Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Stairway to a hasty exit

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.


  1. *elbows you aside* don't hog the Doritos, and no double-dipping!

  2. Hey, don't worry about it. See you in the kitchen.

    The hell with them if they can't handle proper conversation.

    My first album was Led Zep II on vinyl.

    *sigh - where did all the years go?*

  3. Oh, Lord, yes I do remember that. I suppose my age is now showing. I may "only" be 35 (next month) but I do remember my brother saying to me, what is a cassette. It was that day that I realized what generation gap meant.

  4. OJ and VS...make room for me. Thanks.

  5. Reminds me of when my daughter first went to college 3 years ago. One day, she called from school, all excited and said "Mom we were just talking about (some political discussion)!" I said "Oh, that's interesting - which class was this in?" She almost screamed at me "That's just it Mom - it WASN'T a class - we were just hanging around the dorm talking!" She was so happy. I was so happy that she had finally found her intellectual peers - something she never had with her "home" friends, who were more interested in gossip or the latest fashion magazine.

    Me, I have dear "local" friends who would do anything to help me - but yeah, I do the "all ears and Doritos" routine a lot with them. Luckily have hubby and kids for "real" talk of things happening outside our little town.

  6. So, where can I get diamonds at a discount?

  7. Velvet, if you had brought up some
    gossip...they would have all chimed in on the subject.

    I, like you, had heard about all this and it is hard to believe that they would go to "all that trouble" to do the masking.

    Did you hear about the cuss words in the Disney cartoon movies? Come back to the back of the bus and tell the Sisters what you think on this!

    When you are in company of a "skim milk"crowd...you are going to miss out on the cream!

  8. I'm afraid I'd end up sitting with the driver too. Sometimes when you meet a clique of women like that they only speak one subject, and that's their's. hmmmm maybe I'm being sexist here, but I wonder, if one of the guys had been the one to bring up the "Stairway" topic, would the response have been the same?
    I think it was a good advertising ploy, more people bought those records because they were curious too.

  9. I'm there with you. There are times when I am super social, and others when I just can't think of a single thing to say. My roommate at the Gathering and I were talking about this. There's something incredibly special about comfortable silences in a group of people. When you don't have to worry about introducing a new topic of conversation and have people look at you like you have three heads and four arms.

    I get that look a lot!

  10. Ha!! I still LOVE Tab!!!!! :) And I have felt the same way too.....you can usually find me sitting listening, and waiting for the conversation to turn from Botox and the Red Sox to something really interesting!! :) I LOVE your blog!!!!

  11. WOW! Look at the great group we have here in the kitchen!

    Janet: Well, I might have been double-dipping when I was in the kitchen by myself, but I'd never admit it now.

    TC: I suspect the years seem a lot longer for folks who only talk about boring stuff.

    Austin: Do you want to really freak out your brother? Two words: eight-track.

    Schremsgems: Plenty of room; try the cheeseball.

    Sunflower: I'm glad your daughter shared that happy experience with you. Must have made you feel really good about her and her friends.

    Mike: I don't remember where the discounted diamonds were, but I think someone said the location is backmasked on the Rolling Stones' "Tattoo You" album.

    SS3: Cusswords in Disney cartoon flicks? Maybe I haven't been paying close enough attention.

    Sandy: The group of guys on this trip were all football, all the time. They wouldn't have been any better than the women. But I do know what you mean.

    FHG Rebekah: You have a quiet side? I'll be darned. Maybe we can keep up with you after all.

    Katie: Glad you could join us. I didn't know Tab was still available.

    Okay, y'all pick a topic and talk amongst yourselves. I'm going out to pick up more Doritos.

  12. Yes, Velvet, in Disney Cartoons. They said the cartoonist added these little words to entertain themselves. I recall listening to
    the little quips and seeing if I could hear nasty talk. So sorry that I can not remember what Disney shows. that's the way my memory goes....out the door.

  13. Velvet-we'll talk about you while you're out getting more Doritos. Don't forget more dip! And get some more wine while you're out! We'll be thirsty by the time you get back!

  14. Thanks for the welcome Velvet!! It's available though had to find! They usually bury it on the bottom shelf where no one looks (but me!!) It's like a taste of the 70's!!! :)

    Did someone say Doritos???

  15. Your story is a treat, one that so many of us relate to quite well. I hadn't guessed that you are shy but now that you point it out it makes sense - the shy types are usually the best at observing and making note of what's going on. And you take it a step further and write about what you took note of. Bravo!


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