Nat King Cole Urges You To Stop Crying, Retreat from Society

Why does Nat King Cole have so many hits encouraging his listeners to become positivity-obsessed human automatons who play the song "Walkin' On Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves on repeat while their unacknowledged negative emotions turn into ulcers and kill them? Granted "Smile" and "Pretend" are probably about the power of positive thinking, and not about unhealthy emotional practices, but as my mother noted earlier, I always assume the worst.
In "Smile," he suggests: "light up your face with gladness/hide every trace of sadness." Even if I made an honest attempt, I would fail. My emotions are always luridly displayed and inappropriate. Barely muffled hysterical laughing over the syntactical errors portion of the SATs. Open weeping over a movie called Electric Grandmother. Open weeping over nasal allergy commercials. Open weeping over an episode of Roseanne on the tube in a suite in the Sands Hotel in Reno. Open weeping in the trunk of a car on the way back from a biscuits n' gravy run at a local diner. What was I doing in there and why can't I just take Nat King Cole's advice?

The keep-on-the-sunny-side emphasis is maintained in "Pretend," with a further suggestion for keeping "bad" emotions at bay. Instead of facing your public with an insincere smile plastered on your face, don't go out at all. Why put in the effort to sustain friendships, buy groceries, or change out of those foul smelling tie-dye sweatpants when you can seek refuge in your daydreams, where you are never lonely and forever glamorous? Now, Mr. Cole, you are speaking my language.


Pre-Teen Obsessional Love and Glen Campbell

He was about 36, with thinning black hair and red facial hair. He liked to wear a gray oxford shirt with a pattern of trout on it (irreverent!) He loved Elvis and The Three Stooges. Sometimes, whilst assisting me with some troubling pre-algebraic equations, he got close enough for me to smell his deodorant (the "spray-on kind," according to my friend, Kim, who knows about these things) through his Polarfleece zip-up. We bonded over 70s ephemera-- he lived through it, and I admired it. He was my 8th grade teacher, and because he was my only non-familial example of a real live grown man, he was also my first crush.

On days that seemed particularly fraught with bittersweet longing for this man-- those days when I really wanted to believe that his compliment on my Scooby Doo sweatshirt contained codewords of romance--I would typically get the song "Wichita Lineman" stuck in my head. I like how Wikipedia puts it: "The lyric describes the longing that a lonely telephone or electric power lineman feels for an absent lover who he imagines he can hear 'singing in the wire' that he is working on." Frankly, knowing all the words to the Brady Bunch theme was perhaps impressive to my teacher in a way, but it wasn't the sort of talent that would whisk a happily married man away from his family and into my skinny, though loving, arms. I knew this. The longing and loneliness described in Wichita Lineman seemed to match my own feelings; in my adolescent fashion, thoroughly unsure of what a "lineman" might even be, I felt that I understood the Wichita Lineman's existential predicament.

Of course, existential predicaments are hard to keep under wraps, especially at an age when subtlety is an unknown concept. My little obsession performed its grand finale on the night of our 8th Grade Graduation Dance. This final opportunity to fraternize as a class to the sounds of K.C. and Jo Jo was heralded by the removal of the tables from the cafeteria and the addition of fish or pineapple party decorations that barely fit the dance's Hawaiian theme. At previous school dances, I always asked a chaperone to dance. It was a running gag that my classmates seemed to find funny. Sticking within the parameters of my popular joke, I thought it would be a good idea to ask the teacher to dance. My friends would get some laughs, and I would get at least five minutes of dreams-coming-true. It seemed foolproof, so I asked him. He was reluctant. He pulled me aside, not for some dancing, but so we could have a chat. The I'm Old Enough To Be Your Father, You Should Probably Dance With A Nice Boy From Your Class, Very Serious and Concerned chat. He knew! All the time, he knew! Humiliated, I managed to choke, "Well I only wanted a dance, sheeesh," as I walked away. Back with my friends in the cafeteria's corner, I wondered how I blew it, what I was going to do now that my life was essentially over, what to do with these stupid pooka shells once this lame dance ended, and why I chose sheeesh as my parting retort.
Well, that witty zinger must have made an impression, because he changed his mind.
He tapped me on the shoulder and led me out across the linoleum, generously giving me back my silly fantasy for the night. "Hey, I think you're short enough for me to rest my chin on your head!" he said. My only wish at that moment (besides that it could last forever) was that Wichita Lineman could be playing.


"Your Music and Memories Station..."

There used to be a radio station in my town with the call letters KCTC, AM1320. It played music from a syndicated station, first called Your Music and Memories Station, and later, The Music of Your Life. It wasn't meant to be the music of my life, exactly; PSAs about prostate cancer awareness ran between ads for Geritol and Centrum Silver, and any sweepstakes giveaways were usually all-expenses paid trips to Branson, Missouri. It was, after all, my grandparents' radio station, and upon my first introduction to the sounds of Sinatra and his contemporaries winding their way fuzzily out of the speakers (in mono no less), I reacted with the appropriate indifference of an 11-year-old.

Coinciding perfectly with discovery of the most sickeningly sentimental songs ever recorded was my hormonally influenced and ever-growing awareness of cute boys. The nostaligic songs on KCTC, with their euphemistic yet passionate lyrics, were giving me a sort of mental language for my new preoccupation with the adult world of love and loss the way the sexually explicit songs marketed towards my own generation could not. While I was aware that L.L. Cool J was "Doin' It," I was not--I was merely daydreaming about "some enchanted evening", the way that it seemed Perry Como must have been daydreaming. I would spend hours just listening, imagining what my grown-up life would be like.

So here I am, graduated from college, sitting in my childhood bedroom yet again, anxiously awaiting the passage into that mysterious next stage of my life. I wish Your Music and Memories station was still on the air to ease me through it. What better left to do in this strange, transitional time (besides send out resumes with ferocity) than return to, and re-examine my relationship with The Music of My Life?