I distinctly remember not being particularly crazy about “Southern Rain” (neither the song nor the weather condition, which ruined many a perfectly lovely summer afternoon in Kissimmee, Florida, when I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s) around the time that it became Mel Tillis’s sixth and final No. 1 country single in 1981. Perhaps the idea of nostalgia as a song subject was simply lost on a tween like me, or I had enough great country-pop songs on my waiting-to-hear list while I was holding my transistor radio up to my ear late at night in bed. (Among them: Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” Dottie West’s “Are You Happy Baby?” and Willie Nelson’s “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” all No. 1 hits based on concepts — work, love lost, love soon to be lost — that I couldn’t necessarily relate to at my tender age but were nonetheless fairly easier for me to grasp than remembrance of things past.)
It took about 20 years for me to finally get the song, love the song (now one of my favorite Tillis tunes), and, well, get the song (thanks to Napster, which was pretty much the only place where one might find forgotten country oldies from long out-of-print albums). That was around the time that I started frantically trying to do exactly what Tillis was singing about, replacing and revisiting so many things from the old days before I hit my teens, many of which I didn’t fully appreciate the first time around:
- Songs (like “Southern Rain,” pretty much every country hit between the late ’70s and 1982, and all of the music on my mom’s old 8-track tapes)
- Books (D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths, Those Bold and Beautiful Country Girls — I’m still on the hunt for a certain illustrated Bible, a Church gift that was the only time I ever found the Book of Ruth even remotely interesting.)
- TV shows (like those annual animated Christmas specials such as The Year Without a Santa Claus and Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, the 1979 Oscar telecast that I recently stumbled across online and downloaded, or those vintage episodes of General Hospital — the ones between 1979 and 1982 only — that were airing this past Easter Weekend on SoapNet)
- Random topics (such as the U.S. Presidents, a childhood obsession that’s recently been revived as an adult obsession with documentaries about them)
Ironically enough, the creature comforts that Generation Y takes for granted today that didn’t exist when I was growing up in Kissimmee, or even for much of my adult life in New York City — eBay, Amazon.com, YouTube, Google, the Internet, in general — have made possible my ongoing quest to replace those priceless artifacts of my youth, things I love as much for the times they represent (times that I couldn’t wait to be over at the time) as for the things themselves. I’ve somehow managed to hang on to my original copy of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 Yearbook, but in the early to mid ’00s, when I was looking for replacements for my long-lost books of myths and that gorgeously illustrated tribute to the top ladies of late-’70s country and Emmet Otter on video (pre-YouTube), they were much harder to track down than they are now and several times as expensive, as anyone who used to frequent eBay auctions can probably imagine.
By the way, do people still do eBay? I once spent an entire date listening to this guy talk about a table he’d bid on (one that reminded him of something his mother used to have, naturally), but I can’t remember the last time anyone I know mentioned eBay.
I wonder if today’s tweens will be trying as diligently to replace their long-lost copies of One Direction picture books and Justin Bieber t-shirts in 30 or so years. Does anyone actually wear Justin Bieber t-shirts now? I’ve never seen one in real life, but I assume they exist. I might just be too busy looking for my own curious and occasionally inexplicable youthful obsessions to notice.
“Southern Rain” Mel Tillis
“Goin’ Back” Dusty Springfield