I am having trouble finding September.
In most years, I have to remind myself in July or August not to rush it—that September will come in the fullness of time. But this year, I’m afraid it won’t. The leaves are starting to turn, and so are the afternoons, filling with that distinctive golden color only autumn light has. But September is a state of mind, too, and this year, it’s a state whose border remains elusive. Maybe it’s just work. My main gig, freelance writing and editorial work, has kept me me busier lately than it has all year, and I have days on which I barely find time to breathe. Or maybe it’s just ennui. This is my 50th September. I know this: If I’m going to find September before it disappears like Brigadoon, music will be the road map.
If I were trying to find October, I’d go back to 1974, 1975, 1976. To find September, I’ll have to go further—back to where time began. Back to 1970, and to 1971. They’re years when I’m still a full-time child, but I’ve already heard my calling. I haven’t recognized it yet in 1970, but by 1971, if you ask me what I want to be when I grow up, I’ll point to the radio and say, “I want to do that.”
Here’s a quick five from the Cash Box chart dated September 19, 1970:
7. “Candida”/Dawn (up from 10). One of the touchstones of this blog, and the first record I ever loved.
16. “Groovy Situation”/Gene Chandler (up from 19). My lifelong interest in R&B started here.
19. “Joanne”/Michael Nesmith & the First National Band (up from 25). The Monkees were never like this.
25. “Out in the Country”/Three Dog Night (up from 35). Contains the first metaphor I ever admired: “before the sun is just a bright spot in the nighttime.”
34. “Closer to Home”/Grand Funk Railroad (up from 42). I couldn’t have imagined in 1970 that one day, 1970 itself would feel like home.
And five more from the Cash Box chart precisely one year later:
5. “Spanish Harlem”/Aretha Franklin. My first Aretha record, and still the one I love the most.
10. “Maggie May”/Rod Stewart (up from 18). “It’s late September and I really should be back at school.” Whenever I had the radio on, the school that mattered most was in session.
25. “The Wedding Song”/Paul Stookey (up from 29). There is a grace and dignity in this record that I couldn’t have understood back then; neither could I have fathomed it would be sung one day at my own wedding.
30. “All Day Music”/War (up from 36). As close as anyone has come, in my experience, of translating the feel of a late September afternoon into music.
46. “Take Me Girl, I’m Ready”/Jr. Walker & the All Stars (down from 44). My first Jr. Walker record. I’d learn about “What Does It Take” and “Shotgun” later.
Some records were with us during the most important moments of our lives, and we can point to the memory and say yes, that’s the instant, right there, and here’s the song. None of these are like that. They’re memorable because they’re encoded with that September light from so long ago. And on this particular afternoon in 2009, they’re likely to find their way onto the box, because September is wasting, and I don’t want miss it.
“Joanne”/Michael Nesmith & the First National Band (buy it here)
“All Day Music”/War (buy it here)