On the car radio today, I heard Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," a song I'd enjoy listening to except that it always reminds me of how lousy I am at making small talk.
In 1981 there was a lot of stuff on the news about "backward masking" on popular record albums. For you young whippersnappers, we're talking vinyl albums here, records that would normally be played in one direction on a turntable but could, with a little manual effort, be turned backward to produce a garbled sound. The news was that Satanic messages were being recorded backwards in an attempt to imprint those messages on listeners' subconscious minds. "Stairway" was one of the songs implicated.
The night I first read in the newspaper about that subject, my initial reaction was to doubt it seriously. I didn't think music moguls would waste their time (spelled m-o-n-e-y) to do such a thing. It just didn't make sense.
I showed the article to my daughter, who had that album in her collection, and we decided to give it a test. We put the record on the turntable and used one finger to spin it backwards. Most of it was inaudible, but the words "because I live with Satan" were quite clear. Hmmmm.
My daughter and I stayed up late that night discussing the implications of such a thing. We talked about why somebody would want to do that in the first place (a gimmick to sell records was our best guess), and we talked about how anybody could possibly believe that people's brains could hear a subliminal message and somehow know subconsciously to reverse it into a relevant phrase. Get real. We had a lively discussion that lasted until well past midnight.
The next day I had a date. We were going with a group of people on a motorhome to the LSU-Ole Miss football game. I don't know why I agreed to go in the first place. I'm not a football fan, I get carsick riding sideways, and I was going to be confined in close quarters with a bunch of people I didn't know. Oh, goody.
During the get-acquainted portion of the ride, when snacks and drinks were flowing freely (my drink of choice was Tab back then), the men all clustered at the back of the motorhome. The women, of whom I knew exactly one, stayed up front on the built-in sofas.
I'm shy, so I'm not usually quick to pick up the conversational ball, but that day I was still pumped about the interesting discussion with my daughter the night before. When there was a lull in the conversation, I brought it up: "Did any of you read that article in the paper yesterday about 'Stairway to Heaven'?"
A couple of people said they had, so I told them about our experiment, and I told them what we'd heard. I didn't express an opinion or make any judgment about it whatsoever, just introduced it as a topic of discussion. And they all smiled politely, blinked a couple of times, and looked at me as if I had a huge booger hanging out of my nose.
Somebody mumbled, "Hmmm," and shook her head for emphasis, and that was pretty much all of our discussion. Within less than a minute the conversation had shifted to something the rest of the ladies found much more stimulating: where to buy diamonds at a discount.
About that time the carsickness (or some other kind of nausea) took hold, and I moved to the front of the bus to sit by the driver, facing forward. That's where I stayed for the rest of the ride.
Okay, I'll admit to being naive. I like nothing better than a discussion you can sink your teeth into, and most of the really good friends I've had in my life have been the same way. Somehow, it hadn't yet registered on me that not everyone in the world finds fun in a vigorous exchange of ideas, but I learned it pretty quickly that night. It wasn't that kind of a party. Okay. My bad.
I learned something else that night, too. I learned not to reveal too much of myself to people until I know them really well and know that their minds are (a) open and (b) engaged. I also learned to avoid those kinds of close encounters as much as possible. If, God forbid, you should happen to catch me at one of them, you can find me easily. I'll be the lady munching on the Doritos and the seven-layer-dip...just listening.