I have been traveling like a crazy person: just got back from my sixth trip in five weeks, and I leave tomorrow for the seventh. I've had tons of work, and in between some busted plumbing, a terribly sad memorial service, a colonoscopy...Really, it's been nonstop, and I haven't had a minute to myself.
Until last night, when I was finally alone for the evening. I went to a lovely yoga class, made myself a late dinner, and settled in with a cup of tea, with time, at last, to sit and contemplate the important things in life.
So naturally, my thoughts turned to Tony Orlando and Dawn.
When is the last time YOUR thoughts turned to Tony Orlando and Dawn? If you are under, say, 49, then you have probably never thought about Tony Orlando and Dawn at all. If this is true of you, then I really believe you should watch this clip, because it will give you valuable insight into the world that made your parents:
No, my young friends; life in our youth was not all "Brady Bunch" and "Batman." There were also variety shows. Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie....and of course, the immortal Tony Orlando and Dawn.
I loved these variety shows. In fact, in second grade I successfully petitioned my parents for a bedtime waiver (usuallyl 8:30, extended to 9:00) just so I could watch the second half of "Sonny & Cher." Magical.
And then I forgot about them entirely. Just last month, on one of the aforementioned trips, I found myself in Cleveland at the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. Shockingly, there was nothing there to remind me of the golden careers of Tony Orlando & Dawn. They did not cross my mind at all for close to 40 years.
Until last night, when I was enjoying my first moment of domestic solitude in maybe two months, and the song "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree" popped into my head and wouldn't leave. This song was an enormous hit in 1973. And for some reason last night, something in my yoga-besotted brain hit the "play" button and the endless loop began.
Tie a yellow ribbon 'round the old oak tree
It's been three long years
Do you still want me?
So this guy in the song is headed home after three years, and he asks his -- girlfriend? wife? whatever -- to signal her continuing commitment by tying a yellow ribbon around the tree in the front yard. Should he fail to see said ribbon, he will simply pass the house by and continue on his way:
If I don't see the yellow ribbon 'round the old oak tree
I'll stay on the bus
Forget about us
Put the blame on me!
I have always assumed that the narrator in the song was coming home from Vietnam -- because a lot of people were doing exactly that in 1973, which was, after all, the year that US troops finally pulled out. A happy homecoming from a war that had thoroughly exhausted the country: certainly, that would explain all those relentlessly major chords.
But as I listened to this song in my head last night, a jarring thought occurred to me: was this guy coming home from Vietnam? Or from prison?
So I texted my husband, who is an expert on all sorts of things.
That's Steve for you. Always hedging his bets.
Listening to the fifth or sixth loop of the song in my brain, I concluded it was, indeed, jail.
I'm coming home, I've done my time...
If you received my letter telling you I'd soon be free....
I'm really still in prison, and my love, she holds the key....
This is definitely the return of an ex-con. My childhood soundtrack was dominated by a super-happy song about the return of a convicted felon.
Which raises all kinds of questions. What was he in for? Something violent? Should we be alarmed by the almost-desperate possessiveness of the lyrics?
I've got to know what is and isn't mine
There's a bit of menace in those lines, it seems to me. I am also concerned about our narrator's Plan B:
If I don't see a yellow ribbon 'round the old oak tree
I'll stay on the bus
Forget about us
Put the blame on me
How long will he stay on the bus? Where does the bus route end -- and at what time? He'll have to get off somewhere and do something. I believe he has not fully thought this through.
Of course, as anyone who survived the 70's knows very well, the song does have a happy ending:
Bus driver, please look for me
'Cause I cannot bear to see what I might see
Now the whole damn bus is cheering and I can't believe I see
A hundred yellow ribbons 'round the old oak tree!
Of course, I'm glad it worked out for our steadfastly cheerful ex-con (and with that positive attitude, I'm sure he was the most popular guy in Alcatraz). But why does the "whole damn bus" know this man's business? Clearly he has no boundaries. Yet more cause for concern.
So much for my peaceful Friday evening. I am now tormented by visions of a stalker-ish ex-con, possibly violent, with no boundaries and no backup plan.
For further exploration of the iconography of desire, I refer you to Tony Orlando's other great hit, Knock Three Times on the Ceiling if you Want Me.
And yeah, the Wichita Lineman is still on my mind.