When I was a kid I thought
that the greatest record ever made
was the 1968 mod orchestral rendering of
of Jimmy Webb’s lost love opus, MacArthur Park.
For me, MacArthur Park was a flash of wisdom, an epiphany as great
as an apostle’s brief glimpse of Heaven,
and an experience so innately sensual as to make Fanny Hill
seem like a Lyndon Johnson state of the union address by comparison.
As sung by that great drunken actor, Richard Harris
(who, if they’d had videos in those days, would have crooned the words
while decked out in love beads, mirrored sunglasses, and a paisley Nehru jacket),
MacArthur Park was Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony,
and Dr. Suess’s Green Eggs and Ham
all boiled down to five bittersweet minutes
in the American summer of love.
I’d always stop what I was doing to reflect,
to meditate like a pilgrim at the end of that long, tortuous journey
through the slough of despond whenever it came on the radio.
I could almost feel Casey Kasem fighting back the tears
every time he sent it out as a long distance dedication.
I could almost see the women in their yellow satin dresses
swoon as the song, after traveling through the airwaves,
came out of the radio like a succubus wearing Old Spice cologne.
For me MacArthur Park was no one-hit wonder or one-night stand,
no temporary truce or let the sun shine in fly-by-night Broadway craze.
For me MacArthur Park was the fall of Hanoi, an ether binge,
an up-against-the-wall motherfucker are you part of the solution
or are you part of the problem
Evel Knevel motorcycle leap into the great beyond.
And, like all great works of art, MacArthur Park raised some serious questions.
For example, who was the miscreant who left that cake out in the rain?
And what exactly was that recipe that he’d never have again?
Yea, these metaphors were deep, giving me forlorn visions
of that “sweet green icing falling down” in the dark,
of drinking “the wine while it is warm” with no one
ever catching me “looking at the sun.”
These words and images moved me
and I was sure they would move others as well.
I often quoted them in love letters
I wrote to my first teenage crush,
believing they would reveal me to be a profoundly sensitive
young man whose passions she would be foolish to deny.
It was no wonder she sent the letters
back to me:
I was young, in love, and as powerless
as a corpse at a funeral.
This, of course, was some years before The Silver Convention’s
seminal “Fly Robin Fly” rid me of my more sentimental proclivities.
Before I sat back in cataleptic paralysis like one of Marcus Welby’s patients
as a friend of mine from high school began singing
“They’re coming to America” along with Neil Diamond
when that hideous song came on the radio.
Before I cringed in late night horror film terror while another friend
began chanting, “We got a great big convoy, running through the night,
we got a great big convoy, ain’t she a beautiful sight?”
as we headed east on Route 50 toward the beach in the dead of winter.
It was about this time when I began having
my doubts about the afterlife.
When I stopped believing in ESP, astral projection, pyramid power,
speed reading, streaking, and the amazing Kreskin.
When I stopped believing that the police were on my side.
When I stopped believing that the concept of America included me
whether I was rich or poor,
white or something else.
When I stopped having faith in God and the entire world.
It was all so long ago.
I was dressed in the blue wool suit I’d grown into since high school,
a stiff white shirt that reeked of too much starch, a red silk tie
I’d borrowed from my father, and the black
leather shoes my brother had bought me for the occasion.
It was 1994. It was cloudy and cold with gray sunlight flowing through
the stained glass windows as a priest gave me instructions
on how to read a passage from the Bible.
It was the same priest who had mumbled his way through
the rosary the night before like a drunken Elvis impersonator
going through the motions of putting on a show.
The priest who would later put words into my dead mother’s mouth—
a priest who had never met her, who had never known
of her existence until she was gone—
saying from the top of the pulpit with his head held high
in self righteousness how if she were here with us today
she’d be asking us to take the time to consider
and reflect upon our lives as Christians.
Holy Christ, I thought, she’d never ask us to do that:
Because if she were alive and at a funeral she would have
shown some genuine respect for the dead.
And though I’d always shouted out from among the crowd at the fools
on stage, demanding from them some measure of truth,
I sat there in silence loosening my tie as he delivered a sermon, which,
like a stupid song from the summer of love that no longer moved me,
had nothing to do with either life or death.
From 1998. Originally posted at Kings of the Road.