It's amazing how a song makes the past so clear. Hearing James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" takes me back to the first time I heard it. I can see that scene as clearly as if I were rewinding a videotape and showing it at slow speed. I was a student at a small women's college near Philadelphia and had taken the train to Washington, D.C., to meet my boyfriend, a student at a Virginia college.
We stayed with his aunt and uncle, who graciously loaned us their hot little red sports car. We were in an Arby's parking lot in Arlington, Va., with the radio on. Donnie, a wonderful musician and friend to this day, got excited when the song came on the radio. He wanted me to hear it.
I remember the roast beef sandwich: Donnie recommended horseradish and barbecue sauces. I remember what I was wearing: white knit "short shorts" and a crazy T-shirt printed with emerald green stars. I remember the sweet guitar, the tragic lyrics that appealed to my 19-year-old soul.
Tragedy didn't touch my young life, but it was all around. It wasn't all flowers and "Yellow Submarines." There were songs in minor key. Opening notes of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Ohio" - an elegy for "four dead" in the 1970 Kent State shootings - instantly bring back the fear of the Vietnam War. College girls hugged in front of the dormitory TV, waiting to learn boyfriends' draft lottery fate as determined by birth date.
Taylor is still creating. He's bald now, at 52, but he's still singing, doing wonderful new music that appeals to my 50-year-old soul.
Recently my beloved Beatles took a new place of honor in my life. My kids - 21-year-old Maggie, who, like me, enjoys all music, and my 18-year-old rap-loving Will - gave me The Beatles' "1" CD for Christmas. For the first time in years - maybe since "John Denver and The Muppets" - we all listen to something together.
It's been said, "What goes around, comes around." I think a lot of the retro phenomenon is silly. I've been there and done a lot of it. Why waste precious time living the past?
But, sometimes, when it helps teens and 20-somethings connect with a generation that was warned, "don't trust anyone over 30," retro is nice. Real groovy.
- Kate Coleman is a staff writer for Lifestyle