We’re coming up on Thanksgiving week—our kids have all of next week off—which reminds me of a memorable Thanksgiving week I had, let’s see, exactly 30 years ago.
Thirty years? Wow!
It’s not really a happy memory. It’s pretty melancholy and sad.
I was enrolled as a freshman at Amherst College in fall of 1992. It was my first time living away from home...and I was not a happy guy.
I had seldom socialized in high school; although I had some friends, I had never touched alcohol, hated cigarette smoke, and was a nerd outcast way before “geek culture” was cool.
I figured I’d just wait until college, when I was sure to finally be around other people who shared my interests and sensibilities. Right?
Well, that turned out to be profoundly not the case. The amount of drinking and carousing that took place literally the first night that everybody’s parents had gone home startled me.
In the end, it took around a year and a half for me to find “my people,” even at a school as small as Amherst. I finally made the lifelong friends I always hoped to find—although my best friend later died, which is a story unto itself.
But until then, it was rough going, and I was mostly interested in publishing the early version of Film Score Monthly. It was a lot of work balancing FSM with classwork, adjusting to roommates (who were cool, but different) and the living routine.
I had been a pretty sheltered kid, and wounded by my parents’ divorce, and I was unhappy.
I was fairly inexperienced in the ways of the world—and one of the things I misjudged was just how much the campus would empty out over Thanksgiving break.
I heard a lot of people talking about going home or going on trips, but I figured, nah, I’ll just stay here and get some work done.
Folks, there was almost nobody around. And I felt very lonely and very dumb.
I was soothed by the local surroundings—I truly loved the campus and the small New England town and the autumn weather.
And I ended up being soothed by one other thing: a tape that a film score friend, Paul MacLean, had made for me.
It had two Elmer Bernstein sci-fi scores: Heavy Metal on side one (off of the LP), and Slipstream on side two (from a bootleg tape that fans passed around). And for some reason, the first track of Slipstream was cut off (maybe Paul will refresh my memory as to why).
I don’t feel like trying to put into words what I found in these scores. It’s not that I’m embarrassed by this memory, or don’t want to enter into that loneliness that I felt at that age and during that week...although probably both of those things come into play.
I do have one vivid memory: putting in the tape and hitting play (in my roommate’s boombox), thinking it was on the Slipstream side, and not realizing for five minutes or so that I was actually listening to Heavy Metal. Weird!
If you know the scores, you’re probably a fan, too. I had always loved Elmer Bernstein for his melody, and his strong voice, and boldness, and simplicity. (We later released the complete Heavy Metal on CD.)
What I remember is feeling very alone, and finding solace in the music, and sort of going deep into a very internal place that combined solitude with the New England beauty and my lifelong interest in fantasy and science fiction, and its music.
That lonely, bittersweet week was probably some sort of dividing line, for me, between childhood and adulthood.
It’s the power of music, and specifically film music—with its symphonic scope and emotional directness—that can touch our lives. And I remember it now, 30 years later.
Have a great week, everybody!