I rarely turn the radio on in my car. I will when I’m driving the van, because forty-five minutes is a long time to maintain a conversation. But when I step out of the van and start up my car for the two mile drive home, there just doesn’t seem any point to turning on the radio. The fall weather this week begged me to open all four windows, though, and crank the volume. So I did. I caught the tail end of a Scorpions song on 101 the Fox (don’t ask me which one … it was probably “Rock You Like a Hurricane” … but I’m not entirely sure). The next song immediately grabbed my attention, as I hadn’t listened to it for years.
First, let’s take a giant leap backwards to the late 70s, specifically July, 7, 1977, the release date for the seventh album of a band I couldn’t get enough of in my early adolescence . . . Styx. Back then, I barely knew what rock ‘n’ roll was. Heck, I hadn’t even officially made it to the ‘teen’ years yet at that point. But over the coming months, you couldn’t turn on a radio without hearing “Come Sail Away” or “Angry Young Man” or “Miss America” or, as I heard last night “The Grand Illusion.”
I’ve played piano since I was five (more than forty years), so I naturally gravitated to Dennis DeYoung‘s compositions (my all-time favorite being “Castle Walls” from this album, but my favorite to perform is “Pieces of Eight” from the eighth album released the following year). And, yes, I could play at least the opening to “Come Sail Away” from memory when I was in high school, along with the Entertainer, which was still popular thanks to that movie with Newman and Redford starring in it.
So even though I arrived home mid-way through the Grand Illusion, I sat in the garage, with the windows rolled down and the stereo blaring until I reached the bubble-bursting end-of-song stanza below:
America spells competition, join us in our blind ambition
Get yourself a brand new motor car
Someday soon we’ll stop to ponder what on Earth’s this spell we’re under
We made the grade and still we wonder who the hell we are
Back in the late 70s, before the recession (and heat wave) of the early 80s, and the dot-com bubble pop that followed later (was it the 90s or the 00s?) and now the ‘Great Recession,’ I can really feel the pain of these words. Does America still spell ‘C-O-M-P-E-T-I-T-I-O-N’? or have we outsourced it all? Are we blind to ambition or just blind? I have yet to purchase a ‘brand new motor car’ and probably never will. I’ve been pondering for decades what spell we’ve deluded ourselves with because I still don’t think I’ve made the grade and I think Roxy has more of an idea who she is than America does right now.
So I’ll close with a quote from my aforementioned favorite song from the Grand Illusion album, something I previously consider a mantra, but have long since moved on to something more positive, encouraging and inspiring (check out Phil. 4:8 for my ‘life verse’):
Life is never what it seems
And every man must meet his destiny