15 June 2007

Friday Flashback: The Traveling Wilburys

Yesterday, I noticed that "The Traveling Wilburys Collection"--
a remastered re-
packaging of both albums released by that late-80s supergroup made of Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne--was the number one album on both iTunes and Amazon.com.

This made me smile, as I have a very clear memory of listening to the cassette of their first album as a ten year old.

Picture it...

I'm sitting in the first house I ever lived in, there in the den, playing with toys. Given that it's the late 80s, the toys are probably Transformers or Thundercats.
Anyway, I'm playing, and I've got my dad's old tape player, eating up the power of D batteries, blasting Wilburys songs. I particularly enjoy belting "Handle With Care," and I always make an "eww, gross!" face when the Dylan-led "Congratulations" comes on.

Foolishly, I thought that was my only TW memory. That is, until I started listening to the samples on iTunes. Turns out I clearly remember every single one of those songs, including the tracks from their second album.

I mean, damn. I don't think I realized how often my parents had that tape playing in the car when they were driving me to Pizza Hut to get that week's pair of "Back to the Future 2" commemorative sunglasses. Clearly, the Wilburys were the constant soundtrack to my life.

Here's a memory that just surfaced yesterday: There's this song on the first album called "Tweeter and the Monkey Man," and the chorus includes the line "The walls came down, all the way to hell." I remember being shocked--shocked!--that my mom sang along to that line in the car.

I mean... really? She just said "hell"? Because I could handle that kind of gutter talk from my dad. Not that he has a filthy mouth or anything, but he can occasionally... let fly.

I remember once he was lying on his back, half buried in the kitchen cabinets as he tried to fix a leak in the sink. I was watching TV in another room--randomly, I remember it was this show "Encyclopedia" on HBO--and I heard two things:

(1) A loud spurting sound, like water firing out of a hose

(2) My dad cursing in ways that would take the green off grass

It was a good three minutes before he was able to close off whatever gasket had exploded, so he had time to get to the more exotic expletives in his vocabulary. We were well past the "S" word, people.

I didn't see my dad until after he'd cleaned up from whatever mess had been created. I knew it would be a mistake to walk in and giggle while he was still sopping wet. But as I sat by "Encyclopedia," I conjured vivid images of what must have happened. In my mind, it was so... awesome. Possibly the funniest thing ever.

But it was also kind of scary, you know? I mean, this kind of cursing could result in random, unexpected deletion of my dessert privileges. Hence the reason I didn't go see what was going on.

Those of you that know my dad are probably thinking, "Really? Mr. Blankenship? But he's such a laid back guy!" And that's true. As I write it now, the story is kind of surprising.

But imagine how much more surprised you'd be to hear my mom cursing a blue streak. Those that know her probably can't even picture it.

Personally, I feel like I can remember every single time I've heard my mom curse, just like Ramona Quimby in that one book. For instance, a few Thanksgivings ago, I was eating pumpkin pie when my mom offhandedly mentioned that she thought Shania Twain seemed like "an uppity bitch."

Sputter. Gasp. Pie flying out of my mouth.

Say what? This sudden blast of judgment was inconceivable from the woman who festoons our refrigerator with laminated mottoes like "We can't all be stars, but we all can twinkle."

And to prove how unusual it is for my mom to get potty mouth, I'll bet you a thousand dollars that when she reads this, she will blush, scrunch her face up, hunch up her shoulders in playful embarrassment, and vigorously shake her head "no." She'll possibly cover up her face with her hands. And then she'll tell my dad to stop laughing about it. She'll say, "Now hush, Gary. You say that kind of stuff all the time." Which will make him laugh more.

But then if I ask her about it, she'll staunchly defend her assessment of Shania Twain. That's why my mom is so awesome. She picks her battles very carefully, and she doesn't hurl insults for fun. If she calls you a bitch, you probably are.

Given this snapshot of my world, I'm sure you can imagine how my mom singing "all the way to hell" would leave me agog as I sat in the back seat of our black mustang with the dark red seats.

Clearly, any group of Wilburys who could make her turn obscene possessed strange and mystical powers.

Maybe that's why they were my playtime soundtrack. I was trying to absorb that power for myself.

Or maybe I'm just another one under their spell, since every song is obviously burned into my subconscious.

Another bizarre coincidence? As I was typing this, I took a break to call my dad. The first thing he asked is whether I want a burned copy of the "The Traveling Wilburys Collection" that he just bought.

And that's eerie.

Eerie all the way to hell.

p.s.--I had that exact pair of Pizza Hut/"Back to the Future" sunglasses pictured up there. Gnarly!

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At 8:44 PM, Anonymous AdamH said...


I hate that Dylan song too! *skip* I was so happy when I got the CD so I could easily and precisely skip that song.

(I didn't like the Tweeter song, either).

At 9:22 PM, Blogger Mark Blankenship said...

I love your use of the word "precisely" there because it's so true. Trying to skip over crappy songs on a cassette was always tricky... to the point where you'd sometimes spend so much time fast-forwarding and then rewinding and then fast-forwarding again that you could have listened to the entire song you were trying to miss.


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