Tomorrow is my mom’s 65th birthday. It’s hard to believe! I remember my grandparents when they were 65 and I thought they were absolutely ancient. By contrast, my mom seems so young. I’m so proud of my mom because, well, she raised not just one but three awesome kids. She went back to school in her mid-thirties and became a nurse and later, a nurse practitioner. Last year, when she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, she didn’t spend six months in denial like so many people seem to do only to have it get worse and even harder to control. She owned her diabetes diagnosis like no one I’ve ever seen. She changed her diet, started exercising and lost some weight. A year later, she’s off her diabetes meds and probably has a lower cholesterol than I do! I am super SUPER proud of her.
I don’t remember the first time I listened to the Helen Reddy’s Greatest Hits 8-track tape my parents had, but it’s one of those albums that contains so many formative Dan songs, I don’t even know where to start. I was probably seven years old when I discovered it, probably at my mom’s urging and I remember I thought Helen looked like my Aunt Sandy. I listened to that 8-track tape until the 8-track player stopped working and it would only play things so fast everything sounded like the Chipmunks. I still listened to Helen Reddy. I played Kangaroo on the Atari 2600 and the kangaroo jumped to the beat of “Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)” at warp speed.
Does it get any more white bread than Helen Reddy? I mean, her name is Helen for Pete’s sake! As I so frequently say, only in the 70s could someone with the name of Helen be a pop star. Today, they’d make her change it. I listen to songs like “Delta Dawn” and “Angie Baby” today, and it’s like I’m a kid all over again. It’s like I can almost reach out and touch how those songs made me feel back then and the thoughts that were going through my head. Like when I listened to “You and Me Against The World” and rather than understanding that it was a a mother standing with her daughter against the world’s adversity, I got this image in my head of two people stretched out flat against a globe. Or in the song “Angie Baby” when Helen sings “living in a world of make believe / well, maybe”, I mistook it for the living in the Neighborhood of Make Believe on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and got images of Lady Elaine Fairchild. And of course, her most well known song “I Am Woman” was on there, which mostly made me feel weird when I sang along with it. Perhaps the most telling thing about me lies in the fact that there was an 8-year-old version of Dan walking around the house singing “I guess it was yourself you were involved with / I would have sworn it was me” from “Ain’t No Way To Treat A Lady.” That probably says more about me than I’d care to admit.
Like I said, we had that 8-track tape for the longest time. I remember buying the album on cassette tape during high school, but I didn’t acquire it on CD until 1993. I had to endure the female cashier at Camelot Music in Iowa City singing “I Am Woman” as I purchased it – I turned a million shades of red as she discussed it with her co-worker and I felt subtly made fun of. Oh well, who gives a shit, right? The CD version had a few extra tracks tacked on, undoubtedly taking advantage of the increased capacity of the CD. The best addition was the disco “I Can’t Hear You No More” which the Dan that fell in love with the original 8-track tape would have gone bananas for. Of course, that fact didn’t stop the 20 year-old Dan from doing the same thing.
Every time I’m listening to Helen Reddy on my iPod, I think of how I’m probably the only almost-40 year-old guy listening to Helen Reddy on my iPod. But then I think about how it’s a part of my mom that will live on in me. I hope that she lives another 65 years, but knowing I won’t get that, I’ll always have Helen Reddy. Really, my mom influenced my musical tastes very early on, so much so that you can trace a line backwards from artists that I like now to things I was listening to when I was still a prisoner to my parents’ music. Anna’s just starting to break free from my music, and I can only hope that I’ve given her the things that she’ll remember when she’s 40 like my mom has.
Happy birthday Mom! I love you tons. And don’t worry about having a hard time with the Medicare Part D stuff. I bet Dolly Parton and Debbie Harry (who also turned 65 this year too) had trouble getting their prescriptions too!
Mom and me (and my collar) in 1974.
Mom and me in 2011.