Tuesday, April 19, 2016

I'm Free (Heaven Helps The Man)

Make-up for an evening of one-acts.
Late summer, 1984. It’s a Sunday night, the next morning is the first day of school. I am lying in bed, probably around 10 PM because in spite of the fact that I was sixteen years old, I had great anxiety about not getting enough sleep, and unlike most kids my age, I got up ninety minutes before school started (and it only took ten minutes for me to bike to school.)

The radio next to my bed was on. I had the radio on all night, every night, from 1977 until I went to college. I fiddled with the volume knob until it was just quiet enough so that I could hear it without having to work too hard to hear it, and not so loud that it would keep me up. First WGCL (1977-1982) then WMMS (1982-1986). Saturday nights I might fall asleep to WCLV Saturday Night, at least until high school when the odds were good that I would be up late weekends.

But it was the night before my first day of junior year, and I was listening to WMMS. Lights were out, I was resting, relaxing. The song I’m Free (Heaven Helps The Man) by Kenny Loggins came on. It starts with this low, atmospheric, bass note syncopation before busting open with a guitar riff and some higher keyboard notes and an upbeat tempo.

I suddenly sat up in bed. I mean, I gasped, and I sat up, shocked and desperate, the way you feel when it’s midnight and you remember you have a book report on something you haven’t read, or that you had forgotten someone’s birthday. But it wasn’t either of those things.

The song I’m Free is from the Footloose motion picture soundtrack. The video shows the singer breaking out of prison (he’s free!) then hooking up with Virginia Madsen, and generally being on the run. It’s about freedom.

But it wasn’t the video. I wasn’t watching the video. It have have been the refrain, which includes a chorus of young people yelling, “I’m free!”

In that moment, in a split second, in the firing of a synapse, I recalled when the first single from Footloose had been released, the title track, back at the beginning of the year. I had resisted the dance thing, but everyone was dancing, the boys as well as the girls (ever since the end of disco, it had been taboo) and then I developed a crush on this one girl and there were these dances, at school, at church, at cast parties and private parties, and teen night at Spanky’s -- she was always there, and I had to do something about that.

Goofing in a Spanish photo booth.
I asked my mom if we could go clothes shopping and she was very, very surprised because neither of my two older brothers had ever asked such a thing and we went to TJMaxx and I got a dozen outfits, it must have set her back a hundred dollars.

And a short, Reagan-era haircut.

That spring I had been to Sibs Weekend at O.U. which for reasons that should be obvious I cannot remember. After the spring musical a number of us produced an evening of one-acts, I directed my first scene.

Ghostbusters opened that June, one of the funniest movies of all time, I saw it no less than ten times in the theater that summer.

That July I spent a month in northwest Spain, learning conversational Spanish, the uses of vermouth, how to smoke horrible tobacco, defending America to skeptical natives, skinny dipping, and yes, working out in discos, every afternoon, every night.

Returning home, summer concluded with band practice, more late nights, dancing in driveways. And now the summer of 1984 was at an end, time to return to school.

In a moment the sheer scope of activity overwhelmed me. This song made me think of that song, and everything that had happened to me, and every place that I had been in between.

And I felt that terrible, sinking sensation, hearing that chorus of teenagers shouting, I’m free, that there was a whole world happening out there, and that that girl was still out there, and that I was in bed, accomplishing nothing.

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