It’s interesting, what can be brought back into your mind with a seemingly innocent statement. Katherine Coble, in a gun control post, had a throwaway line about the fact that she liked Electric Light Orchestra. Now, I have no way of gauging just what she meant buy “like” (perhaps Mr Blue Sky makes her happy, and that’s it), but ELO is a group to which I will always be thankful. If it had not been for their obscure album, “Eldorado”, I don’t know if I could have made it through the teenage years.
I think I should clarify something at this point. I’ve alluded to my unhappy teen-hood several times. I fully understand that some people had a far, far worse adolescence than me. But, as you probably know, at that age, perception is reality. Daily humiliations, no dates, no prom, few friends, the butt of practical jokes: this, reality, to my 16 year old mind, was hell.
I coped the way teenagers in my situation have always coped: escapism. For a while, I buried myself in Tolkien. There was always TV, or the movies, especially the fantasy or science fiction genres. And while I loved all kinds of music from the time (especially the Police and the Cars), the one thing that helped more than anything, the thing that let me escape my miseries while at the same time wallow in them, was the 1974 “concept” album by ELO, Eldorado.
Every night, after homework, I would sit in my room, turn down the lights, and just listen. The album starts with a soft orchestral piece, with a booming, spoken voiceover:
The dreamer, the unwoken fool
In dreams, no pain will kiss the brow
The love of ages fills the head
The days that linger there
In prey of emptiness, of burned out dreams
The minutes calling through the years
The universal dreamer rises up above his earthly burden
Journey to the dead of night
High on a hill in Eldorado.
Oh, how I related to those words! The hero in the “story” of this album, “the dreamer”, can no longer tolerate his reality, and escapes by being taken away in dreams. As I listened to the album, I was swept away as well. I left behind the high school tortures of the day, and journeyed to faraway lands, filled with wonders, magic, and epic battles. And I got to be the hero: defender of the Right, protector of the downtrodden, object of female admiration. Yes, it may seem pitiful today, but it’s all I had at the time.
You’ve probably heard one track from this album: Can’t Get It Out of My Head, a hauntingly beautiful song. In my mind’s eye, it was about a mermaid, but Jeff Lynn always left much to the imagination in his lyrics. He employs the always beautiful 1/5/4 with a solid 1 bass (the same one Springsteen used in the second half of JungleLand). His vocals, as usual, were sweetly melancholic.
By far, the greatest up-tempo song is Poor Boy (The Greenwood). It held so many fantasies of mine: quests, fighting a noble fight, camaraderie.
The city boys, and the country boys, they come from miles around,
To defy their king and country, save the poor folks from the hand,
Of the thieving dukes and abbotts, and the gentry of the land.
The next track, Mr Kingdom, fed my just-short-of-suicidal melancholy:
Help me such a lonely soul,
In dreams to leave behind the world.
Mr. Kingdom help me please, to find the rainbow’s end.
Looking from this empty room,
The corridors of endless gloom go crawling through the night,
To meet the dawn that’s on its way.
Oh to sleep, per-chance to dream,
To live again those joyous scenes,
The laughter and the follies that are locked inside my head.
But the song that spoke to me the most, was the title track. It met me where I was, took my by the hand, and said, “I understand.” Try to imagine what these words meant to a kid who was constantly mocked by both girls and boys:
Here it comes, another lonely day, playing the game,
I’ll sail away on a voyage of no return to see
if eternal life is meant to be
and if I find the key to the eternal dream.…
And I will stay, I’ll not be back, Eldorado.
I will be free of the world, Eldorado.
And I will stay. I’ll not be back. Damn. How I could picture my tormentors in my mind as Jeff Lynn belted those words on top of a crescendo by the orchestra! I’ll not be back. Good riddance. Dreams of seeing unknown lands and fighting the good fight replaced tormented feelings that I was desperately trying to understand.
Funny, like George Bailey, I never got out to see the world. (In a weird way, the world came to me). Once college age, when my peers were turning to REM and other melancholy “college” music, I rebelled. I dropped ELO in favor of Staxx Records. When you’re manic, you can turn from depression to euphoria on a dime. Damned if I was going to like a music that was even in the same mood as them.
So, I had not thought about ELO in over 20 years (except for the occasional playing of “Mr Blue Sky”, or “Poker”. Kat, not meaning to, brought it all back.
In the movie Apollo 13, near the end, the astronauts say goodbye to the LEM, which had kept them alive through their ordeal. I feel the same way about Eldorado. It was a heck of a lifeboat.
Thinking of it makes me very happy, in a way.