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But SeriouslySome songs have a strange effect on me. It’s like when an archeologist opens a sealed Egyptian tomb and releases the air that’s been trapped inside for millennia. Such was the feeling I had the other day when the iPod played “Second Hand Store” by Joe Walsh, from the But Seriously, Folks album. I felt emotions from 37 years ago suddenly rise to the surface. I felt like I was about to head off to college.

People with only a casual acquaintance with Walsh’s career may think of him as a happy-go-lucky party dude. That’s an impression underscored by “Life’s Been Good,” the big single from But Seriously, Folks. It is a funny song, and I often quote my favorite line: “I can’t complain, but sometimes I still do.”

Anyone who really knows Joe Walsh’s work, though, understands that the dude can be a real downer, and I mean that in a good way. A strong streak of melancholy runs through many of his songs. People might like to party to “Rocky Mountain Way” from The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get, but that album also has some world-class wrist-slitters like “Wolf” and “Days Gone By.” It winds up with the plaintive “Daydream (Prayer),” which goes like this:

Where, where are we going?
Where, where are we now?
Will, will it be over?
And will we, will we make it somehow?

Think that’s a buzz kill? The album So What? ends with “Song for Emma,” which is about Walsh’s daughter, killed in a car accident just before she turned three. Not really much of a party song. As a member of the Eagles, Walsh contributed my favorite song on Hotel California, “Pretty Maids All in a Row.” It’s a great tune, but happy it ain’t. Play that at a party and by song’s end everyone will be just staring at their shoes, feeling glum.

But I like it. What can I tell you? I like melancholy songs.

Joe Walsh must, too. In fact, most of But Seriously, Folks lives up to its title, because the tunes are serious, with lots of minor keys and sad, keening guitar solos. One of those sad songs is “Second Hand Store.”

So you keep on following directions until
Pretty soon you’re past it
Guess you shoulda known better,
and still It was fun while it lasted
You end up sittin’ in a second hand store
On display in a window
Wind up sittin’ in the bottom of a drawer
Any way the wind blows . . .

Then there’s “Indian Summer,” a regretful look at a vanished past. And “Inner Tube,” a melancholy instrumental that’s a perfect accompaniment for staring sadly into space. Hey, don’t get me wrong—It’s an excellent album, but “Life’s Been Good” shouldn’t fool you into thinking it’s a laff riot.

When I heard “Second Hand Store” today, it triggered a weird mix of emotions—anticipation, anxiety, a little bit of fear. You see, I bought the album in the summer of 1978. It was the summer after I graduated from high school, and I was getting ready to go to college. Although looking forward to heading off to school, I was also anxious about venturing off into the unknown. I knew I had to break up with my high school girlfriend—like killing Old Yeller, it was sad but necessary—and that my high school friends would soon be scattering to the four winds. Life as I knew it was coming to an end. It was like standing on a cliff overlooking a lake, and knowing you had to jump.

My school was only about 40 miles from home, so, truth be told, it wasn’t that much of a leap. Still, out of some perverse streak of personality, I had never set foot on the campus. Even when I accompanied a friend there for his interview, I never emerged from his car while he was inside getting grilled. I don’t know what the hell was wrong with me. Oh, wait a minute, maybe I do: I was a teenager.

But Seriously, Folks was one of the albums that provided the soundtrack to that uncertain summer, my last few months of bagging groceries, floating around the lake on my parents’ boat, hanging out in the back parking lot at McDonald’s, and wondering what was in store for me.

Once I got to college, said goodbye to my parents, unpacked, and got settled into my dorm room, I wandered over to the college bookstore and thumbed through the records in the little cutout section it had. My heart leapt when I found a copy of So What? for a cheap cutout price. It became the first album I purchased as a college student, and it provided a little bit of continuity as I set out on my new life. I still have that album—a little flood damaged, with the jacket held together with masking tape. Which, I guess, could serve as a metaphor for my condition, 37 years later.

By the way, if Joe Walsh decides to run for president again, he’s got my vote.



September 2015
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