Steve Krause: Longing for innocence

Often, when I need to be inspired, I go back to my roots. No, not my hair roots. I’ve let them go gray and increasingly thinner without regard to what it looks like (though now and then I’ll use “product” to keep it from flying all over the place and making me look like Larry Fine).

Whether I’m exercising, writing, contemplating life, cleaning the house, or just hanging out looking for something to create a spark within myself, I get drawn to what I like to call “kick-donkey rock ‘n’ roll.”

First and foremost, it’s just fun — at age 64 — to crank the Beatles singing “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” at wall-rattling decibels. But invariably, I find myself asking why I’m always so drawn to this stuff.

After all, life is supposed to go on, isn’t it? Even the inestimable St. Paul wrote that “when I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” Yet, here I am, doing YouTube searches for “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago” (for 200 points and the game, who sang it? No Googling!!).

What’s up with that?

The popular notion is that the music of our youth reflects more innocent times, but I reject that. The times were never innocent. We just thought they were.

The more you go back and study them, the more you realize that things were just as messed up in 1965 as they are today. There was racism. There was the Vietnam War. There were poor people. And there were always horrible living conditions. The Item Santa Fund was established in 1966, which only proves the need was just as real 51 years ago as it is today.

So there’s no way anyone can say these were idyllic times.

The only thing I can say with any certainty is that I was shielded from all of it. I lived in a nice neighborhood, on a quiet street, where the ice cream man came just about every day. We played baseball on the street.

As kids, we went in and out of each other’s yards without thinking twice about it. We fought over whether the ball was foul or fair without worrying about getting knifed or worse. And on hot summer days we sat around in air conditioned living rooms listening to The Turtles, The Lovin’ Spoonful and the Mamas and Papas, and some song called “Let’s Call It A Day Girl” on the turntable.

There may have been a Vietnam War, but I knew about it only because I kept getting annoyed when the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution hearings interrupted my normal afternoon TV watching. And I wasn’t encouraged to care about it, and consequently didn’t, until my older cousins started getting drafted.

Racism was something that happened in Mississippi and Alabama, not right under my nose. Our neighborhood was near enough to America Park (now Kings Lynne) so that I knew where it was. But my contact with anyone who lived there was minimal — at least until I got old enough to cut through it on my way to play basketball at Hood Park.

Where is this going? When I sat down to write this, I was going to bemoan the explosion of sexual harassment incidents that have splashed onto us like muddy water after some jerk has motored through a puddle. And I was going to sermonize, sadly, about how awful it must be to be 12 years old and not be able to get away from this stuff the way I could escape the realities of the modern world at the same age.  

To put myself in the mood, I played the Beatles’ “Help” album, which concludes with the aforementioned “Dizzy Miss Lizzy.” Despite making an attempt to concentrate on writing words of wisdom, I pumped up the volume and furiously tapped my feet.

And I thought to myself, “aha!’ It’s not the innocence of the times we miss as much as we miss our own innocence (maybe even naivete) of them. At least that’s true in my case. I’m sure there are others, who didn’t grow up next to June and Ward Cleaver, who have different recollections.

But in some ways, there’s innocence in all youth, because we’re just not ready, emotionally, to properly process what really goes on in life.

This is why I spend my spare time on YouTube trying to find rare versions of songs I grew up listening to. This is why, when I find something that intrigues me, I end up putting it on Facebook as if I’d just discovered some long-lost treasure-trove. It helps me remain oblivious to what’s going on now, because it — and the sheer volume of it — isn’t just disgusting. It’s tragic. And even at my age, it makes me want to go out and sit on the curb, the way I did when I was 8, and wait for the ice cream truck, and care about nothing else.

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