, 8-track tape deck blasting out a top ten album of 1978. Is that a sight worth seeing?

Uh . . . don't answer.

I know there have been studies about how and why music seems to matter so much more when we are younger than when we are older.  For most of us, those songs we loved during our teenage and early 20's years reverberate with us so much more than the great stuff we might discover in our 30's and 40's. Theories about reminiscence bumps (we make our youth more memorable than other periods) and socialization needs abound. I am sure these are relevant (see Slate Aug 2014 for a good overview). Nevertheless, I like to believe that part of it is because our brains have the space at those earlier ages to listen to, connect with, and percolate on the significance of these tunes. At 18, we make music the soundtracks to our lives; by the time we're 30, music we are hearing for the first time has to fight with all of the worries, stresses, and twice the years of memories in our brains. At best, it ends up as ambient music, appreciated but in existence around us, less so within us.

To go along with that, the music of our teens and 20's seems to more easily attach to specific memories (perhaps again because it didn't have to fight with twice as many memories to find its connection).  That is what Blondie (as well as numerous other bands and songs) did for me in the late 1970's or early 1980's.  Few songs bring to mind a more specific, albeit generic memory, for me than Blondie's "Picture This" from 1978's Parallel Lines.

That first paragraph describes Steve, Tim and me on a typical weekend night. Three dorky high school juniors wasting time talking about astronomy, Conan books, Lord of the Rings (and eventually Bored Of The Rings) in Steve's family car. The chorus of "Picture This" inevitably led us to singing, windows rolled down, at the top of our lungs:

Picture this a day in December/

Picture this freezing cold weather/

You got clouds on your lids/

And you'd be on the skids/

If it weren't for your job at the garage/

If you could only picture this /

A sky full of chunder/

Picture this my telephone number.

Yes, that is the cleverness of testosterone-fueled idiot teen age boys in changing "sky full of thunder" to "sky full of chunder," knee-slapping, eye-winking references to Robert E. Howard books that frankly even today can still make the three of us giggle like the teenage girls we were too stupid to see might even have interest in us.  We especially loved singing these lines as we traveled along Willowdale Drive, watching the new WVU football field being built, commenting -- every time in a profoundly cinematic trailer voice -- that we were passing the "Pillars of The King." The song, and our entire, pathetic as it was, social construct built around it, meant everything to us. It was an amazingly catchy pop song, especially in its chorus, but did we ever really listen to it?

First off, I doubt we appreciated what a beautiful love song this was, especially from a band that was still considered punkishly edgy by Parallel Lines. We chortled over the thought of Debbie Harry singing, "I will give you my finest hour/the one spent watching you shower," but at least for me it took years to appreciate the simple romanticism of the lines "All I want is a photo in my wallet/a small remembrance of something more solid." 

Secondly, however, the song ends with the most bizarre line, Debbie Harry imploring the garage worker that "one and one is what I'm telling you/get a pocket computer/try to do what you used to do." 

Is this a double entendre?  Can one double an entendre if the first entendre is unclear? This was 1978, but most references I can find to "pocket computers" arose in the 80's era.  Were Blondie travelers from the future?  The line has bugged me for years, and as far as I can remember I don't think Steve, Tim and I ever stopped long enough to go "wait, that line doesn't make a whole lot of sense." Maybe we were too busy getting ready for "Fade Away And Radiate."

I know I always thought the song needed to be another minute or so longer. It ended as fast as it revved us up. Frank Infante's guitar solo feels a tad short, two choruses are too few (I suppose I am the alternate version of the emperor from Amadeus: "there are simply not enough notes"), and the song ends too abruptly. Morgantown wasn't that big in the 70's. The trip from my parent's house to Dairy Mart to buy Apple Malt Duck was barely five minutes. It might have been nice to have the song last long enough for that essential trip. Or at least long enough an hour later to question our own 20/20 vision.

"Picture This." Blondie. Parallel Lines. Chrysalis. 1978.  Link here.

Day 5: X "See How We Are."

Day 7: The Band "The Weight."

See complete list here.